Thursday, November 23, 2017
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Springsteen & I, special events boost weekday theater audiences

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BRANDON — The glow of the movie screen illuminated the faces of the audience. They turned to each other, murmuring in agreement, as a woman on the screen tried to put into words her love for "The Boss."

It was their own love of Bruce Springsteen that brought them to the movies on a Monday night. The violent explosions of a summer blockbuster next door seeped into the theater, but they paid it no mind. They were there for something special, something different, something only a true fan would understand.

About 25 people went to AMC the Regency 20 in Brandon on Monday night for one of two special showings of the documentary Springsteen & I. Fathom Events distributed the two-hour documentary about Springsteen and his fans, the latest in Fathom's series of special screenings.

Many of Fathom's shows come to Tampa Bay theaters, including Regency, CinéBistro at Hyde Park Village and Regal Cinemas Citrus Park Stadium 20 Movie Theater in Tampa.

• • •

Fathom started in 2002 with a few theaters in an effort to figure out how to get people to movie theaters on nonpeak days, Monday through Thursday. Now it has a network of more than 1,500 theaters around the country.

Fathom works with theaters to show one-night and limited run special events, some of it live and some of it pre­recorded. Fathom is in its eighth season with the Metropolitan Opera, and has also shown rock concerts, comedy shows, sporting events and special presentations, including last year's Monumental: In Search of America's National Treasure with Kirk Cameron.

"We do a little bit of everything for audiences across the country," said Dan Diamond, senior vice president of Fathom Events.

They had success with a Springsteen concert in 2006, he said. The Met continues to draw audiences. Opera fans have started their own newsletters, and schools bus students to the shows. Deadheads flock to their local theaters each year for a Grateful Dead meetup.

"Every platform has its niche," Diamond said. "We feel we really found our niche with these avid fan bases."

CinéBistro in Hyde Park has found success with showing nontraditional sporting events like cycling and marathon running. But the Metropolitan Opera remains its most popular screening, said Guy Austin, director of operations for Cobb Theatres.

"Each location tends to find its own area of interest," he said.

They book as many of the special events as they can, and over time figure out which ones their audience comes out to see.

Some shows don't do as well because of the theater's demographics, serving those 21 and older. Something like Drum Corps International's Big, Loud & Live, with high school and college students, doesn't do as well with their older audience, Austin said.

"It doesn't get booked there because it just doesn't draw," he said.

But some of the opera events sell out in advance.

"Each viewing is different, just like film," Austin said. "People who love opera know the different titles, and certain titles do better than other titles."

• • •

Fathom comes up with the events and offers them to the theaters. Its network operates out of Colorado. The system is automated, so theaters just have to start the shows at the right time, Diamond said.

In 2003, about 40 or 50 theaters had the capabilities to show the events, but it has grown dramatically over the past 10 years as the technology becomes more affordable, he said.

"It's just beginning to take hold. We've let it grow organically. We haven't spent huge dollars on promotion," Diamond said. "Fans have become our greatest spokespeople."

The Monday-night moviegoers in Brandon laughed and nodded knowingly during the first half of the movie as Springsteen fans from around the world shared their stories of going to his shows and wearing out his CDs in their cars.

The second half of the film showed footage from his show at London Hyde Park 2012. The on-screen Springsteen launched into Twist and Shout, and the audience bopped their heads to the beat. A few got up to twist at their seats. They clapped and cheered like they were there in the crowd, like Bruce could hear them from the stage. It didn't matter that they weren't, and it didn't matter that he couldn't.

Darrell Harris of Brandon, who is retired from the Air Force, came to see the film with his son Jeff Harris, an environmental biologist for Pasco County, and friend Sandra Powell, who owns TDY's Pub & Eatery in Tampa.

When Darrell Harris goes to Powell's bar, she said, he spends $30 or $40 to commandeer her jukebox for hours — nothing but Springsteen. They heard about the film on the Sirius Satellite Radio Springsteen channel and ordered tickets in advance.

"It's a Monday night," Jeff Harris said. "You have to be a real fan to want to come."

They stayed behind in the lobby afterward to talk about the show. It's an experience, Jeff Harris said. "Dad, is it not a rock 'n' roll revival?"

Darrell Harris nodded. "It's a rock 'n' roll revival," he said, catching momentum. "It's an amen, come to Jesus, rock 'n' roll revival."

And Monday was only the first showing. It's playing again next week, Darrell Harris pointed out. Now his son nodded.

"And we'll be here next Tuesday," he said.

Keeley Sheehan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2453.

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