Movies, yoga, comedy in the great outdoors: Wesley Clover Parks becomes multi-purpose venue

Ali Shafaee
Ali Shafaee is helping turn Wesley Clover Parks into a new outdoor entertainment venue. File photo

Like many of us who’ve endured three months of self-imposed quarantine during the COVID-19 crisis, Ali Shafaee is eager for a little social contact now that summer is here.

But in Shafaee’s case, that desire is not just personal ​– it’s business.

The executive director of Ottawa event production company DNA Live would typically be run off his feet organizing major gatherings such as the Escapade Music Festival. DNA Live hosts the popular electronic dance showcase, which was originally slated to be held this month at Lansdowne Park but has been postponed until September due to the pandemic.

But with his normal slate of summer events wiped off the calendar during the lockdown, Shafaee decided it was time to try something a little different. 

He and Karen Sparks, the executive director of Wesley Clover Parks, are turning the outdoor recreation facility on Corkstown Road into an open-air summer entertainment venue that will host a variety of events and activities over the next couple of months, from drive-in movies to spinning classes.

“We were looking at getting back in the groove and start doing stuff that would work under social distancing parameters,” says Shafaee, a 2019 Forty Under 40 recipient whose five-employee company has seen its revenues evaporate since the pandemic began. 

“(Sparks and I) have been trying to do stuff together for a couple of years now, and it just hasn’t really worked out. We kind of put our heads together and said what if we created a space that could be used for the summer for various things.”

Sold-out showings

The venture Shafaee and Sparks came up with, the Drive-In Experience Ottawa, gets into gear Wednesday night with a showing of Christopher Nolan’s 2008 superhero classic The Dark Knight

One movie a night follows from Thursday to Sunday, and so far the impromptu drive-in idea is a hit – all five screenings are sold out at $30 a car plus tax, with room for 120 vehicles parked about five metres apart in front of two screens. Concessions will also be offered, with snacks supplied by Ottawa’s PapaJack Popcorn.

Despite the name, movies are far from the only offering at the Drive-In Experience. 

Beginning July 3, Yuk Yuk’s will stage weekly live comedy shows every Friday night, with tickets for the first performance already 70 per cent gone.  

“It won’t replace going to a comedy club, but it’ll have maybe a different, unique feel to it that you probably will never (experience) again in your lifetime,” Shafaee notes.

Live DNA is also partnering with Pure Yoga, which will shortly begin offering yoga sessions four times a day, while spin studio Barres and Wheels will host fitness classes at the site. A series of live concerts are planned for August, with acts to be revealed at a later date.

Meanwhile, Shafaee says requests are also pouring in for groups wishing to rent the site for weddings, graduation parties, corporate retreats and other events. 

While he concedes the venture likely won't come close to breaking even, Shafaee says turning a profit isn’t the primary goal.

“For us, it’s really to be able to do something over the summer,” he says. “It’s great for people wanting to get out of the house and do some socializing. We’re excited to keep rolling out more and more things at the site and hopefully have a summer that will still be able to give people memories. It’s a win for us.”

Wesley Clover Parks isn’t the only Ottawa recreation venue that’s been converted into an outdoor movie theatre while sports are on hold.

Wednesday morning, the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group said it’s expanding its drive-in at TD Place stadium due to popular demand. After four nights of movies sold out in an hour last week, OSEG has added two more screenings to the bill this Thursday and Friday.