The Little Theatre
For nearly a century, this theater in the city of Rochester, New York has provided the public with a venue in which to view Independent American and foreign films, as well as other forms of art and entertainment. The Little Theatre (also known simply as "The Little"), with its five movie screens, regularly allows audiences an opportunity to view obscure films they might otherwise not have opportunity to see on a large screen (if at all), including foreign and independent horror films that fall outside the mainstream. The theater also plays host to a number of film festivals, including the new 25-Hour Horror Feast that makes its premiere on Halloween of 2009. Fittingly for a theater hosting a horror film festival, there are stories that The Little Theatre may also be haunted.
The House of Silent Shadows
The Little Theatre was conceived out of the "little cinema movement" of the 1920s, a trend that led to the construction of a series of small cinemas in which films outside the American mainstream would be shown. Rochester architect Edgar Phillips designed the Art Deco-style theater that was able to seat an audience of 300 people. Owned by Mr. And Mrs. Francis Kirk Remington, The Little opened for business on Thursday, October 17, 1929. The first film to be shown there was Cyrano de Bergerac (1925). A three-man orchestra sat in the theater's balcony and played live music as a soundtrack for the silent film. The theater's initial insistence on showing only silent films when "talkies" (movies with sound) were taking over the mainstream led to The Little's original slogan, calling itself "The House of Silent Shadows."
Exactly one week after The Little Theatre opened eventually became known as Black Thursday (October 24, 1929), the first of a four-day collapse of the American Stock Market known as the Wall Street Crash of 1929. Born of the Roaring Twenties and only a week old, The Little found itself struggling to survive in the era that became known as The Great Depression. In early 1931, Mr. And Mrs. Remington were approached by Albert A. Fenyvessy about allowing his daughter and her husband to take over their struggling venue. Fenyvessy owned/managed a few Rochester Theaters, including The Capitol Theatre (that former theater is now known as the Fenyvessy Building). Albert's daughter, Florence Fenyvessy Belinson, had managed one of her father's theaters and was up to the task of updating The Little to survive. Florence and her husband, Ben, had The Little Theatre wired for sound but maintained the theater's tendency towards films of artistic or educational nature that generally didn't find play in mainstream movie theaters.
On April 15, 1931, The Little showed its first film with sound, Outward Bound (1930). The film, starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr., is a supernatural drama dealing with a group of people on a boat who discover that they are actually souls on their way to their final destinations in the afterlife. The plot of that film was recycled into the 2008 horror film, Ghost Voyage.
The coming decades saw a decline in business resulting in The Little's purchase by the Jo-Mor chain of movie theaters and a transition to more mainstream fare. By the time it was purchased by William Coppard, John Blanpied, and Pam Blanpied in May of 1982, The Little was the only movie theater remaining in downtown Rochester. Coppard and the Blanpieds took The Little back to its roots of showing foreign and independent films. Their renovations included expanding The Little into the former tire store that had been next door and adding two more movie screens. By the end of the 1980s, William Coppard had bought out the Blanpieds and became the sole owner of the theater. The Little Theatre continued its expansion into surrounding structures during the 1990s, adding two more screens and a cafe. Further updating brought in better sound systems and seating for the individual theaters. The original theater is now known Little 1.
The 1990s also saw a boom in popularity for foreign and independent films - ironically this was a bad thing for The Little Theatre. As more mainstream theaters began showing films that would have only seen play at art house theaters such as The Little, customers who would have gone to The Little instead began going to the multiplexes. In order to survive, The Little was turned into a not-for-profit corporation in 1998 (gaining its official not-for-profit status in 1999). William "Bill" Coppard remained on board as Executive Director until his retirement in 2005. The Little Theatre continues to soldier on, and is now one of the oldest active art house movie theaters operating in the United States.
Haunting of The Little Theatre
There are some who believe that The Little Theatre may have a regular audience member from beyond the grave. Over the years, staff members of The Little have witnessed doors that have opened and closed seemingly on their own. On multiple occasions, staff have also overheard a disembodied voice calling out the name "Ann."
Horror Films at The Little Theatre
Luckily for horror movie fans, The Little Theatre does not discriminate against the genre in its mission to show independent and foreign films. In 2002, The Little was one of very few movie theaters in New York state to show the Don Coscarelli horror comedy Bubba Ho-Tep, starring Ossie Davis and Bruce Campbell. Fans traveled from across the upstate area and even across the border from Canada just for a chance to see the limited-release film on the big screen. In recent years, The Little Theatre has also shown foreign horror films such as Night Watch (2004), Day Watch (2006), The Host (2006) and Pan's Labyrinth (2006). Over the decades of its operation it has also shown films by genre favorites such as David Cronenberg and David Lynch.
25-Hour Horror Feast
Also lucky for horror fans, the current Executive Director of The Little Theatre, Bob Russell, is a fan of the genre as well. Through his influence, The Little created its own annual horror film festival to celebrate Halloween. Initially called the 25-Hour Horror Feast, the event has changed its name to the 24-Hour Horror Feast. The festival kicks off with a quarter-mile zombie walk leading to The Little Theatre.
At the stroke of midnight the Horror Feast begins showing both classic and modern horror films. To represent local filmmakers, the festival hosts a special horror edition of The Little's monthly Emerging Filmmakers showcase of locally produced short films. The Horror Feast also includes a "Little Buddies" showing of a family-friendly movie appropriate for Halloween.
Tickets to the separate films can be purchased individually or all-together in a "Zombie Pass." Purchase of the pass gains the buyer access to all films during the Feast, two meals, a Horror Feast t-shirt, and more. For more information on the event or to purchase of tickets visit The Little Theatre's official Web site (see Related Sites below).
Visiting The Little Theatre
In the yearly reader polls run by the locally published City newspaper, The Little Theatre has repeatedly won in the categories of both "Best Movie Theater" and "Best Place for a First Date." The Little's Café offers food and drink (including espresso drinks and wine), as well as displaying works by local artists and presenting live musical acts on a nearly daily basis. The Little's concession stand features popcorn with (gasp) real butter, as well as a selection of freshly-baked pastries instead of the standard multiplex snack choices.
Besides the 25-Hour Horror Feast, The Little Theatre is host to a number of annual film festivals and even a jazz festival. In addition, the theater has had celebrity guests in the past, in the form of Rochester-bred actors Philip Seymour Hoffman and Robert Forster. The Little Theatre holds monthly programs, including a monthly showing of child-safe family films and its monthly showcase for short films made by local filmmakers. For further information on shows, events, or submitting short films visit The Little Theatre's Internet site (see Related Sites below).