(The following was written for Can’t Stop the Serenity at the request of CSTS Global Chair Matt Black in order to provide global event organizers with ideas for holding events during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Since I felt it might be of interest to Browncoats in general, I’ve decided to publish it here as well.)
Not even a global pandemic could stop the Rivers & Bridges Brigade of the PA Browncoats from holding Pittsburgh’s 15th annual Can’t Stop the Serenity charity screening!
The Steel City’s 15th annual CSTS charity screening of Serenity was scheduled to take place in early July of 2020 at the Parkway Theater in McKees Rocks, PA, where we had held a successful event in 2019. We had reserved the bar and movie theater for a Sunday matinee screening, but as the COVID-19 pandemic forced more and more shutdowns across the state, it became increasingly apparent that we were not going to be able to hold our event as we had planned it.
Our city has held a CSTS screening every year since the event’s inception in 2006, and global pandemic or not, as the current cap’n I was not keen on the idea of having Pittsburgh’s streak of CSTS events end on my watch. A Zoom meeting was organized in late April, and the seven regular members of our CSTS Pittsburgh planning committee (a.k.a. “the crew”) met to discuss whether or not we could hold an event safely, and if so, what changes would have to be made in order to do so.
The crew expressed their concerns that the venue would not allow for social distancing, and even if we were able to enforce social distancing and mask regulations, the reduced capacity of the theater would not allow for a large enough crowd to bring in any real sizeable donation for Equality Now. In addition, the Firefly- and Serenity-themed carnival-style games that had become a tradition at our events would only encourage attendees to gather in groups and pass game pieces like dice and rings from one person to another, which was definitely not sanitary given the situation. It didn’t take long before we determined we were going to have to cancel the event as it was scheduled and look for other options.
Our first thought was a drive-in theater, but the vast majority of area drive-ins weren’t that close to the city, and most of them were still closed anyway, with no clear reopening date. On top of that, word had begun to circulate that drive-ins were going to be considered as an alternative during the lockdown period not only for movies, but also for live events like concerts and comedy shows, and the feeling was that any drive-in that was open would not be willing to rent us space at a rate we could afford.
That’s when we came upon the idea of an outdoor screening in one of the county’s parks. An outdoor screening had its advantages. Social distancing would be much easier, and the general consensus of health experts was that outdoor gatherings were intrinsically safer than indoor ones anyway. We also quickly discovered that renting a grove in one of Allegheny County’s parks would cost only a fraction of our regular rental fee at the Parkway Theater. This was important because we really couldn’t be sure what kind of attendance we would have, and reducing the event’s overhead would serve to increase the amount that we’d be able to donate to charity (and mitigate any potential losses) in a year in which attendance and donations might be down. Our CSTS Pittsburgh events had been held in the South Hills of Pittsburgh since 2013, so we decided that we would reserve a grove in Allegheny County’s South Park to serve as 2020’s alternate screening site. My youngest brother Michael, who lives in South Park Township and has been on my crew for as long as we’ve been organizing CSTS events, agreed to scout locations for us, and we were eventually able to find a grove that was adjacent to a field where attendees could watch the film on blankets or lawn chairs and have plenty of personal space. We reserved the facility for Saturday evening, September 5.Continue Reading