camelot theatres drive in

Drive-in Ambition

The Palm Springs Cultural Center has purchased the equipment to turn its parking lot into a drive-in theater while it waits to open its indoor theaters closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

JIM POWERS Arts & Entertainment, Current Digital

camelot theatres drive in
The parking lot in front of the Palm Springs Cultural Center will soon stage a drive-in movie theater.

The Palm Springs Cultural Center plans to bring the big-screen movie experience back in the next two weeks, but it won’t be inside the Camelot Theatres. They plan instead to use the center’s parking lot on East Baristo Road to create their own drive-in movie theater.

“I think everyone is really hungry for a communal experience,” says Ann Sheffer, a board member of the Palm Springs Cultural Center who donated the funds to purchase the equipment for creating the drive-in experience.

“It's different to go to a movie with a bunch of people or cars, than it is to always watch things streaming at home,” she adds. “And the cultural center — that's really one of its missions — is to be a place where people come together and experience some kind of performance or film or even food.”

Like many businesses, Camelot Theatres has been closed since mid-March when a lockdown was imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic. While restrictions have been recently eased to allow movie theaters to open their doors again, Camelot will remain closed for the time being, says Eric Smith, theater manager and director of operations.

“We have three film festivals in September, so that is the bare minimum for opening,” Smith says. “We're kind of playing it by ear right now.”

The challenges are the materials needed to meet the requirements to open, such as plexiglass to build separations between staff and customers at concession stands and the theatres’ upstairs cafe. “I went around to all the Home Depots, and all of the plexiglass has been bought up by other stores,” Smith says. “If I can get my employees back to work and on the payroll faster, I will absolutely do it.”

Seat covers are required that can be removed and cleaned, guests need to be escorted in and out of the theater, and the theater can only be filled to 25 percent capacity. “That's not enough,” Sheffer says. “We just wanted to get this (drive-in) up and running.”


Smith says Sheffer’s donation went toward purchasing a 20-foot screen and radio transmitters that allow patrons to listen to the film on their car radio. In the coming week, Smith says they will test the parking lot for optimal placement of cars for both seeing and hearing the film.

“We're going to go in, set it up at night, and then we're going to see where the farthest is with a good view, how far the radio goes,” Smith says. “And then we're going to mark off all of those spots with social distancing. That way you can pull your car in, pull out your lawn chairs if you like or stay in the car, just like we did when we were kids at the drive-in.”

Smith says it may be possible for 40 cars to park and enjoy the film. Patrons will be able to enjoy concessions by ordering from a walk-up window, and bathrooms will be available. Each line will be marked with social distancing spots.

“We hold our farmer's market all summer and we always have the bathrooms available for that, so we figured out how to keep social distancing, and keep everything sanitized,” Smith says.

The only drive-in theatre in the valley, Smith’s Ranch in Twentynine Palms, is currently closed. A similar outdoor music event is currently taking place on weekends only in Yucca Valley where patrons are required to stay in their cars.

As for the type of films that you might be able to see, Smith says they will be upbeat. “We’re going to be pure escapism,” Smith says. “I’m looking at showing films like It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Palm Springs Weekend. Maybe a little Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

When all of these logistics are in place, the opportunity to conduct other outdoor events using the same equipment and staging is possible like outdoor plays. “This frees us up to do live events since we have only three indoor screens,” Smith says. “Our main purpose is to promote art in all its forms and helping independent young filmmakers. This is just an easier way for us to get good art in front of people.”

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