Stratford’s world-renowned reputation for Shakespeare likely brings to mind its brand new $70-million Tom Patterson theatre, but a much different – and much smaller– Stratford venue has made a splash on the global arts and culture scene this week.
Stratford’s world-renowned reputation for Shakespeare likely brings to mind its brand new $70-million Tom Patterson theatre, but a much different – and much smaller– Stratford venue has made a splash on the global arts and culture scene this week.

The Little Prince Cine-Lounge, a 13-seat micro-theatre and café in downtown Stratford, has recently been dubbed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the smallest purpose-built cinema on the planet.

“It’s really very rewarding to earn this recognition,” founder Leigh Cooney said Wednesday, shortly after announcing the news on social media. “We may be small, but we’re having a huge impact with those people who are looking for a safe and unique alternative to traditional movie theatres.” 

Cooney didn’t need a science fiction-style shrink ray to make the cinema a reality, but the project has required plenty of elbow grease since it was first unveiled a few years ago. 

Inspired by the success of two short film competitions he helped organize with volunteers from the Stratford arts scene, Cooney decided in 2019 to convert his small downtown art gallery into a screening room for local filmmakers and other creators. He proclaimed the Little Prince to be “the world’s smallest cinema,” but his vision for the space – and his application to Guinness – was stalled by building code issues, two separate floods and then the pandemic.

Despite those setbacks, the Little Prince managed to carve out a niche in Stratford while the province was in and out of COVID-19 lockdowns. 

When they could, Cooney and his business partner, Carla Coles, rented the screening room to small groups that fit under Ontario’s gathering restrictions. They focused on customized, intimate experiences by adding details like personalized welcome messages and era-specific previews before classic films.

“Because it’s small, because it’s manageable and it’s easier for us to turn it around, it just allows us to make each experience very unique,” Cooney said. “When you do things small, you can do that, you can customize and you can change and you can adapt.”

The Little Prince has also offered cotton candy, authentic movie theatre popcorn and other unique concessions for pickup and delivery during the pandemic. Meanwhile, Cooney continued adding to the cinema’s aesthetic – he describes it as Hollywood’s golden age mixed with a touch of the English Victorian era – and developed the café, a licensed space that sells coffee and light snacks.

“Every detail of the space has been meticulously thought over, partially because I like details and I think those types of things are important, but also because we’ve had a lot of shutdowns so we had a lot of time on our hands,” Cooney said. 

Images of the space garnered attention on social media. In December 2020, a group of local artists recorded and distributed a one-hour variety show used to raise funds for the Little Prince.

“The original plan (for the Little Prince) was just far less ambitious than what we ended up doing. It kind of got away from us,” Cooney said. “It worked out for the best but it was tough at the time. We didn’t know we were going to make it.”

The Little Prince’s tiny cinema isn’t offering public screenings. Since it’s become a draw for birthday parties and small weddings, Cooney said those types of private events will continue to be the focus, for now. Delivery of its movie theatre goodies has also been scaled back, though the snacks are still available for pickup.

No matter what comes next, Cooney said the new world record will be a huge boost. It’s been about 15 months since he first asked Guinness to confirm it.

“We had to keep pausing it for one reason or another,” Cooney said. “It’s been an up-and-down trip. It’s been crazy. I think (the record) makes it all worthwhile. It’s a great culmination of a lot of effort.”

The recognition will be a great conversation starter for attracting people unfamiliar with the space “and it’s just a bit of a life goal ambition, a bucket list thing,” Cooney added. “To be able to say you’ve done something like that is pretty profound. Even if we lost it one day to someone else, we can always say we did it, so that’s pretty great.”

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