By Cassandra Castillo, Asst. Features Editor —
The Tivoli Theatre, a once lively venue that held notable live art performances in Chattanooga, opened its doors once again for the Bobby Stone film series and is operating under COVID-19 safety regulations.
The Bobby Stone Series was named after the late, local filmmaker of the same name. He was present in Tivoli Foundation and hoped to “revamp” movie screenings, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Opening night began April 9 and showed the fairly recent film “A Star is Born” and ended with the classic “Citizen Kane” on April 25. The popular animated Disney film “Frozen” and academy award winners “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Nomadland” also made an appearance. A total of fourteen films were displayed throughout the month all for $12 a ticket.
The Bobby Stone series will be showing three films on May 4 beginning at 1pm in honor of “Star Wars”.
Live shows are expected to return this fall, starting with the Allman Betts band on Oct. 1. Tickets are on sale now and a lineup of fall events is in the works after many were rescheduled.
Executive director of the Tivoli Foundation Nick Wilkinson said they closed their venues in March of 2020. These venues included Tivoli Theatre, Walker Theatre and Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Auditorium.
Since then they have reopened in accordance with the city more generally. Last fall they held the Bobby Stone Series, much like they are now, at 12% capacity. Recently, they held the mayoral and city council inauguration in which Tim Kelley and several council members took the stage.
Before they were allowed to enter the building on opening night, an employee took guests’ temperatures, and velvet crowd control barriers directed them to the security entrance. The concession stand was still open, and the lobby had an array of sanitizer stations.
Upon entering the theatre, every other row was closed off with red tape. Seating was scattered, six feet apart, across the auditorium. The only exceptions were couples and the select few groups who had arrived together.
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga freshmen Abby Young attended opening night. She said that after over a year of not seeing a movie on the big screen, the Tivoli felt like the first place to go.
“I was initially hesitant to go,” Young said. “I try to be cautious because there’s still a pandemic, but I was impressed with how [the Tivoli] operated. Not everyone wore their masks during the film, but other than that they were usually good about it.”
Freshman Jaheim Williams also attended opening night and noted how — like many Chattanooga stores or restaurants — the Tivoli marked where guests could walk without interfering with others.
“I was also impressed with how they handled us entering the building and taking our temperatures,” he said. “I felt pretty good about being there, and I think it’s because of the amount of people they allow in. We couldn’t really get near anybody.”
Restrooms were at half capacity and floors marked with red tape directed one-way foot traffic. Wilkinson said thorough cleaning takes place after each performance and staff asks guests to have masks on unless they are eating; they were an essential part of keeping people distanced.
The pandemic has greatly impacted their revenue and staff. The foundation lost about $8.5 million in revenue last year due to the amount of time they were closed, according to News Channel 12. As a result, several staff members had to furlough, while existing staff took pay cuts.
Wilkinson said they have stayed busy with improvement projects at the Tivoli as they plan for an upcoming restoration. Current staff looks forward to having a full team in place for when they have live events.
“Donations proved vital to the ability of the Tivoli Theatre Foundation to weather the storm,” Wilkinson said. “While we entered into this in relatively healthy shape, the longer the pandemic has lasted the support of the community has been essential to our ability to maintain our historic properties, as well as be prepared to promote live events when it’s safe and healthy to do so again.”