SANTA FE, N.M. — Just as artists in Santa Fe discover they might have to work two or three jobs to survive, an arts venue may have to incorporate a variety of events to do the same.
At least that’s been the case with the Jean Cocteau Cinema, which doesn’t just show movies, but also hosts author talks and book-signings, along with a small display of signed books for sale; burlesque, magic and variety shows; art exhibitions; and talks with directors or actors after a movie screening – not to mention drinks from a full bar during evening events.
Recently, a collaboration has been set up with Amp Concerts to help bring more musicians to the theater’s stage, with singer/songwriter Steve Poltz on Jan. 31 representing the first result. Jean Cocteau’s new “wonder manager” David Sidebottom this month launched a “Taps and Tabletops” event with beer and games on Wednesday nights, and is in discussions about expanding the cinema’s food offerings to encompass pastries and coffee for people streaming from the nearby Rail Runner station in the mornings, and maybe even light lunches for area workers and shoppers a few hours later.
It’s all part of a natural evolution of the original concept envisioned by owner George R.R. Martin when the theater opened under his ownership in August 2013, said Sidebottom.
More than a moviehouse, the Jean Cocteau is intended as a community center, a place where people can come in and hang out with a cup of coffee or alcoholic beverage, play a game, browse books, check out the art on display and meet friends, he said.
“Our role is to create opportunities around his (Martin’s) vision of the theater, about the joy of the arts,” he added.
With all that, though, it’s not clear that the Jean Cocteau is making much money from its ventures. Sidebottom declined to comment on the theater’s profitability, but did note that everyone knows Martin, author of the “Songs of Ice and Fire” series that fuels the “Game of Thrones” TV franchise, gets the bulk of his income from sources other than the Jean Cocteau.
So much the better, then, to allow for experimentation and exploration of what helps the venue be – or become – what it calls itself: “your hometown theater.”
For sure, the theater shows way more personality than the corporate multiplexes that line the major arteries of our city and nation. Some of the personality stems from the vaguely art deco design, a cozy 128-seat (plus four seats in a VIP booth) theater and a history reaching back to the Collective Fantasy Cinema in 1976.
But it also bears a noticeably personal stamp of the quirks and passions of Martin himself, with the art displays and movie choices often reflecting his favored genres of science fiction and fantasy. And many of the author appearances are worthy of a major social media nerd alert.
Magic and burlesque shows that have shown up on the Cocteau stage are also among Martin’s loves, said Jenni Higginbotham, marketing director.
But a number of indie titles are screened, along with some classic flicks and others related to recent events, such as a recent inclusion of “The Man Who Fell to Earth” shortly after David Bowie’s death. Others, such as Martin’s move to screen “The Interview” after mainline theaters dropped the film in reaction to North Korean bombast, reflect his commitment to freedom of speech, Sidebottom said.
Yet, sometimes you’ll notice the same movie at the JC playing across the railroad tracks in the Violet Crown Cinema, such as “The Hateful Eight.” What’s up with that?
“We love Quentin Tarantino, for one,” cooed Higginbotham. “A lot of it is just movies we think are really cool.”
And sometimes Martin requests a movie that he’d really like to show, Sidebottom added.
So what can we look forward to?
The move toward more music concerts, the launch of a game night and expansion in the food service area already were mentioned.
“We’re going to be looking at doing a comedy night. We’re working with a national booker,” Sidebottom said, noting that, with the theater closed to screening on Mondays, that day of the week is being eyed for some recurring themed events.
The USA Network’s “Colony” is in the works for a showing on Feb. 18 and a previous event with the Loteria game, known as Mexican bingo, likely will be repeated, he said. Costume contests linked to screenings will continue and, despite the discontinuation of late-night movies previously for lack of attendance, Sidebottom said he’s looking to bring them back, probably around late spring.
But they’ll be more than screenings – they’ll be billed as “parties” where the audience can be rowdy and shout out favorite lines, akin to the participatory activities that have grown around “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” he said.
Alternating screenings of movies in English and Spanish is being considered, but Sidebottom added, “The trick to that is getting the word out to the community” of Spanish-speaking residents.
The Jean Cocteau is partnering with the Zia Diner so people can order from a list of appetizers that will be brought over to the cinema and it is working with Penny University Coffeehouse to provide baked goods.
Plans also are in the works to record the author talks and make them available online by subscription, Higginbotham said.
Anything or anyone you’d like to see there? Sidebottom said he’s happy to hear requests from the community.
“If someone throws us an idea, we’ll look at it,” he said.