JCC’s new drive-in movie theater offers a socially distanced adventure

JCC movie night (David Stuck)
JCC movie night (David Stuck)

On Sunday evening, a massive movie screen competed with the stars to light up the evening at the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC. Families huddled together in their cars, sharing an experience, yet totally separated.

That was the scene during the opening weekend of the Peggy and Yale Gordon Center’s new drive-in movie theater.

“The idea for the outdoor venue was floated by a brain trust of lay and professional leaders thinking about the priority of safely gathering our community to celebrate the arts,” said Sara Shalva, the JCC’s chief arts officer.

A committee chose the cult classic movies. On Sept. 12, the Gordon Center screened “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” while on Sept. 13, they showed “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” Upcoming films include “Mean Girls” on Sept. 17, “Hairspray” on Sept. 24, “Raiders of the Lost Art” on Sept. 26 and “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” on Oct. 1.

(Photo by David Stuck)

“As it gets darker earlier, we will have some animated movies for young families to come and enjoy,” Shalva said.

Tickets cost $20 per car for JCC members and $25 for nonmember cars. This fee covers the costs of staff, materials and distribution fees for the movies.

Last Saturday night’s showing of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” sold 65 tickets (or about 150 people). In comparison, House Manager Erin Heilveil described Sunday evening’s showing of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” which 20 cars attended, as much calmer.

“High school’s started up so kids have school in the morning,” she explained that evening, while next to a snack stand of drinks.

Calm was the perfect word for the evening’s mood. Cars pulled up to the JCC after the sun had set. Only one or two people walked around the parking lot, wearing neon yellow jackets.

Attendees first have to pass a medical check. Staff use a forehead thermometer to check each guest’s temperature before they can pass security.

“It’s incredible, it’s been a long time coming for the JCC to do something like this,” said Security Supervisor Jared Krieger, smiling. “We were talking amongst ourselves about how this is the perfect shift to have because you can watch a movie while you walk around.”

A Beth Tfiloh alumni himself, he feels that there are few places where Jewish people can get together safely.

“Besides COVID, there’s just not a lot of places where Jews can gather and not be targeted,” he said. “Bringing the community together like this with their kids is special.”

After letting go of the brake and rolling forward a bit, attendees are stopped again for the ticket check. This is another chance for some rare small talk with a fellow community member.

Finally, participants are looped around the parking lot and are directed to an assigned parking spot distanced from nearby cars.

“I’m excited to get out of the house and do something,” said Alli Prengman, 26, who was sitting on a picnic blanket in her car’s trunk. “It’s nice to see other faces even if you can’t really interact,” she giggled.

Prengman had been to a drive-in movie theater before and called it a real blast from the past.

Somehow this phrase fits perfectly well with the quiet, almost magical, nostalgic tone of the evening.

Inside every car, families tuned their radios to the same frequency. Separated, but together.

Then, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” started, and the silent outside world disappeared.

The JCC plans to continue screening films in their outdoor theater through Nov. 21, according to Shalva.

“We will have to see what happens after that,” she said. “Assuming people are willing and able to gather safely with social distancing, we may also have a Chanukah concert and candle lighting.”

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