Arts & Entertainment  September 9, 2020

Pop-up theaters offer alternative to indoor movies

As the pandemic halts large theater gatherings, the popular drive-ins of the 1950s and 1960s are making a nationwide comeback but in a temporary pop-up fashion.

Pop-up drive-ins are appearing in parking lots and large fields. They are offered for free or charge by the person or the vehicle. They are hosted by a wide range of outlets from retail stores to governmental organizations and nonprofits. And they are a way to provide entertainment for families and friends, couples out on a date night, and movie enthusiasts, while also allowing for social distancing.

My Big Day LLC, an event management company in Loveland, developed one of the first pop-up movie theaters in Northern Colorado, the Loveland Drive-in, at the Outlets at Loveland’s north parking lot.

“We did it for the goodwill of the community, for tourism and as a fundraiser,” said Christine Forster, president of My Big Day. “We feel really good about how much money we put back into the economy.”

Visit Loveland, a city entity that promotes tourism and sponsors community events, wanted to identify a safe way to bring tourism to Loveland, selecting My Big Day to arrange the pop-up as a six-week event in June and July.

My Big Day searched more than 40 potential sites in Loveland, seeking something with close proximity to the highway and good traffic flow, while also being far enough away from other movie theaters. The location had to allow for a nontraditional LED screen to be propped up on a trailer and to accommodate the state’s COVID-19 regulations, plus there needed to be the purchase of movie rights for the theater’s operation.

Once it was set up, the Loveland Drive-In offered three shows a day Friday to Sunday at a suggested donation of $20 that went to the Thompson Education Foundation. The event cost $60,000 to put on, generated a turnout of 6,000 attendees and, through staffing, put $20,000 back into the economy.

“For us, it’s about family entertainment, needing to do something safe with the kiddoes,” Forster said. “We noticed a lot of families took advantage of the family films that we offered. We didn’t play over PG and PG-13.”

In Boulder County, the organization Out Boulder County will host a one-day pop-up drive-in theater, Carpool Cinema, on Sept. 9 during the annual Boulder Pride Week event Sept. 8-13.

Boulder Pride Week is a celebration of Boulder’s LGBTQ community with film screenings, a visibility march and a daylong extravaganza with food and performers. This year due to COVID-19, most of the activities moved online (such as a drag queen story time and a social mixer) with two in-person events. The events include the first drive-in and the first Boulder Pride Motorcade along a route that isn’t made public to avoid public gatherings of spectators.

The drive-in will be at the main parking lot of the Boulder Reservoir for up to 110 vehicles at a cost of $25 per vehicle for its showing of the 1994 classic, “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.”

“We wanted to pick something more lighthearted and fun to encourage folks to gather and to have a good time celebrating Out Boulder County,” said Juan Moreno, corporate sponsorship and special events manager for Out Boulder County. “We wanted to take a moment to unwind and celebrate the community.”

Out Boulder County also wanted to let the community know the organization still has a presence and that there are many ways to gather, Moreno said.

“People are looking for other creative ways to still come together to have any sort of celebration,” Moreno said. “We wanted to show people we’re still here. We’re still visible. The pandemic isn’t going to send us back to our homes and keep us shuttered. We will still find ways to gather in person without endangering the community.”

The Erie Community Center hosted a monthly Summer Drive-In Movie Series from June to August as a substitute for the town’s annual Movies in the Park.

The event was held in the community center’s Overflow Parking Lot with the screen set up on top of a hill for improved viewing. Up to 40 cars could park in the lot, and though the event was free, pre-registration was required. Snack bags also were provided, since there wasn’t a concession stand or food trucks.

“It was a great turnout,” said Brandon Grasmick, assistant coordinator of special events for the town of Erie Parks & Recreation. “Right away all three of our movies ‘sold out.’”

The event also received great survey feedback, Grasmick said.

“Our community is happy we’re able to provide something and still provide somewhat of a social event,” Grasmick said. “It’s fun, especially to be outside. It’s old school and old-fashioned to be able to turn on the radio (and watch a movie). It’s definitely a different experience, and that’s something we definitely wanted to offer.”

Another type of movie experience is dine-in, such as the Metropolitan MetroLux Dine-In Theatres that opened August 2019 at The Foundry in downtown Loveland. Tickets and meals can be ordered ahead of time or at a kiosk, plus food can be purchased at the concessions counter. The meals are made and delivered from the theater’s Scripted Bar & Kitchen, which also functions as a standalone restaurant.

The shows are socially distanced with parties kept together but separate from other groups, and show times are staggered to lower capacity for theater seating.

The MetroLux Dine-In and other similar theaters have become especially popular following the variance on the state’s stay-at-home order that allows for limited dining, said Natalie Eig, vice president of marketing and communications for Metropolitan Theatres Corp. in Los Angeles, California.

“They’re looking for opportunities to get out of the house and have a night out,” Eig said. “It’s a full luxury experience different than you would get at a traditional theater.”

As the pandemic halts large theater gatherings, the popular drive-ins of the 1950s and 1960s are making a nationwide comeback but in a temporary pop-up fashion.

Pop-up drive-ins are appearing in parking lots and large fields. They are offered for free or charge by the person or the vehicle. They are hosted by a wide range of outlets from retail stores to governmental organizations and nonprofits. And they are a way to provide entertainment for families and friends, couples out on a date night, and movie enthusiasts, while also allowing for social distancing.

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