F.A.Q. About The Byrd Theatre

Q-I keep hearing  about  this  fund  raising  and  the  Byrd
Theatre  Foundation.   Is  the  Byrd in trouble?  Will it be

A-While the Byrd is in no immediate danger of closing, times
are  uncertain  for all movie theatres.  The idea behind The
Byrd Theatre Foundation is to guarantee  that  never  happen
and  make  certain  the  Byrd remains a community asset.  If
properly supported  by  the  community,  it  will  give  the
theatre  more  financial  stability  and  allow  the Byrd to
undertake major restoration efforts such  as  repairing  the
seats  without  the financial risk of doing so as a strictly
commercial operation.                                       

Q-But the Byrd Theatre is a historical landmark-doesn't that
mean that it already is protected?                          

A-No!   The  Byrd  is  listed  on both the state and federal
historic landmark  registries,  all  that  gets  us  is  the
plaques  on  the  front of the building.  (And we had to pay
for the plaques!)                                           

Q-So, now that the Foundation owns it, will  the  Byrd  will
just be a museum?                                           

A-Not  at all.  The Byrd is and will remain the only genuine
movie palace open as a movie palace 365 days a  year.   This
is the best way for the most people to see it at its best.  

Q-Any thought of converting it to a performing arts center? 

A-No!   Certainly  not  completely, though it gets suggested
often enough.  Consider this: The area already  has  several
such  venues and none of them open their doors anywhere near
as often as we do.  Not only is being a  movie  theatre  the
best way for the largest number of people to see us, it also
is part of what makes us unique.                            

Q-How is the fund raising going?                            

A-Slowly!   To  begin  with,  although  the  Foundation  has
existed  almost  5  years, it has taken most of that time to
negotiate the purchase of the building and that purchase was
only  made  final in May of 2007.  It is a difficult time to
be a non-profit in the US.  Also, we often  repeat  that  we
are  a  "victim  of our own success." We clearly have a good
business  and  one  of  the  most  attended  attractions  in
Richmond.   We aren't obviously in need of help.  Of course,
that's part of the point.  Now is the time  to  protect  the
Byrd forever, because the amount of money needed to do so is
minuscule compared to what it would  take  if  the  building
ever closed and sat idle even for a year.                   

Q-Why  not simply raise the price a buck or two?  That would
help raise money, wouldn't it?                              

A-Not really, understand that  even  though  the  Foundation
owns  the  theatre,  the  day  to  day  operations are still
for-profit, so that money wouldn't be  considered  donations
to  a  non-profit organization.  In fact, it isn't all ours;
the lion's share of what is taken in at the Box Office  goes
to  the  distributors, the people who own the films we show.
Higher prices don't translate directly to more money for us.
Also there's the issue of competition: we don't compete with
the first-run theatres as much as we do  with  video  rental
and home entertainment options.  This doesn't leave a lot of
leeway: when we were forced by distributor pricing practices
to  go from $.99 to $1.99 our business suffered an immediate
40% drop!  And, perhaps most importantly, we want to  remain
a unique family bargain for Richmonders.                    

Q-So you need to become non-profit to stay afloat?          

A-Yes   and   No.    Our  business  is  currently  basically
self-supporting and in all likelihood will remain so  for  a
while.  The point is to create the ability to do some things
which are impractical as a commercial operation and  protect
this historical operation from the uncertainties of business
and, at the same time, expand our educational and historical
role in the community.                                      

Q-Why don't you show more classic and old films?            

A-We  try to from time to time and hopefully will do more in
the  future  but  past  experience  has  shown  them  to  be
unprofitable  in the long run because of TCM and DVDs and we
have to stick to our second-run films which  have  supported
us  and  kept  us  going  for  the  past  25  years.   Being
non-profit will also make it easier  for  us  to  have  more
special  and  "classic"  movie events.  Our bread and butter
will probably remain the current product.                   

Q-What was the Byrd Theatre before it was a movie theatre?  

A-It was built as  a  movie  theatre.   It  has  never  been
anything else.                                              

Q-Why does it have the Wurlitzer organ?                     

A-At  the  time  it  was built, a significant portion of the
films the Byrd showed were still silent.  Sound  films  were
still  considered  a  "new  fad" and most industry "experts"
were still certain the "novelty" would wear off and  silents
would  become  standard  again.   Every theatre still had an
organist who would provide mood music for the film and  even
sound effects.                                              

Q-So the Byrd had a sound system when it opened?            

A-Yes!   In  fact,  it had two!  It was the first theatre in
the state to open as a  sound  theatre.   There  were  other
theatres  which  had  added sound, but we had it on day one.
The systems  then  were  the  VitaPhone  brand  system,(made
famous  by  the  film, The Jazz Singer with Al Jolsen) which
consisted of phonograph  records  run  in  tandem  with  the
films, and a Western Electric system.                       

Q-What was the first movie shown at the Byrd?               

A-The  Byrd  opened  on December 24, 1928 with Waterfront, a
First National picture (not to be confused with the later On
The Waterfront.)  This movie was originally shot as a silent
film and then half of it was re-done in sound to  capitalize
on the new "fad".                                           

Q-I  love  coming  to  the  Byrd,  but why do I have to wait
outside after I buy my ticket?                              

A-The Byrd is wonderful.  But it is old.  At the time it was
built, movie going habits were different: people would buy a
ticket at any time, go in and watch the  film,  a  newsreel,
maybe  a  cartoon  and  perhaps  more than one film and they
wouldn't  leave  until  they  had  seen  everything.   Also,
incredible  as  it seems now, there was no concession stand!
Because of these factors, it wasn't considered necessary  to
build  huge,  cavernous  lobbies.   So now there is no space
inside the building large enough for a crowd to  wait  where
they  don't  block  the  safe  egress  of the patrons inside
watching the  film.   Thus  fire  laws  (remember,  everyone
exiting has to travel all the way forward or back, there are
no side exits) and common sense prevent us from using any of
our interior space as a waiting area.                       

Q-That's  fine with a crowd, but it seems silly if there are
just a couple of people.                                    

A-Perhaps, but since we can't see into the future,  we  have
no  idea  how  many  will  come  before we are able to seat.
Should we let the later 50 stare at the first 5 through  the
doors?  The only fair thing is to make everyone wait.       

Q-Why don't you show matinees during the week?              

A-Because  they  simply  don't attract enough business to be
profitable.  Indeed, from a strictly profit standpoint, they
are  marginal  on  the  weekends,  but  we  want to continue
offering them for our patrons who find it difficult to visit
at night.                                                   

Q-I love it when the organist plays the piano from the organ
console!  What about the harp?  Does it ever get played?    

A-The harp was brought in  as decoration and came to us with
a  cracked  soundboard,  rendering  it unusable as an actual

For additional answers please E-mail questions to:          
Todd Schall-Vess,General Manager, Byrd Theatre @