Raising Richmond: For the Byrds

A sweet (and funny) tribute to the Byrd Theatre from an almost-30-year customer.

When I read about the possible donation of seats to the Byrd Theatre from one of the venues used for the Cannes Film Festival, I got a little emotional reading the praise the Byrd received from abroad. It’s a lovely place, and I hope it’s around forever.

This news came right after my husband and I took our daughter to see her first in-theatre movie at the Byrd. I chose the Byrd because it seemed like a special setting for a first movie. And if she couldn’t make it through the whole thing we wouldn’t be out as much money as if we went to see something first-run.

We saw Frozen, and the theater was packed with small children, which cut down my anxiety about having a kid who doesn’t get whispering yet. She got restless after the popcorn ran out but eventually was into it.1 The bursts of little kid giggles throughout the theatre was adorable. It was a delightful movie and movie-going experience. The best thing: I had $20, and after three tickets, a large popcorn, candy, a bottle of water, and tip, I left with $4. That’s basically free compared to what that would cost at a first-run theater.

The first movie I saw at the Byrd was Singin’ in the Rain, which (according to my mom) was the first movie that played there when it reopened as a second-run theatre in the early 80s. My parents took us to see movies at the Byrd all the time. All of my movie-going memories as a child involve the Byrd and a second-run theater that used to be on Forest Hill Avenue–clearly my folks appreciated the cheaper ticket prices. I’m sure that at least a quarter of the movies I’ve seen in theaters, I watched at the Byrd.

I love being there. I like watching the lights dim and come back up. Sprite from the concession stand tastes amazing. I don’t even like Sprite that much, but always want one when I’m there. I like the music that plays before the show starts. I like it when it plays short films, like when it used to run Pixar shorts before Pixar made feature-length movies.

When I go see a movie when it first comes out, I get anxious because I don’t get out to movies much, and after spending at least $10 I’m afraid everyone could potentially ruin it for me by talking/texting/eating too loud. “This is the movie I’m going to see this year,” I want to yell. “Don’t ruin it.” When I see movies at the Byrd, I feel none of that pressure (which, I know, is a dumb worry to have). It’s hard to ruin something that cost two bucks. I can’t think of any bad audience situation that I’ve had there, and the audiences can sometimes make the movie more fun. I like it when everyone is moved to clap and cheer, which happens more at the Byrd than other theaters.

It’s crazy to think that movies there used to cost 99 cents. That’s insanely cheap even for the 90s. It’s been $1.99 for more than ten years. The FAQ page on its website has an interesting reason for why raising the ticket price won’t mean more money for the Byrd foundation–but still, if prices went up to $2.99, I wouldn’t complain.2

In honor of the Byrd’s progress toward renovation and my daughter’s introduction to the movie house, here are some highlights of my almost 30 years of a Byrd-theater moviegoer.

  • In high school (pre-Internet), I waited all week to get the Weekend section in the Richmond Times-Dispatch to see what movies would be at the Byrd the next day. For weeks and weeks I waited for Trainspotting to play, and when it finally came, I saw it so many times.
  • Back in the day, it seemed like movies never started on time, which caused my sister and me to refer to a show or movie being late as being on “Richmond time.”
  • I liked to go to the short films for the French Film Festival. Once a man got up and walked down the aisle, screaming in French. It lasted for an uncomfortable amount of time until the actress on screen addressed him and the two had an argument. It scared the crap out of me at first, but it was entertaining after I realized he wasn’t a crazy person.
  • My dad and I witnessed a man sneak in a pizza under his coat. We were so jealous.
  • My dad and I also watched The Talented Mr. Ripley there. If you don’t remember, that movie is four days long. After that, whenever we saw movies together that ran long, my dad would whisper “Where’s Ripley?” to me.
  • I was really into Bollywood movies about the time that the Byrd started to show Indian film matinees, and for one particular showing my friends and I were almost trampled by older Indian women in the rush to get inside.
  • Also: watching Kal Ho Naa Ho with a crowd during cameo-studded song and dance was exciting. Again, some movies are best watched with an audience.
  • I tagged along with some friends who thought it would be really funny to pretend that we were giving a bachelorette party for an unsuspecting friend, who was then blindfolded and taken to see Magic Mike.
  • I normally hate everything, but I love that people still act out the litter PSA that shows before the movie (also, I love the zombie version).
  • The first movie I watched there with the man who ended up being my husband was Casino Royale (that actually might be the only movie we saw there together, but we’re still married).
  • I told my daughter while we were at Dixie Donuts that I was going to take her to see a movie at the Byrd. She pointed to the marquee and said “That says ‘movies I can watch.'” And it did! (It did not).

I look forward to taking my daughter to see more movies there, and going to the occasional solo movie to watch something that everyone else saw two months ago. The Byrd Theatre is an international treasure…but a Richmond treasure, first and foremost.

And hooray for new seats.

  1. She also thinks Frozen is called Two Girls
  2. If they ever raise the prices, I’m going to call people who grumble about it “Byrd The-haters.” 
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Kelly Gerow

Kelly Gerow lives and writes in Richmond. She probably does other stuff in Richmond, too.

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