by Abbey Marshall

Film fans can rejoice and sign out of Netflix this month because movies are back in Akron.

Though sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers in a dimly lit theater and munching on popcorn is temporarily on hold amid the COVID-19 pandemic, downtown Akron’s art cinema, the Nightlight Cinema, is getting creative with their upcoming “The Nightlight Under the Stars” series. 

Kicking off with Prince’s “Purple Rain” on Friday, Sept. 4., the nonprofit theater will present six films throughout the month at Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens. The screenings begin at 8 p.m. with a capacity of 75 people to allow for social distancing outdoors. Tickets are $20. All but two films have already sold out. 

“I am excited as a community member with a safe outdoor entertainment option, but I’m also excited for the organization,” says Jim Crutchfield, the chair of the Nightlight’s board of directors. “It reflects our resilience.”

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The Nightlight is one of several independent movie theaters in Akron that have kept doors shuttered since early March when the pandemic swept across the world. Highland Square Cinema and The Linda Theater told The Devil Strip in June they would be reopening the following month, but have pushed their reopening dates alongside new studio release dates. Highland Square Cinema will reopen Thursday, Sept. 3. The Linda Theater will remain closed pending repairs.

According to a previous Devil Strip report, the Nightlight typically brings in about $12,000 per month from ticket sales and concessions. In addition to donations and grants, the Nightlight sought out additional funding opportunities to offset that revenue loss, including a virtual screening room where patrons can watch movies online while supporting the theater. The cinema also hosted free virtual events, including a student film festival that garnered over 800 viewers — far more than could be seated in the physical theater, says Nightlight Artistic Director Brittany Dobish. 

The outdoor film series is yet another way the Nightlight is getting creative to supplement funds and stay connected with patrons and film buffs in the community. 

“While the Nightlight has temporarily moved online to its ‘Virtual Screening Room,’ we’re thankful for this opportunity to create new live cinema experiences suited to the beautiful outdoor environment at Stan Hywet,” Dobish says.

The Nightlight receives 85% of ticket sales and the rest will go to Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens, who is providing the space and concessions.

“It’s been a great partnership. It’s great to see the community come together during this time,” Crutchfield says, applauding Stan Hywet’s commitment to keeping art programs alive in Akron. The Nightlight is using the same set-up from the Ohio Shakespeare Company’s outdoor, socially distant season. 

Crutchfield said even though the outdoor series was an innovative response to the pandemic, he expects the theater will continue to offer outdoor showings in the following summers.

“This investment in equipment and everything is not just a short-term investment because I envision us doing this for summers to come long after the pandemic is gone,” he says. “It will benefit the community and it will benefit the Nightlight.”

Reserve tickets or join the waitlist for sold out films here. The full slate of movies include:

Friday, 9/4: “Purple Rain” (1984) — sold out

Saturday, 9/12: “Grey Gardens” (1974) — sold out

Friday, 9/18: “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” (2018)

Saturday, 9/19: “Days of Heaven” (1978)

Friday, 9/25: “Rear Window” (1954) — sold out

Saturday, 9/26: “Vertigo” (1958) — sold out

Abbey Marshall covers economic development for The Devil Strip via Report for America. Reach her at abbey@thedevilstrip.com. 

Photo courtesy of the Nightlight Cinema.

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