Outdoor theaters: The drive in movies for this generation

By Jana E. Pye, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

The cars pulled into gate 39A at the Darlington Raceway in a steady stream on a warm spring evening, full of excited fans- but, not for a NASCAR race. Most of the fans couldn’t reach a gas pedal on a racecar if they tried.

These fans were excited to be with their families for the launch of the spring and summer season of watching films on inflatable screens outdoors in Darlington County. The lucky children of this area are experiencing what their parents and grandparents did as children, watching movies together outside. The only difference, however, is the families are all seated on quilts and lawn chairs instead of piled into the family station wagon.

The other difference? There is no admission fee.

Darlington Raceway president Chip Wile and wife Catherine are the parents of three small children, making him a great host for the first Turn 3 Theater movie event of the year on Friday, April 24th. He kept the excitement going for the little ones by reminding them, “It’s nearly time for The Lego Movie!”

The Raceway staff all lends a hand, setting up corn hole and other fun lawn games, and manning the free popcorn stand. An ice-cream truck and Papa John’s Pizza truck also are on site for food and drink purchases by families; all concessions proceeds benefit the track’s charity, Darlington Shares.

The large screen is courtesy of the City of Hartsville.

John Isgett of Raceway Automotive is sponsoring the series at the Darlington Raceway for a second year, and watched families walk into the lovely manicured Hospitality Village from the parking lot.

“This is wonderful,” said Isgett with his signature smile. “Look at everyone, they have Grandmas and Grandpas with them. They can bring in coolers, chairs and blankets, too! And there’s no charge for parking, or the movie. Even the popcorn is free. I love this!”

As he spoke, a family walked past wheeling a wagon full of blankets and chairs, toting a large cooler. The kids found friends and raced off for the game areas, while their parents set up their spot almost as if they were gearing up for a day at the beach.

The open-air theater tradition began in Hartsville with the Starlight Cinemas, brought to Kalmia Gardens by the intrepid fairy of good things, Dyana Flax and her theater troupe “In the Wings.” They set up a portable screen and a DVR projector, and sold popcorn, drinks and movie-candy at the back area of the historic Hart House. The showings were great fun for families; if you were lucky, the fireflies made an appearance…along with a few sprinkles of rain here and there.

Fast-forward a few years, and the City of Hartsville purchased a large inflatable screen debuted in the Cargill Way area in the center of the downtown. Families converged with blankets and lawn chairs, making the events truly a family affair, and vendors set up booths to sell movie fare.

The screen has also been used inside at the T.B. Thomas Gymnasium at Byerly Park. Children delight in the experience of not having to sit still, but cavort and play before the movie…just as their parents did when they were allowed to sneak up to the front of the drive-in movie theaters. Remember when some had swing sets at the front?

Just before Christmas, the City of Darlington debuted its own inflatable screen with a special viewing of Polar Express, sponsored by Evans Construction of Darlington.

The film viewing was originally planned as an outdoor event at the Public Square with hot cocoa, but heavy rain brought the event indoors to the Darlington High School Falcons Nest gymnasium. The event was a hit, and the children were treated with their own sleigh bell provided by Evans Construction.

Darlington County outdoor theater calendar:

Turn 3 Theater: (Darlington Raceway)

The Darlington Raceway debuted this season with the film The Lego Movie, a fun family favorite on April 24.

Guests may bring food, however, concessions will also be available with all proceeds benefiting Darlington Shares. Free popcorn will be distributed to families before the feature presentation (one tub per family). Lawn chairs, blankets and coolers are permitted (no glass bottles).

Movie fans will need to enter the facility at the Gate 39A tunnel entrance, where they will be directed to the parking area just west of the hospitality village. The gates will open at 6 p.m. with movies starting at dusk. The films will be played on a big screen courtesy of the City of Hartsville.

Turn 3 Theater is sponsored by Raceway Automotive

Friday, May 15: “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2” by Columbia Pictures

Friday, June 19: free date night movie, Paramount Pictures’ famed 1978 motion picture “Grease”

Screen on the Square: (Darlington)

The City of Darlington begins their spring/summer movie series this Friday.

Films will be held at the Darlington Public Square at dusk. Please bring lawn chairs and blankets. Rain location is the DHS gymnasium.

Friday, May 8: “Finding Nemo” sponsored by Darlington Area Recreation Dept. Friday, June 12: “Tangled” begins at dusk at Darlington Public Square
TBA: “The Sandlot” at a ball field. Plans will be shared soon!

Screen on the Green: (Hartsville)

The City of Hartsville presents their movie season line up this Saturday. All movies start at dusk in Burry Park, 131 Cargill Way in Hartsville, and move to the Coach T.B. Thomas Sports Center, 701 W. Washington St., in the event of rain.

May 9: “Searching for Bobby Fischer,” sponsored by Learn and Win

June 13: “Annie,” sponsored by Sheriff Wayne Byrd

June 27: “The Boxtrolls,” sponsored by Carolina Pines Regional Medical Center

July 11: “Paddington,” sponsored by North Industrial Machine

July 25: “Big Hero 6,” sponsored by The Children’s Group

August 8: “Planes: Fire and Rescue,” sponsored by the Hartsville Police Department and Fire Department

Families prepare for the Turn 3 Theater at the Darlington Racway. photo by jana e. pye

Families prepare for the Turn 3 Theater at the Darlington Racway.
photo by jana e. pye

Author: Duane Childers

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