Curt Small spent three years getting everything just right for his new mobile outdoor theater.
Then, he unveiled his new creation last month: A complete outdoor theater experience, which includes a Sony Dynamic Digital Sound processor, with 5.1 surround sound, and 4K digital projection. Plus, a full concession stand offers treats like cotton candy, pop machines and, of course, the Elks Theatre's famous popcorn.
"If we can’t do it the best that it can be done, we’re not going to do it," he said. "I wanted the absolute best outdoor experience a person could have."
Small owns the Elks Theatre, the historical opera-house-turned-movie-theater in downtown Rapid City. A "second-run" theater, the Elks plays movies after they leave most first-run theaters, like the AMC 10, for lower prices and in a more intimate setting.
The Elks also has special programs and events throughout the year, like a children's movie series every summer, a "nostalgia" series showcasing classic films in the winter, and is one of the primary venues for the annual Black Hills Film Festival.
And, now, it has an outdoor event theater.
Small said he first had the idea for the mobile theater about three years ago, and spent the next 18 months getting the equipment he needed.
It took another 18 months to find the perfect trailer to use for his concession stand. Finally, in June, Small found the right trailer in Pennsylvania. He had it shipped to Rapid City, retrofitted and was soon up and running.
"We can go nearly anywhere," he said.
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The outdoor event theater is geared for parties of 20 to 250 people — maybe even more, according to Small. He originally envisioned it being used for private parties, like birthdays and backyard bashes. But, to start out at least, it's been most sought-after by businesses, organizations or city groups.
"It's been better than I expected," he said of the overall response.
Another selling point: The outdoor event theater will show whatever movie is requested, not just what's currently playing in regular theaters. And, it's not just movies. Small said he's had inquiries about other events, like gaming parties or home movie showings.
A seasonal offering, the mobile theater's use depends heavily on the weather. (All bookings include a backup rained-out date.) Small expects the mobile theater to be most-used in the spring and fall, when the sun sets earlier but temperatures are still mild.
"It just works better for all ages, when you can start the movie at 7 o’clock versus 9 o’clock," he said.
To book the outdoor theater, call 343-7888. Cost to book depends on the type of event. For private events, he said it's $499, which also includes the first $50 in concession stand coupons. For public or corporate events, it's $499 plus the licensing costs for the film, which Small said "can vary wildly."
But, Small said, it's worth it.
"I had high hopes that it would be a really cool atmosphere when we set it up, and it was even better than I hoped for," he said. "It was such a cool atmosphere."