Burns, Bedford Playhouse Among Indie Theaters Pressing State to Reopen

More than a dozen independent theaters and art house cinemas across New York State, including three venues in Westchester, have called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to allow them to reopen.

The group of operators, which includes the Bedford Playhouse and the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville, sent a letter to Cuomo stating that a list of safety protocols recently released by the National Association of Theater Owners would be followed. They argued that the independent theaters are a crucial cog in their communities and local economy.

“New York’s art houses are essential. We bring art – the art of film – to communities, provide arts education to children and adults, bolster our local economies, and act as vital community hubs – especially essential in these times,” according to a recent joint statement from the independent theaters. “We fully support and appreciate Gov. Cuomo’s efforts to keep New York’s reopening safe. We are simply asking for guidelines and a timeline for our reopening so that we can prepare to provide the safest possible experience for our patrons.”

Also joining the Bedford Playhouse and the Jacob Burns was The Picture House Regional Film Center in Pelham, among the 16 venues that stretch from New York City through the Hudson Valley and points north and into western New York.

All movie theaters in New York State have been shuttered since Mar. 17. Cinemas were originally slated to be part of Phase 4 of the state’s re-opening plan early this summer but were pulled from the list of approved businesses shortly before that phase was scheduled to begin.

Similar to the commercial movie operators, there has been no communication from the Cuomo administration regarding when movie theaters may reopen or what the guidelines may look like.

Margo Amgott, the interim executive director at the Jacob Burns Film Center, said any determination to reopen theaters doesn’t appear to be imminent from Cuomo.

“The indications are he’s not eager to open more types of venues,” Amgott said. “I think the little bit of rise of COVID infections in New York State has him concerned and has all of us concerned. I think he’s been very stringent and judicious about what happens next, so I’m not terribly optimistic. I’m also not pessimistic. I think we just don’t know but it’s not coming immediately.”

The National Association of Theater Owners has devised a plan called CinemaSafe that it urges its members to follow to keep patrons safe. Among the recommended protocols are reduced capacity, face coverings for all employees and patrons in most situations, appropriate social distancing, mobile ticketing, enhancing HVAC systems, modified concessions and cleaning auditoriums between each screening.

Bedford Playhouse Executive Director Michael Hoagland said the theater has agreed to comply with the CinemaSafe protocols, most notably having an upgraded air filtration system, a new mobile ticketing system that blocks off all seats within six feet of seats that have been sold and enhanced cleaning.

“I think it will be extremely safe for our patrons to come back into the theater,” Hoagland said. “I would not have any qualms bringing my family to a movie knowing all the things that we have put in place, all of the guidelines and procedures.”

Frustrating for theater operators have been the re-opening of shopping malls, bowling alleys, gyms and even casinos, venues that experienced a Phase 4 postponement because they were thought to be problematic.

In interviews, Cuomo has stated that movie theaters are “less essential” and pose a higher risk than those businesses.

Most of the independent cinemas are nonprofit organizations, including the Burns, Bedford Playhouse and The Picture House.

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