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If you can't play roller derby inside -- why not just turn your venue into an outdoor movie screen?

PAIGE WALLACE - Portlands Rose City Rollers turned the outside of their sports facility - The Hanger at Oaks Park - into a drive-in movie theater for August and September (and possibly later), after the COVID-19 pandemic forced their league to close down indoor competitions.  Roller derby skaters are trained to shift direction quickly on a tiny set of wheels. Southeast Portland's Rose City Rollers (RCR) made a similar maneuver to keep local fans engaged during the pandemic.

This new venture, however, involves much larger wheels – those on cars, SUVs, and pickups.

In July, RCR launched "Cinema Under the Stars" – which turned their skating venue, The Hangar at Oaks Amusement Park, into a drive-in movie theater! In a normal summer, RCR would have hosted several competitive roller derby events inside the The Hangar. However, physical distancing requirements due to the coronavirus forced those activities into hiatus.

Like other nonprofits, RCR has been brainstorming new ways to keep its members and its community engaged without violating pandemic lockdown rules. Those internal discussions led to the realization that people right now seem nostalgic for simpler times.

"I think it's just the nature of everything that's going on in the world," RCR Marketing Manager Meg Patterson explained. "There's a lot of interest in 'throwback' activities." She said it made sense that people who like watching roller derby might also enjoy drive-in movies.

PAIGE WALLACE - Moviegoers get comfortable inside their vehicles at Cinema Under the Stars, a drive-in movie fundraiser from Portlands Rose City Rollers roller derby team, at Oaks Park - in response to the current inability to offer roller derby during the COVID-19 pandemic. On July 25 RCR soft-launched "Cinema Under the Stars" for Rose City Rollers season ticket holders, with a screening of the roller derby documentary, "Hell On Wheels". After that first crowd responded positively, the drive-in movie venture launched to the public at large on Thursday, August 6.

Since then, as weather allows, every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night as many as 50 vehicles can line up in front of The Hangar just before sunset. A 15-foot tall white screen hangs across the building's expansive doorway. Upbeat party music plays through a large outdoor speaker system, as moviegoers settle into their bucket seats or beneath open hatchbacks. When daylight fades to dark, the screen lights up with the movie of the week.

"So far everything we've heard from people is that they're really excited about this," Patterson smiled.

On August 7 and 8, sellout crowds showed up to watch Rob Reiner's "The Princess Bride". The following weekend Cinema Under the Stars featured the 1998 family classic, "The Sandlot". Upcoming movie titles are listed on RCR's website – www.rosecityrollers.com – which is also where the driver of each vehicle planning to attend must sign up in advance to reserve their space, since there is that 50-car limit.

These screenings are considered fundraisers, so admission is donation-based, with a suggested amount of $45 per vehicle. However, the website offers options ranging from $0 to $65. Each driver can then bring as many people as can safely and legally fit inside their car.

Patterson said organizers opted for the sliding scale in a deliberate effort to keep the event affordable. "People are going through some really tough times right now," she pointed out. "We wanted this to be accessible, and give people the opportunity to pay what they can."

COVID-19 has forced some pandemic-specific rules upon these events. Organizers ask that people stay in their cars, except for bathroom breaks. Masks are mandatory once leaving the vehicle, and only ten people can be outside of cars at a time, including staff. The portable toilet on site gets disinfected after each use.

Their website states the goal to follow county, state, and CDC guidelines to keep everyone as safe as possible. All drivers must be over 18, and sign a waiver that extends to others in their vehicle, including minors.

RCR plans to show a variety of films from different genres, so there should be something to please a wide variety of moviegoers. Organizers hope to continue "Cinema Under the Stars" into September, and perhaps beyond – for "as long as we still have reasonable weather," Patterson said.


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