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'Purple Rain' plays to socially distanced ballpark crowd in Missoula

'Purple Rain' plays to socially distanced ballpark crowd in Missoula


Purple dresses, purple hair. Mauve polo shirts, dress shirts, lawn chairs, blankets, Converse sneakers. Purple face coverings.

The first “Centerfield Cinema” screening at Ogren-Allegiance Park bore both the expected garb for Prince’s “Purple Rain” and the new-era additions, as this was a socially distanced screening and the first movie showing in Missoula since mid-March, when the pandemic restrictions were put in place.

So the answer was obvious by the time Mike Steinberg, the Roxy Theater’s executive director, asked the crowd, “Are you ready to purify yourselves in the water of Lake Minnetonka?”

One could tell that Nina Moore (purple sunglasses, purple scarf) and Sean Winegar (purple Orange Street Food Farm trucker hat, purple scarf) are fans on sight.

Moore has been on board since “Purple Rain” was released in 1984 and watches it “all the time. I’m obsessed. He’s a genius.”

Since mid-March, she hasn’t been out much. Neither has the Morgan family Dan (purple polo) and Rachel high school-age daughters Corinn and Gretchen (purple dresses).

This is their first big event since spring break.

“We’ve actually enjoyed all the family time,” Dan said, with more meals and quality time than before, although it was harder on the kids staying in than the parents.

They were just a few of perhaps 800 or more who took advantage of the chance to see a movie outdoors, according to Taylor Rush, the marketing and PR director for the Missoula PaddleHeads.

The closure has been difficult for both fans and the organizers. The Roxy closed in early March, and only at the start of June began offering its theaters for private “movie parties,” where you can rent a space for up to 30 people and pick the movie yourself.

“Anything happen since March?” Steinberg asked the crowd. “I’ve just been hanging out, myself. Without anybody else around in our movie theater.”

Coincidentally, the PaddleHeads are unsure of the outlook for Pioneer League baseball. Last fall they had a few movie nights, and reached out to the Roxy to see if they could partner on a series together, with the cinephiles programming the movies and the ballpark running the events — the largest arts-related gatherings since mid-March, when the outdoor music venues announced closures.

The upcoming movie selections include summery movies like “Goonies” and “Jaws.” A newer and more dystopian pick is “Mad Max: Fury Road.”

It was just as complicated as planning for the Paul Simon concert in 2017, Rush said before the film started. He was inside the front entrance, operating a photo booth for Prince fans, including a couple in a purple dress and purple shirt with leather pants and boots.

Under the current health order, they can admit under 1,000 people including staff, less than 10 percent of the turnout for last summer’s Mumford & Sons concert. Events with more than 1,000 require a COVID-19 plan that is submitted for approval.

He said the crowds have been respectful of the new system, even more so than on a regular baseball night.

“I think right now, we’re in a landscape where people understand the need for rules and why the rules are there, and everyone’s been great about it,” he said.

With guidance from the Missoula City-County Health Department, the baseball team devised a plan to space viewers out on the field by painting “socially distanced” squares set 10 feet apart. Up to four people could buy a 10-by-10-foot square, and up to eight could fit on a 10-by-20. There were 125 total, and sold out before the show. General admission seats in the stands were spaced out with ushers guiding people.

Directional arrows were painted to make aisles, and the bathrooms were set up for one-way entrances and exits. Masks were advised but not required, and at any given time perhaps half were wearing one while moving around the shared spaces.

The sound system and digital video board were plenty loud and bright as the previews started just after 7:30, long before sunset. The movie itself, in expected Prince fashion, begins with a splashy hit, “Let’s Go Crazy.”

The fans, meanwhile, quietly watched, spaced far apart.

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