The first time I walked into the Lorraine Theatre in Hoopeston, I was impressed by the huge building, the old marquee, the façade on the outside of the building…and then I walked into one of the twin doors leading into the auditorium. I was blown away. How in the world has a theater like this survived in Smalltown, Illinois? Barely, by the stories the theater tells. Over her 86 years, the Lorraine has escaped the fate of so many single-screen movie houses: defamation of its beauty, twinning, and demolishment. It stands as a time capsule from days gone by, when crowds of hundreds used to pack its gigantic auditorium and settle in its balcony. She has suffered from dwindling attendance, with her most previous owner having no understanding of the locale in Hoopeston, but now faces a promising future with new ownership. Perhaps the lonely Lorraine has been finally discovered by someone who will love her like she deserves.
The Lorraine’s new owner, Joshua Caudle, spoke with me about Hoopeston’s beloved movie theater and what we can look forward to in her future.
JN: Why did the Lorraine in Hoopeston appeal to you?
JC: Exactly that was the appeal, that tandem…the Lorraine in Hoopeston. Hoopeston is a great community that due to economic factors beyond its control, has fallen on exceptionally hard times in the last few years. The Lorraine is the perfect theatre in the perfect setting on Main Street, USA to serve as the anchor tenant and catalyst for the rebirth of our downtown, with our additional and alternative programming, and special events. We can do things here that the competition can’t, because they have one single rigid cookie-cutter business plan that they apply to all of their theaters en mass. We live in the community we serve, our decisions aren’t made in a corporate office hundreds of miles away. We actively listen to the input of our patrons, and can adapt.
JN: What kind of changes will we be seeing at the Lorraine?
JC: I personally don’t think “changes” is the most apt word, more so “improvements.” The Lorraine is a great facility, our sound is nearly twice the quality of the competition. While Dolby Digital is a high quality system, it is only five channels of sound. Our SDDS (Sony Dynamic Digital Sound) is eight discreet channels of sound.
Other improvements are of course the seats, and a decor cleanup with the interior of the theatre being rejuvenated, but more shows and films, and more often. This outdated methodology of an average one show per day is basically telling your patrons to go see the film elsewhere. And in our case, elsewhere is much further away, costs more in tickets and gas, and has a lower quality film presentation. Beyond that, given the state of our economy, I strongly feel it’s paramount more than ever that we make every effort to keep our dollars in our local communities with locally owned and operated businesses. In most retail settings that usually means paying more for the same thing, and in our case, it’s paying less and keeping dollars in our community. Especially around here, one of the Lorraine’s competitors charges almost 30% more for tickets, plus bans young people (16 and under) from coming to see films, any film after 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays unless Mom or Dad comes with and watch the movie too, even if a movie is rated G. That’s a nice way of essentially extorting another ticket sale out of families, and again at almost 30% more per ticket. The Lorraine will never, never discriminate against young people like that.
Lastly on this, we too will have online ticket sales going we hope by next week…that’s not anything special, but our online ticket sales will have no additional fees. You will pay the same price online as you would making the drive down, saving yourself the time, and the gas in the process, none of this $1.00 or more per ticket fee garb. Why not charge a fee like everyone else does? Because we don’t have to. See, that’s the fundamental difference between me and my competition…they think “We do it because we can!” I say “If we don’t have to, then why do it?”
JN: How many new seats are going into the theater?
JC: Our designs set the new seating capacity between 350 and 375, and that’s with 60 inch aisles/5 feet. For a comparison, the average what I coined calling “monopolyplexes” only offer approximately 46’’, so we’re beating modern theatres by over a foot of legroom. And our seats are of course all high-back and feature retractable armrests. Most of the area ’plexes have either or, or neither!
JN: How old were the old seats?
JC: The seats coming out are likely from the 1934 remodel, as the theatre was first opened in 1922. I’d like to note we’re donating a good number of them to our local live theatre group, who I understand has no proper seating, but puts on a great show.
JN: What is your background in the movie theater business?
JC: I have served in various levels of cinema management from the field to the front offices in theatres and chains ranging from 1-11 screens and 5-25 locations, respectively. My philosophy has worked in each and every theatre I’ve been a part of, be they in urban settings or rural small towns.
JN: How are you adjusting to the move from the San Francisco area to Hoopeston, Ill.?
JC: Adjusting is done, I’m really enjoying it here. It’s a great perk to be able to see and interact with a lot of the same great people so regularly.
JN: What kind of audience are you hoping to attract at the Lorraine?
JC: We’re going to attract all kinds of audiences, from seniors to six year-olds, and all points in between by mixing up our offerings.
JN: Can we look forward to seeing more independent film in small town, Illinois?
JC: We’re going to, of course, first and foremost play what people want to see. We played Vicky Cristina Barcelona this last week, an adult drama/comedy with Lakeview Terrace, a PG-13 thriller and Igor, a perfect family film for all ages. This week we’ve got the very exclusive Transsiberian, an adult thriller, Nights in Rodanthe, which is a perfect date romantic title, and we held over Lakeview and Igor. We’ve got thrills, drama, chills and family fun covered, just this week.
JN: Why is the Lorraine a special theater?
JC: The Lorraine is a special theater because, especially today, it’s truly a one of a kind gem…a balcony, a full neon laden marquee, not just the word “MOVIES” dimly lit and slapped up on some brick. You can come here and see your movie, be treated well, and have a great presentation. There’s nothing special about megaplexes; well, nothing more than the special feeling of be shuffled through an airport around a holiday, I think. The Lorraine has stood at 324 East Main Street for 86 years, showcasing movies, live theatre, weddings, big premieres; in an age where it seems everything we grew up with seems to be gone or disappearing, it’s just an unqualified honor for me to be able to steward more and more history into the place. There’s a whole lot left to be written, so come on out and be a part of it and enjoy your locally owned and operated Cinema.