The Empire Drive-In, a glorious theater where you sat in or on junked cars in the parking lot of the New York Hall of Science, lasted just three weeks in October. Its founders, artists Todd Chandler and Jeff Stark, made a marquee, box office, concession stand, and 40-by-32-foot screen out of scaffolding planks. The 60 cars came from a Brooklyn scrapyard called Plakos; its owner only charged them the cost of trucking them in. The projector was set up in an SUV stacked atop a van.
They’d previously made a drive-in for 01SJ, a festival in San Jose, California, in 2010, and another in 2012 as part of Manchester’s Abandon Normal Devices festival (to show Chandler’s film Flood Tide, about a raft made out of trash he floated down the Hudson River). Last summer, they set up a one-night-only version in a boatyard in the Rockaways, and a woman who worked at the Hall of Science happened to attend. She asked them if they’d like to expand the project and collaborate. “We were like, ‘Hell, yeah!’ ” says Stark.
Most nights had a programming partner. Opening night, Greg Saunier from the band Deerhoof composed a Casio-keyboard orchestra soundtrack to silent films and played percussion on the bottom of one of the junked cars. The Queens Museum did a Bollywood night preceded by a dance lesson, so when a particular song came on, “everybody jumped up and ran down and all did the moves together,” says Stark. Five hundred people came to a Punk Movie Night double feature of Over the Edge and Suburbia, along with a performance from the band RVIVR from Olympia, Washington.
Watching the audience was half the fun. “I loved catching people sneaking into the back of a car to make out,” says Stark, “and watching New York kids jumping up and down on top of cars. It’s something that you would never in a million years get permission to do if you’re a 9-year-old. For them, a space like that is just so crazy. All the rules are off. It’s such a small thing, but you imagine them really having a special night.”
The final night, it closed with dancers driven around atop forklifts. We watched documentaries about the auto industry while eating Thai food and drinking moonshine with our legs dangling into the back seat of a sedan through a missing back window. Then it was all recycled and gone.