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Playhouse Cinema: Reviving Hamilton’s oldest operating theatre

When John Tutt opened Waterloo’s Princess Twin Cinemas in 2005, the term ‘twin cinema’ simply referred to the theatre being able to show two different movies at the same time.

With the grand opening of the Playhouse Cinema this month, the term twin cinema has come to mean something a little different for Tutt — operating independent cinemas in two separate cities.

Originally built in 1914, the Playhouse Cinema was a destination for working class Hamiltonians back when Barton Street enjoyed a level of vibrancy similar to what James Street North is today.

The theatre’s stage made it a popular place for vaudeville until switching to an Italian cinema in the 1960s. During the 1990s, a live theatre company purchased the property in an effort to return the cinema to live performances but failed to rejuvenate the space, vacating the premises shortly after.

The city then stepped in by purchasing the property and selling it to City Kidz Ministry in 1998. City Kidz is a charity that provides programming for low-income children and the theatre made for a good home for nearly two decades.

In 2017 the charity put the building up for sale, relocated to 601 Burlington St E, and sold it to Tutt and his family, closing the deal in February 2018.

It took John Tutt, his wife Wendy, and son Jacob nearly a year to the day until their grand re-opening on March 1st to a sold out crowd.

Mayor Fred Eisenberger had the pleasure of cutting a 35mm film ribbon to celebrate this momentous occasion. The premiere showing was Academy Award winning 1988 ‘Cinema Paradiso’, a throwback to the theatre’s earlier Italian era. Also included in the opening night was a showing of 2018 Polish film “Cold War”, a war-time love story.

Cinephiles are flocking to the Playhouse to see the beautiful high dome ceilings, floral plaster motifs, and stunning architecture that survived the last 105 years. The Tutt family has invested $450,000 in renovations to breathe fresh air into the space including a new digital projector, screen, and surround sound system.

Halving the number of seats originally held, the old, smaller seats have been removed to make space for larger, comfier chairs with adjustable armrests. There is a raised viewing platform used for wheelchair accessible seating and pre-show mingling.

Audiences will also enjoy the revamped lobby area, which includes a new concession stand and stamped tin ceiling. To make the experience even more enticing, Tutt plans to obtain a liquor and beer licence in the near future

The entire cinema has been redesigned with a rich gold, burgundy, and grey colour palette. To top it all off, a new marquee will be added to the front visage. The previous sign has been removed and the new one will actually be an old, refurbished marquee from Brantford’s classic theatre, the Sanderson Centre.

The new owners sure have a lot to be proud of. For over 30 years, they have been showcasing non-mainstream films in their original Princess and Princess Twin Cinemas in Waterloo. Extending their love of art, independent, foreign language, and classic films to Hamilton, this family-run business is welcomed with open arms. The Playhouse Cinema will no doubt become a tourist attraction for Barton Village, providing an economic boost and increasing the sense of community in the area.

Already, the Playhouse has sold over 500 memberships. Memberships are a $10 annual incentive that allows cardholders to enjoy discounts on movie tickets and concession snacks, as well as free mailings of monthly movie guides and invites to sneak previews. Members can also enjoy these perks at the Waterloo locations. Entrance tickets are $8 for members, $12 for non-members, $9 for seniors 65+ and for students, and $8 for children aged 12 and under.

There will be daily showings for the month of March which will include features such as “The Wife”, “Free Solo”, “Shoplifters”, “Stan and Ollie”, and “The Room”. Stanley Kubrick fans will be thrilled to see “Dr. Strangelove”, “A Clockwork Orange”, “2001: A Space Odyssey”, and “The Shining” this month as well. For full listings, visit playhousecinema.ca

This spectacular building has seen many changes over the generations. From vaudeville and silent films to being a refuge for workers and activists, from Italian blockbusters to sultry flicks and live performances, and from an oasis for children to a revitalized movie house — we couldn’t be happier to see the historic Playhouse Cinema reclaim the title of being the oldest operating theatre in Hamilton.

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