THE most recently developed phase of the theatres is the photoplayhouse, devoted to the silent drama. Enthusiasts claim that the daily attendance at these theatres is ten millions of people. Sceptics believe that not more than three millions form the daily attendance, but whether the disputed daily attendance be ten per cent of the total population of the United States or only three and one-third per cent, its influence as a social factor and a popular form of entertainment is most potent.
The remarkable growth of the motion picture theatre in the last fifteen years and its constantly increasing popularity have caused many changes in the business of the regular theatre. The aim of the photoplayhouse is to present motion pictures in an attractive manner to a discriminating public, and the better to serve this purpose countless numbers of old theatres have been remodeled and many buildings erected.
European countries - countries in Asia, Africa, Australia, South America, Canada and Mexico, too, are seized with this same popular fever for the cinema. Universal success has crowned the photo stage. England, Germany and Russia occasionally surpass America in the construction of their cinematograph theatres, not in size perhaps, but in their superior appointments and better arrangements for comfort.
An enterprising Russian exhibitor named Khanjonkoff, anxious to increase the seating ca-pacity of a photoplayhouse he was erecting in a thickly populated section of Moscow, devised an ingenious plan of auditorium, combining three floors facing one screen. He constructed the house with a pit floor in the basement beneath the street for the cheaper patrons. On this floor he placed a large orchestra well directly in front of the screen, with the vacant space above it extending upward past the main floor and balcony.
This arrangement permitted the utilization of nearly the entire depth of each floor for seating. The seats on the basement floor began at the edge of the orchestra well and extended back to the rear wall with a slightly downward pitch; these patrons being compelled to look upward to view the screen. The main floor over it began at a point just above the fifth row in the pit, and in-clined upward with the usual ground floor slope as it receded to the rear wall. The seats on this floor were arranged in the usual manner. The balcony above the main floor began at a point about five rows back from the beginning point of the main floor, and ascended with the customary balcony risers to the rear of the theatre.
The designing of photoplayhouses in America is yet in an experimental stage. Few architects understand or attempt to learn the requirements of this special type of building. The first problem to be solved when planning a theatre of this class is its size in relation to its location. Ordinarily a photoplayhouse must be located so as to attract the greatest number of patrons from the immediate neighborhood, unless, of course, a large photoplayhouse for general patronage be contemplated. In this case a central site on a busy thoroughfare should be chosen.
Most cities have definite laws dividing motion picture theatres into several distinct classes. Usually if the house has a capacity of less than 300 persons ample frontage on the street, without alleys on either side, is considered sufficient. Should the seating capacity be between 300 and 1000, there must be for less than 600 seats alleys at least five feet wide on each side of the auditorium, with six inches in width added for every 100 seats until 1000 is reached. These alleys must empty into a street either at the front or rear of the building.
In some cities the passage may begin at the exits and continue to the street or alley, except where the theatre has a balcony, in which case the alley must extend the entire length of the auditorium so as to connect with the balcony at its highest and lowest points. If a passage be necessary beneath the stage or any other portion of the building a fireproof passage can usually be substituted for art open one. If the theatre seats more than 1000 persons it must have, in addition to the street frontage, alleys not less than ten feet wide on each side of the auditorium.
If a popular-priced photoplayhouse on a grand scale is being planned for the patronage of the masses it should be palatial in design, of colossal dimensions, and arranged to seat the greatest possible number of people. If a medium-sized neighborhood photoplayhouse be desired it should be located on the popular promenade in such a section and planned for a capacity of from 1200 to 1400 persons. The smaller theatres are rarely built at the present time except in local neighborhoods where the anticipated patronage is limited.
After it has been decided to which class the proposed house belongs, the next thing to be considered is whether it would be a good investment to utilize some of the front space for stores, offices, or both. Local ordinances should be carefully studied in order to better comprehend their restrictions. Where there be an opportunity for decided improvement by transgression this subject should be taken up with the proper authorities without delay, for the purpose of securing authoritative consent for the contemplated changes. Much good may result from persistent effort, especially where justice be on one's side.
Buildings devoted to a new kind of enterprise should have a special architectural design of their own, instead of being mere modifications of existing types. Such ideas of originality in design have not yet been developed in this country in connection with the motion picture theatre, although in these days of keen competition every resource should be called upon to improve the character of the house and its program. The more appropriately designed house, presenting its pictures in the more artistic or unique manner, and treating its patrons with due consideration and politeness, is bound to have greater success than its competitor who continues in the beaten path.