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Broadway Theatre debuts liquor options at screenings

By in Culture

Saskatoon moviegoers have a new pairing for their popcorn, as the Broadway Theatre has launched Saskatchewan’s first licensed screenings for those 19 years of age and over as of Jan. 17, 2014.

The move to serve alcoholic beverages was premiered alongside Cannes Lions, a reel put together by the Cannes Film Festival that spotlights the world’s most creative advertisements and commercials. Kirby Wirchenko, executive director of the Broadway Theatre, believes that the new drink options may have helped inspire a larger crowd to come out for the evening.

“That film on it’s own, we might have expected 30 or so people to show up but instead we had 70,” Wirchenko said. “I’m sure we poured drinks for about 15 or 18 people, so not quite 25 per cent of the crowd chose to buy something that night. I think it’s probably representative, if maybe a little high, of what we’ll see in the future.”

Catering to an older crowd, the initiative will see all movie showings after 9 p.m. offering alcoholic beverages alongside the more traditional concession options. But even with these age-restricted showings, Wirchenko isn’t worried that the move will lose the business its younger audience.

“Out of our 55,000 visits every year, probably around 8 – 10,000 of those are under 19’s. But they’re almost all for other events,” he said.

Currently, the Broadway Theatre offers beer options through Saskatoon’s own Great Western Brewery and Paddock Wood Brewing Co. — including the latter’s Broadway Theatre Red, made especially for the business — and a range of wine options selected by a sommelier. While only the opening night saw the inclusion of vodka and gin options from Lucky Bastard Distillery, which sponsored the event, Wirchenko hopes to expand the theatre’s selection to include them again in the near future.

“If everything goes well, by this June we should have a remodeled concession,” Wirchenko said. “If that happens, our capacity will change and we’ll probably add in the Lucky Bastard products, the gin and the vodka, and we’ll probably also add in a rum and a whiskey.”

The move to offer alcohol was a natural evolution for a theatre that already held its liquor license for live shows and private events, which make up 160 nights of business each year. While some are worried alcoholic beverages might lead some patrons to be over-served, Wirchenko isn’t concerned.

“If there’s a likelihood that somebody’s going to overimbibe, it’s at a four hour concert. It’s not at a 90 minute movie,” Wirchenko said. “In my six years [at the Broadway] I have been here for probably about 350 nights of live music and, out of that, I’ve locked two people out for being drunk.”

Modified in 2013, the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority’s updated laws now dictate that alcohol can be sold at movie theatres so long as they are offered in age-restricted areas.

Cineplex Entertainment intends to usher in its own adult beverages with a VIP theatre later this year — currently under construction alongside the Galaxy Theatre downtown. By restricting its 9 p.m. and later showings to those 19 years of age and older, the Broadway Theatre was able to circumvent the issue of building a new screen.

While providing alcoholic options is an exciting addition to Saskatoon’s movie scene, Wirchenko believes that the adjustment is indicative of the steps theatres across Canada are taking to avoid the attendance issues that have become commonplace as the cinematic audience continues to dwindle.

“The number of theatres like ours … probably 65 per cent of them have closed in the last decade,” Wirchenko said. “People have changed. Technology has changed. The way you consume music is entirely different than it was just fifteen years ago, and the film industry is about 10 years behind the music industry in terms of changes.”

With the closing of independent theatres so widespread, Wirchenko is proud that the community-owned Broadway Theatre has been able to avoid similar issues by establishing itself as a progressive business.

“We’re not struggling; we’re not begging people for money or donations. We’re thriving. We’re a really successful little arts and culture centre,” Wirchenko said. “If [people] just know that this entity in their city is a pretty odd and rare thing, and that it’s something to be proud of, I think that would be awesome. To me, that’s the big Broadway news story that really doesn’t get out there too much.”

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