McHenry outdoor drive-in theater set to open Friday

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The McHenry Outdoor Theater will open Friday, the theater announced via Facebook on Sunday.

The theater will be opening at 6:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and will likely show “The Flintstones” and “Jurassic Park.”

“I have a lot of really cool and interesting surprises for you that I think you are going to enjoy,” according to the post from owner Scott Dehn. “I am asking that you please bear with us in the beginning as my employees and I attempt to operate within the guidelines.”

Additionally, Dehn told the Northwest Herald on Sunday that local graduation ceremonies planned for the theater – of which there are many, beginning as soon as next week – will proceed. Drive-in theaters are among the list of approved locations for graduation ceremonies provided by the Illinois State Board of Education.

Maximum capacity during the COVID-19 pandemic is 350 vehicles, as opposed to the usual 750. The box office opens at 6:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays through May 22, and will be open seven days a week beginning May 23.

Dehn received word the theater could open from state Rep. Tom Weber, R-Lake Villa, on Friday.

“I’ve got a staff that’s been with me forever,” Dehn said. “We’re comprised mostly of college students and teachers, and they’re all available.”

The theater had previously been preparing for a May 1 opening, which was delayed after Dehn was told his business is not essential. The state appears to have changed its stance, and the theater will open with a long list of restrictions aimed at keeping people safe and distant.

Dehn said the biggest change is the space between cars. During normal times, the theater would squeeze two cars between two speaker poles. Now, only one car will be allowed.

Those speakers will be turned off. The theater will not be renting radios. It’s recommended people bring their own radio if they do not wish to use their car radio.

Moviegoers must stay inside their vehicles. If someone wants to lay in the bed of a truck or in the back of a van with the hatch open, they must wear a face mask.

“Any time you’re out in the open air and not within the confines of your vehicle – just like everywhere else, as of May 1 – you have to wear a mask,” Dehn said.

Bathrooms will be open, but masks are required. Dehn said the theater can even provide a mask if a patron needs one. Additionally, hand sanitizing areas have been added.

The concession stand will be available only for what Dehn called “our own rendition of curbside pickup.”

“Everybody who’s parked out there can order what they’d like and we have a couple carts that can go around and run orders,” Dehn said.

The theater's full list of restrictions is posted on its Facebook page.

Dehn has operated the theater for years, but finally became owner in February. He wanted moviegoers to know that his staff has been well trained.

“A big part of this was educating and training the staff, explaining to them when do you change gloves, when do you sanitize,” Dehn said.

According to his Facebook post, staff must wash hands every 15-20 minutes, and change gloves and face masks frequently.

What does this summer have in store on the big screen? Most years, the fall is when the theater would do throwbacks and classics. In 2020, it will be a summer of throwbacks followed, hopefully, by new releases in the fall.

Dehn recently asked the theater’s more than 54,000 Facebook followers which throwbacks they would like to see.

“They came up with some really good ones,” Dehn said. “I’ll be consulting that thread.”