A Preview of IMAX’s Portable Theater….By Looking Back

From BOXOFFICE, May 16, 1961:


NEW YORK — Itinerama, the 3,000-seat inflatable “balloon theatre” for the presentation of Cinerama productions, will start its tour of France in mid-July and plans are under way for its introduction in the United States early in 1962.  This was revealed here Tuesday by Maurice Dollfus, executive vice-president of Itinerama, S.A., at a press meeting at the Hotel Sheraton East. 

A licensee of Cinerama, Ltd., Itinerama will send out its first of three planned completely portable motion picture theatres to simultaneously criss-cross France, each unit to show a different Cinerama picture.  Each caravan will consist of the inflatable theatre, a 100-foot curved screen,, a full sized projection booth to house the three projectors and all-transistor equipment, Dollfus said.  In addition, the balloon theatres will have rest rooms, ticket booths, generators and full kitchen and housing accommodations for the 50-man crew.  He said the fire-proof theatre could be completely inflated in 14 minutes and the entire setting-up operation could be accomplished in four and a half hours and dismantled in three hours.

Dollfus estimated that each of the three traveling French unites would play to about 2,000,000 persons yearly in France alone and that the average ticket price would be $1.25, offering a combined gross of $7,500,000 for the three units.

Itinerama has been licensed by Cinerama to exhibit in the balloon theatres its pictures in France and French-speaking countries, with options for Germany, Italy, Great Britain, Belgium, Holland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Spain.  The system was financed by private interests, one of which was Europes No. 1, said to be the most powerful radio complex in Europe.

Itinerama will purchase from Cinerama at cost the projectors, screens, translator sound systems, technical aid and Cinerama films.  Cinerama will share 50 per cent in the profits after operating expenses and taxes.

The inflatable theatre is the result of five years of experimentation, Dollfus said.  Made of Nitrolac, a tough, fireproof and airtight plastic material, the Itinerama theatre is blown up by air.  The plastic hemisphere, when collapsed, can be packed into one large trailer truck and when inflated by air pumps becomes a structure measuring 210 feet long, 144 feet wide, 62 feet high.

The structural principle is based upon the maintaining of a slightly higher air pressure inside than that surrounding the outside of the structure.  The pumps work continuously to maintain the necessary margin of pressure and, incidentally, provide for the circulation of fresh air within the theatre.

Dollfus said the touring theatre would operate about ten months of the year.

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