“Thank you for calling the world-famous Moonlite Drive-In Theatre!” That was the friendly 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 sadly closed, but the “world-famous” characterization remains— especially now that some of the venue’s celestial gleam has been rightfully 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 on Sunday, December 13, 2020 at 6:30 p.m.
“COVID-19 has darkened stages of so many ballet companies and other performing arts all over the world,” said 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 over 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 the Bristol Ballet is feeling the strain. The company was forced to cancel its performance of Sleeping Beauty at the Paramount back 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 ten 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 Nutcracker 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 start at $10 for children and $20 for adults. There are no added fees. The Moonlite is located at 17555 Lee Highway in Abingdon, Virginia. 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.
For more information about advertising opportunities, patronage, contributions and sponsorship packages, please contact Moira Frazier at firstname.lastname@example.org or 276-669-6051.
About Bristol Ballet
Bristol Ballet was founded in 1948 by Constance Hardinge as a school for the training of young people in the art of dance. In 1959, Miss Hardinge founded a performing company comprised of 12 young dancers – ten girls and two boys – between the ages of 13 and 15. The company grew in stature to become one of the leading regional ballet companies in the United States. It has been a member of the Southeastern Regional Ballet Association, had many renowned guest teachers and choreographers, and trained many dancers whom have gone on to professional dance careers.
In 1965 Maria Tallchief, noted American ballerina and founder of the Chicago City Ballet, visited Bristol Ballet to select a handful of young students to receive Ford Foundation Scholarships to pay their tuition for studies at Bristol Ballet. The
current Artistic Director, Michele Plescia, was one of those few lucky students. In 1966 Bristol Ballet produced the area’s first Nutcracker ballet, which became a long-standing favorite of children and adults alike. Other productions have received regional acclaim, such as Mountain Ballad, The Cloistered, and Recess — all original works by Miss Hardinge. Noted choreographers have set pieces on the company including Robert Barnette, Richard and Christina Munro, and Norbert Vesack.
A year after Miss Hardinge’s death in 1992, the school and company were incorporated as one non-profit entity, run by a board of directors and an artistic director. Michele Plescia returned to the Tri-Cities area in 2004 and became the Artistic Director. She is still teaching, planning, and directing for the organization today.
Bristol Ballet’s mission and priority is to train and educate people about the art of dance, through exceptional ballet training for youth, and through productions for the public. Through its long history, the organization has served tens of thousands of young dancers and audience members. Children are the main focus of its educational efforts; however, educating and entertaining all of the public are important.
In 2018 the Virginia Commission for the Arts, during its 50th Anniversary celebrations, recognized Bristol Ballet as a Bedrock Institution, for its more than 70-year history of providing quality dance education and entertainment.