Coolidge Corner Theatre: Entertainment during the Recession

Despite the uncertainty of the U.S. economy, a Brookline staple is providing a entertaining distraction for the affected.

The independent, non-for-profit Coolidge Corner Theatre is having a “Recession Special” which offers unemployed people a free ticket to any matinee shows on Thursdays. The unemployment rate in Massachusetts has increased 2.1% from 7.4% to 9.5% from February 2009 to February 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The “Recession Special,” which started in the beginning of 2010, was a collaboration between Executive Director, Denise Kasell and  Associate Director, Elizabeth Taylor-Mead. The theatre opened in 1933, “the same year as FDR’s New Deal,” Taylor-Mead pointed out.

“It was a combination of my interest in offering encouragement, diversion, cultural nourishment, the continuation of great cinematic storytelling to our community, and Denise got into the spirit of what we do so well at the Coolidge—respond to our community. It was her idea to give back in this way—for years the community has supported us, as a non-profit, independent theater struggling against the Goliath of  faceless mega-plex chains.  Now we agreed, it was our turn to support those who could not afford the price of a movie ticket,” Taylor-Mead explained.

Despite the theatre’s generosity, the theatre is still struggling financially. There has been a drop in membership sign-ups as well as donations, yet ticket sales have remained constant. According to the Brookline Community Foundations 2008 Annual Report, The Coolidge Corner received only $10,000 in funding compared to the $25,000 they received in 2007.
The theatre is attempting to offset this decline, but without raising ticket prices. Inevitably, other prices at the theatre have slightly increased.

“We did raise concession prices slightly, roughly $.50 across the board except for a few items, and that is mainly because prices on most of our supplies have increased in the past couple of years,” Theatre Operations Director, Andrew Thompson said.

Taylor-Mead added: “We have to work harder to make sure we get the word out that we are a not-for-profit theater, and that we are independent and intend to remain so in order to be as community-responsive as possible. We’re very fiscally responsible, and so we hope that people will understand that we rely on the support we get, especially from our members, to sustain and increase the amount of community programs we offer—such as the Deaf & Hard of Hearing Film Series, the Box Office Babies series, where new parents can come to a special screening of our latest films, bringing their infants, who can make all the noise they want, or our three-dollar Senior Matinees every Wednesday.”

In terms of the Recession Special affecting the theatre’s income, Taylor-Mead defends the promotion, saying “The answer was to ask people to bring in their DUA check stubs or letters of qualification for unemployment assistance…we imposed certain conditions. It’s during the day, on Thursdays, when unemployed people are available to attend, but is not our prime ticket sale time. So it works out.”

According to Taylor-Mead, the “Recession Special” has also attracted neighbors to the surrounding Brookline community.

Thompson recognizes the impact it has on the Brookline community:  “We’ve been doing that for a couple of months now and it seems like it’s a nice thing to do, a small but grateful number of people have been coming.”

“I think people pay close attention to the values not only promoted but actually put into practice by the organizations and businesses in their area. We find people are voting their values.  So in a sense, I think people are scrutinizing us more closely and seem—if attendance is anything to go by, or the feedback we get daily by email and phone and overheard conversations in the lobby—to consider us a local treasure. You can imagine how gratifying that is to us here. It lets us know we’re doing most things right and goes a long way to cheering us up at the end of a long day…it’s been well received without overwhelming us, which is what we were hoping for…it’s been very much appreciated, which makes us feel great. Mission accomplished” Talyor-Mead concluded.

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