How to Run a Picture Theatre – part 4

Back to the 1910 [correction – probably 1912] publication How to Run a Picture Theatre (see previous posts). Having attended to the location, exterior and lobby, it’s time to consider the auditorium itself. As before, the emphasis is on convincing the potential cinema owner of moving on from the slack, short-termist practices of the past and make the venue the sort of attractive proposition likely to attract a loyal clientele.

The Auditorium. The good impression created by the outside appearance and the entrance lobby is of no avail if it is not sustained by the auditorium.

The prosperity of the picture theatre depends upon its attracting a regular patronage. The evanescent visitor is of but little use to the exhibitor, except as a walking advertisement spreading the fame of the show and thus attracting other patrons …

For floor covering, it is becoming increasingly universal to use a good carpeting instead of linoleum. There is something in the feel of a velvet pile that sub-consciously suggests and conveys the impression of luxury …

Cinemas had been established on the principle of attracting a passing trade, but as it became clear that film was no flash-in-the-pan then new strategies were called for. Cinemas were becoming a long-term investment. Cinema owners also needed to take far more notice of fire precautions and cleanliness. Disinfectants were not only used on the building but on its customers as well. It was common for attendants to pass up and down spraying people with sweet-smelling disinfectant. Cinemas were not known as flea-pits for nothing, but is remarkable that there seems to be no evidence of audiences protesting at such patronising treatment.

Precautions from Fire and Disinfection. … every well-equipped building should contain a plenitude of automatic sprinklers, hand grenades and the like. It should also be well provided with fire hydrants, and it is well to give the staff a periodical turn out in order …

In a theatre well equipped with fire appliances the audience experiences an added degree of safety and the likelihood of panic is reduced to a minimum …

The interior of the theatre should also be well disinfected not only after each performance, but during the time the pictures are being shown. There is a multiplicity of sprayers and deodorising compounds on the market, most of which are of great service not only in warding off disease but in keeping the atmosphere pure and sweetly scented…

As deodorisers, Pinozal, Ozone, Empire Essence are probably the most effective.

Next, raking. Early shop-shows inevitably had a level floor. To enable everyone to be able to see the film, an inclined floor was essential.

The Rake. The floor must be inclined from screen to rear, a good rake being one in ten. Steps should always be avoided, as when the hall is in semi-darkness, accidents are likely to happen, with consequent actions at law, besides which, in an emergency, steps militate against a speedy emptying of the house.

And then there was the screen. Numerous types were available on the market. Intriguingly, the recommendation here is for a coated plaster screen. The reference to ‘daylight’ means those cinemas which were experimenting with an auditorium lighted during the performance, as some had expressed concern over audiences being left in the dark. It did not catch on.

The Screen. There are many kinds of screen, patent and otherwise, daylight and mirror, but the best is generally said to be one of plaster built into the wall and coated with preparation.

Interestingly it is recommended that seats not be too comfortable lest people stay too long. Most cinemas operated on a continuous show policy where people could come in when they liked and stay as long as they like, with the assumption that they wouldn’t stay forever to see the same programme shown over and over again. A surprise recommendation is for somewhere for people to place their hats, not least so that they could have hands free to hold the cup of tea that many cinemas provided.

Seating. Tip-ups for seating cannot be beaten, and care should be taken to see that they are comfortable, but remember that you do not wish your audience to remain the entire evening unless you are giving a one house a night show …

It is well to have a centre, as well as two side aisles where floor area permits. The sides can be used for entrance and the centre for exit. Give as much space as possible between the rows of seats, from 2ft. 6in. to 3ft. is a fair distance …

It is a good idea to have hat racks under the seats, as these not only conduce to the comfort of those who are considerate enough to remove their hats, but leave the hands free to hold the cup of afternoon tea, or the program, or what not.

Lastly, attention is given to the decor, and ventilation. Early cinemas, filled with smoke, could be unpleasantly fuggy. But fresh air was clearly something of an alien concept for some cinema owners.

Decoration and Upholstery. … most of the architects, builders, decorators and exhibitors are making a grave mistake, in having the interior walls and ornaments of light colours. Such colours will suit an opera house, but not a moving picture theatre. Sombre colours will undoubtedly bring out better effects from the screen …

A good plan is to have the panels in a rich red colour with the border of still a darker shade, and have all the plastic ornaments painted imitation walnut or mahogany …

Ventilation and Heating. There are still a great many showmen who, incredible as it may seem in this enlightened day, still have no artificial means of ventilating their theatres, or what is just as bad, depend entirely upon the electric fan revolving on a shelf or bracket, and simply churning up the air in the room, without renewing it.

Ventilation means change of air … Ventilation is good for everybody …

All healthy persons accustomed to living in fresh air, having to sit for three or four hours in an over-heated atmosphere, invariably experience the sensations, first of drowsiness, followed by headache, then a period of lassitude, and almost entire prostration …

The advent of a ventilating genius who could succeed in revolutionizing our present method of ventilation would be welcomed by all right livers and true thinkers. Certainly the ventilation of some of our picture theatres, music halls, and public buildings is anything but satisfactory …

The British Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company, Ltd. stands in the forefront amongst firms manufacturing ventilating apparatus …

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