By Matteo Avellini
In the lobby of the independently-owned Prytania Theatre, a sleeping cat rests on a plush red chair. The muffled dialogue radiating from the only screen in the building is not enough to wake up the theatre’s centerpiece, but general manager, Eric Ramstead exiting his office is the cat’s cue to relocate.
“It’s more of a family feel. It’s more of a community feel. When you walk in the door you feel welcomed,” iterated a prideful Ramstead, speaking of the theatre he began working at in 2005 just after Hurricane Katrina. “We want to remain what we are.”
The theatre is nestled in a charming Uptown neighborhood filled with residences occupied by families and college students – and it’s been there since 1914.
With such a rich tradition, it is an obvious selling point. However, tradition itself is not enough to stay afloat in a market widely considered to be on its way out given the explosion of streaming services. “If you live in the past, you are going to disappear and go away,” Ramstead bluntly reconciled.
“Even though people can watch pretty much whatever they want to watch whenever they want to watch it, I still think there will be interest in coming to theaters and watching movies,” Ramstead hypothesized when asked about the looming threat of streaming services. “Just because people have a kitchen in their house doesn’t mean they won’t go to restaurants.”
For now, it’s true. As a customer of the Prytania, you are paying for the experience, and the experience is what Ramstead is most prideful of. The charm is palpable, but so too is the sense that a single screen theatre such as the Prytania cannot last in this day and age.
The theatre is clearly a unique experience. The movies are hand-selected and represent a wide range of genres and influences. Whether it be horror movies at midnight or a Saturday morning showing of the original Muppets, there is a film for everyone.
When comparing the theatre to the AMC chain, Ramstead bashed the corporate giant. “When you walk into an AMC, you get your ticket, you get lined up and you get placed in one of the many theaters. AMC doesn’t really care what they’re showing and they don’t really care who’s coming to see. They just care that people are coming.”
The Prytania’s biggest question is the fact that there is only one screen, opposed to thirty in a typical AMC. “We have to stay relevant with what movies we are showing,” Ramstead voiced. “We have a Sony 4k digital projector and Adobe 7.1 sound. We are state of the art with the viewing experience you’re going to get. We are in the process of adding a 70-millimeter projector, which will be something else that sets us apart from everyone else. AMC added 70-millimeter projectors to play The Hateful Eight, but unless they are forced to show film, they aren’t going to use them.”
With such a disdain for the corporate movie-going experience, it is clear that Ramstead and the Prytania are focused on maintaining the core values and principles that got them to where they are today. These principles have their exceptions, though.
“We are always actively looking to find an additional location that would fit the model of our business. The current Prytania will always remain a single screen theatre because that is part of its charm,” said a convinced Ramstead. In a market that is evolving in a direction away from theaters in general, and has already moved far past single-screen theaters, Ramstead is understanding of skepticism.
The community, truly, is the driving force behind the Prytania Theatre. People want unique experiences. People want to avoid lines and impersonal cashiers. So, they go to the Prytania Theatre. In a changing world with little convention left to maintain, the cat purring on the sofa serves as a microcosm and a reminder of how powerful the feeling of comfort and home truly is.