Encore performance: The Drive-In Experience Ottawa is back – this time at RCGT Park

Ali Shafaee
Ali Shafaee's organization, DNA Live, is bringing back last year's popular Drive-In Experience Ottawa. File photo

Like a much-anticipated movie sequel, one of last summer’s hottest COVID-safe entertainment tickets is back for another edition – with a bit of a plot twist.

Organizers of the Drive-In Experience Ottawa said Wednesday they’re set to resume weekend screenings, this time at a new venue: Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton Park on Coventry Road. 

Ali Shafaee of DNA Live, which is hosting the movie nights, said last year’s showings at Wesley Clover Parks in west Ottawa were such a smash hit that it was a no-brainer to revive the concept again this summer. The promoters decided to set up a screen in the parking lot of RCGT Park after getting big support from fans in that part of town in 2020.

“We just had so many people coming from the east end last year and asking for something in that area,” said Shafaee, adding they’re still planning to stage events at Wesley Clover Parks and hope to announce more details in the coming days.

DNA Live ended up staging more than 100 events at the west-end facility last year, drawing in excess of 70,000 people who flocked to offerings that ranged from movies, concerts and live comedy shows to yoga sessions, fitness classes and exotic animal exhibits from Little Ray’s Nature Centres.

“Everyone wanted something to do in a safe manner,” Shafaee said. 

This year, organizers are responding to market demand in new ways. 

Eyeing live concerts

Shafaee says his group has already booked several high school graduation ceremonies that will be hosted at the baseball stadium’s parking lot, either as drive-in ceremonies or seated events. In addition, he’s getting calls for companies looking to use the site for physically distanced employee get-togethers.

And assuming provincially imposed restrictions on public gatherings will be sufficiently loosened later this summer, Shafaee is hoping to bring live concerts back to the venues as well.

“We’re seeing literally on a daily basis things are, knock on wood, getting better,” he said, referring to local COVID-19 case counts that have been on a steady decline in recent weeks.

“We’re pretty confident that by the tail end of the summer, we’ll be able to get back into the live music format.”

Tickets going fast

In the meantime, the drive-in movie format appears to be tapping into plenty of pent-up demand.

The parking lot has room for 80 vehicles, and Shafaee said this weekend’s showings – Bridesmaids on Friday night, followed by Jurassic World on Saturday and Get Out on Sunday – were already 50 per cent sold out less than hour after the lineup was announced on Wednesday morning.

The promoter said the Drive-In Experience isn’t expected to be a financial windfall for his company, which is best-known for organizing concerts and attractions such as the Escapade Music Festival. But as long as it keeps his employees working and Ottawa residents entertained, he’s happy.

“From a revenue standpoint, you’re really not making much money when you factor in movie licences and all the infrastructure because we’re a pop-up venue,” Shafaee said. “But as long as we’re able to follow the same model as last year and keep everyone engaged and hopefully turn it into a live music format at some point over the summer, we consider that a win.”