As Northern Virginians venture out, families are eager to find outdoor activities that are still safe. Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton wondered what it could offer the community while behaviors were still restricted by distance and crowd size, and it settled on a retro experience of drive-in movie screenings on its campus, said Joseph Wallen, the Workhouse’s director of performing arts.

“When we went into shutdown mode in the middle of March, no one was certain how long we were going to have to do something different,” Wallen said. “Was it going to be four weeks, six weeks? We just didn’t know. We started looking at offerings we could offer the community in a socially distant setting, but still in a way that’s bringing the community together. And, this is what we came up with.”  

The Workhouse tried summer screenings several years ago, but with only modest attendance. That did, however, give them some background in coordinating outdoor films. 

After a few weekends, Wallen said the response this year has been fantastic.  

“Everybody who comes has been really great about following the guidelines about social distancing, and on the way out, we’re getting emails and social media feedback that people are so happy that they’ve got something they can do together with their family -- to get out of the house, but also do something safe.”

Wallen noted that the age of attendees depends on which film is showing, with titles like “Shrek” and “Labyrinth” drawing more families, while last weekend’s movie, the zombie comedy “Shaun of the Dead,” was likely to lure an older viewership. 

On the last weekend of June, Pete Talbot drove his family down from Springfield, along with a couple of neighbors, and all three parked their SUVs next to each other. Talbot, in his late 40s, said this was his first drive-in experience. 

“My wife has been to one, but I’ve never been to a drive-in before tonight. Our neighbor mentioned it to us, and it felt like a good thing to get out and do,” Talbot said. 

Talbot’s 8-year-old daughter, Ellie, was quite excited about her first drive-in.

“I knew I was going to love it when I learned mom said I was allowed to watch on the roof,” she said, sitting on top of the family SUV, and grabbing some snacks as twilight deepened.

Wallen noted that Fairfax County authorities approved the Workhouse’s safety plan for operation of the Friday and Saturday screenings, and he expects the movies to run through the end of August.

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