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History & Personnel

From Upper WET Side, July 22, 2011

The ShowRoom proprietors Nancy Sabino and Mike Sodano are all smiles, with the announcement that their downtown Asbury screening space will be moving to even more spacious Arts Bloc digs in the next reel.  

“Let’s meet 4:45 at DJ’s Deli on Mattison,” read the message from Mike Sodano, co-proprietor of downtown Asbury’s nifty neighborhood nickelodeon, The ShowRoom. “We have some evolutionary news for you!”

Well, say no more — that kind of tantalizing talk (plus the prospect of a sandwich) is more than enough to assure our showing up at the appointed time and place. The only question would appear to be the nature of this “evolutionary” announcement — an added matinee, perhaps? “Circus Man” Ice Cream now available at the concessions? An exclusive revival screening of the elusive Shore-shot masterpiece Thin Mints?

Even more exciting, as it turns out. After just a little more than two years at the present location on the Cookman Avenue “Arts Bloc” — an interlude in which Mike and partner Nancy Sabino hosted enough films, plays, lectures, panels, concerts, skits and signings to easily fill five years’ worth of calendar — The ShowRoom will be picking up and moving, right across the street, to a larger building all their own; a multi-screen facility that should demonstrate, once and for all, the harmonious co-existence of Evolution and Intelligent Design.

 

Just a few days ago, Sodano and Sabino closed on the purchase of the ShowRoom’s new home at 707 Cookman — a former upholstery shop plus the second-floor space above — and a formal announcement went out by email (and word o’ mouth) on July 5.

“This move is an evolution of our business, and of our desire to present provocative and relevant entertainment,” says Sodano, in reinforcing the theme of the conversation.

“We’re taking the opportunity to expand our customer base — and our brand.”

While the whole “branding” thing can sometimes smack of biz-speak empty calories, in the case of The ShowRoom it’s a concept that possesses mass and magnetic pull. Under the stewardship of acclaimed documentary filmmakers Mike and Nancy (Rock and a Heart Place), the single-screen storefront space accrued a following that has come to trust the “Good Housekeeping Seal” judgment of the two owners — not just for their carefully considered slate of movies, but for music (Jon Caspi‘s multimedia works Eddie Knows and Strange Situation), theater (ReVision Theatre‘s Readings from Asbury Park and offerings by Thirst-e Productions), spoken word (Rock WILK‘s Broke Wide Open), comedy (the long-running Improv Jam and a new standup series hosted by Mike Keren) and offerings that we’ve yet to triangulate on our cultural GPS.

There have been guest Q&A’s with the likes of actor Lou Taylor Pucci; a presentation by Pulitzer Prize winning author Junot Díaz; the homegrown indie-filmmaking contest AP in 3; ideas that have worked out well (Dinner and a Movie deals with several favorite local restaurants) and some that maybe should never have left the drawing board (“Baby and a Movie” matinees, with the auditorium cleared of chairs and turned into a mommy-and-me childcare playpen).

Through it all, there’s been the house policy of “the best indie arthouse films, along with an eclectic mix of live stuff” — a modus operandi that will surely make the trip across the street; expanded into two, possibly three performance spaces.

Given the planned appearance of a new, competing quadplex cinema inside the nearby Seacoast Building, The ShowRoom’s move could be seen as especially audacious, ambitious, and affirmative of their commitment to a hard-won audience.

“We didn’t get voted Best Independent Movie House in the state by New Jersey Monthly for nothing,” says Sodano. “Our moviegoing demographic is pretty set, between 40 and 65 — and for people that age, it’s about the community experience of going to see a movie.”

“We’ve been called the most comfortable place to see a movie; the best room for listening — people have come up to us after the show and literally thanked us for what we’re doing.”

Nancy — who notes with no small degree of amusement that the Clearview chain has apparently followed The ShowRoom’s lead in introducing screenings with live welcoming comments — reaffirms the owners’ support for “arts businesses and organizations that come to town — if you have an audience, we have a space for it.”

Scheduled to open early next year, the new ShowRoom will boast “raked seating, a new lobby and box-office area, a large concession area, and the potential of a second floor screening room with café-style seating,” as well as for possible rooftop screenings in the summer.

Spectacular as that all is, however, there’s a solid storyline running throughout — one in which the original ShowRoom continues doing what it does so well, here in the second half of 2011.

“We’re trying to be inventive in our booking and our programming,” says Mike Sodano, citing the recent introduction of a 4:30pm showtime that “worked so well…it surprised the heck out of us.”

“A lot of people will go see a movie at 4:30, and then go to dinner,” he adds. “We can use the 4:30 slot to play the ‘prime time’ feature from the previous weekend — it enables us to play a movie for two weeks, with just one screen.”

As committed members of a loosely knit, nationwide network of indie arthouse theater owners, Sabino and Sodano can foresee a time wherein the small indie cinemas set the pace for the industry at large.

“Things could wind up where we’re the ones on top; serving the audience that really enjoys going to the movies…we’re growing, and the mainstream multiplexes are faltering.”

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