“One ticket for the 11 a.m. Much Ado About Nothing, please.”
“That’ll be $7.25, sir. Just so you know this matinee screening is a part of our bimonthly Box Office Babies program. Will that be alright?”
“Huh?”A recent transplant to the Boston area, I had no idea what this or any of the theatre’s other programs were.The ticket vendor was probably used to surprised reactions like mine. Box Office Babies, a bimonthly program geared toward parents with young infants, represents one of a dozen or so special series offered by the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline. A recent transplant to the Boston area, I had no idea what this or any of the theatre’s other programs were. All I wanted to do was watch Much Ado at the matinee price.
As it turns out, the Coolidge Corner Theatre is one of the country’s oldest and most prominent independently owned and operated movie theatres. It was first established in 1933 and came under the direction of a nonprofit foundation bearing the theatre’s name in 1988. Like most independent theatres, Coolidge generally offers indie and art house fare that larger corporate cinemas either hardly show or never show at all. It also provides a wealth of thematic programming throughout the year that caters to everyone from children and young adults to film novices and cinephiles. Additionally, the theatre boasts a truly local and grassroots profile that offers a movie going experience unlike that typified by mainstream cinemas, and for a fraction of the cost.
After Much Ado, I caught up with the theatre’s program manager Jesse Hassinger and other members of the programming staff in their upstairs office. The walls were covered with posters new and old. Each of the room’s three corners offered work stations piled high with promotional materials, DVDs, and miscellaneous items of the trade. A bike parked inside the entrance leaned against a poster for This Is the End attached to a corkboard. The poster was riddled with holes and darts. I asked if it was meant for target practice.“Don’t get me wrong. I’d love to see the film, but it was one of many free posters we regularly receive for films that we’ll never show.”“Sort of,” Jesse answered. “Don’t get me wrong. I’d love to see the film, but it was one of many free posters we regularly receive for films that we’ll never show.” Some more digging revealed that the corkboard’s previous victim was a poster for one of the many Twilight films. Prior to a midnight screening of The Lost Boys, the programming staff hosted a costume contest and a game of darts with—you guessed it—Twilight posters for targets. Jesse smiled, “It was a huge success.”
Aside from the usual film festival circuit pieces, the Coolidge Corner Theatre prides itself on a wealth of special programming geared toward a wide array of audiences. The weekend @fter Midnight film series often pairs horror films and thrillers with comedies and more light-hearted offerings. For example, a recent selection included Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan and Bring It On. Running steadily since 2008, @fter Midnight boasts one of the theatre’s most popular programs. Another well-liked even is the Big Screen Classics film series, which features a variety of canonical Hollywood cinema, foreign films, and cult classics. Every year the theatre screens the Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski as a part of this series, complete with costume contests, trivia, and onstage bowling.
“We like to have fun,” Jesse explained. And fun is exactly what this sounds like. The range of films screened at the Coolidge Corner Theatre runs the gamut of cinematic history, though the programming staff confessed that many of their special programs (like @fter Midnight and Big Screen Classics) are more and more including more recent fare. “A lot of what we tend to add,” one of the staffers interjected, “comes from the 80s and 90s.” A child of this time period myself, the logic behind these changes makes perfect sense to me. Most of the programming staff, as well as a majority of the theatergoers who attend such programs, grew up on heroic archeology professors, crime-fighting mutant turtles, and slacker bowling leagues.The programming not designed for my ilk works just as well.Even so, the programming not designed for my ilk works just as well. The Friday matinee of Much Ado was greatly attended by young parents and their infant children. Outside the main theatre, the side lobby constituted a veritable “parking lot” for strollers. Not a parent myself, I still had a great time at the theatre and enjoyed the show.
The Coolidge Corner Theatre is located at 290 Harvard Street in the heart of Brookline.
For more information, call the box office at (617)734-2501 or visit the theatre’s website at www.coolidge.org.