Oakland Theater Project: Drive-In Live Theater

Drive-ins provide theater goers a socially distanced way to enjoy an art form that’s been largely dormant during the pandemic.

One silver lining of the coronavirus pandemic: a renaissance of drive-in entertainment. 

Drive-in movies are reminding millennials and zoomers of an America their parents barely remember. Car-bound raves are helping justify that pair of 12-inch subs in the trunk. And, after months of fretting over whether it is safe to get a haircut, Bay Area residents will soon be able to watch the San Francisco Opera perform the Barber of Seville from behind the wheel. 

Now the Oakland Theater Project is adding one more to the list. The East Bay stage company is presenting its current season as a literal dashboard confessional. The 2021 season, titled “Resurrection, Revolution and Renewal” began on Feb. 11 and runs through Dec. 19. The first production, titled “Binding Ties: The 16th Street Station” recently wrapped up at the historical 16th Street Station in West Oakland.

Attendees must buy tickets in advance, attend in a fully-enclosed vehicle (no convertible’s allowed!), and tune into the show’s soundscape through their car radios. 

“While theater may have no direct way to solve the world’s existential crises, it does have the capacity to shift the way we conceive of the world, one another, and ourselves,” says the troupe’s website. 

In a year that has been difficult for all small businesses, live theater has been hit particularly hard. In California, 73 percent of live theater and performing arts professionals are unemployed, 5 percent higher than the national average. Unlike film, dining, and retail, the performing arts has been largely left out of phased reopening plans, forced to wait for work until things “return to normal.” In the meantime, theaters have been scrambling — turning to film shoots, lackluster livestreams, and short, digestible, digitized performances. 

The Oakland Theater Project’s drive-in season isn’t merely a way to reawaken the art form: it also offers performances that are intended to provoke deep thought about society’s current circumstances. The troupe’s second production of the year, for example, is a one-person adaptation of T.S. Eliot’s poem The Waste Land. The poem grapples with fear of death, mental health, and crisis through a meditation that, in the end, feels healing — the poem, devoid of consolation, forces the reader to accept discomfort. Watching the poem brought to life is intended to be a cathartic experience.

“Within the vivid expression of the poem itself, art stands as a testament to the capacity for human hands to enliven our void and create a path toward renewal,” promises the troupe’s website.

The Oakland Theater Project’s 2021 season is as follows: 

By T.S. Eliot | Created by John Wilkins, Lisa Ramirez, and Michael Socrates Moran
Thu – Sun at 7:30 p.m. | Mar 12 – Apr 18
Parking lot for the Oakland Theater at FLAX Art & Design

By Kathleen Collins | Directed by Michael Socrates Moran and Dawn L. Troupe
Thu – Sun at 7:30 p.m. | May 14 – Jun 20
Parking lot for the Oakland Theater at FLAX Art & Design

Co-created by John Wilkins, William Hodgson and Dawn L. Troupe
Thu – Sun at 7:30 p.m. | Jul 23 – Aug 29
Parking lot for the Oakland Theater at FLAX Art & Design

Music, lyric and text by Dave Malloy | Directed by William Hodgson
Thu – Sun at 7:30 p.m. | Sep 17 – Oct 24
Parking lot for the Oakland Theater at FLAX Art & Design

sAiNt jOaN (burn/burn/burn) 
By Lisa Ramirez | Directed by Michael Socrates Moran
Thu – Sun at 7:30 p.m. | Nov 12 – Dec 19
Parking lot for the Oakland Theater at FLAX Art & Design

More information and Tickets can be found at the Oakland Theater Project website.

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