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Published: Wednesday, 8/10/2005

Babies at the movies: Theater offers special showings for caregivers of the diaper set

BY ANN WEBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Moms and babies getting ready to see a movie at Showcase
Cinemas Levis Commons are, from left, Andrea Strayer with
daughter Ashley, April Thomas with son Drew, and Fran Jagielski
with son Aidan. Moms and babies getting ready to see a movie at Showcase Cinemas Levis Commons are, from left, Andrea Strayer with daughter Ashley, April Thomas with son Drew, and Fran Jagielski with son Aidan.
Enlarge

Actor Johnny Depp is putting theater patrons to sleep.

But that's not all bad - since the patrons in question are infants and their mothers are enjoying a morning out at a showing of Depp's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at Showcase Cinemas Levis Commons in Perrysburg.

But even if Depp drove those young patrons to whimpers or angry wails, it wouldn't matter much. Everybody here understands, just as they do when the moviegoer in the next row needs a diaper change or a snack straight from mom.

That's life in theater No. 6 here every other Tuesday morning at 10, show time for National Amusements' "Baby Pictures."

The Dedham, Mass., chain - which dominates the local movie theater market - has put a cineplex on the weekday island inhabited by infants and their sometimes desperate caregivers.

"We make a number of modifications to the movie-going experience that make it baby-friendly," said Jennifer Hanson, a company spokesman, in a telephone interview from corporate headquarters. Those include changing stations with diaper pails, wipes, and anti-bacterial hand gel, and a concession cart that comes to the theater patrons carrying breakfast items including apple juice, dry cereal, and animal crackers for the little ones.


Heather Burke with her daughter Megan and friend Jenni
Johns, left, watch a commercial before the movie begins at Showcase Cinemas Levis Commons in Perrysburg. Heather Burke with her daughter Megan and friend Jenni Johns, left, watch a commercial before the movie begins at Showcase Cinemas Levis Commons in Perrysburg.
ZAPOTOSKY / BLADE Enlarge

Movie volume is set lower than usual - so as not to scare anyone - and the auditorium lights are higher - so the adults can find essentials in diaper bags, make their way to the changing stations, or walk the aisles with a fussy baby.

"It makes me feel pampered," said Fran Jagielski, 25, of West Toledo, who brought her son Aidan, 4 months, to last Tuesday morning's show.

"Everybody was just so relaxed," she added. "When kids made noise, nobody felt it was a bother."

And "you could feel comfortable nursing a baby there," Mrs. Jagielski said.

Her friend April Thomas, 28, of West Toledo, said her son Drew, 2 1/2 months, did pretty well at his first movie. "There were a few minutes when he wanted me to hold him and walk around," but she said she was able to do that without feeling that she was offending other movie-watchers. "I would never take him to an evening movie because I wouldn't want to disturb them," Mrs. Thomas said.

Andrea Strayer, a 25-year-old Perrysburg mom who joined Mrs. Thomas and Mrs. Jagielski at the theater, also appreciated not having to fear any glares or rolls of the eyes from others. "It was kind of nice knowing that if the babies acted up a bit, it was no big deal," said Mrs. Strayer, who brought her daughter Ashley, 3 1/2 months, to the movie. "It was a great experience."

Going to the movies has become a rare event for Heather Burke, 43, of Waterville, the mother of 3-year-old Ryan and 12-week-old Megan. Mrs. Burke and Megan attended Baby Pictures last week while Ryan was in day care.

"I don't think I've been in a theater since before Ryan was born," she said. "It worked out great," Mrs. Burke reported, adding that Megan watched the previews but then drifted off and slept through the feature film. "I would do it again," Mrs. Burke said. But, "I'm not prepared to take a 3-year-old to a theater yet."

The program is geared to adults and babies 0-12 months, but the theater wouldn't turn older children away, Ms. Hanson said. (Nor is the program only for moms: Dads, grandparents, baby-sitters, and other caregivers are welcome.) Although Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is an exception, "these aren't children's films," she added, and may not be appropriate or appeal to toddlers or older children.

Ms. Hanson said she saw The Interpreter at a Baby Pictures show when she was on maternity leave. Other recent Baby Pictures films include Wedding Date, Miss Congeniality 2, Fever Pitch, Monster-In-Law, Perfect Man, and Bewitched.

While some other national chains and independents run similar programs, National Amusements apparently has the local baby-and-mom market niche to itself. At one time the now-closed Cla-Zel Theater in Bowling Green and also defunct Madstone Theater in Ann Arbor both offered movies for caregivers and infants.

Ty Szumigala, executive director of the Maumee Indoor Theater, and Linda Lott, manager of the Fox theaters in the Woodville Mall, said they believe Showcase Cinemas Levis Commons is the only theater in the Toledo area offering it presently.

Baby Pictures was launched in September, 2003, in Massachusetts and started at the Perrysburg location in January, Ms. Hanson said. Toledo is one of 11 markets in which National Amusements runs the program, but expansion plans are in the works.

The next show date is Aug. 16. Admission is $5.75 for adults, $1 for children 13 months to 3 years old, and free for babies up to 12 months. (For more information, call 419-874-2154.)

"It's a great, great way to get out of the house, do something fun, meet other new parents who live in your area," said Ms. Hanson. "Everyone's in the same boat, maybe feeling a little isolated."

Contact Ann Weber at: aweber@theblade.com

or 419-724-6126.



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