Letter from a Theater:
Hope to see you all soon
By Chelsea Reidy
At 8:13pm last Thursday night we realized we had a problem. The pre-show slide reel should have been flipping through its sequence, splashing Tune in to 101.5FM and Popcorn in the Encore on the backwall. Instead, the picture blinked red or showed nothing at all and we had had no idea why.
Last fall, Jack and I painted a white screen on the back of the theater when indoor events felt like a long way off. We calculated the size of this screen based on what already existed: two roof drain-pipes to guide width, an outside light fixture defined the bottom edge. And now, months later, Jack and I, with Alice, stood together at twilight, staring at the painted screen on adobe-colored stucco, straining to see a picture as if our eyeballs might make one appear.
This movie had been rained out Monday. On Thursday, the show was expected to start at 8:30pm. By 8:20pm, people who’d popped their hatches were sinking down on their pillows. We were at the brink of a twice-cancelled show. This was more stressful than a lightning strike that stops a movie or a power surge that takes out all the stage lights during a jazz concert (both had once happened at TCA). I watched Alice press buttons on the projector as thoughts of cancelling a movie, not once, but twice, made me sick to my stomach.
People who work to produce live shows are peculiar. Our activities culminate, first, into making something start, and then second, making sure something ends. Responding to technical difficulties is not serious; no one’s life is on the line. In a way, it’s like working in a kitchen. A group of people have ordered something specific and are preparing to be served. If the polenta runs out, they may accept grits. But if you come to see Easy Rider on a Thursday, after also coming on a Monday when it was cancelled, you will not be happy to accept a replacement or even a refund.
For some of you, the thought of an HDMI cable may have your eyes turning away from this page. If you like sports and don’t mind an analogy, our 100-foot HDMI cable is the star player at our drive-in. This single cable makes it possible for the sound and movie processor, monitor, and transmitter to sit indoors on the theater stage. But our set-up is neither weather nor accident-proof. The projector is perched on my blue truck’s cab. At the first drive-ins, we placed the projector upon a round cocktail table that we used for snacks, wine, and flowers in vases at art openings. This was silly in hindsight and reckless when we saw how our colleague, attempting to park near the projector, bumped the cocktail table with her Prius.
That Thursday, by 8:22pm we had understood the problem: our star HDMI cable. And by 8:28pm, we had solved it and walked the lot quickly to check that vehicle radios were tuned to the correct frequency. A few windows rolled down as we passed, some hands extended out, offering something you might see in Easy Rider. And then the movie played.
During drive-ins, I sit in the theater behind the movie-wall. The stage is littered with cables and an electronics-mess. Our big movie screen is rolled, hangs above my head. Cinema speakers are pushed to corners. 275 seats are red-empty. Everyone is outside while I’m inside.
We have events scheduled for June inside the theater.
This word carries weight now. I carry it with me all day as we prepare to let the outside in. It matters where we store equipment, if the rugs are dirty, if there’s toilet paper in the stalls. Jack, Alice, and I (and the whole TCA team) contend with a door that gets stuck and won’t open. We can’t ask the public to live with a door that doesn’t work. Or can we?
The other day I watched Promising Young Woman for the third time inside the theater. My friend, Jazzmine, has also seen it three times. I’ve been asking people if they will come back to movie theaters. One said, “No way, I pay for HBO max and can press pause whenever I want snacks or to go to the bathroom.” Even Jazzmine and I did this as we watched Promising. There were three of us. We hollered out comments, clapped and sighed when we wanted and, despite being treated to a towering screen and surround sound, we hit pause twice.
About returning to movie theaters, another person told me, “Well, it’s something novel, like a special experience.”
Going to the movies: a novel experience where we must wait for a lull to run to the bathroom and postpone exclamations, where we must give our undivided attention to a film someone has made.
Hope to see you all soon.
In the meantime, come to the drive-in; watch some, listen in, talk with each other and please have some popcorn. The only thing we can’t do for you is press pause.