Prytania Theatre

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Prytania Theatre as it is today

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The Prytania Theatre is the oldest operating theater in New Orleans, dating back to 1915. It is the only single-screen, suburban theater in the state of Louisiana. It caters to film buffs and families alike with its eclectic selection of film viewings, alternating between modern blockbusters and classic films. Its current owner, Rene Brunet, is a luminary on this history of Theatre in New Orleans.

Early History

The Prytania Theatre at its original location
The Prytania Theatre originally opened its doors in 1915. But in 1927, the theater was relocated to a neighborhood house costing $100,000 on Prytania Street near Peters Ave. The new Prytania, which was operated by the M. H. Jacobs Theatrical Enterprises, was, as Mr. Jacobs put it, a theater that “capitalizes the fact that buildings are living things, possessing individual character and personality.” [1] The Prytania Theatre was one such building, as it featured the occasional fashion show, such as their 1928 Easter Fashion Show. Tickets cost 30¢ for adults and 15¢ for children, and promised to display “the latest American and Parisian modes.” [2] Later, though, they became more standardized in that they showed only films, and grew to become very successful business ventures that promised an enjoyable evening to audience members.

Financial Difficulties

With the birth of suburban shopping centers in the 1970’s, city theaters took a turn for the worse. These mega suburban “cinemas” provided large parking lots to enormous theaters in neighborhoods close to people’s homes, something not offered by the tiny theaters in the crowded downtown area. As a result of the growing suburban competition, many theaters closed shop. However, a handful of theaters in the New Orleans area found a different way to combat their rivals and became best known as “alternative” movie houses. The most popular ones included the Toulouse Street Theatre, the Pitt Theatre, the Abalon Theatre, and the Prytania Theatre. [3]

When the Prytania Theatre was having financial difficulties, a firm in Alberquerque, New Mexico stepped in during the month of January 1977 and began showing old movies, art films, and popular recent movies. Up until that time, every theater in the area was only showing the films that had just ended in the larger houses, and ticket sales were waning. According to Woody Prejean, the assistant manager at the time, audiences loved the new concept, and Prejean based much of the success on the fact that the Prytania never ran movies for more than three days. [4]

At this time, the Prytania was showing two movies a night, with an admission price of $2.50, and house seating capacity was capped at 340. The theater published a large poster displaying film showings for the subsequent month, and offered subscription tickets for 10 films at $17.50. [5]

Business Adaptation

A night at the movies continued to be the most popular way to spend the evening, though young people were increasing in attendance, while their parents were decreasing. These adolescents and young adults became better known as the “core audience,” and were accustomed to attending movies at the suburban shopping centers. Instead of trying to compete with these large cinemas, the Prytania played to a niche market. Like a handful of other repertory cinemas in New Orleans, the Prytania’s success was attributed to program flexibility and its willingness to try anything. Although the theater had already been displaying their monthly poster in the theater itself, they dropped their daily newspaper ad and opted to distribute small flyers with the schedule of attractions for the next several months. [6]

John Desplas commented on the cinema saying, “An added feature of the poster tacked next to the bathroom mirror or stuck to the refrigerator with a magnetized miniature banana is that it can act as a constant reminder that such and such a film will be on this week. That kind of reminder can make the difference between regular attendance and occasional moviegoing.”
This combination of new approaches to airing films proved to be a hit for the tiny theater servicing the uptown area of New Orleans, and the theater remains today as a thriving venue for film showings. [7]

Works Cited

  • “Prytania Theater Opening is Gala Event Saturday.“The Times-Picayune, April 17, 1927, Section 4, Page 3.
  • “Prytania Theater”(advertisement). The Times-Picayune, March 15, 1928, Page 26.
  • Maher, Marileen. “Can They Survive? The Ups and Downs of New Orleans’ Alternative Movie Theatres”. Gris Gris, December 11-17, 1978, Pages 17-18.
  • (Maher 1978)
  • (Maher 1978)
  • Desplas, John. “Repertory Cinema: The Old and the New”. Figaro, August 23, 1978, Section 3, Page 21.
  • (Desplas 1978)

This page was last modified on 27 April 2012, at 11:26


Prytania Theatre

5339 Prytania St, New Orleans, LA 70115, USA

Reconstruction after a series of fires in the 1920s led the Prytania Theatre to reopen its doors on Saturday, April 16, 1927. Serious renovations have occurred to keep the theater in the same building for more than 80 years.