The second theatre to be described is an original model of a large theatre, similar in size to the Hippodrome just described, and intended for the spectacular display of motion pictures. The combination diagram of the floor plans of this building illustrated at the conclusion of this chapter shows the main floor division on the right side of the diagram and the balcony section on the left side.
A patron entering this spacious lobby is impressed with the plain paneled marble walls and the simple Greek Doric style of decoration. He purchases his ticket at one of the ticket windows and proceeds past the liveried door attendant into a spacious foyer, comfortably furnished with long upholstered settees that rest against the side walls. Hearing the blast of the orchestral band he approaches one of the five glass paneled doors between the groups of inclosed rear boxes that separate the foyer from the audience hall.
These aisle doors lead into five broad passages that divide the great seating space of the main floor into six longitudinal divisions. At the extreme ends of these groups of boxes are also two glass paneled doors connecting with a broad transverse passage. This passage divides the seating space across the middle, leaving ten rows of low-backed chairs on each side of it.
These chairs are separated in rows by ample passage space, measuring three feet from back to back. Turning about the patron views the open fronts of the inclosed boxes extending in semicircular form with flattened sides and rear, from one side exit to the opposite side exit. In the foyer, just outside these side exits, the toilets are arranged underneath the space usually occupied for stage boxes. On one side is an accommodation room for ladies and on the other side a smoking room and a toilet for men.
The patron proceeds down the aisle and observes on his right instead of a stage box a large terraced semi-circular music stand for the orchestra, with a similar provision for a large chorus on the left side. The domed ceiling and side walls of both are smoothly curved and treated in the familiar manner of sounding-boards for park music stands. Between the arch columns of the outer broad proscenium is an opening some seventy-five feet in width. Before the curtain that divides the stage from the audience there is an open waterway in the space where one usually finds the orchestra. A wide arched bridge spans this waterway midway between the proscenium supporting columns, the front portion being exposed to view. Later, when the curtain rises the entire bridge extending back to the solid stage will be exposed, and underneath this bridge one will see splendid gondolas float, bearing gorgeously costumed gondoliers singing Italian songs.
Before taking his seat, the visiting spectator takes a sweeping look at the balcony above and behind him. He beholds a deep balcony fringed at the front with open loggias, each seating ten persons. Back of these loggias are twelve rows of the same sort of low-backed chairs as those on the main floor, divided by four aisles that lead up from the passageway behind the loggias to a spacious standing space behind the last row of seats. He notices that each of these aisles split into two passages near the bottom to permit the entrance of a passageway that tunnels its way beneath the main balcony seats to the front row of loggias. He resolves to explore further that section during the intermission.
The patron, comfortably seated in his low-backed arm-chair, now watches the great asbestos curtain as it slowly rises, and reveals behind it another proscenium opening, capable of expansion and contraction to any desired size. The curtain of this inner opening splits in the middle and gracefully folds back on both sides as it rises, revealing a stepped platform set a few feet back on the stage and surmounted by a great Roman arch. Upon the rigid white expanse within this arch the pictures are shown to the accompanying strains of appropriate music.
Following the first picture comes the closing of the curtains of the inner arch and the singing of the choir accompanied by the music of the band. When the curtains are again separated the scene on the stage has been completely changed by the simple turning of a large turntable platform fitted in the stage floor. This platform has arranged upon it at right angles to the screen in the Roman arch, another screen framed in a large deep golden molding, similar to that used in art galleries for framing pictures. On either side of it hang corresponding frames, within which are exposed brilliantly lighted groups of live figures representing stationary art scenes. After a brief interval the lights of the living pictures are turned off, and the moving picture in the central frame is shown alone.
The spectator notices small groups of people coming in the theatre during the interval, but not a single person enters during the showing of the picture. He is informed afterward that it is a rule of the house to detain latecomers in the spacious foyer until the pause between pictures.
During the long intermission that divides the program the visitor leaves his seat and, going to the rear foyer, climbs one of the broken flights of stairs that lead to the mezzanine floor. Here he observes that this floor resembles a sort of balcony to the rear foyer, and is equipped with cloak rooms and offices between the tunnel passages that pierce the balcony. He traverses one of these and discovers that they are the same tunnels that he saw from below. Upon further investigation he discovers toilets at the ends of the balcony and behind the spaces reserved for the orchestra and chorus.. He also learns that from an entrance outside the auditorium a large projection room situated on the floor above the rear balcony can be reached. This impresses him as an excellent idea in case of a sudden fire in that dangerous zone. If the room be fireproof and there be no openings into the auditorium a fire would burn itself out before being detected by the audience.
He is also informed that the large dome that adorns the center of the auditorium ceiling is a sliding roof, one hemisphere of which slides to one side while the other half slides to the other side by the pressure of a push-button, exposing a clear view of the sky in pleasant weather. This, too, is a most desirable innovation that has never come to his notice before.
Wandering through the foyer corridor he is struck by the ample means furnished for the comfort of patrons under normal conditions, and the completeness of the safety provision in case of danger. Distributed along the side walls of the foyer, where there are no racks for hanging coats, are settees where the tired may sit, leaving plenty of promenade space for those who prefer to walk. Here at last is a theatre with sufficient lounging space where patrons may wait in comfort for seats to be vacated in the auditorium. In time of fire this same foyer will provide room for the congregation of frightened masses, and its isolation will make it safe from any gas or smoke created in the theatre proper. Along the side walls are many exit doors that lead direct to the open, and in the interior audience hall it is possible to ventilate quickly the entire room by opening the immense dome that crowns the center of the hall.
The patron does not fail to notice that the entire auditorium, foyer and lobby are illuminated by continuous rows of incandescent lamps hidden behind cornices that reflect their rays from rounded coves surmounting the upper side walls, and look for all the world like a brilliantly painted band instead of a source of light. It is with a feeling of great satisfaction that he leaves the theatre.