What is the Little Theatre?
The Little Theatre is the premier cultural center for the presentation of American independent and foreign films, visual arts and music for the greater Rochester community. Through educational events, the Little Theatre provides local artists a place to share and discuss their visions with a diverse audience. The Little Theatre engages the community in a warm and inviting atmosphere with programming that stimulates and expands thought, inspires the spirit, promotes friendly discussion and opens cultural horizons.
What’s its story?
The Little was born in 1928 out of an effort called the little theatre movement. As the raucous excesses of the roaring ‘20s intruded into cinema, the Little, among a string of other independent movie houses made a stand as sanctuaries of “art films that appeal to the intelligent and sophisticated."
The building itself was constructed in period art deco style by Edgar Phillips of Rochester and Frederick Pike of Buffalo. The distinctive style of the building, now Little 1, procured it a post on the National Register of Historic Places.
Created for comfort and "quiet," interiors offered sumptuous lounges appointed with deep carpets, velvet, drapes and soft lighting to encourage rest, relaxation, and "intimate chat." Such lounges would function as retreats encouraging patrons, in the words of one early promotional brochure, "to sip delightful Java and smoke -- cigarettes of your own choosing."
Opening night came on October 17, 1929. A three-man orchestra seated in the upper rear left balcony provided accompaniment for the 299 patrons attending. Keeping with its devotion to the silent films of that period, the Little boldly chose to be known as “The House of Silent Shadows,” and its first presentation was the silent film “Cyrano d Bergerac.”
The Great Depression and a losing fight to save the refinements of silent film plunged the Little into an identity crisis in the 1930s. Fortunately with the help of excellent stewards, the Little deftly branded itself as a purveyor of "talking films of an unusual, educational, and artistic type that would add to the cultural enjoyment of the community."
Gaining a reputation for showing foreign films and musicals as well, the Little increased in renown, to the point of national recognition in the 1940s.
In the latter half of the 20th century, independent theatre, and subsequently the Little, was increasingly marginalized. In 1982, William Coppard and John and Pam Blanpied, who still frequent Little special events, bought the theatre and began restoring. In the next two decades, four more theatres were added in the rear of the original building, as well as a café.
As independent theatres became more commonplace in the Rochester suburbs, the late 90s brought more financial hardship. The theatre filed as a 501(c)3 not-for-profit film society in 1998 and was granted 501(c)3 status in 1999.
In 2012, the Little began a formal, long-term affiliation with WXXI, Rochester’s public broadcasting branch, for their mutual benefit. It now relies not only on ticket sales but membership and contributions to sustain and thrive.