WORTHINGTON — The much-anticipated new movie theater has yet to open in Worthington, but one can still go out to catch a flick without leaving city limits.

Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center is once again showing movies on weekends, though the attractions do come with a slight COVID-19 twist. Nevertheless, Managing Director Tammy Makram is hoping people will take advantage of the renewed opportunity to watch films with the best in high-quality surround sound on the big screen.

“We’re trying to get things rolling here,” Makram said. “Movies are something we can do — and do safely — at this point, and this gives people a place in the community to get out and go to.”

“We decided to go with a family-friendly matinee and an evening movie maybe for older teens and adults,” Makram explained. “Last weekend, we thought ‘Frozen 2’ would be a great movie to start off with because we literally have been frozen in place for a year. In fact, when I reopened the box office ticket booth last weekend, it was all set up for the first movies of March 2020.”

As there are very few new releases available for movie theaters nowadays, Makram plans to show “more classic films” at this point. She will screen the "Back to the Future" trilogy this weekend (the first film plays at 7 p.m. Friday, followed by the next two at 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, respectively) followed by chapters in the “Indiana Jones” series the following weekend if licensing issues can be coordinated.

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“For the 'Back to the Future' series, if you buy a ticket to one of those shows, you get to come to the other two for free,” she said.

The Disney film "Onward" will also be screened at 2 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday of this weekend.

With the COVID-19 pandemic still a prevalent concern for many, Makram is not taking chances when it comes to safety at the auditorium.

Individuals attending movies will be asked to keep their masks on while inside, she said. Seating will be set up for social distancing, with every other row marked off. Memorial Auditorium is allowed to be filled to 25% capacity with state COVID restrictions, which equates to 150 persons.

While concessions will not be open, Makram said, everyone attending movies at Memorial Auditorium will be given free freshly popped popcorn upon departing.

“We’re now able to open for events, but it’s just not quite the time to do that at this point yet, and due to the (occupancy) restrictions, it’s really not financially feasible,” Makram said. “Movies are a good testing point for us. There’s plenty of room for people to distance from each other, and to sit here and watch a movie with your mask on is not a big deal. It’s still an opportunity to get out and do something fun.

“I know that these movies are available to be live streamed or watched on Netflix or whatever it might be … but it really is a fun experience to come here and watch them on the big screen with the Dolby Surround system.”

Makram said she plans on having the auditorium show movies on weekends until Worthington’s New Grand Theater, a five-screen facility located near the intersection of North Grand Avenue and Darling Drive, opens its doors. When that happens, it’s possible the auditorium could be a site for private film screenings for groups and organizations, she added. Groups interested in renting the theater for private screenings of films — and also for video game events on the big screen — may check www.friendsoftheauditorium.com for more information.

In the meantime, work is continuing on planning future entertainment for Worthington and regional audiences.

“It’s so exciting that we are in discussions now for our shows for next season (2021-2022), with the possibility of even doing some shows this summer,” Makram said. “At this point in time, what we really need is the support of the community. We haven’t had shows for a year, so there’s been no income for the Friends of the Auditorium, and that’s really what they need in order to have the financial means to move forward with shows for next season.”

Makram encourages people to check the Memorial Auditorium website or Facebook page for possible upcoming virtual performances and events. In the meantime, the goal of once again hosting top live entertainment at this treasure of a performing arts venue remains.

“While we’re waiting for the curtains to rise again, we’re doing things like taking down every single theater light and making sure all the parts are working,” Makram said. “We’re making sure everything is ready to go for when performers again take the stage.

“It has been tough this past year to have our doors closed to audiences, but it has also given us time to think about things to make our future even better.”