Seven Questions: Drexel Theatre’s Jeremy Henthorn on Reopening on Memorial Day Weekend
The Bexley arthouse cinema manager talks about reopening, the changing film business and community support during a difficult year.
Jeremy Henthorn’s father introduced him to the Drexel Theatre when they attended the local premiere of the 1994 documentary “Crumb.” The experience was life-changing. “The only theaters I had been to up to that point were malls or drive-ins,” recalls Henthorn, now the manager of the venerable independent Bexley cinema. “The Drexel had the unique vibe that I can only compare to an indie record store. It was the only theater I wanted to go to after that first experience.”
For more than a year, however, that distinctive environment hasn’t been available to the public. After the coronavirus pandemic hit Ohio in the spring of 2020, the theater shut down and has remained closed since then, resulting in lost revenue and layoffs. Now, with the state lifting its health order, the nonprofit theater operated by CAPA is planning to welcome back the public on Memorial Day weekend with showings of “A Quiet Place Part II,” “Dream Horse,” “Nomadland” and “Minari.” Screenings are limited to 25 percent capacity, and patrons will still be required to wear masks.
In an email interview, Henthorn discussed with Columbus Monthly the theater’s difficult year, reopening plans and how the pandemic might permanently change the movie business.
What makes the Drexel unique?
Every person who works at the Drexel helps curate what goes into the theater. We select movies we like, and we can really get behind the films we play.
How has the community built around the Drexel helped it get through the pandemic?
Donations, gift cards, purchasing our digital screenings, renewing memberships and maybe most of all, basic kindness. People would write us emails or post notes of encouragement on our window. There was a level of emotional support the Drexel community gave us that I will never forget.
Has the pandemic permanently changed the movie industry? And if so, in what ways?
Streaming has grown, but it’s difficult to say how successful that will continue to be as society reopens. If the large studios continue to move toward streaming, it could create an opportunity for smaller studios and usher in an indie film revival like we saw in the ’90s. I think that we might not know the answer to that question for six months to a year from now.
Does streaming pose a greater threat to small independent theaters like the Drexel or are you in a better position to weather the changes than the larger chains?
Larger chains have so many screens to fill, and with theatrical windows getting smaller, the more screens you have, the longer it’s going to take to get back to some semblance of normal. Smaller theaters with fewer screens will bounce back much quicker.
You are requiring patrons to wear masks. Will you reconsider that requirement given recent CDC guidance on masks?
We are following the guidelines created by CinemaSafe, an organization created to help theaters across the country set health and safety standards. As of now, we’ll require masks and reevaluate as the guidelines change.
You’re a screenwriter, too. Did you use the pandemic to focus more on your writing?
For the first few months, I worked quite a bit on projects that had been floating in my head for years—one feature and a few pilots. I sold a feature script before the pandemic so I’m hoping that will begin shooting sometime this year.
What do you miss the most about going to the movies?
The experience of watching movies with people and hearing them react to what they are seeing. Sometimes when people refer to “the cinematic experience,” they mean a big screen and big sound. For me, the cinematic experience is the people.