Throwback theater nights serve up nostalgia with your popcorn

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If you're somebody who has watched even a little TV in, say, the last 25 years, there's a good chance you've seen "Friends." Since the show's Sept. 22, 1994, debut on NBC, Rachel, Ross, Phoebe, Joey, Chandler and Monica have become like family members to millions of fans, first as weekly visitors in viewers' homes and later as on-demand guests.

Yet, to celebrate the sitcom's anniversary, Phoenix Theatres wants "Friends" enthusiasts in the Berkshires to ditch their couches and head for Pittsfield's Beacon Cinema. Through its Fathom Events programming, the Michigan-based company that bought the Beacon in December 2018 will offer "Friends" episodes and never-before-seen bloopers beginning at 7 and 9:15 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 23; 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28; and 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 2, at its North Street property.

"It basically gives you a way to watch this that you haven't had before," Phoenix Theatres Marketing Director Joe Cork said by phone Tuesday.

Each night will offer different episodes. "The One Where Monica Gets a Roommate" (the pilot), "The One with the Blackout," "The One with the Birth" and "The One Where Ross Finds Out" will be shown the first night. On Sept. 28, "The One with the Prom Video," "The One Where No One's Ready," "The One with the Morning After" and "The One with the Embryos" will run. And "The One with Chandler in a Box," "The One with Ross's Wedding Part 2," "The One Where Everyone Finds Out" and "The One Where Ross Got High" will be screened on Oct. 2.

Fathom Events will provide the footage. The company digitally broadcasts arts and sporting events as well as TV shows and classic movies in more than 1,000 theaters across the U.S. For instance, its series include "TCM Big Screen Classics," which will bring "The Shawshank Redemption" to the Pittsfield theater Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday, Sept. 25; "Studio Ghibli Fest"; "Bolshoi Ballet 2019-2020 Season"; and "The Met: Live in HD."

The popularity of the Beacon's prior Metropolitan Opera screenings is what prompted Phoenix Theatres to explore Fathom's full catalog as an option on North Street, according to Cork. Phoenix Theatres' Livonia, Mich., and Pittsfield theaters are the company's "guinea pigs" for the live event series, he said.

But classic movie screenings aren't new in the Berkshires. Throwbacks have been an "anchor" of The Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center's programming since the Great Barrington theater's restoration more than a decade ago, according to executive director Beryl Jolly.

"It's something people can count on," Jolly said.

Receiving feedback from attendees, staff and donors, the theater aims to present films that remain relevant and resonant today. Local ties can also play a role in the series, which has been backed by the Buchwald family. Two films by Bard College at Simon's Rock alums Joel and Ethan Coen — "The Big Lebowski" (Sept. 29) and "True Grit" (Oct. 3) — will be shown in the coming weeks. More immediately, "The Last Picture Show" will run on Thursday, Sept. 26. And, as always, "The Wizard of Oz" will appear on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

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"I look to be as multigenerational and inclusive as possible," Jolly said.

The Beacon is still figuring out the right mix for its Fathom Events shows, which fill theaters that aren't occupied by first-runs of major studio productions.

"It's been a mixed bag," Cork said of the series' popularity in Pittsfield thus far, noting that promotion was a problem initially.

Last month, however, featured one of the cinema's most successful events: "I Love Lucy" in color.

"We actually added showtimes for it because of the popularity," Cork said.

Pre-sales have been strong for "Friends," too, according to Cork.

"This is just one of those, company-wide, that everybody's excited about," he said.

Though many might prefer to just stream the series on Netflix in the comfort of their homes, not many people have 30-foot screens in their houses, Cork noted. Moreover, there's a social component to the theater that couch potatoes miss out on.

"When you actually go out on the town, you're actually participating in something. You're getting out, and you're having fun, and you're living life," he said. "You can do that with, no pun intended, with your friends while watching 'Friends.'"

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at bcassidy@berkshireeagle.com, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.


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