The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
To say the drive-in is a dying institution gives too much credit to the handful still in operation (including the nation’s largest remaining — the Ford Drive-In, in Dearborn). Ours is the last generation that knows what a drive-in is, or even remembers watching a movie with feet kicked up on the dashboard, hearing the sound piped straight through the radio. To me, the drive-in has always represented a winning combination — the public event of attending a movie taking place within the impenetrable privacy of one’s own vehicle.
This Wednesday evening I had the pleasure of attending Drive-In Radio Theater at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (a Knight Arts grantee), a drive-in revival of the first order, curated by the Hinterlands Performance Group and staged in the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit parking lot. The format of the event of was innovative and engaging — a makeshift stage and hyper-local broadcast station in the parking lot transmitted the audio portion of a variety show presented to a drive-in audience — combining the best elements of drive-in and radio culture, not to mention live hip-hop, DJ sets and Detroit’s patented freestyle Jit’ dancing. Popcorn vendors and performers wandered car-to-car, transacting through windows or jumping into backseats to parlay with audience members. By nature, the drive-in format relaxes some of the “rules” of theatergoing — talking, laughing, coughing, even dancing is acceptable, and the feeling that unfolded as the sun went down and headlights came on was one of joyous celebration.
The evening kicked off in throwback style with a hilarious radio play, “Cat Wife,” performed by Hinterlands. As always, Hinterlands delivered a playful and engaging performance, equally entertaining to imagine through the audio portion as it was to watch the cast and foley crew bear up under the high winds that cheerfully complicated matters for all the evening’s performers. Following a sing-along segment break, we were treated to a performance by Detroit hip-hop duo Passalacqua, who gamely substituted “Honk your horns!” for “Clap your hands!” in the call for audience participation. Honk we did. Cars came and went throughout the program of 20-minute performances, which also included a demo by Jit’ crew Detroit Hardcore, who tore up the parking lot, breaking moves in the wash of headlights and literally spitting flames in the face of intermittent audio difficulties. The fun and games didn’t stop in the segment breaks, with a special “cuddle time” track, and a short trivia game.
All in all, it was a great evening—both a simple idea and a clever remix of some old-fashioned conventions that clearly still have a place in the realm of modern entertainment. I say add a food truck and let’s make this a regular thing, Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. I’ll see you there, just after sunset.
All photos by Sarah Sharp.