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Cape Breton theatre company to host movie screenings for family 'bubbles'

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SYDNEY, N.S. — Movie enthusiasts in Cape Breton looking for a big screen fix to watch their favourite film will get that opportunity next month at a small regional theatre in Sydney.

After getting the go-ahead from Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, the Highland Arts Theatre will begin movie screenings for individual, single-family "bubbles" of up to 10 people beginning June 10.

Wesley Colford, the theatre's artistic and executive director, said the performing arts venue has been looking for an opportunity to generate some revenue since closing nearly three months ago, and saw an opportunity in the province's new guidelines that allow two family groups to socialize.

"We thought of, 'What are the things we could do that might offer a unique experience to people who are looking for a night away from home, while of course maintaining social distancing guidelines,'" said Colford. "When the new bubble protocol was announced it did sort of spark the idea."

For a flat fee of $150 plus HST, families or groups as small as just two people on a date can see a movie of their choice, as long as the theatre's distributor has it in stock and the film requested isn't a movie that has been released within the last three months.

Popcorn and a drink will also be provided to each guest as part of the fee, and families will have their choice of watching the film from either the floor seats or the theatre's balcony.

Staff will be using personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves, and Colford said patrons will be immediately asked to go to the bathroom to wash their hands before taking their seats.

Colford said the fees will help cover costs, adding "any amount of revenue" will help in paying the bills.

Nearly six years old, the theatre — built in an old church — is not-for-profit and doesn't receive any ongoing government funding. Under normal circumstances it would typically present 170 nights of programming a year, Colford said.

"We rely on ticketing for over 80 per cent of our revenue, which pays for all of our expenses. So with no events we've been in a pretty tough situation," he said. "At least this gives us a way to start generating some revenue again and hopefully it will lead to more to come as the summer progresses."

The theatre will initially try the idea out for a week, but Colford said signs were already encouraging with movie screenings that were put on sale early Wednesday already halfway booked.

Screenings have been set for 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. on weekdays with a 3 p.m. showing added on weekends.

In an unexpected twist, Colford said the June 10 opening coincides with the anniversary of the theatre's opening night performance in 2014.

Given current circumstances, he said that's probably fitting.

"I believe we had less than 10 people for our very first show as well," Colford noted, chuckling. "So there's an ironic symmetry to that."

— By Keith Doucette in Halifax

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 27, 2020.

The Canadian Press