It was a throwback to my childhood nights at the drive-in theater.
Dad would pull the car into a parking slot, get our lawn chairs set up in front of the car, then he would snooze in the car while we watched B-grade flicks.
It was not unlike those childhood movie-going days when I took in an outdoor movie last weekend at Bookhouse Cinema at 715 E. Langston Hughes-Broadway.
A half moon floated in the sky, a light breeze fanned us, and the summer sounds of crickets and katydids filled the air, fading from consciousness as we became absorbed in the movie.
Still, there was a greater intimacy to this compared to a drive-in theater. No cars demarked our personal space. It was just folks settled into plastic Adirondack chairs, cocktails in hand and appropriately social distanced as we took in a movie on a summer evening.
For us moviegoers, it was a chance to feel some normalcy under the pandemic. For Bookhouse, it was an example of creative business survival in uncertain times.
As Joplin’s only indie cinema, Bookhouse had been the picture of small business success for two years before the coronavirus. It has a laid back atmosphere and funky interior style accented with exhibits of work by local artists. It includes a pub with freshly prepared food with vegan alternatives. It’s boho indie theater feel brought in a crowd.
It had also worked at marketing itself as a community gathering place, particularly for cultural events. It attracted neighborhood development meetings, readings by the Downtown Poetry group, performances by community comedy teams, and screenings for the Missouri Southern International Film Festival.
That began to slow when the coronavirus began raising its head locally. It tried carryout food service, but that couldn’t cut it. Attendance at its movies — its bread and butter — dwindled.
“The movies are a driver for getting people in our doors,” said Holly Crane, owner with her husband Brad.
The business temporarily closed its doors just before the city enacted a stay at home order in March. During a two-month hiatus, it worked to secure a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan to bring back employees, and it landed a grant to purchase portable movie equipment.
In May, the business reopened for food and pub service and it hosted virtual screening events, but its theater remained dark.
The Cranes weren’t going to let that last for long.
They went to work getting a covered patio area and adjoining fenced green space in order. They placed about 40 well-distanced tables throughout the space and constructed a stage to host musicians and other performers.
An adjacent area was arranged as an outdoor theater, equipped with a 71/2- by 121/2-foot portable movie screen and movie-quality sound equipment. The capacity for the theater space is 30 people in patio chairs, but a hammock was placed at the back of the area for people wanting a more relaxed viewing experience.
In late June, the outdoor area opened as the Patiodrome Outdoor Theater. Bookhouse was back in the movie business.
“We’re going to squeak past this thing,” Holly said of business under the pandemic. “We’re just really counting our pennies and cutting corners where we can. Our biggest priority is keeping our staff employed.”
For now, it’s operating Fridays through Sundays, offering movies and both indoor and outdoor dining. Last weekend, it hosted a one-night performance by the popular solo band Dance Monkey Dance. That night brought in a crowd comparable to those of the pre-COVID-19 days, said Brad.
The outdoor screenings feature older films — “Jurassic Park,” “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” “Get Out,” and “Deliverance” in July — along with what is billed as Video With A Vengeance, rare and appropriately underrated VHS movies from the past.
The older movies are necessitated because outdoors they must be screened via DVDs projected through a laptop computer, said Brad. Indoors, he said, the screenings are accessed through an online server that can offer a wide selection of films outside of the Hollywood mainstream. He also noted that because of the pandemic new indie film releases won’t be available until this fall.
This month, the outdoor bill will include a mix of genres with a unifying theme of fighting against a society struggling under abuse and tyranny, said Holly. Films include “The Matrix,” with a final showing at 9:15 p.m. today; “Les Misérables,” 9 p.m. Friday, Aug. 7, through Sunday, Aug. 9; Charlie Chaplin’s first talkie movie, “The Great Dictator,” 8:45 p.m. Friday, Aug. 14, through Sunday, Aug. 16; and “The Fight,” a documentary on current underdog fights to protect freedoms, 8:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 21, through Sunday, Aug. 23. The VWAV film is “Picasso Tiger,” a spy-babe flick with a confused plot and preposterous action sequences. It’s scheduled for 8:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 28.
The films are $5, and their start times are based on the changing daylight.
This is a place where masks are the fashion. They’re required while ordering food and drinks indoors, and they are preferred but optional outdoors.
“Our customers wear masks and are courteous,” Holly said. “We’re a haven for good behavior.”
More information on films is available at the cinema website, www.bookhousejoplin.com, and on its Facebook page.
Artists wishing to exhibit artwork in the business and musicians interested in scheduling a performance may phone 417-825-5161 or email email@example.com.