Warwick Drive-In Theater experience blinded by the light
WARWICK. Technology presents challenges and benefits to the outdoor movie experience.
You wouldn’t know it from a casual glance around, but times have definitely changed at the Warwick Drive-In Theater.
With the advent of increasingly sophisticated technology in the area of entertainment, theater staff have sometimes had to learn a trick or two just to keep up, Events Coordinator Samantha Cottrell said.
Long decried by environmentalists as ruining our collective window to the galaxy, the light pollution drive-in theaters encounter has the potential to ruin the movie, or, at the very least, cause a substantial amount of frustration.
The issue of vehicle lights that aren’t easily turned off has been plaguing the drive-in experience since automatic lights became a standard feature, Cottrell said.
“Nightly we’re dealing with it,” she said. “It’s nice technology, but at the same time it’s like shut off already!”
The last resort: Blag plastic bags
According to Cottrell, usually at least one or two vehicles per night are problematic, and oftentimes owners are unsure how to disable them, prompting theater staff to try their hand at a shut-off attempt.
From cracking open owner’s manuals to Googling how-to videos, staff members will do just about anything to try to douse the light for their customers, Cottrell said – including using black trash bags.
“Sometimes it’s a matter of hitting the brake pad twice, pulling up the emergency brake,” she said. “And if that doesn’t work, we honestly will use black garbage bags and we’ll tape them over the headlights. We try that as the last alternative.”
While the problem of lights that refuse to go dark affects all types of makes and models, chief among vehicles that are difficult to dim are BMWs, Cottrell said.
“They’re just fancier,” she said. “Anything with a push start (instead of a key), we’re finding that’s a problem that we have to look into.”
Cottrell confessed that she, too, does not know how to turn off her own vehicle’s daytime running lights.
“We’re going to try to figure out how to shut mine off,” she said. “Even when you hit the accessory button, without starting the car, they come on automatically. I’ve tried every dial, every knob.”
But it’s not just technology advances that have changed the way people experience drive-in theaters. Cottrell said that there’s also been a shift in the expectations of audiences and the behavior of the public in general.
“Every customer that comes through gets tickets when they come in and a pamphlet that has etiquette and a little bit of history about the drive-in,” she said. “But some people just don’t care.”
From letting children sit on top of vehicles, to parking higher profile vehicles in such a way as to block others’ view, customers can sometimes be difficult, Cottrell said.
The addition of digital projection technology to the theater has both upgraded the quality of the picture and created a few customer service headaches along the way.
A recent showing of "Pet Sematary" devolved into an incident with an unhappy customer when a projection malfunction caused the theater to have to cancel the screening, Cottrell said.
“It doesn’t matter how old they are, you’re always going to have a tough customer,” she said. “I think the technology is what adds to the aggravation of the customer.”
Date night for new parents
For the most part, audiences at the Warwick Drive-In are “awesome” and appreciative of the theater’s quirky uniqueness, Cottrell said.
“We have a lot of parents who bring their newborns here,” she said. “They pull up and they’re like this is the best thing ever! The baby can cry, our windows are up and we’re not going to get yelled at!”
Drive-in theaters are a vanishing part of Americana that take people back to a simpler time, with less technology, Cottrell said.
“We all want to be tech savvy, but you go back to being old school, put that speaker on your window, and you didn’t have a problem,” she said. “It’s fabulous!”
According to Statista, 524 drive-in theaters remained in operation nationally as of 2018.
The Warwick Drive-In Theater is open every night and is located at 5 Warwick Turnpike. For information, call 845 986-4440 or visit online at www.warwickdrivein.com.
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