Batesville, AR - Melba Theater opening to celebrate old, new

posted by ThrHistoricalSociety on July 27, 2016 at 8:58 am


From the Three Rivers Edition: Downtown Batesville’s historic Melba Theater has come a long way from the deteriorating state the theater’s current owners found it in just over a year ago. Now, as the last bits of sawdust are being swept away and fresh layers of paint dry, the theater is wrapping up finishing touches and will soon reopen to the community.

The grand opening of the Melba Theater, 115 W. Main St., will take place Aug. 12. Doors open at 6 p.m., and the event will begin at 7 p.m. Tickets are $50. Melba Theater owners have spent a year updating and preparing the building for opening night and look forward to seeing people’s reactions to the improvements.

“It’s been reiterated to us through people’s excitement,” said Janelle Shell, who co-owns the building with her husband, Joe, and another couple, Adam and Mandi Curtwright. “They remember their first movie here, their last movie [here], they remember their first date was here, their first job was here. There are so many attachments that people have to this particular theater that I think we’re excited to bring that back to life.”

Owners encourage formalwear for the theater’s red-carpet-themed grand-opening celebration, which will include gift bags for guests.

Adam, who while in banking school with Janelle in Memphis began brainstorming about bringing the theater back to life, has a personal connection to the building.

“It was my first job in high school, working here,” he said. “My grandma, she graduated high school in this building.”

The theater is believed to have opened in 1875 as an opera house. In 1916, the building was a mercantile store, then opened as the Melba Theater in 1940. The Batesville Commercial Historic District, which includes the theater, is part of the National Register of Historic Places.

“The Melba actually opened down the block a little ways in 1934, but it opened here in 1940,” Joe said. “We’ve tried to maintain the history and the spirit of what they originally built there. The ticket booth had been moved to the side and changed, and there were several changes that’ve been made. We tried to kind of go back to the original, of the way it looked, and tried to restore as much as possible.”

Ticket prices for movies at the 496-seat theater will be $4 across the board — no matter one’s age.

“We are keeping our pricing low so that families have affordable, family-friendly entertainment,” Janelle said.

Adam said that moviegoing is a fun experience because while he can’t remember every movie he’s ever seen, he can describe what the moment was like while viewing them.

“That’s kind of what we were wanting to generate here,” he said. “It might not be the best movie in the world that’s being shown, it might not be the top-rated film of all time, but if you can come and have a good time, and you can afford it and actually sit back and let the rest of the world kind of go to the side for a minute and enjoy yourself, then I think that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Joe said that many people who have visited the theater have a “Melba story.”

“People that are not from this area that come in and visit say, ‘Oh, I was here back in the ’80s,’ or ‘I did this,’ or ‘I met my husband here,’” he said. “We met one lady whose dad died not long after he brought her here as a young child, and this is one of her few memories of her dad. It’s not just, ‘Oh, we went there and had fun.’ It’s a life-changing experience sometimes, which is an amazing thing to us.”

Before renovations, Joe said, the building had water damage and asbestos, and also needed treatment for mold and termites. During work on the building, Adam even stepped through the floor because of weak wood. But the building’s steel structure proved sturdy, Joe said, and the owners did not have to replace the existing screen in the theater.

“As in any old building or an old house or anything, you pull something back and you think, ‘Well, I’m going to fix this one thing,’” Joe said. “And you pull it back and find out you have to fix three things behind it in order to fix it. That’s a lot of the nature of what the job has been.”

Now the Melba Theater has new heating and air and electric wiring, a new projector and restored seats. There is also a family restroom and more accessible seating. The theater’s balcony will be completed after the building’s opening.

Janelle said the community can enjoy the Melba for more than just movie-viewing.

“We’re excited about not just showing movies. We want to hold concerts here. If businesses want to hosts podcasts or training, we’ll hold that capability,” she said. “We want to rent to churches to show faith-based movies [and be] a venue that people can rent out, host their fundraisers or birthday parties. We’re excited for the opportunity to let the community use it.”

The theater is also presenting a Save My Seat campaign, which offers people the chance to purchase a $50 plaque to be placed on the back of a seat in the theater. Plaques give people the chance to name a seat in honor of a business or loved one. One man even purchased plaques for 14 seats in a row to present a poem to his wife, Mandi said.

Janelle said she hopes the theater’s grand opening will inspire individuals to return with other family members or friends.

“Whether you bring your grandma or you bring your toddler, you’re going to enjoy your experience,” she said.

Tickets to the grand opening can be purchased at Citizens Bank main branch, 200 S. Third St., and WRD Entertainment, 920 Harrison St., Suite C. For more information, visit

Story link:

ABOUT THEATRE HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF AMERICA: Founded by Ben Hall in 1969, the Theatre Historical Society of America (THS) celebrates, documents and promotes the architectural, cultural and social relevance of America’s historic theatres. Through its preservation of the collections in the American Theatre Architecture Archive, its signature publication Marquee™ and Conclave Theatre Tour, THS increases awareness, appreciation and scholarly study of America’s theatres.


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