By Nakia Brown, Special to the AFRO
What began as a hobby of perfecting the audio and cinematic experience, evolved a 7-seat home theater in a townhouse basement into a 85-seat luxurious and independent multiplex movie theater in Baltimore.
Next Act Cinema, the first Black-owned movie theater in Baltimore, opened its doors at 921 Reisterstown Road, on March 7. Their opening film? The sci-fi fantasy film, Captain Marvel.
“I’ve been in the hobby for 15 years,” said co-founder Robert, 42. “People liked coming to my house because it’s small and intimate, like a boutique style. When you walk into here [Next Act Cinema], you see the same vision.”
One simple suggestion to Robert from a mutual friend began to turn the wheel of ideas: charge admission for the in-home theater. While he didn’t set ticket prices to enter his film haven, he knew he held expertise that could be used for something much bigger.
“What makes a theater work? You learn these things,” said Robert. “It’s the sound, treatment of the walls, size and dimension of the room—it’s like a science behind it. We wanted to take that, and commercialize it,” said Robert.
But, who would partner with him to turn the dream into screens?
Robert’s wife, Melinda Wright, 41, knew who he should call: his long-time friend and real estate development professional, Anthony Fykes, 38. Robert and Fykes initially met in 2004 while working together at a healthcare company and remained friends after Robert left his position, bonding over the years through their shared passion for film.
“I just helped with the evolution of the two gentleman getting together,” said Wright, who also serves as one of the Vice Presidents of the theater. “We want to show that Black-owned businesses can be successful and they know what they’re doing.”
By February 2018, the friendship also became a business partnership. By September 2018, they began renovations of the 3,000 sq-ft property, changing everything from front door to the front screen.
The theater now offers a delicious variety of soups, platters, sliders, wraps, sandwiches, and wine and beer on tap, either in the dining area or served in-theater. They make a speciality beer-cheddar popcorn (there’s no actual beer) and jalapeño cheddar popcorn adding a unique gourmet flavor to the infamous buttery snack. Tickets are $16.50 for adults, $13.00 for children, and $13.00 for military discount. They offer half-priced tickets at $8.50 on Tuesdays, and matinee prices for adults and children.
“At some point, you have to put pen to paper and just take the risk,” said Fykes. “We wanted to create an evolving theater…we wanted going out to the movie to be a social event again.”
And that experience is happening. On the late Monday afternoon during our interview, guests sat comfortably at the bar, socializing warmly with the founders and employees. With an intimate dining area, they plan to offer social activities from music performances to wine nights and eventually, expand their offerings with a full-service restaurant.
In one of their two theater rooms, they offer an immersive over-head sound system, where you’ll feel “the bass in your chest.” As cinema lovers, the brotherly pair also hope to bring back nostalgic classics for another round of applause.
“How awesome would it be, to put on that big marquee, ‘Coming to America’?”, Fykes said.
‘US’ and ‘DUMBO’ are now playing at Next Act Cinema. Visit their website, nextactcinema.com for showtimes.