The silver screen will come alive again in the area. But people might have to make a drive to see it. During the next two weeks, independent movie theaters like the Fox Theatre in Atchison, Kansas, and the Screenland Armour in Kansas City will re-open after more than two months of darkness during the COVID-19 shutdown.
“When the popcorn machines are running non-stop and we got people flooding in ... All that chaos is going to be calming,” Travis Grossman, executive director of Theatre Atchison, said.
The Screenland Armour theater, located at 408 Armour Road in Kansas City, Missouri, will open on June 5 with a slate of classic movies, including a “Kill Bill” double feature, the original “Candyman,” Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing,” “Bridesmaids” and “Mamma Mia.”
“It is like a little nerve-wracking because we normally wouldn’t show six classic films on one weekend ... unless it was something special that we knew was going to be busy and have a good turnout. It’s just like, that’s all that’s available to us,” Adam Roberts, owner of Screenland Armour, said.
The Fox Theatre will open a week later on June 11, with a slate of newer movies that didn’t get a fair shake at theaters before the shutdown, like the faith-based romantic drama “I Still Believe,” the new interpretation of Jane Austen’s “Emma” and the streaming hit “Trolls World Tour,” as well as a special morning kids’ screening of “Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse,” at a reduced price.
“(‘Spider-Verse’) is part of our $2 ticket (in the morning) to kind of give parents and kiddos the opportunity to go back and start their summer up the way we did last summer in June,” Grossman said.
The attractions that drive people to the cinema — the smell of the popcorn, the cold drinks, sitting in a big theater with friends watching a movie on the big screen — will all be present, but in a different, more isolated manner. They also might set the tone for bigger chain theaters like Regal and AMC, both of which have not released plans for when they will reopen.
Both theaters will have rows and aisle seats blocked off for everyone to keep a safe distance. There will be restrictions to avoid people crowding the lobby. Ticketing will be done slightly differently. Hand sanitizer will be available and cleaning measures will be stepped up. While the staff will be wearing masks and gloves, it’s not required for the viewers.
All of that will cut into each theater’s bottom line. Although Screenland still will operate its Patreon fundraiser and online rentals, as well as planned outdoor screening area, the struggle will continue. How much remains to be seen.
“I think we’re at 75 seats in the largest auditorium. Typically, we’re at 245 seats,” he said. “Most studies show that people aren’t going to be comfortable going out to the places like theaters or concerts for three to six months. So we don’t know what’s going to be like.”
Both theaters also are facing another problem: Almost all of the 2020 summer movie season has been pushed back to 2021, save for tentative releases of Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” on July 17 and Disney’s live action “Mulan” on July 24. Both said they will have to be creative and that they’ve been planning on having to plug in some classic movies.
“For 10 years, we’ve always had to be creative, whether it’s commercial programming that pay most of the bills ... (or) the weird, smaller films and those weird restorations that no one’s ever seen or haven’t seen in so long,” Roberts said.
The Fox Theatre will lean on its family-oriented programming. Grossman said it’s what has worked for the theater for the past year that it’s been open, and even though it might not make as much money, he’s glad it’s back in business.
“Smaller margins are certainly better than nothing because the reality is that the utility payments don’t go away. The insurance payments don’t go away. The lease payments don’t go away. And we desperately want to help out our employees ... to get them back to work too,” Grossman said.
Despite the excitement, both said they have it in the back of their minds that if there’s another shutdown, things can go dark again quickly. That’s why Roberts said the theater wants to do its part to keep people safe.
“We’re in basically inviting the public in ... And you don’t know who’s been where, what and how. So I want to feel safe in my own place. So part of what that means is taking all these precautions and procedures and making sure that if I feel safe, that you feel safe,” he said.
While Grossman said another shutdown is on his mind if a second wave hits, he’s optimistic that people will play it safe so that doesn’t happen.
“If (the shutdown happens) again, it still won’t kill us. It’ll hurt again. It’ll just draw out the rebuilding process for us again. But I really am confident that we’re on the right side of this,” he said.
Because of space restrictions, ticketing for Screenland’s movies must be ordered at screenland.com. The Fox Theatre will also be changing its ticketing to an outside booth and online at http://foxtheatreatchison.com.