I Went to the Movies During the Pandemic. Here’s How it Went.

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That’s me last February celebrating the Academy Awards at my local movie theater. You can’t see it, but my shirt is of Leonardo DiCaprio holding his Oscar.

Going to the movies has always been one of my favorite things to do. So, when a double feature of “North by Northwest” and “The Invisible Man” was my last outing to the theater before the coronavirus hit, I was pretty upset.

And although since March so many people have lost so much – jobs, family, friends, homes and their livelihood – I’ve been fortunate that my biggest loss was my weekly getaway to the cinema, a getaway that would transport me out of my own hectic world into another for over two hours. A getaway that was the best part of my week.

When Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in October theaters would be allowed to reopen with restrictions, I was excited but skeptical. Case numbers were down, great, but how would theaters go about reopening after seven months while ensuring moviegoers could partake in a safe manner, I wondered.

Let’s not forget the fact that no new movies were being released, with the exception of “Tenet,” back in September. And some Westchester theaters, including Regal Cinemas at the Cortlandt Town Center and The Mount Kisco Theatre, had permanently closed due to financial difficulties caused by the shutdown.

So, how would it work?

One of many signs posted throughout the White Plains movie theater reminding folks to follow the safety guidelines.

Cuomo mandated that theaters could operate at 25 percent capacity and with no more than 50 people per screening. Other requirements called for mandatory mask wearing unless someone is seated or eating or drinking; assigned seating to ensure social distancing; enhanced air filtration systems, ventilators and air purification; and additional staff to control the flow of patrons and ensure compliance.

After considering these guidelines and not hearing one horror story of people going back to the movies, possibly because they weren’t going, I decided to give it a shot last Wednesday. Now, while it’s been fine watching new movies at home through the various streaming options, “Promising Young Woman,” a movie I had been waiting in anticipation to see, was one I felt was worth experimenting for.

It’s a movie that was released straight to theaters on Dec. 25 with no mention of whether it would immediately become available for rent, similar to other new releases, like “Wonder Woman 1984,” which was released both in theaters and on HBOMax.

With my go-to movie theater now shuttered and the Jacob Burns Film Center still closed, I opted to see “Promising Young Woman” at City Center 15 on Mamaroneck Avenue in White Plains.

The lobby inside City Center 15 in White Plains was completely deserted on a Wednesday night.

The theater, operated by Showcase Cinemas, was the emptiest I had ever seen it in the 15 years I’ve been going there. All furniture had been removed, the rope barriers at the box office were gone, the concession area was basically dark and only a handful of employees were working.

The four-story parking garage, which would normally be bustling with cars, was also vacant, except for maybe five vehicles, including mine. While I was excited to go see a movie again, it also came with a grim thought that if things continue this way movie theaters may one day become extinct.

In adhering to the safety guidelines created by Showcase Cinemas, I purchased my ticket online, assigned myself a seat and had it all downloaded to my phone to make the experience as contactless as possible. Upon arriving at the theater, signs were placed everywhere warning folks to wear a mask or to turn around if experiencing any symptoms of coronavirus.

Strict cleaning protocols were implemented and there were hand sanitizing stations in front of each theater. Markers and arrows were placed on the floor to ensure people could walk and remain distanced. 

With my mask on, my ticket was scanned and I walked into the theater, by far the cleanest I’ve ever seen, for the first time in more than nine months. In that moment, despite the sad thoughts that had rushed through my mind, I was happy.

I was one of four people in the theater. We all wore masks, social distanced and for over two hours enjoyed the film, which was amazing by the way. Had the theater been busier or if people weren’t

following the rules, maybe I would have asked for a refund and left, but it was empty enough that for the duration of the film I never thought once about the stress, agony and heartache the virus has caused.

With plexiglass installed and safety markers on the floor, nobody was lining up to buy popcorn or treats prior to their movies.

I didn’t think about having to write another update about new case numbers or deaths, the friends I haven’t seen or the relationships that have faded due to distance. I didn’t think about the ongoing tension I have with some over disagreements regarding the virus or politics. I didn’t think about the second or third job I work to ensure I’m financially stable if another shutdown causes me to unexpectedly be out of work.

And I certainly wasn’t thinking about the months that would go by before finally receiving a vaccine.

While wearing a mask has become second nature, sitting in that theater and getting lost in the world I was watching resembled a sense of normalcy I had missed so much since everything shut down. It’s a joy that’s difficult to explain, but one I’m glad I got to feel and hope to feel again soon.

Now, I know reading this might cause people to have mixed feelings. Some may feel angry that I left my apartment and possibly caused further spread of the virus over a movie; some who may have been on the fence might go to the movie theater again; and others may not care at all because they’ve come to adapt to this new world we’ve been forced to live in since March.

And that’s OK.

This piece is not to encourage you to leave your home and take part in recreational activities if you don’t feel comfortable or to ignore the advice of health professionals, especially with the foreseen post-holiday surge underway. It’s to say that if businesses create a safe environment and we all do our part by wearing a mask, maintain social distancing, wash our hands and follow the rules, those little sparks of joy in the midst of insurmountable chaos can still be attainable.

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