An Experience to Remember: Melba Theater
The Melba Theater is hands down the most recognizable building in downtown Batesville. Originally constructed in 1875, it was eventually remodeled in art deco style and became one of Arkansas' first cinemascope theaters. In 2016 the future of the theater was grim. The building was deteriorating, and the sound and projection system was decades behind. Just when it looked like the theater had gone dark for good, two local families (Adam and Mandi Curtwright and Joe and Janelle Shell) stepped in to completely transform the Melba into one of the most iconic theaters in all of Arkansas.
Let’s be honest, trips to most movie theaters have gotten expensive. Not at the Melba. Admission is only $4.00 and concession prices are affordable, too.
Check out the Q&A below with co-owner Adam Curtwright:
Why did you decide to take on a project so big?
Adam: The Melba had been such a staple of Main Street Batesville that we would have hated to see it go dark. Everyone we talked to has these memories of the Melba and what it meant to them personally. During the process of trying to figure out the feasibility of the project, we kept asking “what if” and we had these grand ideas, but we finally asked ourselves — what if we don’t do this? At that point, we had to take a leap of faith that we could follow our plan and stick to the budget we had in front of us. If not for the community support, both physically and emotionally, this project might not have happened.
What makes watching a movie at the Melba different from than a large franchise style theater?
Adam: We all love going to the movies and getting an experience that you can’t replicate at home. We have worked very hard to provide the best in digital cinema with a new digital projector and new 7.1 surround sound. Our hope is that regardless of the movie, the experience will bring them back. We have tried to replicate a time when going to the movies was about the experience and not just something to do for a couple of hours. We try to add special touches such as playing music outside to match the feature, to having people in costumes, to trivia that is specific to the movie before the show. Each show is a production of its own. We had one lady say, “Coming to the Melba was like visiting an old friend.”
Your motto is an “Experience to Remember.” What does that mean to a moviegoer?
Adam: We have tried to make going to the Melba an experience regardless of what movie is playing. We heard at a conference that you need to promote your building just as much as your feature film. From the glowing neon marquee to the ceiling mural and history corner in the lobby, to the original wood floors and seats — we have tried to recreate the experience that most people have only seen in the movies. We also try to add extra special experiences such as when we had snow machines on the roof at Christmas time to add to the overall experience.
What is your favorite memory thus far from owning the Melba?
Adam: It would have to be when we showed “It’s A Wonderful Life” during our first Very Melba Christmas series. At the end of the movie, everyone stood up and clapped and cheered. As people were walking out, it was fun to see the expressions and hear people share memories. Some of the audience had seen the film a thousand times while others it was their first time, but by the end of the movie everyone was on common ground and sharing their own experience.
What’s your favorite thing about living in Batesville, Arkansas?
Adam: Someone that just moved to Batesville told me the other night that “Batesville is the closest thing to Mayberry that he and his family had ever experienced.” We are extremely proud of our community and what it does to improve the quality of life for its residents. From the new recreational center, closing Main Street for kids on Halloween, the Christmas lights at the park, to the civic organizations’ constant desire to push Batesville to be the best. Batesville has a targeted approach when it comes to Community, and it’s great to see Batesville hitting the mark.
What’s your favorite movie?
Mandi: The Lion King
Adam: Dumb and Dumber
Joe: Tommy Boy
Janelle: The Proposal
What’s your favorite place to eat in Batesville?
Adam: Besides the Hot Dogs at the Melba ;-) It’s hard to say. We have so many great places that are unique to our town that we couldn’t name just one.