The Music Box Theater is closed due to COVID-19, but you can support them by streaming films at home. Credit: Brandon Olafsson/Flickr

LAKEVIEW — Tired of scrolling through Netflix? Watch an independent film instead while supporting a historic Chicago theater.

The coronavirus pandemic made a trip to the movies off-limits for now, but The Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave., has created a “Virtual Cinema” to allow audiences to rent the indie films they would typically be showing right now, with proceeds benefiting the theater and independent filmmakers.

The 90-year-old Music Box closed on March 17 but has committed to paying its 18 employees through at least April 30, when Gov. JB Pritzker’s stay at home order is currently scheduled to end.

Buck LePard, senior operations manager for the theater, said the Music Box worked with partners in the film industry to let people stream their typically on-screen films at home.

“They’re movies that we believed in and still wanted people to be able to get a chance to see them,” he said. “Smaller independent films don’t have the budgets to be able to all of a sudden change dates or change their whole advertising campaigns.”

Six films are currently available, including “Saint Frances,” filmed in Chicago, and “CATVIDEOFEST,” a 40 minute curation of the “very best and most hilarious” cat videos.

Customers can visit The Music Box website to select a film, which will be streamed through a third party distributor. The price depends on the movie, but viewers would pay $12 to watch “Saint Frances” and a sliding scale to watch the cat videos. New films are being rolled out weekly.

“There have been hundreds of people watching these films since we’ve launched, and more coming in every day,” he said.

To even further recreate the in-person Music Box experience, you can watch regular house organist Dennis Scott play before the movie.

YouTube video

LePard said the “very dedicated and very supportive” regular Music Box patrons were ready to help when the theater closed in March.

“When we first announced that we were going to close for the time being, we had people immediately reaching out and saying ‘what can I do to help’? And if people are able to do that, we want to make sure that we’re helping them and we’re giving something back as well.”

Proceeds have helped pay staff during the closure. All 18 employees will be paid through the current stay at home order, and the theater is exploring contingency plans if the order is extended.

“We’re already putting plans in place for if this gets extended again, how we can keep supporting our staff,” he said. “These are the people that our audience sees when they come in to see movies, and we want to make sure they’re taken care of.”

In addition to streaming a movie, film buffs can become members of the theater (which includes discounted tickets and advanced screenings) or buy a gift certificate.

“We wouldn’t be able to do that without our audience chipping in. If you’re able to spend a little money watching a movie, you know that’s going to go back and help our people.”

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.

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