Movies Under the Bridge, Poland, OhioQUIRKY PLACES, SHOWS/FESTIVALS/HOLIDAYS, STAFF, USA MAINLAND — By Milli Thornton on October 10, 2011 at 01:10
Story by Milli Thornton. Photos Copyright © Milli Thornton.
I WAS IN Poland, Ohio in July taking photos for a story (Summer Vacations at My Grandma’s House by Julia Munroe Martin) when I met a local who showed me the bridge over Yellow Creek.
At first glance, this bridge is nothing special. Sure, it’s well built and caters to tons of local traffic, making it invaluable to people’s lives. But I doubt the people driving over it to get to work give it a second thought. Looking at it in regular daylight as my new friend explained its other use, it was kind of strange to imagine what it might be like to watch movies down there.
Could something this cool really be happening only one suburb over from my house in Boardman? It was clear I was living a sheltered life and needed to get out more.
When I asked the obvious question—“How did you get the idea to show movies on the wall of the bridge?”—Yellow Creek Theatre coordinator Ron Eiselstein told me it happened when they were building the Reed Memorial Stairway from the top of the bridge down to the creek.
The engineer who drew the design for the stairway was onsite inspecting the work when he pointed to one of the supporting walls of the bridge and said, “We could show movies on that wall!” The project grew from there.
Yellow Creek Theatre (informally known as Movies Under the Bridge) receives no grants or other outside funding; it’s completely driven by volunteer work and support from the community, and there’s no charge to attend.
YCT runs classic movies for eight Fridays every summer (this year included Strike Up the Band, The African Queen and Sorry, Wrong Number). Movie patrons can deposit cash donations in a box provided for that purpose. Expenses are also covered by the tasteful sponsorship video that plays before each movie. Sponsors are all local business owners.
I wanted to show you a typical evening at Yellow Creek Theatre, so I wandered the grounds and looked behind the scenes. Below you can see the projectionist’s equipment pointed at the wall of the bridge, with unlit Tiki torches on either side.
Another photo I have from this angle (that unfortunately was too dark to use) shows a boy of about ten wading in the creek near a couple of paddling ducks while he waited for the movie to start. Brian has photos of a roving woodchuck on the banks of the creek. It feels like nature melding with modern technology and old-fashioned entertainment to attend this event.
Arriving early has its benefits. Patrons can grab the best positions for their lawn chairs on the patio, and then settle in to listen to the supporting act while they wait for darkness to descend.
Each week there’s a different band. The week I was snapping photos it was two members of the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra playing with YCT’s resident drummer. Other weeks the theme is jazz. The musicians are literally a few feet from the banks of the creek and everyone enjoys the acoustics created by the natural setting.
Arriving early means you can also take advantage of no lines at the kiosk to grab some movie snacks. The kiosk is stocked from The Village Pantry—a general store run by YCT coordinator Joanne Eiselstein based on old-fashioned principles of bulk food and low prices.
The kiosk offers both regular candy and the nostalgic variety, as well as some unusual imports: Jordan almonds, green apple twists, Swedish fish, dark chocolate coffee beans, Grandma Bab’s Old-Fashioned Caramel Corn, Kookaburra Strawberry, licorice all-sorts and many other tempting treats.
My personal favorites are the cocoa-dusted almonds.
Everything about the kiosk gives that old-tyme feel, from the smell of fresh popcorn at the outdoor movies to the wooden crates displaying the snacks. You can choose a cold drink from an ice bucket that looks like it came from grampa’s farm; anything from Mexican Coke to Kutztown Sarsparilla.
Kravitz Deli (inside of nearby Poland Library) stays open on movie nights to allow patrons to enjoy a light dinner. My taste buds swooned over The Pitt (honey ham, provolone, fries and coleslaw stuffed inside your choice of bread—YUM!).
Or you can order The Librarian, The Bulldog, The Hannah “K” plus a number of other sandwiches with intriguing names. (This brief rundown does not do justice to their lively menu.)
As darkness falls, the crowd has assembled. The coordinators make their announcements and do the raffle drawing. Then the screen comes to life and the sponsorship video rolls. YCT has been running for seven years now: every year there’s a new professionally-produced video and a different theme song.
After that comes one of the best bits: the cartoons. The Merrie Melodies theme song starts up and that’s when you really feel like you’re at the movies. Lamps glow in the kiosk, the Tiki torches burn, people order bags of popcorn and Daffy Duck runs around expressing his scorn at various life issues. What better way to spend a summer evening?
One thing I love about Movies Under the Bridge is that the patrons really care about classic movies. There’s none of the usual restlessness or texting friends that you’d expect from a free event. Everyone is there to watch the movie and all heads face the bridge.
The week that Rio Bravo showed was the week I had chosen to do my photos and observations for Milliver’s Travels. I was expecting to be bored by the movie itself (a Western; guy stuff) but I ended up as enthralled as everyone else—it took me back to childhood when John Wayne was my hero in True Grit.
One of the best scenes in Rio Bravo is when Consuela chews out her husband in front of the sheriff. It felt so good to chuckle with my fellow audience members sitting outside under the stars. And when I noticed the seam of the bridge wall running through John Wayne’s face, it only added to my overall enjoyment.
When the movie is over, the sense of coziness is suddenly broken and it’s back to the reality of cars and traffic and going home to the dishes in the sink. That’s why I love the one last bit of magic that happens as you drive out of the parking lot: seeing Poland Library lit up in all its architectural glory.
Sadly, I didn’t discover YCT until near the end of the season, so I only got to see two classic movies. But winding up the season with The Sound of Music couldn’t have been finer.
I was worried about ending up with earworms from all those Julie Andrews songs that I already knew forwards and backwards. But it was so exhilarating to watch it on the wall of the bridge, I actually enjoyed the heck outta the songs . . . especially the one where the nuns sing about the impossibility of Maria.
In 2010, Elvis caused a sensation at Movies Under the Bridge when he came down the Reed Memorial Stairway to the familiar strains of the 2001: A Space Odyssey theme song.
Above the excited screams of his fans he segued into C.C. Rider, and then (ever the professional), performed for an hour in ninety degree heat. After Elvis was done singing, YCT showed Viva Las Vegas. Truly a classic night at the movies.
LOCAL TO YOUNGSTOWN, BOARDMAN, CANFIELD, STRUTHERS OR POLAND?
Milli Thornton (aka Milliver) is the author of Fear of Writing: for writers & closet writers. She is owner of the Fear of Writing Online Course, where her mission is to put the fun back into writing. Milli blogs at Screenwriting in the Boonies and the Fear of Writing Blog and coaches writers individually at Writer’s Muse Coaching Service.