Ridgefield shows movies in the parking lot — and in the wind
“It went well. It went,” said Allison Stockel. “There were hiccups.”
She was talking about the lively, well-attended test of organizers’ resourcefulness that was the debut of Ridgefield’s answer to pandemic-induced cabin fever: drive-in movies at the high school parking lot on Saturday night.
“It was interesting, because we’ve never done this,” Stockel said. “So, it is not what is normally done, but I have to say: we pulled it off.”
The event was free but “sold out” in the sense there was no more room for more viewers — with people in their cars, and cars parked with empty spaces between them due to coronavirus concerns.
“We definitely did at least 150 cars,” Stockel said.
The number of moviegoers in each vehicle varied.
“Some people had two in a car, some had four, some five,” Stockel said.
And the total viewer turnout?
“Probably a little more than 500, probably 550,” Stockel said.
“I did feel bad: there were lines of cars that were turned away,” she said.
“It wound up being really good for the people who did come in.”
As longtime director of the Ridgefield Playhouse, Stockel is accustomed to putting on a variety of events that meet high standards for audience comfort and quality of viewing.
With the free drive-in movie at the high school parking lot, people didn’t seem too demanding, she said. They were happy to get out and have something to go to as the town begins emerging from the pandemic lockdown.
“I just felt people thought it would be nice to be able to go into town, get a meal, sit in your car, watch a movie and have a nice night out,” Stockel said.
Organizers and sponsors of what is envisioned as month-long Saturday night series, include Bill Craig of Craig’s Jewelry, the Downtown Ridgefield merchants association, Fairfield County Bank, the Ridgefield Conservatory of Dance, Andrew Kolaski of A-Plus Audio, as well as Stockel and the Playhouse.
Stockel, Craig, Kathy Graham from the bank, and Pam Jones worked to set things up, and then worked during the night.
Parking, projecting, port-o-potties — there was a lot to get lined up, a lot to oversee, a lot to do. They did have help.
“We had about four fire police, and we had two police officers,” Stockel said. “And we had all the volunteers — we had four students who helped park, there were eight people parking, plus me, so nine people parking cars. And we had four people from A-Plus Audio.
“Everybody was kind doing something,” Stockel said.
The Saturday night drive-in movies at Ridgefield High School are expected to run through the end of June. Then established entertainment venues such as the Prospector movie theater and the Ridgefield Playhouse are expected to be back in operation.
A mighty wind
The makeshift nature of the event — “It’s not a permanent situation,” Stockel said — led to a variety of problems that organizers had to solve on the fly.
“There was more power needed at one point, they had to get another generator,” she said.
“The weather kind of threw us for a loop. We were expecting it to rain, but not be windy,” Stockel said.
“It’s a blow-up screen, which is how a lot of these outdoor movies are done now — if you can imagine a giant bouncy house, but it’s got a screen in the middle.”
The first spot they chose to set up the screen proved problematic.
“The view is better. There’s no trees. It also becomes a wind tunnel in that area,” Stockel said. “We had 20-miles-per-hour winds that night, and every time they tried to put it up, it was blowing all over the place.”
So, they ended up relocating the screen.
“We decided to put it up on the other side of the parking lot where there are some trees. It didn’t make for as good a sight line for everybody, but the screen wasn’t blowing all over the place,” she said.
Now that they’ve been through it once — and encountered many of the problems — organizers are hopeful the remaining three Saturday nights in June will go more smoothly, Stockel said.
“This coming Saturday will be ‘Dirty Dancing,’ which is sponsored by the Ridgefield Conservatory of Dance,” she said. “The week after that is ‘Grease’ on June 20. That’s the kickoff to Make Music Day so we’re kind of doing our thing for Make Music Day, which is the 21st. And the final one is Field of Dreams and that’s on the 27th.”
She expects fewer problems with the screen, having done it once.
“Now we know where it’s going to be, we know where it works,” she said.
“For all the hiccups, I think people really, really enjoyed it.”