Ray Cannon glances around the lobby of EastPark Cinema in Clinton, pointing first to the locked doors and then to the large signs erected just outside the entryway that forbid large “bags” from being allowed inside, both precautions that were in place long before a gunman walked into a Colorado ciniplex last Friday and opened fire.
Five days after the shooting rampage, which left 12 dead and another 58 injured, Cannon acknowledged that the safety measures already in place have been beefed up, but he stopped short of saying exactly what the added precautions were. “I don’t want to give anyone any ideas,” Cannon cautioned, “but be assured there are more measures in place. My main focus is the safety of my customers and my employees … always has been.”
Like most theater managers since the Colorado shootings, he doesn’t allow adults to come to the cinema wearing any type of costume, but then again, he is quick to point out, he’s never been one to go for that kind of thing unless, of course, you are under the age of 12.
“Kids can come in here with costumes. I had one this weekend. He was dressed like Batman and he was with his parents. But if an adult comes here in a costume, I’ll have to ask them to remove it. If they refuse, I won’t sell them a ticket. I’m not trying to be difficult to get along with, it’s just my rules and it’s for everyone’s safety.”
He doesn’t allow teenagers in the theater with hoods attached to their clothes, either, a precautionary measure that’s been in place for years. Large pocketbooks or bags aren’t allowed either, and if Cannon asks to search a bag, he expects the request to be granted.
“I don’t do it often, but if I’m a bit suspicious, I will ask, and if they don’t want me to search it, they have to take it back to the car or I won’t let them in the theater. Look, parents drop their children off here all the time, and they trust me to take care of them. I going to do everything in my power to do just that.”
He prides himself on running a tight ship, one that welcomes fun but stops short of paving the way for undesirable situations to present themselves. “You try to stop things before they happen, if you can,” the theater manager attests.
Yet he acknowledges that there are some things that are difficult to prevent. And he points to the tragedy in Colorado as an example, though quick to explain that the similarities between that cinema and East Park are pretty much non-existent.
“I was absolutely shocked when I heard what had happened Friday morning,” Cannon recalled, his eyes scanning the theater lobby as workers prepare for the night’s showings which includes “The Dark Night Rises,” the Batman film playing when the gunman opened fire in Aurora, Colo. Friday morning.
“I really couldn’t believe it; I couldn’t imagine somebody doing something so evil. My first thoughts were why and how, but I realized that how things unfolded in Colorado weren’t likely at our cinema.”
And for many reasons.
The suspected gunman, reports note, purchased a movie ticket, went inside one of the theaters showing the Batman movie and then went out the exit, propping the door open. His car, officials have noted, was parked outside and apparently loaded with the weapons, ammunition and gas canisters he used in the attack. He returned through the door he’d left open, dropped the canisters and began shooting people at random.
At East Park, Cannon said, there is no parking behind the building, and the exits in each theater are wired to sound if one is opened.
“Other than showing movies, that’s about the only similarity there is between our theater and the one in Colorado. You can’t really get behind our building, and there’s certainly nowhere to park vehicles. You can see both sides of the building. Besides, if someone tried to drive back there, I’d be running them off, that’s for certain. No one has any business back there and it would be obvious if someone tried.”
Then there’s the exits. While each theater has one, should someone go out those doors, Cannon said a very loud, annoying noise will echo through the building, and while he may not hear it from the film booth atop each room, his employees will immediately alert him.
The film booth, too, he said, serves as a good vantage point to view what is going on below. “I catch a lot of things up there; I really do.”
In addition, the theater doors are locked between show times, another measure that has long been among his rules. “You don’t just walk in my theater. It’s not meant to keep people away; it’s meant to protect,” Cannon stressed.
And true to the small town atmosphere of a local theater, Cannon is usually not far from the door, welcoming movie-goers, many who he considers his extended family, with a hug or a handshake. “Unless it’s freezing or extremely hot, 90 times out of 100 I’m going to be right out there when customers start coming up.”
It’s exactly where he was Friday when East Park opened for business, showing “The Dark Knight Rises” among other movies.
Attendance, he said, might have been off a little bit. “We were about half full Friday night. Some might have stayed away because of the shooting, but probably not that many. Most people realize this is not something that can only happen at a movie theater. It could happen at school, at church, in the mall. You have to take precautions but most people aren’t going to let fear run their lives,” Cannon said.
By Monday morning, Cannon’s assessment was that the weekend crowd was about what he had expected, something he attributes more to the decreasing interest in “super hero films” being remade than to the Colorado shooting.
Employee Summer Goodman, who has worked at East Park five years, said she never hesitated to go to work Friday evening, understanding that what had happened wasn’t likely to occur at the local theater. “I feel very safe here. It’s one of the safest places I go. I was really sad about what happened, but I didn’t think about it being something I should worry about here.”
Co-worker Brittany Underwood agreed. “I’ve been here nine years and I’ve always felt safe here. I still do. I didn’t relate what happened to here at all, and I don’t think others should either.”
Cannon said that’s why he encourages people to come on out to the movie theater like they’ve always done, assured that he and his staff will do everything in their power to continue making it a safe environment for all.
“I can’t speak for the other theaters, but here in Clinton we are going to continue looking after our customers and each other and making it just as safe as we possibly can,” Cannon said.