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George Eastman House's Dryden Theatre undergoing major renovation
The Dryden Theatre is named for George Eastman’s niece, Ellen Dryden, and her husband, George, who funded its construction in memory of Eastman’s contribution to motion pictures.

ROCHESTER, NY.- The Dryden Theatre at George Eastman House will be going dark on Jan. 2, 2013 for two months to allow for extensive renovations and enhancements to the auditorium and projection booth, including new seats, new carpeting, new lighting, more legroom, and digital projection. The theater — one of the world’s leading and oldest archival venues — will reopen March 2.

“The Dryden Theatre is more than a movie theater,” said Dr. Paolo Cherchi Usai, senior curator of motion pictures. “It is the exhibition gallery for the art of cinema as seen, interpreted, and explained by George Eastman House. We want the Dryden Theatre to be a state-of-the-art exhibition venue for the museum and a place where cinema, as an event, finds its most perfect manifestation.”

The current theater seats are original to the Dryden when it opened in March 1951. They will be replaced with new ones larger in size and burgundy in color with wooden armrests. A “Take a Seat” campaign is currently under way for those wishing to sponsor and name seats. Darker paint, carpeting of all floor areas, and enhanced ceiling and aisle lighting — reminiscent of the great cinema houses of the past — will bring the new 500-seat Dryden a different look and improve overall sound absorption and minimize reflection on the screen.

The installation of a Barco digital projector will enable the Eastman House programming and projection staff to present contemporary cinema through digital media. A key component of this project is the museum’s commitment to honor the aesthetic choices of filmmakers by projecting moving images, both analog and digital, as they were meant to be seen — acknowledging the rise of digital formats while continuing to showcase historic film prints.

The Dryden is one of only five theaters in the country equipped for the projection of original nitrate film (film made before 1951) and this capacity will be maintained in the upgraded projection booth. The projection systems are being designed and installed by Boston Light & Sound. A new loop system for the hard-of-hearing also will be part of the 2013 renovation project, as well as automated masking for the screen to accommodate all cinematic formats. Dryden patrons will be pleased to learn the popular gold curtain, which rises before each screening, will be re-hung after the renovation and that the balcony layout is being reconfigured to allow for more legroom. This will lower the number of seats in the theater from its current 535 to 500 seats.

“My earliest passion was film and there is no better place I can think of for watching great film than the Dryden Theatre,” said Dr. Bruce Barnes, the Ron and Donna Fielding Director at George Eastman House. “The Dryden has served the Rochester community wonderfully over the last 60 years and we look forward to renovating the Dryden Theatre to better serve the community for the next decades.”

Final phase of a decade-long project
The Dryden Theatre renovation is being funded largely by a grant from the New York State Senate, as well as support from individual donors. The State Senate also appropriated funds for the first two phases of the Dryden Theatre renovation project, which began in 2001 with improvements to the lobby and box offices. The second phase in 2007 was a technology upgrade that resulted in the installation of new projectors, speakers and amplifiers, PA system, and projection screen.

“Take a Seat” in the Dryden
The public is invited to become part of this important moment in the history of the Dryden by sponsoring a seat in the renovated auditorium. Your name, or the name of a loved one or honoree, will be engraved on a permanent brass plaque on the arm of a seat. Those who sponsor seats will be invited to an exclusive construction walk-through and special reopening events. A sponsored seat is $1,000 and a specifically selected seat is $1,500. For more information, please call (585) 271-3361 ext. 384 or visit

“The New Dryden” film series in December and on New Year’s Day
This Dryden film series celebrates the movie house not only as a source of entertainment, but as a meeting place and source of cultural and spiritual enlightenment. The screenings are The Last Picture Show (Dec. 12), Sherlock Jr. (Dec. 19), Goodbye, Dragon Inn (Dec. 26), and Cinema Paradiso (Jan. 1). Each screening is at 8 p.m. and regular Dryden admission.

Special events in March and April to celebrate the reopening
Events are planned for March and April to celebrate the reopening of the renovated Dryden Theatre. Oscar®-winning director and writer Alexander Payne (The Descendants, About Schmidt, Election) will help kick off the reopening at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 2 and present his 2009 film Sideways. Oscar®-nominated director James Ivory (Room with a View, Remains of the Day, Howard’s End) will visit the Dryden at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 6, and present his 1995 film Jefferson in Paris. An accompanying Dryden series of his films will be screened every Wednesday in April, featuring films from the Merchant Ivory Productions archive preserved at Eastman House. Advance tickets go on sale Saturday, Feb. 2 for the Payne event and in March for the Ivory event. Each event will be regular Dryden admission ($8 general/$6 students).

History of the Dryden Theatre
The Dryden Theatre is named for George Eastman’s niece, Ellen Dryden, and her husband, George, who funded its construction in memory of Eastman’s contribution to motion pictures. Eastman is heralded as the father of motion picture film, having provided the film for Thomas Edison’s movie machines beginning in 1889, and dominating the industry for all decades thereafter. The Dryden has welcomed hundreds of filmmakers and actors in its 62 years and more than 1 million audience members. The repertory screenings feature titles from studios, fellow archives, and the George Eastman House motion picture archive, which is the third largest in the United States.

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