Brookville outdoor theater will host commencements

In four decades as a drive-in theater owner, Jim Lipuma thought he had seen it all.

He never thought his Moonlite Drive-In would become an event center, but the coronavirus changed all of that.

“Ever since the governor ordered businesses to shut down event centers, schools and, well, almost everything, people have been looking for a way to gather while practicing social distancing,” said Lipuma. “The drive-in allows people to socialize without placing themselves in danger from the virus.”

It started with a drive-in church service.

“We have had four different churches use the Moonlite,” said Lipuma. “On Easter we had about 600 people here.”

His theater near Brookville will also be the venue for four high school commencements.

“We will host the commencement ceremonies for Brookville, Clarion-Limestone and Brockway high schools and the Clarion County Career Center,” said Lipuma.

“We can handle 350 cars under normal circumstances but even with people staying in their cars we have to practice social distancing,” he said. “For graduation we can only accommodate about 120 cars. Each car has to have six feet on either side.”

Lipuma said his facility works well for schools with smaller graduating classes, but he can’t accommodate the larger schools.

“Everyone likes to invite their friends and families and when there are only 50 kids in a graduating class each student can have two cars attend the ceremony. That would be eight people for each senior, which is more than they can invite for most commencement exercises held at school. The numbers don’t work for larger schools,” Lipuma said.

The logistics for each school are a little bit different.

“One school wanted to bring in risers and have the kids perform,” said Lipuma.

The school would have needed to remove the risers that night so the theater could be used the next day. Lipuma came up with a solution as he contracted with Dan Wallace Productions for the use of one of his portable stages.

“Dan has used his stage at all kinds of community festivals and events and was more than willing to help,” said Lipuma. “He has all of the microphones and equipment and he will run the sound system.”

Lipuma said the stage will be used by all the schools. The sound from the stage would then be broadcast to all the cars over the Moonlite’s radio system.

Another school wanted the presentation of diplomas to be broadcast live. Another wanted to use split screen technology to show a pre-recorded bio of the student along with the live presentation of the awarding of the diploma.

“We will do our best to accommodate them all,” said Lipuma. He discovered none of the schools had a device for a split screen display so he purchased his own.

“I figured I had better get it so I can learn how to use it before the ceremony,” he said.

The limitation to using a drive-in is that the screen is only visible when it is dark.

“At that time of the year it gets dark about 8:45,” said Lipuma. “That’s OK because I am used to working in the dark!”

Graduation dates are May 27 for Clarion County Career Center, May 30 for Clarion-Limestone, June 2 for Brookville and June 4 for Brockway.

Lipuma said there has been one event request he couldn’t accommodate.

“I was asked if we could do a wedding,” he said. “Some of the things they were asking us to do, we just couldn’t do.”

“I am glad to be able to give back to the communities,” said Lipuma. “The people from Brookville, Brockway, Clarion and the surrounding areas have supported us and we are happy to support them in these difficult times.”