Part of a series of stories capturing the transition to post-pandemic normalcy.
BROOKLINE — Before the pandemic, John Voss and his wife, Mira, could often be found in the center of the third row at the Coolidge Corner Theatre. On Thursday, they were back.
“You’re just engulfed by the screen, yet you have people around you,” said Voss, a 76-year-old Brookline resident.
His seat had been empty for 14 months after the world sputtered to a halt in March 2020, forcing the theater to close. Since reopening May 13, the community landmark has come alive with moviegoers anxious to lose themselves again in the big screen.
In dark, cozy theaters like Coolidge Corner, the movies are providing a welcome, familiar escape from the troubles that hopefully are behind us. “What we like about coming here is the community, the people,” Voss said.
On a rainy Thursday evening, the theater’s marquee radiated vibrant purple and blue neon onto Harvard Street. The lobby was abuzz with couples, friends, and families dashing in from the rain, hurrying to make the 6:30 showing of “In the Heights” or “Summer of Soul” at 7.
Those who arrived too early to be seated chatted as they stood in the concession line and the popcorn machine puttered in the background.
Thursday marked Steve Gag’s return to the theater, which dates back to 1933. Before the pandemic, the 69-year-old Roslindale resident said, his group of friends had come to the Coolidge once or twice a week “for years.” Afterward, they would head over to Otto’s Pizza across the street and discuss the movie. Although the group has yet to resume the tradition, Gag said they would return in a couple of weeks.
During the pandemic, he said, his friends continued the tradition at someone’s house on their television, but the Coolidge’s large screen and atmosphere could not be replicated.
“I hated it. I like coming here a lot better,” Gag said.
At 7 p.m., the lights began to dim. About 45 moviegoers settled into the Coolidge’s red and gold main theater to watch Questlove’s documentary “Summer of Soul,” which showcases musical performances at the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival. For the next two hours, the sounds of Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, and others began trickling through speakers that complement the theater’s excellent acoustics. Whoops and claps broke out after each performance.
“I don’t know what was better: watching the movie or just being in the audience and just hearing people clap and talk,” Melanie Davis-Kay, 23, of Arlington, said as people were trickling out of the theater after the credits.
Nearly two months after reopening, the independent cinema has almost returned to normal — albeit with masks and hand sanitizer. Supporting the theater was a noted priority among patrons, including long-term friends Judith Nathans, 74, of Cambridge, and Lorraine Fine, 78, of Brookline.
“I was so worried they would go under. I kept donating $5 here and $5 there,” Fine said.
Katherine Tallman, the theater’s executive director and chief executive, said that the community always has been supportive, but that became more apparent over the past year.
“I used to say the Coolidge is so much more than a building, it’s really about the community. Well, it became only about the community for a while,” said Tallman.
While grabbing popcorn and Milk Duds for his family of four and his extended family, Stuart Marquis, 52, said he braved the rain to see “In the Heights” and show his family the historic theater. With the majority of the family vaccinated, he believed this was a good time to return.
“There is all this pent-up demand for entertainment there,” said Marquis, of Brookline. “It’s the right time to jump out there and say, ‘We’re here for the Coolidge.’ ”
Marquis’s daughters, who were primarily focused on choosing their candy, turned around, drinks in hand, and voiced what he left unsaid.
“We are so excited,” pipped Daphne Marquis, 8.
“Totally excited,” added 12-year-old Josie Marquis.
Snacks in hand, the family raced to the second floor in search of the perfect seats.
Kate Lusignan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.