Silver screeners hit the road

The Baltimore Sun

Sylvia Kackle slowly stepped down from the shuttle bus and reached for her red walker. She moved through the Linthicum movie house past the ticket booth and concession stand, but needed help climbing the steps.

The 85-year-old woman didn't wait in lines or wade through crowds. Her screening skipped movie previews, concession advertisements and the reminder for moviegoers to turn off their cell phones.

Kackle was among 90 senior citizens who attended an exclusive showing of Hair- spray -- the debut of Silver Screenings, a program designed for seniors to see a first-run movie before noon, before the Hoyt Cinema opened to the public, without even negotiating the concession stand.

On Thursday, each moviegoer received a snack bag with popcorn, water and sugar-free candy.

"We don't come out to the movies often, but we go out to eat," Kackle said. She goes to the theater when she can get tickets and transportation. But often, she watches videotapes or digital video discs where she lives, in the Annapolitan Assisted Living Community in Annapolis.

At a time when younger Americans are opting to watch movies at home, more seniors are going to theaters, according to a study by the Pew Research Center.

In a survey of 2,250 people, the number of adults who go to movie theaters decreased 5 percent between 1995 and 2006. However, the number of adults over 65 who go to theaters increased by 3 percent.

But despite their desire to head to the movies, seniors often have a hard time getting there, said David Dickens, executive director of Home Instead Senior Care, which organized and sponsored the screening.

"If you want to go to the supermarket or something, you can get a van to take you," said Dickens, who runs the Anne Arundel and Howard county franchises of the business, which specializes in nonmedical assistance for seniors at home and at assisted-living centers. "But if you want to go somewhere at a special time, that can sometimes be problematic."

Unable to drive, many Home Instead clients don't get out as often as they would like. Cabs are not always available, and some clients need an aide to help them.

Most of the older moviegoers had not seen the original 1988 film version of Hairspray. Set in the 1960s, it is about a Baltimore teenager who fights for a spot on a local dance show and takes a stand against racial segregation. Some could not recall the last time they were treated to a movie in a theater.

Trailers and clips about the movie piqued 61-year-old Susan Eidenberg's appetite for Hair- spray. Eidenberg, who also lives in the Annapolitan, usually does not go to the theater, but this movie looked as if it offered something other than what she usually sees at home.

"It's a comedy, rather than the shoot-'em-ups or scary movies you see on TV," Eidenberg said.

Dickens decided to go on the movie trip after reading about another Home Instead office that tried it on a smaller scale.

Before Silver Screenings, Dickens sponsored a couple of events in which he showed DVDs at assisted-living facilities. The seniors were not all that interested.

"We wanted to do something that people would want to go to and get some pleasure out of," he said. "We were looking to do something on a much grander scale."

Dickens plans to continue the event, taking seniors to movie houses for exclusive showings four to six times a year. He estimated that will cost between $600 and $700 per movie.

This particular showing for seniors was not the typical rental, said Glen Fuller, general manager of the theater. More often, the theater is rented during its normal business hours. But Fuller made an exception for the seniors and moved Hairspray to a larger theater with more handicapped seating.

Usually, seniors are attracted to musicals such as Chicago and Hairspray, but they tend to stay away from summer blockbusters such as Transformers, Fuller said. He said he generally sees more seniors during the week, when there are fewer crowds, he said.

Seniors said they enjoyed the energy of the movie.

"It was exciting," said Marie Hargett, 82, an Annapolitan resident, "jumping and jiving."

For some, the issues in the movie are as relevant today as they were in the 1960s.

"To me it's modern," Kackle said. "It's what's going on in the world today."

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