Tyrannosaurus Theater

A look into the Essex Cinemas renovations

Story and photos by Alyse Whitney

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Essex Cinemas in Essex, Vt., will be upgrading from 8 screens to 10 screens this fall.

The area is pitch black. Loud sounds are erupting from every direction. The only light is directly in front of you, acting as a distracting agent from the outside world. No matter which way you turn, you won’t be able to escape the T-Rex—the massive T-Rex Theater screen, that is.

Theater Real Extreme is the latest project for Essex Cinemas in Essex, Vt. At 60 feet wide, the enormous screen will curve around the inside of the building’s new addition, providing an IMAX-style experience for customers. “It is bigger than most ‘baby IMAXes’—mini IMAX screens that they do in regular theaters,” manager Dale Chapman says. “They start around 40 feet. This will be bigger by 20 feet.”

A few months ago, Chapman wanted to find a way to excite customers and bring something different to Essex Cinemas. After some brainstorming and research, he knew what it needed: the ‘wow’ factor. “I’m a firm believer that if we’re going to be part of your community, we should be the best part,” Chapman explains.

“I’m a firm believer that if we’re going to be part of your community,
we should be the best part.”

Since opening in October 2001, Essex Cinemas has brought many exciting new amenities to Vermont. It was the first to bring stadium seating, 3-D technology, and plush 24-inch leather seats. Now, it's going even bigger. “It is a luxury experience from the moment you walk in,” says Chapman, referencing the new 26-inch seats that will be put into the new T-Rex Theater.

The seats will also feature large arm and pillow rests, extensive legroom, and stainless steel cup holders. “We want people to come here and be happy; you’re here for two hours. We want you to enjoy it, and we want you to be comfortable. If you fall asleep during the movie, we want you to come back tomorrow and finish it,” Chapman explains with a laugh.

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Essex Cinemas offers everything from popcorn to White Castle cheeseburgers at their concession stand.
In addition to its luxurious feel, the theater will be so tremendous that the new speaker system will require its own 6-foot wide room behind the screen. “No matter where you are sitting in the theater, you will have crisp, clean, beautiful sound,” Chapman says excitedly. “The surround sound is set up so that if you have a really quiet scene with a butterfly flying across the screen, you will hear it go from right to left and behind you. It will be extreme in all aspects.”

“It will be extreme in all aspects.”

The new addition to the theater will pop up sooner than many people would think, but there is a process that they have to go through before any changes are made. “The first step will be to get general town approvals. After that, we will design the building, get it priced, and then look at our capital stack,” explains Peter Edelmann, owner and developer for Essex and Cumberland 12.

According to Chapman, although both theaters are not big-box chains, their private company status will allow them to have ‘the sky is the limit’ as their general mindset during this renovation.

In addition to the extensive sound system and ceiling-to-floor screen, Essex will be adding a second ‘experience’ to their theater: a dinner cinema.

Right next door, movie-goers can choose to sit in a less intense setting with dinner served to them while they enjoy the film. On the weekdays children are welcome, but on the weekends it becomes an adult-only, 21-plus zone. “On the weekends, it is no babies, no kids, no nothing,” Chapman explains. “It needs to be an experience—something people enjoy to do. Keeping it 21 and over is safe for everybody.”

“On the weekends, it is no babies, no kids, no nothing.”

The food from the dinner theater will come from the ‘cinema pub’ that will be set in front of the T-Rex Theater. A small kitchen will provide a variety of food, ranging from typical pub fare to prime rib and pasta dishes on the weekend. These dishes will be served at the concession stand in the main theater, inside the dinner theater, and at a small café located in the lobby.

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The T-Rex Theater logo was developed specifically for Essex and Cumberland 12 Cinemas by the REAL-D company.

During the weekends, the pub portion of the theater will stay open until as late as 1 a.m. for late-night patrons in the area. Although Chapman is unsure if the theater will remain open into the wee hours of the morning, he is going to test the waters with his current customers. The main concern he has for the community is making sure he gives as much as he gets. “A lot of times, companies will come into town to take from the community. Our thing is to come into a community and do as much as we can to help the community grow, support them, and still make a profit,” Chapman says.

Both Essex Cinemas and their sister theater, Cumberland 12 Cinemas, host many blood drives, support local businesses, offer school group showings, and create special events for the community. Recent events have included participation in the 2010 Heart Walk, exciting midnight premiere parties, and an annual ‘Salute to Local Heroes’ day in honor of firefighters, EMTs, and police officers. While these events are used to support the local community, they also include fun activities such as bounce houses and giveaways for patrons of all ages.

In a nutshell, Essex Cinemas is trying to create a one-stop-shop for entertainment, whether it is for a fun evening out or a fundraiser for a neighborhood charity. “We are trying to fit the whole entertainment night or family night out all into one place with one arrival. You can park the car once, go to dinner, go shopping, and go to the movies in a nice local environment,” Chapman says. “Or you can enjoy a nice date with dinner and wine in one theater and send the kids over to the T-Rex for their fun.”

“We are trying to fit the whole entertainment night or family night out
all into one place with one arrival.”

With these specific nights in mind, Chapman focused on the family budget while calculating prices for the T-Rex Theater’s tickets. “We want excitement for families, but not excitement to the point where it hurts,” Chapman explains. “Instead of an extra ten or fifteen dollars like with IMAX, our T-Rex tickets will only be about two dollars more than 3-D costs.”

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The renovations at Essex Cinemas will be completed in November 2010.

Despite their small town status, both Essex Cinemas and Cumberland 12 Cinemas will be undergoing extensive changes throughout the next year. Essex hopes to open its doors in time for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I, giving customers a new and exciting way to enjoy the series. “It [T-Rex] will bring another new showcase of cinema to areas of Essex and hopefully to Cumberland as well,” says Cathers. “You wouldn’t see this type of technology unless you went to Los Angeles or New York City. You get this great experience without leaving the comfort of your home town.”

The changes happening at Cumberland are still on the drawing board, but they are slated to be much bigger. “We hope that everything that is happening at Essex will eventually happen at Cumberland,” says Cathers. Customers should expect to see major changes underway by Spring 2011, but smaller updates—like digital projectors—earlier in the new year. By the time the fall rolls around, Cumberland anticipates their own T-Rex Theater to open, in addition to beer and wine on tap inside a new lounge area.

The renovations will make Cumberland 12 the largest theater in northern New York, and Essex the largest in the state of Vermont. Customers will no longer have to travel to have ‘the IMAX experience’ since they will have access to T-Rex, Cathers explains.

“Bringing this experience will have the same draw as people do to IMAX. They hear it’s cool and know it’s cool. Soon people will be saying, ‘I want to go to the T-Rex, let’s go to the T-Rex’—it will bring a much needed pizzazz to the area.”


What type of food would you like to see at a dinner cinema?

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