‘A cinematic escape for all:’ A love letter to Lexington’s Kentucky Theatre. | Opinion

Last Valentine’s Day I pulled my first volunteer shift at The Kentucky Theatre. Sitting in the box office wearing my favorite red lipstick, I doled out tickets to enthusiastic moviegoers on first dates, last dates, scheduled-around-a-babysitter dates, platonic dates, and solo viewings. After ticket sales ended, I got myself a popcorn (no butter, extra salt), a glass of wine, and watched the film, too. I sat alone in the back row, and felt — for the first time — connected to this city where I had recently moved.

Thus began what I am certain will be one of the great love affairs of my life, and that is with the historic Kentucky Theatre. All last summer, I had the great luck of being able to bumble around behind the register amongst staff and board members mixing cocktails, scooping popcorn, ringing up ticket sales and candy bar add-ons every Wednesday during the Summer Classics series. The staff — ever patient with my ham-handedness — taught me how to tally orders up expeditiously, where to find the restock supply of straws in a hurry, and how to add “tsunami” layers of butter (when requested).

After each volunteer shift, I found myself back in my preferred seat, popcorn in hand, and watched not only incredible cinema, but incredible scenes of humans being human. I saw two friends who hadn’t seen (from what we all overheard) each other in 15 years. Both about age 60 or so, the men nearly jumped into each other’s arms after a few cursory glances and some adjusting of glasses. A handful of people gently applauded at the reunion. From behind the soda fountain I watched hordes of multi-generational groups of women dressed to the nines for screenings of Barbie; little girls and grandmas, moms and sisters in their finest pink attire, dancing, singing, taking selfies, and enjoying the sparkling, jubilant vibe that permeated the lobby.

I learned to appreciate the underground glee that shoots through the crowd when someone cracks open a concession-purchased can of beer during a quiet part of a film, and the crowd silently (but somehow audibly) approves of that quick, delightful “ccshhhtt!”. I’ve watched people laugh so hard they cry, and weep so genuinely it turns into laughter. After the Broadway-worthy performance of the organist during October’s Phantom of the Opera, I observed some college students sit in complete silence, appalled that they’d only ever been exposed to big-box Dolby Surround Sound until that evening. Over Christmas, I got to sprinkle “snow” from the balcony to the merriment of arriving patrons as they took their seats to watch It’s a Wonderful Life, finding myself teary-eyed watching them twirl with delight — a reprieve from the stress of the holidays — under the confetti shower.

Lexington is a growing city and like anything in the midst of change, is going to experience growing pains. What we are fortunate to have in the throes of this evolution is The Kentucky — a glowing, aesthetic daydream, a cinematic escape for all. For me, it is a place to feel settled somewhere that I have struggled to settle in. I suspect I am not the only one over the course of the last century who has experienced that comfort upon entering the care-worn, wooden front doors… and also that I will not be the last. If you haven’t been, I encourage you to visit; it’s the only place in town where every seat is the best seat in the house. In all my years of movie going, I have never experienced a theater so welcoming, so wonderful and warm that the real magic is not only in the films, but in the theater itself.

Katherine Mueller-White
Katherine Mueller-White

Katherine Mueller-White works in public media communications, writes sometimes, and lives in Lexington with her husband and two cats.