Details of the Dryden Theatre’s New Atmosphere

Posted by on Apr 18 2013 | Motion Pictures


There are exactly five hundred seats in the new Dryden Theatre. This now makes it the largest archival film theatre in the United States. In a commercial venue we are consumers; in an art house theatre, we are an audience. But in a place like the Dryden, you and I become the witnesses of something more — something special. We are witnessing the beauty of a performing art, just like in a concert hall.

In a good work of art, the devil is in the details:

The art of cinema requires silence but also darkness, so we have provided the theatre with a new atmospheric color and with anti-reflective glass in the balcony. We want patrons to enjoy the time being spent while waiting for the show to start, so we have given the theatre a palette of ever-changing color light in the coves. We also want patrons to see films in their correct aspect ratio, so we have installed not only a brand new screen, but also an automated masking system that will allow all cinema in its proper format.


The seats are another example. The seats  have a pretty standard look, but — if you stand up, no one will hear the slightest sound, because we didn’t want you to be distracted during the screening if someone leaves. The old seats were beautiful, but boy, they were noisy.

More importantly, we want patrons to be able to discover all of the history of cinema, from its very beginnings to the present time. Did you know that there are only four theatres in the United States where you will be able to see digital cinema, 35mm, 16mm, and nitrate film, all in one place? The Dryden is one of these four theatres.

Behind the back wall of the auditorium there are people who are experts in the art and science of film exhibition: they are the film projectionists who know how to handle very film format ever devised. In the auditorium, there is a theatre manager whose duty is to ensure that you and I can see the film without undue distraction and knows the difference between an “OK” projection and a top class presentation.


Outside the theatre, in another area of the museum, a team of skilled technicians is in charge of preserving and making accessible films that were made twenty, fifty, and over one hundred years ago. Their duty is to make these films permanently accessible in their original form, now and for posterity.

That’s what art museums are about. That’s what makes a museum theatre different from any other venue.

-by Paolo Cherchi Usai, Senior Curator of Motion Pictures at George Eastman House 






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    Lisa Kribs-LaPierre is the former Manager of Online Engagement at the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film.

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