A beloved theater gets a second life


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Upper West Side residents mourning the closure of Lincoln Plaza Cinema couldn't let the theater die. Their persistence paid off.


Photos



  • Norma Levy, a founding member of the New Plaza Cinema coalition, at an August 17 tribute at the JCC to Dan and Toby Talbot, co-owners of the original Lincoln Plaza Cinemas. Photo courtesy of New Plaza Cinema




  • Crowd at the New Plaza Cinema’s tribute to Philip Roth at the Marlene Meyerson JCC. Photo courtesy of New Plaza Cinema




  • Lincoln Plaza Cinema before shutting down in January. Photo: Alexis Gelber



“That theater should not be lost to the world, it's too important to the community in which I live, and to our lives, and it's too important to the industry as well.”

Norma Levy, New Plaza Cinema



When Lincoln Plaza Cinema shuttered its doors last December, it was, for many loyal patrons of the beloved art house theater, almost like a death in the family.

Nine months later, the theater has been resurrected, at least in spirit: New Plaza Cinema, which began as a volunteer coalition of devoted fans who dedicated themselves to saving Lincoln Plaza in one incarnation or another, is partnering with Symphony Space and the Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theater, where they'll feature independent and foreign films in the same vein.

“There was just a sense that we could not let this theater die ... lots of people stepped up to the plate to help,” says Norma Levy, a founding member of the New Plaza Cinema coalition and an Upper West Side resident for over four decades. “I felt strongly that there was a need, there was a market, and I wanted to do it.”

Starting last week, New Plaza Cinema launched at the Peter Jay Sharp Theatre at Symphony Space with matinee screenings of the coming-of-age drama “Madeline Madeline” featuring Miranda July, Molly Parker and newcomer Helena Howard, and the documentary “RBG,” chronicling the life of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

With the blessing and full support of Toby Talbot, the former co-owner of Lincoln Plaza Cinema, New Plaza is slated for a yet-to-be-announced run through October, and possibly beyond. Talbot and her late husband Dan had a long history with the Thalia Theatre, which was born in 1931 and once served as a go-to art house theater for college students and movie buffs before its closure in 1987.

For Levy and her fellow volunteers, finding a home was a process. In late June, the group put together the “New Plaza Cinema” film series at the Marlene Meyerson JCC, which received a tremendous response from the community.

“It was extremely gratifying, we had very big crowds, we had a big tribute and a champagne toast to Lincoln Plaza Cinema,” says Levy.

“Our summer run with New Plaza Cinema very much helped get them established and position them so they would be able to do this run with Symphony Space,” says Isaac Zablocki of the JCC.

In the meantime, Levy reached out to the Thalia. Symphony Space executive director Kathy Landau saw a potential partnership as “a beautiful outgrowing of something that had a sad ending.”

“This idea of a shared experience is more important than ever, when there is so much opportunity to be alone and staring at our own devices,” says Landau.

In the coming months, New Plaza Cinema is planning to apply for nonprofit status, and set up a board and a formal organization.

For Levy, it's a labor of love that paid off in spades.

“That theater should not be lost to the world, it's too important to the community in which I live, and to our lives, and it's too important to the industry as well,” she said. “Independent cinema is just an extraordinary educational and cultural institution...it's a qualitatively different event when you watch [a film] at home on your television screen....it just can't be duplicated in any other way.”





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