Let’s go to the movies.
My earliest memory of going to the movies is of a drive-in theater in Shawnee, Kansas, near Kansas City, Missouri where I was born. My mom would thoughtfully pack a red and black plaid picnic bag full of snacks, although once there, my brother and I would beg our dad to walk us down, over the humps of concrete and gravel to the drive-in cafe to buy burgers and fries. My dad skillfully built a custom platform that would sit in the floorboard, behind the front seats, and in front of the back seats, of their green, 1964 Pontiac. This well-crafted innovation was a “make-shift” playground for my brother and I to play in or to use when we got tired of the movies and wanted to lay quietly, looking out the windows at the stars and eventually fall asleep.
I still laugh at a story my former husband always told of going to a rural drive-in theater, on a double date, with his high school sweetheart in Monroeville, Ohio. That drive-in backed up to a sheep farm and, during the film, a mischievous teenager cut the fence wire that separated the farm from the drive-in. Within minutes, while everyone was engrossed in the movie, or in romantic escapades, hundreds of sheep came up beside the cars bleeting “baaa….baaa” and carloads of movie goers were startled and laughing as the herd quickly spread through the rows of cars! Some people were so shocked they started their cars and drove off without first taking the speaker off the car window!
My memories of old cinemas go back to my junior high school days. On weekends, one of my favorite things to do was meet up with friends at the old Ozark Theater in Ozark, Missouri. It was a run-down old place on the south side of the square that we all called the Rat-Trap. I remember buying big bags of popcorn for fifteen cents and being thrilled to sit next to the boy I had a crush on. Not only was I recently reminded that I received my first kiss there on the worn out velvet seats, but afterward I went home and threw up out of nervousness. My sweet friend, Debby, remembers worrying that she might get pregnant after kissing her first sweetheart there.
Since then, I’ve always noticed old cinema buildings and drive-in theaters as I’ve driven throughout Texas, my home for the last twenty-seven years. The unique charm of their facades and the beautifully shaped marquees always capture my attention. These memories sat in the back of my brain’s file cabinet for years before I was able to apply them to a successful high school project that was recently featured in the April 2012 issue of School Arts, a professional art education magazine.
As the article explains, I was visiting a new friend’s home and quickly realized they were art collectors. One of my favorite sculptural relief pieces was by Dallas artist, Jon Flaming. Flaming’s love of Texas is evident in his landscapes and rural settings, and it was precisely when I saw his piece, “Nehi Bottling, Deep Ellum” that, in a moment’s flashing, I knew I’d found the project to apply my collected memories of “vintage cinemas” to. I invite you to read the article, which explains the project in detail, and see if you can apply it to a project of your own. For my readers who are interested in old Texas theaters, I used the fabulous website called Texas Escapes. Be careful, though; you can get lost in it for hours!
Maybe you, too, have an interest in old cinemas, but perhaps you have a fond memory of old gas stations, old courthouses, old bridges or water towers. Stand in the quiet, perhaps after a yoga practice and think back to fond memories that you can build a project around. Make a list. What are you interested in? Pack a picnic, go to a park and lay down in the fresh, green spring grass. Look up towards the heavens and let your mind drift. Think back to childhood things. Remember what you loved. Is there a way to bring it to life through your teaching? I think the reason my students get so excited about their projects is because I’m excited about them, as so many of them have to do with me! As my colleagues always say, “As artist-teachers, we give our best ideas away to our students.” Through these projects I tell stories about me; things I experienced when I was their age, and they listen and laugh at how times have certainly changed.
What are your favorite memories from childhood? Let’s create a project around them!