Multi-million dollar theater on campus finds success, but not among students

The Living Room Theaters offer indie and experimental films, but they’re attracting an older crowd


Older theatergoers arriving to watch a film at FAU Living Room Theaters. Photo by Patrick Martin | News Editor

Patrick Martin, News Editor

Mary Cope, a woman in her 60s, enjoys an independent movie on a Wednesday night with a group of her girlfriends at a university theater, but no students are in sight.

The Living Room Theaters on FAU’s Boca Raton campus has become a beacon for members-only jackets and stories of grandchildren, with its major demographic being from “the greatest generation.”

Cope has graying strawberry-blonde hair and she’s wearing a red long-sleeved shirt with a pair of khaki slacks. Her friends are dressed in business casual clothing as well, reminding you of a time when people dressed up to go to the cinema.

“I think, truly, we come back for the movies. They’re3-caption very thought provoking,” Cope said.

She saw “Lauf Junge Lauf (Run Boy Run),” a foreign film about an 8-year-old boy fleeing a Warsaw ghetto in 1942 while trying to keep his Jewish identity.

The same movies Cope believes are thought provoking may be the reason why the students at Florida Atlantic aren’t going.

Living Room Theaters employee and FAU theatre major, Chi Sharif, often notices older gentlemen with different dates every weekend. Photo by Patrick Martin.
Living Room Theaters employee and FAU theatre major, Chi Sharif, often notices older gentlemen with different dates every weekend. Photo by Patrick Martin | News Editor.

Cynthia Stein, manager of the Living Room Theaters, said students aren’t coming because the movies they show aren’t mainstream. The theater mainly shows foreign and independent films.

“I think people have a negative feel, students think it’s too high brow,” she said.

According to Stein, only about 10 percent of theatergoers are students.

The theater provides a “9 at 9” deal where students can purchase $9 tickets after 9 p.m. and get popcorn and a fountain drink by showing their student ID. However, the majority of customers are senior citizens.

The theater doesn’t do very much advertising around campus either, Stein said.

Evan Jones, a senior film major, didn’t even know the theater existed until his second semester.

“I was fairly certain they didn’t advertise at all, besides from coming here, I didn’t know you could find Living Room Theaters times anywhere,” Jones said.

He has only seen one film at the theater outside of his classes. He watches indie films by himself in order to analyze them and take his time respecting the subtle nuances.

When he does go to major theaters he likes to see the latest blockbuster film, like “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

Jones also said he always thought it was too expensive. When he found out the actual price, he was surprised and again blamed it on a lack of advertising.

Walking into the theater lobby, people will notice a cafe to the right packed with older clientele and a bar to the left serving craft beer and wine.3-caption2

A group of women can be overheard joking in thick New York accents, “Oh hi Marcia, yep, I’ve been here at least four times this month.”

An older man wearing a white polo shirt with a blue fish-print approaches the group and starts to flirt with them.

A lot of times customers will come in with their husbands and wives. But, according to Chi Sharif — an employee and FAU theatre major — people will bring dates as well.

An older man in his 70s will come in with a different woman on his arm every weekend, Sharif said. “He’s like a really old gigolo.”

The ticket taker is a theatre major as well. His name is Paul Harrington. He chose this job because he wasn’t “feeling his other job.”

As he takes people’s tickets, he sees a man walking into several different theaters who looks fairly confused. The older man has his pants pulled up above his belly button like the “Family Matters” character Steve Urkel.

“Excuse me, can you help me? Is my theater to the left or right?” the older man asks Harrington.

After escorting him to his theater, Harrington returns to checking tickets.

“Yeah it can get annoying but I’m still trying to get used to it,” Harrington said about dealing with the older clientele.

This isn’t the only Living Room Theaters. There’s another location in Portland, Oregon, Stein said.

Ernesto Rimoch, a Mexican film director and the theater’s founder, came up with the concept to show foreign and independent films in an intimate setting where the patron can have a cocktail with something to eat that’s more sustainable than popcorn or Sno-Caps.

FAU’s Living Room Theaters’ creation began during a chance encounter with Rimoch’s son, according to Stein.

Diego Rimoch was on a flight discussing expansion when he spoke with a representative from FAU, Mike Budd.

Budd brought the idea to Susan Reilly, the founding director of the School of Communication.

The two came up with a deal that benefitted both sides: The university would use the theater for classes Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and the Living Room company would use it to show foreign and independent movies at night.

Reilly said it took them about six months to negotiate. She was already in the process of contacting major theater groups because she wanted a better venue to teach film instead of via PowerPoint and poor-quality projectors.

Reilly said the Living Room Theaters has been successful financially, but not among students. She said Rimoch was hopeful that students would go later in the night after the older crowd, but it just isn’t happening.

“We need to find out what students want to see … something unique,” Reilly said.

The theater doesn’t play typical blockbuster movies because one, Ernesto Rimoch doesn’t want to, and two, because they would be competing with major movie chains like Muvico.

Reilly said, “Another thing we want is for kids to show their films here. We wouldn’t have to worry about cost because it’s free during the day.”

According to Stein, the theater makes its profits in a two-fold approach — ticket sales and concession sales.

“I would say it’s about 60/40,” she said. “Sixty percent of the profit going toward ticket sales and 40 percent going toward the bar and cafe.”

Prices for food range from about $5 to $10 with the most expensive items costing about $12 — eggplant Parmesan and chicken shish kabobs.

Cope decided on the Caprese panini, $9.50: “Fresh mozzarella, roasted Roma tomatoes, basil pesto, and balsamic reduction,” the description on the menu reads.

The Living Room Theaters company isn’t planning to expand on FAU or any other campus.

Stein agrees the venue does well, but said the company doesn’t like the restrictions imposed by the university, like tighter alcohol limitations and limited hours.

Although, Reilly thinks the Rimoch family and the theater group would change their minds if the students started coming.

Patrick Martin is the news editor of the University Press. For tips regarding this or other articles he can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter.