Drive-in movie theatres are having a very 2020 comeback — in the form of local pop-ups.
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Local sustainability-focused social enterprise group Broccoli City is partnering with Events DC, the city’s quasi-public convention and sports authority, to launch a drive-in movie theater pop up on the RFK Campus, expected to run for around three months this summer.
Jermon Williams, communications director with Broccoli City, says that the Black-owned collective brought the idea for a pop-up theater to Events DC, which manages the RFK site, after Broccoli City Festival 2020 was cancelled in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We started thinking through alternatives to bring people together in D.C.,” says Williams. “A drive-in just made sense. We’re coming together to curate this safe and affordable pop-up experience for families, couples, and the entire D.C. community.”
Williams says that the details of the pop-up are being ironed out between Broccoli City, Events DC, and the city, and more information on a start date, pricing, and programming will be released later this week.
On Saturday, The D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency approved Events DC’s request for a waiver to operate the pop-up as a non-essential business during the coronavirus pandemic. Per HSEMA’s letter of approval — addressed to Michael Cerha, vice president of the RFK Stadium-Armory Campus — the drive-in can hold up to 350 socially distanced vehicles. The waiver also stipulates that guests will need to remain inside their cars, and Events DC will be responsible for recording the names and contact information of guests and staff at each event for contact tracing purposes.
According to HSEMA Director Christopher Rodriguez, the RFK pop-up is planned to take place in a parking lot on the stadium’s campus. Guests will pre-order tickets online to decrease person-to-person contact, and food and drink may be ordered and served car-side by staff members wearing masks and other protective gear. Bathrooms will also be monitored for social distancing.
“We want to make sure that District residents are able to get out a little bit as we move into Phase Two, but obviously do in a way that conforms to very strict public health guidelines,” says Rodriguez. “This is a dial. As we slowly reopen, we are doing so in a very careful and deliberate way. If there is ever a time that we see the public health trends not going in the right direction, we would dial back, so we have to monitor continuously.”
Until the coronavirus pandemic, drive-in theaters were few and far between in the region. Before Union Market’s annual drive-in theater came to D.C. in 2013, the closest option was The Bengies in Baltimore. But with many indoor venues remaining closed throughout the region’s reopening, and people now Hulu’d or Netflix’d out from three-plus months of binge-watching in quarantine, drive-ins are having a moment. Last week, a pop-up drive-in opened in Tysons, and a second at the Capitol One Center in McLean is slated to start four weeks of screening in July. Columbia Pike is also hosting a retro-themed drive-in movie series at the Arlington Career Center, as is Ballston’s Business Improvement District.
Along with Events DC’s request, HSEMA also approved plans for the drive-in movie screenings to return to Union Market for the summer.
D.C. moved into its Phase Two of reopening June 22, under which theaters and other entertainment venues remain closed without an approved waiver from HSEMA that outlines social distancing guidelines and coronavirus safety precautions. (Many of them have been curating streaming content to stay afloat.)
According to the director of D.C.’s Department of Health LaQuandra Nesbitt at a coronavirus briefing last week, there is no projected date for D.C.’s Phase Three reopening, although thresholds for Phase Three metrics are now listed on the city’s coronavirus data page.
The Fields at RFK reopened June 12 after Events DC suspended all operations on the RFK campus in March and indefinitely closed all RFK amenities until further notice in late May. The site, meanwhile, is scheduled to be torn down by 2021.
This story has been corrected to reflect the name of Broccoli City’s communications director as Jermon Williams.