The Artcraft is coming back.
Nearly four months after it went dark in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Historic Artcraft Theatre will open back up to patrons for a revised slate of films in July. People will be able to see classics such as "Space Jam," "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" and "Rudy" over the next month.
Precautions will be in place, such as digital ticketing, spaced out seating and limited capacity. The experience may feel a little bit different, but when the lights go down and the movie starts up, the magic will be just like it was.
"To know that we’re still able to function and unlock the doors, turn the lights on, that’s a pretty big deal," said Dave Windisch, marketing manager for Franklin Heritage, which operates the Artcraft. "We’re really excited to be able to let people come out and enjoy a movie for a couple of hours."
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When the Artcraft closed its doors on March 17, staff members and theater officials were unsure when or even if it would open up again at all. Since that time, Windisch and others have been communicating with other theater owners throughout the country, watching for signs that it might be safe to show films again and putting together a plan for best practices once opening up became a reality.
Support from the community has been constant since the pandemic started, with people buying gift certificates for future shows, making donations and taking part in the weekly curbside popcorn and concession candy sale.
That love only motivated Artcraft staff to do what they could to open back up. But in order to do so, much had to be adapted to ensure the safety of theatergoers and staff members. The plan has been evolved over the past few months.
"We’ve got to try it. If regulations are raised and we’re able to get people back to the theater for a safe and enjoyable event, we at least have to try," Windisch said.
The Artcraft’s approach has borrowed and adapted the approaches of other theaters which have already welcomed people back, creating a plan that they think is best for their theater, Windisch said.
"We paid attention to what a lot of other places were doing, and noticed what worked well and what didn’t, the picked and choose some things and run them past medical people, and see if we could make this work," he said.
Staff members also sent surveys to past customers, gauging when they might feel comfortable coming back to the theater, and what that experience would ideally look like.
"We know that opening now is not what everyone wants. We know some people won’t be back until the fall, or next year, or maybe beyond. But we also know there are some people who do want to come in now," Windisch said. "However people decide what their comfort level is, we’re OK with that. We just have to respectful of everyone else’s comfort level."
Theater capacity will be limited to 30 percent, with 185 seats available for shows. Every other row will be blocked off, and people are asked to leave three seats between their party and other patrons.
Parts of the lobby have been blocked off to discourage gathering or mingling in the lobbies.
Staff members and volunteers have already been instructed to wipe down and sanitize high-contacts surfaces such as door handles and countertops before, during and after film showings. The entire auditorium, lobby, restrooms and concession counters will be sanitized and cleaned continuously as well as after each event.
Theater officials have acquired a powerful disinfectant and sanitizing machine called an EvaClean Protexus, which will be used after every show.
All staff and volunteers will be required to wear masks and gloves for the duration of their shift. They will also self-check temperatures prior to starting a volunteer shift.
Touch-free ticket scanning has also been put in place.
Artcraft staff also had to figure out what kind of schedule would work out and which movies would be available to them. Movies that were cancelled during the pandemic have been scattered throughout the rest of the year.
Some weekends will feature one movie on Thursday and Friday, then another on Saturday and Sunday. But theater officials are confident that this approach is the best way to proceed through the end of 2020.
The opening weekend is dedicated to "Space Jam," the classic family movie starring Michael Jordan playing world-saving basketball with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and the rest of the Looney Tunes characters. When the theater closed due to the pandemic on March 17, the film reels had just arrived from the movie studio.
The studio gave the Artcraft permission to hold onto the copy until they opened back up, so as the theater planned its return, "Space Jam" was already ready to go.
Plus, thematically, it fit perfectly, Windisch said.
"It’s a great, fun film that draws a wide audience, both of basketball fans and cartoon lovers. Michael Jordan is awesome, Bugs Bunny is awesome, and it felt like a good choice," he said.
The Artcraft has included all of its regulations and precautions that will be taken on its website. Officials know that it is a lengthy list, but they want to do everything possible to keep people safe, Windisch said.
"This is rolling, and if it has to change, it has to change. We’re hoping for the best, but we need everybody to participate properly and be respectful to allow us to keep doing this," he said.
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Historic Artcraft Theatre
What: The classic theater is planning to reopen, with safety measures in place and limited capacity
Where: 57 N. Main St., Franklin
- "Space Jam" — 2 and 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
- "Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town" — 2 and 7:30 p.m. July 10 and 11
- "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" — 2 and 7:30 p.m. July 17 and 18
- "In the Heat of the Night" — 2 and 7:30 p.m. July 24 and 25
- "Goldfinger" — 7:30 p.m. July 30, 2 and 7:30 p.m. July 31
- "Rudy" — 2 and 7:30 p.m. Aug. 1, 2 p.m. Aug. 2
Tickets: $6 for adults, $5 for seniors age 55 and older, college students and military with ID, $4 for children 12 and under. All ticketing will be done touch-free, and purchasing tickets digitally online is preferred. Walk-up sales will be conducted the night of the show, though.
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- Theatre capacity will be limited to 30 percent, or 185 seats, until further notice
- Continue to practice physical distancing of 6 feet outside of your immediate party
- No gathering in the lobby before or after shows
- We will not offer tours of the theater or projection booth until further notice
- If you, or if you have interacted with anyone that has, experienced any symptoms of illness such as fever, chills, dry cough, shortness of breath or sore throat within the past 14 days, please stay home
Cleaning and sanitizing
- Restrooms are clean and in as good repair as 97-year-old restrooms can be
- High-contact surfaces such as door handles, countertops, etc., will be wiped down and sanitized before, during and after an event
- Continue to clean all auditorium, lobby, restroom, and concession surfaces as well as sanitize these areas after every event
- Post-show cleaning will include updated sanitization using a powerful disinfectant and sanitizing machine
Volunteers and staff
- All staff and volunteers will be required to wear masks and gloves for the duration of their shift
- Staff and volunteers will self-check temperatures prior to starting a volunteer shift
- All staff and volunteers will receive updated training on cleaning and operational procedures
- Gloves will be sanitized regularly, or replaced as often as possible
- Touch-free ticket scanning will be in place.
Distancing, entry, and exit policies
- Enter the auditorium on the south chute only
- To ensure proper distancing, every other row will be blocked off
- Leave three seats between your party and other guests
- You will be released by rows at the end of the movie
- After the show, please exit the lobby and do not gather inside the lobby or theater
- Regular concession items will be available for purchase
- Floor markings will be in place along the north chute — the traditional concession line location
- One party in the concession area at a time
- Please wait at the entrance to be called up by the cashier
- Do not hand credit/debit card to cashier. Card reader will be on the counter for customer’s use
- Counter will be sanitized regularly and as often as possible