While most movie theaters are playing stale summer blockbusters, the York has something unique to offer: classes.
Since the onset of the strike, many Yale classes have moved off campus and into the darkened theaters of the York, located conveniently on Broadway Avenue. Though the York is struggling with its own financial woes and a costly lawsuit, the theater is demonstrating support for workers by delaying screenings for classes.
This is not the first time the York has opened its doors to Yale during a strike.
“The York has seen many strikes, and classes have been held here since the ’80s,” said Leonardo Hiertz MUS ’00, who has worked for years at the York, free of charge. “During the strike last year, the York had 25 hours of classes. This time, we received a schedule that runs for eight weeks and which includes over 100 hours of class time.”
The owners of the York are very accommodating to Yale faculty and have made the theater available whenever possible.
“The York has given maximum flexibility to the strike committee and lets them do whatever they want. We are willing to delay screenings to accommodate classes… If it comes to it, we will bill a film late,” theater manager Peter Spodick said.
Despite the challenges of teaching classes in a dark theater, professors are grateful to have space at the York.
“The York Square has been incredibly accomodating for setting up alternative audiovisual aid,” literature professor Vilashini Cooppan said. “Our work for relocating classes was made extra difficult by the University’s policy. We were told we would have no support of AV facilities on campus.”
The theater is being so generous because there is an implicit understanding that off-campus venues are neutral territory.
This generosity, however, is taking its toll. When film screenings and classes conflict on Wednesday afternoons, scheduling becomes a juggling act. But Spodick remains firm in his support.
“Sure it’s a nuisance,” Spodick said. “But the owners of the theater are old New Yorkers…They are of a different mind-set altogether. They grew up in the Depression of the ’30s and have seen it all. They are old Unionists and strong supporters of workers’ rights.”
Aside from tough scheduling, the York is contending with a larger problem — its ongoing federal lawsuit. In 1999, the York, backed by Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and the City of New Haven, filed a suit against five major film distribution companies, including Sony, Universal, Tristar, Columbia and Dreamworks Pictures, who were boycotting the York.
Citing the Unfair Trade and Practices Act, the brief denounced the boycott as unfair to consumers, and it accused the five companies of racism as well as of holding a bias against the lower-income, handicapped and elderly citizens of New Haven.
“The people of New Haven are suffering because the city is an archetype of the urban donut,” said Spodick, who is also working as the York’s lawyer. “It is a hole surrounded by the ring of wealth that is Yale.”
Yet, despite the controversy and financial strain caused by the litigation, and the inconveniences brought on by the strike, Spodick is upbeat.
“People understand that this is a go-with-the-flow kind of time. Sure, the York is not an ideal setting to hold classes, but under the circumstances, as we say in the business, the show must go on.”