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In an unusually challenging season, The Paramount adapts its programming

The 88 year old establishment screens classic films due to live event difficulties

On Halloween afternoon, The Paramount screened the horror classic “Rosemary’s Baby” to a modest audience.
On Halloween afternoon, The Paramount screened the horror classic “Rosemary’s Baby” to a modest audience.

The Paramount theater on the Downtown Mall — with its glowing vertical sign and art-deco presence — is a Charlottesville staple. The 88-year-old establishment reopened its doors in July after showing their last concert in March before COVID-19-related restrictions began. Since then it has adapted its programming drastically, from a live events model back to its roots as a cinema house, screening movies in its massive 1,000-seat theater. On Halloween afternoon, the theater screened the horror classic “Rosemary’s Baby” to a modest audience.

Matthew Simon, the director of operations and programming for The Paramount, elaborated on how the classic theater is welcoming customers back and assuring them safety. 

“We normally are doing 300 events a year with over 110,000 people through the doors,” Simon said. “So we’re showing movies again, and we’re allowed to have up to 50 people per screening.” 

Simon mentioned a safety video the theater company uploaded to its website, educating visitors on the safety of being spaced apart in the vast theater space inside. 

“We’ve put posters on the seats people aren’t allowed to sit in, and they’re all really far apart,” Simon said. 

Inside the theater, the spacing apart was clear. While Simon said live events are theoretically possible, he suggested the cost of performers and stage crew for a city-mandated audience of 50 is economically unsustainable. Events like the theater’s Arthouse series on Wednesday nights and screenings of prior theater productions from Broadway are the current model of programming that The Paramount is able to pull off. 

While the turnout of Halloween’s showing of “Rosemary’s Baby” was modest and mainly comprised more elderly audience members, Simon mentioned that a screening of “Hocus Pocus” just the night before had a diverse and sizable audience. 

“There were little kids, I saw a ton of U.Va. students that came in [that day] and parents too,” Simon said. 

Simon was also confident in The Paramount still being able to attract out-of-town visitors with the unique experience it is now offering by showing classical movies in a uniquely large auditorium. 

“There’s nothing else for people to do,” Simon said. “I think that will only increase as it gets colder, and they’re not going to be outside as much.” 

For those who are going out to The Paramount, Simon is also pleased to see them returning. He noted that many people who have come to one movie have returned for another. 

Despite the eager and loyal audience though, Simon continues to see the city limit of 50 seats per screening as a roadblock. 

“I do hope the city reconsiders The Paramount and The Jefferson and any other venue that’s got room and capacity for people to come,” Simon said. 

Patrons on the Downtown Mall who want a unique experience and are ready to see films they wouldn’t ordinarily see screened in conventional theaters will find a good time to be had at Charlottesville’s iconic classical theater. In an ordinary October, University and Charlottesville community members alike would be packed in to see a screening of the latest Virginia Film Festival screening or guest speaker. 

This year however, a distanced and masked audience within a vast auditorium is a picture Virginia will have to contend with. The seasonal fare will continue past Halloween. Simon mentioned to the crowd of “Rosemary’s Baby” that on Thursday, the theater made the timely decision to screen the political fiction thriller “V for Vendetta,” two days after Election Day. Going to The Paramount is one way, depending on your perspective, of escaping from reality with a movie or confronting it.

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