Will the drive-in make a big return? And what can we use it for beyond movies? (Image: Wellfleet Drive-In)

Shakespeare in the Parking Lot?

Reinventing the drive-in

Once upon a time, part of the reason you went to the drive-in was so you could watch a movie from the privacy of your car. Now you go there so you can park your car in a crowd.

But not to only watch a movie (although you’ll soon be able to do that, too).  The present moment has inspired some creators to expand our notion of the drive-in experience: what about, for example, music? A microtrend has emerged in the US and abroad. Recently in Denmark, fans took in an outdoor pop concert from their cars instead of seats. Meanwhile, the American electropop fireplug Marc Rebillet is about to embark on an actual drive-in tour. A Tupelo music hall is scheduling weekend shows on its porch, with the parking lot as the seating bowl (and food delivery from its kitchen right to your passenger seat). Around the country, we’re also seeing drive-in church, drive-in weddings

If this catches on, a second golden age of car culture, as long gone as tailfins, could be upon us. And so could new ways of sustaining the performing arts, which have been among the hardest hit areas of culture during the pandemic. With indoor gatherings impracticable (and banned), and even theater in the park too elbow-rubbing, can summer stock pivot to theater in the parking lot? Imagine Juliet pining “Wherefore art thou, Romeo?” and finding him leaning on a Buick. Think of Tchaikovsky streaming in simulcast to car stereos while Swan Lake swans all around them. Instead of stand-up comedy, drive-up comedy.

Even now, though, the drive-in phenomenon speaks to a new resourcefulness and imagination when it comes to transportational space. America is abundant in cars and places to park them. We tend to think of the former as mere conveyance and the latter as uninhabitable blacktop. What if we changed our relationship to these familiar but underused, underappreciated spaces? What if your car became a portable living room, and you could meet up with your friends in their portable living rooms—from a safe distance—and took in a show? What if we all honked instead of applauded, so our horns could express approval instead of alert? What if a parking lot was a stage? After all, all the world is one. Maybe now’s the time for us clean to our collective windshield and start acting on it.

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