She helps put the action in movies
For co-owner of Charles and Senator, there’s always plenty to do
Operating the 79-year-old Senator and Charles theaters requires multitasking to the extreme.
“I do payroll, and we’ve got to make sure the movies get delivered. We’ve got to make sure we have popcorn. And I always joke that I’m the chief birthday party planner,” said Kathleen Lyon, who owns the venerable theaters with her father, James “Buzz” Cusack.
And then there’s an unwritten job: caretaker of Baltimoreans’ memories.
Like old movies themselves, the theaters — both built in 1939, the same year “Gone with the Wind” was released — tend to evoke nostalgia.
The Charles once showed news reels, but The Senator, an Art Deco building, played Walt Disney films and hosted other popular attractions. “People have a very strong emotional connection to it,” Lyon said.
She said she regularly hears comments such as, “My grandparents had their first date here,” or “I remember when you could smoke up in the balconies.”
“It’s a unique thing to be a steward of,” Lyon said.
The five-screen Charles has long been a showcase for art house films. The four-screen Senator shows popular films, including the recent “Black Panther.”
The Cusacks had previously leased the single-screen Senator from the city, and purchased the building in 2012. It closed for a major renovation and expansion before reopening in 2013.
The theater selected “Hairspray” — the film of Baltimore director John Waters — for its re-opening night feature. Guests included Waters, Emmywinning casting director Pat Moran and then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
Reaching that moment required a bit of multi-tasking as well.
“It was incredible,” Lyon said. “We had been getting plans, zoning, permits, historic tax credits, financing. It was my father and I doing it all. It was all-consuming.”
Lyon has plenty of her own memories of the theaters, and recollections of long engagements.
“We played ‘Moonlight’ two years ago,” referring to last year’s Academy Award winner for best picture. “We played ‘La La Land’ for five months. The longest-running one I can remember was Woody Allen’s ‘Midnight in Paris.’ That played here for six months. There were lines around the block for ‘The Blair Witch Project’ before I was here.”