Performing arts, theaters prepare for reopening

Drive-in movies at Kibbie Dome provide quarantine entertainment



Performers have had to put their shows on hold for now, but once they return, theaters are planning to implement social distancing practices.

SYDNEY BROWN, Evergreen reporter

When the coronavirus outbreak shuttered theater doors, it meant the suspension of events with no obvious reopening dates. 

For a popular local theater, it has been over two months since the last event, said Christine Gilmore, executive director of the Kenworthy Performing Arts Centre. 

“Our mission is to provide high-quality art to the Palouse, and [since March 15] we couldn’t do that,” Gilmore said.

The company at the Regional Theatre of the Palouse was preparing for a show only a few days out when the theater closed, said RTOP director Michael Todd.

“We effectively stopped the creative process, stopped bringing talent into the area,” Todd said. “It really put me in a funk, and the entire company.”

On the evening of May 16, a string of cars wound around the parking lot of the University of Idaho’s Kibbie Dome. At 7 p.m., the lot opened and filled in less than half an hour, Gilmore said. The projector showed the film “Yesterday.” The audience tuned in with their car radios — and did not have to pay out-of-pocket for any of it.

Gilmore said this was the first in a series of summer movie drive-ins. The event is a collaboration between the University of Idaho, the Kibbie Dome and the Kenworthy.  

The success of this event could mean that when local theaters are allowed to open, drive-in movies will become the way people want to see films, Gilmore said.

“There are very few social things we have to look forward to right now, so take advantage of the drive-in,” she said.

In coming back, theater enthusiasts may face a unique challenge. Todd said the audience is an essential “final cast member” of a live show because they engage emotionally with the material in-person. 

To help with some patrons’ concerns, Todd said RTOP will likely increase the distance between seats and limit audience attendance for shows. Gilmore said the Kenworthy may add more automatic soap dispensers and sinks. 

“It’s a time where patrons may have serious hesitations about sitting in a theater,” Gilmore said. 

Sean Warner, Village Centre Theatres COO, wrote in an email that he does not anticipate opening the movie theaters until around June. Gilmore said the theater will take the lead from state and local governments, as well as what scientists recommend.

“Every business says it because they mean it — public safety is the most important thing,” Gilmore said.