As the Alamo Drafthouse’s plans for expansion continue, the Austin-based chain is in the process of adding theaters in Corpus Christi, Laredo, and El Paso—which would bring the number of Texas cities they’re in to nine. And part of the expansion process involves maintaining the theater’s famously strict rules: no texting, no talking, and no seating if you arrive late for a screening.
One rule they’re abandoning, though, is the strict eighteen-and-up age policy. While teenagers have been restricted from visiting the Drafthouse without a parent since the company’s inception, a thread on Reddit earlier this year changed the company’s perspective on its no-teens policy.
A seventeen-year-old Austinite named Josh, desperate to see a rare 3-D screening of French auteur Jean-Luc Godard’s Goodbye to Language on Super Bowl Sunday, took to the forum to inquire how strict the company enforced the policy. The Drafthouse’s Austin creative manager John Smith saw the post and responded that “a seventeen year old that wants to see the new Godard movie instead of the Super Bowl is our sort of teenager,” assuring Josh that he would be able to get in. (The theater was so excited to welcome Josh that it offered him a free ticket, a pair of vouchers for future films, and a gift certificate for food during the screening.)
That led to a conversation within the Drafthouse about the policy in general, and when the company announced Amy Averett as the director of family and community engagement on Tuesday, they determined a workaround: in addition to a series of initiatives to engage teens and young people, the Drafthouse—at all locations—would create Alamo Drafthouse NEXT, a program through which teens could apply to be allowed into the theater without a parent.
The idea of teenagers having to be personally and individually vetted before they can attend a movie is kind of silly, but the Drafthouse is famous for taking this sort of thing very seriously. In fact, the person who’ll be doing the vetting is, according to Averett, most likely going to be CEO Tim League himself. “I’m pretty sure that it’s going to be Tim League and me. Tim is very interested. He’s the one who got excited about the idea of them submitting some sort of application for the program,” Averett says. “He’s excited to see what young people are interested in, what kind of films they’re watching, and what kind of passion they have for film.”
As for what the application might look like, Averett says that there will most likely be two ways into the program, which the Drafthouse intends to implement within the next three months. “They could do an application that talks about their interest in film, what their background in film is, what they like, those kind of things,” she says. “Another option is that we’re starting a film education program, in conjunction with a number of the in-school film programs and nonprofits that do film programs with kids, and there might be a way to earn your way in if you attend a certain number of those.”
In other words, they’re not opening the Drafthouse up to all teenagers—but, as she put it, they’re no longer “using the age policy as a proxy for good conduct.” There are plenty of adults who text throughout a movie or who get loud and rowdy—and those people aren’t welcome at the company’s theaters either.