The Roxy Theater, which closed in March due to the pandemic, is re-emerging with new ways to share movies with Missoula.
The nonprofit community cinema will rent its theater out for private "movie parties." Coming soon as well is "the Roxy Garden," a small outdoor screening area behind its building on Higgins Avenue. It’s also partnering with the Paddleheads to show movies on Thursday nights at Ogren-Allegiance Park.
The ideas are designed to serve the community safely, a difficult task for a nonprofit that thrived on filling as many seats as possible.
“The nature of the business is like a roller-rink. You need everybody there together to do the thing that is the thing you do. We just can't all be there right now doing it,” said Mike Steinberg, executive director.
Before closing in March, private rentals had grown into an important moneymaker, whether for birthday parties, company events, or screenings with nonprofits.
“It's something we do consistently, so in terms of our available revenue streams, it was one that we were like, 'OK, we can unpack this a little bit, let's see how this will work,’" Steinberg said.
The "movie parties" will be capped at 30 people, and available by reservation, with tiers of fees depending on group size. A party of up to 12 will cost $200. The renters get to pick the movie or choose one from a selection the Roxy has in its library.
Pending the final inspection by the Missoula City-County Health Department, the parties can start this week. The Phase 2 reopening guidelines allow for movie theaters to reopen at 50 percent of normal capacity with social distancing between non-family member groups. The Roxy's largest theater could hold just over 100 people before the pandemic.
The movie parties are also a way to reopen while controlling contact more carefully than a typical screening that would be open to the public. Renters are choosing who they have in-person interactions with, and won’t be sharing a theater with strangers. They can pay in advance online and preorder concessions (still available mid-movie if you want a refill).
Inside the theater, they're “implementing some control of the seating just to reduce the cleaning time so we know where people were," he said.
Among the health precautions, masks will be required for staff and customers in the lobby, bathrooms and hallways, where social distancing also is necessary. They're installing a Plexiglass barrier at the concession stand. Commonly used areas will be disinfected regularly. To see a full list of steps and rental rules, go to theroxytheater.org.
By mid-June, they hope to open the outdoor screening area, aka "the Roxy Garden," located in the alley East of Higgins behind the Roxy Annex, a fourth theater that is currently under renovations.
The Paddleheads baseball team reached out to the Roxy about collaborating on the new Thursday night movie series, which the owners alluded to in an interview with the Missoulian recently about how they're trying to make use of the stadium when the outlook for Pioneer League play is cloudy.
The team has shown movies there in the past, and the idea is to draw together the two organizations — "doubling down the efforts, and having the Roxy come in and do the programming" to potentially draw a bigger crowd, Steinberg said.
The first installment is planned for June 11, pending approval by the health department, which will have the final say on the number of people allowed in the stands. Steinberg thinks that could be around 300 to 400 people.
"If we get a couple hundred people that's a huge success in my mind — people coming out and getting back some sense of doing something normal like going to a movie," he said.
He’s still not sure when the theater will reopen for standard public screenings. It could come in mid-July, timed for the premiere of “Tenet,” director Christopher Nolan’s new film.