By JOHN T. WARD
Despite facing an uncertain post-pandemic future itself, Red Bank’s Count Basie Center for the Arts has added a two-screen movie theater to its portfolio.
The entertainment juggernaut has taken over the former Bow Tie Cinemas venue on White Street, the Basie said in an announcement Monday.
The movie venue, closed for the past six months by the COVID-19 economic shutdown, will reopen in October as a socially distanced “haven for independent film,” maintaining a tradition over 40 years and several operators, the announcement said.
The theater will also host major Hollywood releases, film festivals and late-night screenings of the “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” according to the announcement.
But why, and why now, given that the Basie’s Monmouth Street campus, which was nearing the end of a $25 million expansion when the pandemic hit, is itself sitting empty?
In an email to redbankgreen, Basie Chief Executive Officer Adam Philipson said the takeover “was all budgeted out prior to covid, and we’re committed to doing what we can to see it through as part of our mission to preserve important art forms, not unlike what we did when we took over the Monmouth Conservatory” in 2017.
“The Basie Trustees and staff felt the reward of preserving the history and culture in Red Bank outweighed the risk,” Philipson wrote. “The movie theater can be successful with limited occupancy assuming people feel safe to come out and movies go back into their regular production and distribution mode and they eat a lot of popcorn!”
The announcement of the takeover had been planned for April, but was put on hold by the pandemic, he said.
Bow Tie did not announce its departure, but quietly removed the Red Bank location from its website sometime after March.
Philipson said Basie officials had heard earlier this year that the theater was going to close. He said the Basie board and property owner John Bowers “came to an understanding that nobody wanted this treasured arts movie theatre to leave Red Bank, that that was not a good sign for Red Bank.”
“We just could not let something like that close,” Philipson said.
Izzy Sackowitz, the Basie’s vice president and general manager, will oversee the movie house.
The theater’s restart was enabled by an executive order signed last week by Governor Phil Murphy that allows places of entertainment can reopen at the lesser of 150 patrons or 25 percent of capacity, the announcement said.
For the movie house, that means up to 51 and 33 patrons for the two screening rooms, with “optimal social distancing and safety protocols.”
A host of rules will apply:
• Patrons will be required to wear a mask at all times, except when eating or drinking.
• Seats will be sold in sets of 2 and 4, with at least six feet of space surrounding seats in all directions. [UPDATE: Socially-distanced single seats will also be available.]
• The lobby will be retrofitted to facilitate contact-free ticketing and concessions
• Theaters will be disinfected between showings.
• Restroom occupancy will be limited to one patron at a time.
“In addition to deep cleanings between each screening and again nightly, usable seats will be properly distanced, foot traffic will be relegated to one direction, and concessions and ticketing will be completely touchless,” Sackowitz said in the announcement.
According to Cinema Treasures, the venue opened in 1971 as a single-screen theater called Cinema III in a building previously used as a hardware store. Bow Tie Cinemas took over from Clearview Cinemas in 2013.
If you value the kind of news coverage redbankgreen delivers, please become a paying member. Click here for details about our new, free newsletter and membership information.