Remarkable Theater gears up for second season in Westport

WESTPORT — With a new season just underway, officials at the Remarkable Theater want people to know there’s a fun place to hangout downtown with friends, family and the community.

Though the second season officially opens Wednesday with “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” — a favorite film featuring longtime Westport resident Paul Newman — people were ready to enjoy a few films this weekend with a soft opening of sorts.

“This is super convenient for us,” said Norwalk resident Dora Oppedisano, noting that the next nearest drive-in is about an hour away.

“Not enough people know about this,” she said, thrilled to see one of her favorite films, “Goonies,” Friday night.

Located in the Baldwin Lot off Imperial Avenue, the drive-in was the Westport Cinema Initiative’s response to the COVID crisis and a creative way to bring people back together. Last year’s drive-ins were also the first chance for the group to show movies regularly to the community.

“COVID gave us the opportunity to finally do something, (for) the first public interface we had was starting this drive-in,” Doug Tirola, creative director for the nonprofit.

The initiative, which began in 2011 as an effort to build a brick-and-mortar movie house downtown, ultimately expanded its mission to include the creation of a meaningful employment opportunity for individuals with disabilities through the theater.

The Prospector Theater in Ridgefield has a similar approach to its employment and temporarily closed this spring due to the pandemic.

“If you’re a movie lover anytime a movie theater has to close it’s doors it’s heartbreaking,” said Tirola. “One of the two essential goals of The Remarkable Theater is to provide meaningful job opportunities to individuals with disabilities this we share with The Prospector and hope they reopen soon.”

The Remarkable Theater isn’t currently advertising in Ridgefield with hopes the community there will continue to support the Prospector so it can reopen soon.

“Our understanding is that the owner, Val Jensen, has found ways to keep her disabilities staff employed which is amazing,” he said. “However if there are individuals with disabilities that for some reason are no longer working in Ridgefield, we would encourage them to contact us about jobs at The Remarkable. And obviously we welcome anyone who wants to see a movie in Downtown Westport at The Remarkable Theater Drive-In .”

And with films scheduled on most Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights — as well as half-price Tuesdays beginning April 27 — the open-air theater on the east side of the Saugatuck River promises to be a sought-after summer destination, provided word continues to spread about it.

“There’s a difference between a movie and a movie experience,” said Jonathan Steinberg, Westport state representative and a co-founder of the Westport Cinema Initiative, along with Tirola and longtime Westporter Sandy Lefkowitz.

“We were lucky as teenagers growing up in Westport,” Steinberg said. “We had safe places to go,” including a bowling alley, miniature golf courses, and several movies theaters — some of which were located right in the downtown.

And while he and others praise the work of The Westport Library, The Levitt Pavilion and other groups trying to generate go-to attractions in town, Steinberg said there was an obvious gap with no place to go for a movie.

“I’ve lived here 28 years and this is probably the best social experience I’ve seen,” said Jeff Mitchell, a Westport parent and theater volunteer. “It’s a great place for people to meet.”

He said it offers the opportunity to tailgate and socialize before the movie starts, which is a big part of the event.

“The movie can almost be seen as a bonus, because we open this up an hour beforehand,” he said, noting the expanded size of the screen and even some original content that is being created in cooperation with the theater.

“It’s just a fun family event and something different to do,” said Melissa Dombrow, of Westport, who came out with her family.

“It’s just fun to be outside and watch a movie,” said her daughter, Leah Dombrow, 11.

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