27 Main St.
Northampton, Ma 01060
Movies are shown nightly around 7
p.m. and 9 p.m.
2 for $10 Student
$5 Senior Citizen
Not Your Average Theater
by Jill Sarber
Sitting with popcorn and soda in hand, I anxiously
wait for “Hotel Rwanda” to begin.
As I gaze around, I admire the tall
ceiling, the sculpted trim of the stage and the rows of green velvet folding
seats, and begin to wonder what it was like to be here waiting to see a performance by the
tenacious French actress, Sarah Bernhardt, in 1906, or the
mysterious Harry Houdini during the 1920s.
It is 7:10 p.m. The lights begin to dim and the red curtain
ceremoniously closes only to reopen moments later. The movie is about to
Welcome to the Academy of Music Theatre, located at
27 Main St.
College. The theater was built in
1890 by a native of
businessman, Edward H. R. Lyman. Lyman
envisioned a theater in the city that would “be suitable for lectures,
concerts, opera and the drama for the public good.” From
its beginning, the
has done just that.
The theater opened on
May 23, 1891
. Its program for the evening included music from Donizetti’s “Lucia
di Lammermoor,” Beethoven’s “Consecration of the House,”
Haydn’s “In Native Worth and Honor Clad,” and other pieces of
music performed by rising stars of the late 19th century. Today, the theater offers mostly independent, not mainstream
films. They, host live performances of music and dance. On April 17,
the Brazz Dance Theater performed Afro-Brazilian and Contemporary Dance,
and on April 23 the theater hosted a dance contest similar
to the one in the movie “Napoleon Dynamite.” The film was shown
following the contest. The
is more of a community center than a movie theater.
Originally, the theater was only open in the winter and tickets
cost $1 (tickets for the more famous entertainers went for
$1.50). Today, the
theater is open year round. Tickets
for adults cost $7, students can get a discount, two tickets for
$10, and seniors pay $5 per ticket.
While the ticket cost averages roughly the same in
comparison with other theaters, this one is different because
you don’t just pay to see a movie; you also get a sense of the
great history this building contains.
“I think the
is a great theater,” said Heather Gasper, 21, a UMass
play movies that most mainstream theaters like Showcase and
Cinemark don’t play.”
While the small, brick building may not look like a grand historical theater
from the outside, inside it has retained much of its original architecture. This
includes a high painted ceiling, gold trim around the stage, and two Tiffany
stained-glass windows above the doors between the inner and outer lobby that
were given to Lyman by Mr. Tiffany himself as a gift. The stage is behind the
Edward H.R. Lyman, the founder of the Academy of Music, was born on Feb. 10, 1819. He
was descended from Northampton's early settlers, dating to
the early 1660s. Lyman had four siblings and six step brothers and sisters from his father’s,
previous marriage (his first wife died). Catharine, the youngest, was the grandmother of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Edward Lyman attended school until he was 15 when the Round Hill School disbanded. He then went to work for Almy Blake & Co., a dry goods dealer in Boston. He became a partner in 1841. He married Sarah Elizabeth Low in 1846 and lived in Brooklyn until his death on Jan. 20, 1899.
movie screen and still has the trap door that was cut out for Harry Houdini’s
mysterious disappearing act.
Now there are antique posters that advertise
entertainers from the early 20th century along the lobby walls
and, before the movie begins, the white screen projects advertisements for
local businesses. Here,
modern pop culture is complemented by antique artifacts making this
building and the whole movie-going experience different and interesting.
“Coming to see a movie in this theater is unique
because you are sitting in an opera house,” said Jean York, a
part-time employee at the theater for the past 12 years. “It’s
not like the mall where it’s all cold and concrete.”
The theater’s capacity is 800 people including
the balcony. The balcony is
normaly only when they have live shows.
The closed-off balcony is like a room in your house you are
forbidden to enter; you just want to sneak in and discover why it was
tells me that it is simply because not enough people fill the lower
level for just movie showings.
Another reason this theater is unique is it was the
first city-owned theater in the country and at its 100th
anniversary, in 1991, it remained the only one.
Feb. 6, 1893
, Edward Lyman signed a deed of gift handing over the theater to the
Duane Robinson, the director of the theater since
1971, explains that even though the city owns the theater, it does not
support it financially. "The city does not support the theater with its tax
without the support from our patrons, we would not be here today.
We are in essence a non-profit organization."
Robinson added that the theater has applied for and
received state and federal grants in order to preserve the antique
building. During the
1970’s, Robinson undertook an expansive project of restoring the badly
deteriorating theater, which included a new stage floor laid on top of
the old one, replacement of worn rigging used to haul scenery into the
flies, and complete renovation of the bathrooms and the “star”
dressing room. The
repairs cost $56,000.
In 1989, the Friends of the Academy Society was
established to organize fund drives in order to help raise money for
theater improvements over the years. Recent
renovations include a new heating system, air-conditioning, an updated fire alarm system,
and a handicap ramp.
The Academy of Music Theatre is not your typical
movie theater. It provides
an ambiance for movie-goers that is historical and comforting in
today’s world of mainstream films and overpriced concessions.
While Harry Houdini may have disappeared from the stage
long ago, this theater remains deeply rooted in this community’s
This website was created by the students of Journalism 375 at the University of Massachusetts 2005