Man on mission to bring new life to old movie theaters for next generation

Sandy Kenyon Image
Monday, May 22, 2023
Man on mission to bring new life to old movie theaters
Luke Parker Bowles, nephew of Queen Camilla and CEO of Cinema Lab, is working to preserve and save old movie theaters.

NEW CANAAN, Connecticut -- The recent coronation of Britain's King Charles III and Queen Camilla was watched with social interest by her nephew, Luke Parker Bowles, who lives in Montclair, New Jersey, and watched the ceremony on TV just like the rest of us.

Parker Bowles is what Entertainment Reporter Sandy Kenyon's British father used to call, "a good bloke" -- that is a guy who is down to earth and without pretense. He was bullied in school and found refuge in films.

He grew up to become a movie producer and now serves as the CEO of Cinema Lab, which seeks to preserve and save old movie theaters.

Plans are for a total of 50 across the country, but he's starting out close to home. He invited Eyewitness News to New Canaan, Connecticut, where we put on hard hats to witness one movie theater's rebirth.

He may be related to royalty, but here that is irrelevant -- he's a man on a very specific mission that has nothing to do with his royal relations.

"It's very important to us that these places we find are historic buildings, that are buildings that need to be saved and brought back," he said.

The Playhouse turns 100 years old this year, but incredibly, its best years might still be ahead.

"We've shown respect," Parker Bowles said while strolling through the empty theater where he observes that it's "crucial" to preserve the details. "This brick is 100 years old. The sign outside, the marquee, is 100 years old. Why would you not keep it? And, it's also respectful to the community."

His partners in Cinema Lab come from other field. The CFO, Andy Childs, helped make Soho House a billion dollar brand, and has now found a new cause.

"These beautiful movie cinemas that we find in the center of town," he declared, "they are the metaphorical and literal heartbeat of that location."

A bar is part of the scene and meeting rooms and upscale concessions in the lobby.

"We want you to feel cool," Chief Marketing Officer Brandon Jones said. "We want you to feel special so we put the effort into making the environment live up to that."

The idea is to make going to the movie special again. As Parker Bowles puts it, "nothing replaces the experience, the experience of sitting in the dark with other people sharing a laugh, a cry, a howl."

The hearts of the partners are in the right place. They plan to boost the local economy by hiring local people to staff The Playhouse and source food and alcohol from local restaurants and vendors.

They know they are going to have to entice you to get off your couch and come to their theater, but they're also convinced that after the long, pandemic lockdown, their timing is good.

"People want to connect with each other," insisted Parker Bowles. "And if it's a laugh in the dark, that does so much more for your spirit than just fiddling around with a controller."

The Playhouse is set to open the end of this year. The price of a ticket will be slightly higher than at other theaters to reflect the cool vibe and extra amenities. Click here for more details.

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