Sitting in a crowded Theater after a Pandemic
When was the last time your love for something was tested? How did you react? Were you ready for the test? Recently I sat in on a movie and it made me feel some type of a way. A way that I have felt before but was foreign to me in this space. For the first time in a while the actual film wasn’t my full focus. It was the surroundings, the space in which I had to watch the movie that had me in my feelings. You see, this is the first time I have been in a crowded theater since the pandemic, and if I’m being honest, I wasn’t prepared.
I have been going to the movies for as long as I can remember and have never thought about who was sitting next to me. On a few occasions I have dealt with the chatty neighbor who talks too much or the moviegoer that seems to have enough snacks to last the run the time of the movie, “Titanic” . To add insult to injury, every bite is accompanied by smacking so loud I contemplate asking the projectionist if they could turn the volume on the movie up! Still, even those annoyances could not deter my love. In other social settings I would try to create space between myself and other people to make myself comfortable but in the theater, I have always accepted that being in close proximity to a stranger is just a part of the experience. However, if I’m being honest, times are different.
During and since the pandemic there have been social distancing mandates that keep people separated, spacing between seats and generally people weren’t showing up to watch movies. In the past two years crowds had become non-existent. Pulling into the parking lot of the theater was the first sign that this night could be a crowded one. Pre pandemic, seeing a crowded parking lot for a movie premier made me feel like I was in the right place. Whether the movie was good or bad didn’t matter yet because I loved being apart of the crowd and we all had tickets to be entertained! Over the past year and a half I had gotten used to pulling into an empty parking lot and choosing a spot right up front, but this day I was forced to find parking in the back. As I pulled into the spot I did not feel what used to be love from seeing the crowd but rather the unwanted feelings of annoyance and a bit of anxiety.
These unwanted feelings accompanied me into the theater. It felt like a home I used to live in but now there are new tenets. Even more to the point it felt like intruders had infiltrated my hideout. Since the pandemic, there was never any cause for rush because my hideout featured limited access. I had gotten used to walking in ten minutes after the movie call time and moving effortlessly from the entrance, to the concession, to my seat. I used to love getting to my seat early and watching the trailers, not so much these days. I kind of want to get in and get out. I know that doesn’t sound like love and trust me, it doesn’t feel like it either, but I knew love could be found at the concession stand. I had become accustomed to passing the rope meant to keep “interlopers”, I mean movie goers, in order and walking right up to the counter to get my cold cookie dough bites and sweet tea. Not today, the rope was meant for me.
After waiting for my treats, I finally got to the theater to find my seat. I expected the movie to have already started. Normally I could afford to be about ten minutes later than the start time of the movie, affording me the ability to drop into my seat just as the movie started. The crowd had been much lighter in the recent past, but on this night I was sure the unanticipated crowd had made me miss the beginning of the movie. To my surprise the theater was dark. No theater lights, no projector lights to help navigate my way to my seat. There seemed to be an issue with the projector causing a delay.
Using the light from my phone I found my way to my seat. I had bumped into a couple of people on the way but my focus did not allow me to think much of it and as I sat down the screen lit up. The sounds of cheers and clapping filled the room. At that moment I did not care what was on the screen, the sound of the celebration had tipped me off to something much worse than the movie I would end up watching. For the first time in over a year and half I was sitting in a packed theater.
It had been almost 2 years, a different time in life, the world was different. I knew all these things to be true but did not understand them. Reaching for my mask to quickly cover my face told me the impossible. I was no longer used to being in a crowded theater. I looked to my left, my right, front and behind me to see moviegoers enjoying their time, I was looking for a way out. Was there an open seat somewhere away from everyone? If so, I would have taken it, but there were no vacancies. I wanted to leave but my obligation of having to do a review of the film bound me to my seat.
As the film ended my uneasiness did not subside and the movie, not being very good, did not help take my mind off my predicament. I watched the people around me. I saw faces, full faces, smiles with no mask, no distancing. I curled up in my seat and waited for the last person to leave. To my dismay they were not in a hurry to find the exit. I was forced to think a bit deeper than my surface anxiety brought on at the site of a crowd in a theater.
I have been going to watch movies in theaters for as long as I remember. I’ve been told that as kid I was flipping around and kicking while watching “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”. I sat in a packed theater while watching the found footage ghost film”, Paranormal Activity” and to this day I attest the crowd made the experience better. One of the best experiences I have had was watching Marvels “Infinity War” and cheering with a crowd of people that I did not know. I bring these moments up because I never had a problem with crowds in a theater. In fact, for the most part it’s been the contrary and suddenly I am forced to realize an issue I did not know I had. Is my love for seeing movies in the theater strong enough to contend with my newfound anxiety of crowds?
I suppose at some point I will get used to a packed theater again but in this moment in time I am having reservations about reserving a seat to the movies. The pandemic has created a situation that has shaken my love for watching movies in a theater. The first time I could see a movie on the big screen after a few months of being banned from the theater, I realized how much I had taken the experience for granted! As production companies are going back to the old model and not releasing movies on the streamers, heading back to the theaters with crowds seems inevitable. The big question remains, what would have to change for me to feel comfortable enough to love the experience again. The answer is me; I would have to change. The experience is going back to what it was, and I would contend what it should be. The movies, good or bad, will always be apart of the experience. The crowds big or small have always been part of the experience. The pandemic has changed me more than anything but my love for experiencing movies a in theater, though shaken, is not broken.