It’s been a long time since there was an operational drive-in theater in the valley, but one recently popped up.
After having to announce the closure of the Midwest Theater because of the coronavirus pandemic, director Billy Estes was determined to find ways to continue to engage with the community.
“Our theater board just completed its strategic planning process,” Estes said. “One of our goals for the summer is to start offering cinema streams at outdoor locations around the community. But as the coronavirus pandemic continued, I thought ‘Why wait?’ If we can pull it off, let’s give it a try.”
The first show took place on March 26 at the Legacy of the Plains Museum. It was together quickly as a pop-up is meant to be and with little advanced promotion.
“We had a much bigger turnout than I ever dreamed possible,” Estes said. “We had to turn away just as many cars as we were able to park.”
Nearly 100 cars showed up to watch "The Goonies" projected onto a box truck that night, leading to two more showing in the following days.
Estes said he hoped to upgrade the equipment, eventually. On Thursday, Estes announced that would be happening sooner than he thought.
StorAul, owned by Shane and Annette Aulick, made a donation to the Theater through a donor-advised fund at the Oregon Trail Community Foundation to sponsor the event.
The Aulicks said they had been looking for a way to give back and help people have fun during a difficult time.
“This partnership with the Midwest Theater to sponsor Pop-up Drive-Up movies was a perfect fit,” said the Aulicks in a press release on Thursday.
The business’ sponsorship will enable the theater to buy a commercial-quality portable projector and materials for an outdoor screen. The sponsorship will also cover public film licensing fees for eight weeks.
StorAul will also lend the theater three cargo containers to build a wind-resistant structure for the screen to hang on, according the release.
“This feels like a ‘Field of Dreams’ moment,” Estes said. “We responded to our community’s need for safe entertainment and togetherness with an impromptu drive-up movie setup with borrowed equipment, and people responded with a lot of enthusiasm. We put out a call for financial support to continue these events, and the Aulicks responded with amazing generosity. We’ve also had popcorn sponsors step forward. My heart is full.”
Director Dave Wolf of Legacy of the Plains Museum was excited to be able to host the first drive-in pop-up event, and the museum will continue hosting it.
“We have a great location here with the screen set up on a little hill above the parking lot,” he said. “It’s a natural fit for us and a way to help out the community. People want to get out of their houses at this time. They can experience a good movie and the cool nostalgia of the drive-in.”
Upcoming films will be announced on a weekly basis, with screenings taking place on Friday and Saturday nights, weather permitting.
This week’s show is Abominable, a PG-rated animated flick about a group of friends and a Yeti. Gates open at 7 p.m. and the show starts at 8 p.m.
Only 60 cars will be allowed for each showing. There is no admission; however cash donations will be accepted as people drive in. The proceeds will be split between the theater, the museum and the United Way COVID-19 Community Compassion Fund.
An FM radio is required to pick up the show’s audio, and Estes recommends a portal radio to avoid running down vehicle batteries.
Sandy Macke, with Champion Realty, will be sponsoring a free bag of popcorn for each vehicle this Friday night. Estes said he hopes to find a sponsor for Saturday as well.
Additional drive-thru concessions including candies and select beverages will also be available and must be paid for by credit card.
There are no bathroom facilities on site. Attendees should only come with people they live with and are required to say in their vehicles at all times.
Future shows will be announced on the Midwest Theater Facebook page. Those who’d like more information can contact 308-632-4311.