“Thank you for calling the world-famous Moonlite Drive-In Theatre.” That was the greeting on the line pre-internet, back when movie-goers had to call the historic outdoor cinema to hear show times via phone line. The line was disconnected years ago when the historic theater closed, but the “world-famous” characterization remains — especially now that some of the venue’s celestial gleam has been returned to this local treasure. Now the stars have aligned for the Bristol Ballet and the Moonlite to make history together with the company’s first on-screen production of “The Nutcracker” at the drive-in Sunday, Dec. 13 at 6:30 p.m.
“COVID-19 has darkened stages of so many ballet companies and other performing arts all over the world,” says Bristol Ballet Creative Director Michele Plescia. “Thanks to a wonderful partnership with the Barter Theatre, we will be able to bring our production of ‘The Nutcracker’ to the Moonlite where social distancing won’t be a challenge. It’s history in the making for Bristol Ballet and the region as we all search for safe and creative alternatives for live productions.”
The Barter Theatre in Abingdon set precedent with live performances of “The Wizard of Oz” and other plays at the Moonlite during the summer. Plescia reached out to Katy Brown, producing artistic director at The Barter about the possibility of renting the outdoor cinema for “The Nutcracker.” Brown was enthusiastic, and she and her staff are eager to work with Bristol Ballet and to help preserve and present the arts in our region in this very special location.
The pandemic has devastated the live events industry as a whole, and Bristol Ballet is feeling the strain. The company was forced to cancel its performance of “Sleeping Beauty” at the Paramount in the spring, costing the nonprofit organization thousands of essential revenue dollars. Student classes went exclusively online for the remainder of last season and re-opened in the fall to an online/in-person hybrid with strict social distancing guidelines, mask requirements and heightened cleaning practices in place to ensure the safety of the dancers, staff and the community. In-person rehearsals and classes are alternated between groups to keep numbers in the studio at a minimum and dancers spaced at least 10 feet apart in each of its two studios.
“Even if theaters do reopen, physical distancing would have to be maintained, which will reduce the size of our audience to about 25% capacity,” Plescia explained. “This would make our production unaffordable to present live. ‘The Nutcracker’ is a long-standing tradition for Bristol Ballet and our community. We all need an artistic escape and some sense of normalcy, especially during the holidays.”
With the safety of its young dancers at Bristol Ballet and the community of the highest priority, the decision was made to pre-record sections of this year’s performance and to incorporate those scenes into past recorded performances to provide an entirely new experience for audiences. The ballet is also supporting local businesses, locations and artists while filming scenes for the production.
“We want to provide the best Nutcracker experience possible during the holidays, and what a wonderful and nostalgic way to do that. Our dancers will be fulfilled, and we think the audience will enjoy a beloved holiday tradition in a way they will always remember.”
Tickets for “The Nutcracker” at The Moonlite Drive-In Theatre are $10 for children and $20 for adults. There are no added fees. The production is made possible through partnerships with The Barter Theatre, Blue Ridge Auto Group, Bristol Tennessee Essential Services, Food City and Eastman Credit Union. Bristol Ballet also receives grant funding from the Virginia Commission for the Arts, National Endowment for the Arts and the Tennessee Arts Commission.
For tickets and more information about Bristol Ballet and its programming, visit www.bristolballet.org.