Who: Buck Le Pard
What: Senior Operations Manager at Music Box Theater
Are you a historical monument? We don’t have historic status, but we are definitely an icon, I would say, in Chicago. And we really saw a lot of that on our 90th anniversary in 2019, with people celebrating the music box and our history. We get emails or notes from people all the time, or social media posts. When the Music Box was built in 1929, it was one of the smallest theaters in Chicago. At the time, most movie theaters had 2,000 or 3,000 seats, and the Music Box only had 750 seats. But it helped us survive. So now we’re one of the biggest movie theaters in Chicago. We’re constantly making updates and restorations to the theater, but we never want to feel like we’re straying too far from that classic cinematic experience, remembering when going to the cinema was a truly special experience for our audience.
How has the music box changed with the changing nature of movie watching? In the mid-80s, we established our current identity, focusing on classic films, new independent films, special events and screenings. And that has taken us through the 90s, 2000s and right up to today. With the rise of streaming and the way people consume media, focusing on specialty programming has really set us apart. We show movies that you can’t see anywhere else, or we show them in a unique way. We do songs at Christmas and at The Rocky Horror Picture Show shows, with a shadow cast performing in front of the film. We also organize many special events where we bring in a director, actor or other people to do a question and answer session before or after a film.
How many people does the theater employ? In the theater itself, we have about 20 people. But we also have a sister company called Music Box Films, which distributes a lot of foreign films and independent documentaries in the United States. We sometimes work in tandem, but we are independent entities.
Is your main source of income from ticket sales? Yeah, and dealership sales and then other little sources here and there. We sometimes receive sponsorships for special events; we sell gift cards and we have a membership program so people can support us that way. When we host a special event, like a film festival, we sell merchandise. For example, we just did a David Lynch film festival, and we had special posters made for that.
What was your main source of income during the lockdown? When we closed our doors, we were very lucky to come out of a few very good years. We had a nice little piggy bank of income in storage. A lot of it had been earmarked for other projects at the theatre, like restorations, but we were able to leverage that.
How did you have to adapt the business when you were able to reopen? We have reopened in stages. We initially reopened to a very limited capacity of 50, with sections of the theater closed. We made some adjustments to our air filtration and scheduled our movies to allow more time for cleaning and airing out the theater. We have always wanted to err on the side of caution for our staff and for our public. At this time, masks are encouraged but not required. Our employees are currently all still masked, and all are vaccinated. Business is back to normal. We slowly started ramping up capacity once vaccines were widely available, and now we’re back at full capacity.