Indie theaters turn to teens

January 28, 2019

Going to the movies is one of a handful of entertainment experiences that has survived into the millennial age of convenience. Though newer generations still rely on streaming platforms for most casual movie-watching, they have been vastly underestimated in appreciation for traditional theater-going. Forbes business and media writer Andrew Arnold said, “[Millenials] are 50% more likely to claim movies as a passion. They are also most likely to buy tickets ahead of time, and nearly 90% aim to arrive at the theater early.”  In chasing immersive experiences, young adults have begun filling up movie theaters and are now viewed as one of the primary demographics for independent and international film releases in the U.S. So why are local theaters not taking more notice?

The Music Box, Lakeview’s historic arthouse cinema, has long held a coveted place amongst students. With its nightly runs of classical and independent films, 70 mm screens, and intricate 1920s architecture, it has become a hotspot for members of the DePaul community seeking a unique cinematic experience. “The Music Box is the closest I can get to going back to the past,” says Aidan Karstadt, a DePaul freshman studying film and television. “It’s the only place where I can find some kind of nostalgia and explore movies. Going in it feels like a cathedral with all the high ceilings, candles and statues.”

The Music Box typically caters to its younger audience with special nights of programming, often including midnight showings of early 2000s rom-coms and blockbusters and reoccurring cult classics like The Room and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. “When I first started here the theater was not showing Rocky Horror,” said Brian Andreotti, director of programing at The Music Box. “A few years went by and I finally convinced them to bring it back, because I think that that’s the kind of programming we need to do. What’s more interactive and what has more of a cult following than Rocky Horror?”

The Music Box is the closest I can get to going back to the past. It’s the only place where I can find some kind of nostalgia and explore movies. Going in it feels like a cathedral with all the high ceilings, candles and statues.

— Aidan Karstadt, Freshman studying film and television

These events thrive off of audience participation, incorporating costume contests, prop bags, call-and-response sections and post-show events to amp up the moviegoing experience. It’s a perfect match for the kinetic, interactive adventure millennials seek in foregoing streaming platforms to attend films in theater. “What try to be inclusive to the community,” says Ryan Oestreich, general manager of Music Box. “We like to make people feel like they can bring their ideas and their events to us, and we can work together.”

“I think [Music Box staff] do as good a job as they can under the circumstances,” said James Choi, a feature producer and professor in DePaul’s film department, whose past decade of work has spearheaded the micro-independent film movement. “Like with most things, it starts with educating and exposing young people early to appreciate cinema. Some programming within the theatre has helped with that.”

A recent partnership between DePaul’s School of Cinematic Arts and The Music Box has granted students free access to special screening series and post-film discussions, often moderated or organized by DePaul SCA faculty. Most recently, The Music Box showcased classic horror films over a month-long span which coincided with the curriculum of Professor Andrew Stasiulis’s course: Universal Horror Films. Now, with the course garnering positive feedback from students and administration, the likelihood of future collaboration between DePaul and Music Box is looking bright.

Aside from these DePaul-sponsored screenings, one glaring missed misstep stands out in The Music Box’s student outreach: ticket prices. Though discounts are offered to seniors and those with paid memberships, student discounts are unavailable for all regular screenings. It’s not that passion for arthouse film and traditional viewing experiences are lost among DePaul students; on the contrary, DePaul’s rapidly expanding School of Cinematic Arts has fostered a growing community of eager filmmakers and consumers, both within the school and beyond. The crux of the problem occurs in students’, and young adults’ in general, unwillingness to break the bank for movie viewing and The Music Box’s lack of accommodation toward this fact.

The Music Box has relied on tailored programming to attract younger audiences while neglecting to reconcile the real barrier to their attendance: financial commitment. With an increasing number of students already interested in arthouse cinema, now is the time for The Music Box to extend its specialized event schedule and implement discounts for new generations.

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