Lauren Slocum and Dave Steets know how to put on a show.
Since 2015, Slocum and Steets have worked closely on creating what has become a Rocky Point summer tradition: Movies in the Park, an all-ages event that sits next to the beautiful views and refreshing bay breeze on the list of the park’s free offerings.
Movie nights are officially organized by the Central Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce (CRICC), where Slocum is president. Steets’ company, Entertainment Under the Stars, provides the equipment needed to keep the event running. For Steets, it’s not just another job, however. Twelve years ago, he says, he “started with a small front yard party and saw the enjoyment” that it brought, so he started a business. Now, Movies in the Park lets him bring that enjoyment to thousands.
“I work with Lauren and do whatever it takes to make the events a success,” said Steets.
For the very first Movies in the Park in 2015, Slocum said the goal was to create “a community event that all ages could go to, that was free of charge.” At the same time, she and Steets were helping people to discover Rocky Point in a time when it had only recently been reborn as a state park; Slocum says that even now, many of the people who come to the movie showings, which regularly attract between 1,000 and 2,000, say they are visiting the park for the first time. It’s impressive staying power for a seemingly simple event that has, barring a two-year break due to COVID, been around for eight years now.
How does Movies in the Park remain so popular after eight years and the interruption of a global pandemic? The answer may be in its wide appeal and above-and-beyond inclusivity. Handicap parking and viewing areas have been available at the event since its inception, and in 2018, a second screen with closed captions was introduced after a suggestion from the parent of a hearing-impaired child. What’s more, the movies played are typically family-friendly, but appeal to more than just kids—in addition to families with children, Slocum says she routinely sees seniors, couples going on dates, and individual adults at the events. Amidst the crowd, the free glow necklaces given out at the event help ensure parents don’t lose track of their kids in the dark. “We have more lost adults than lost kids,” Slocum laughs.
Movies in the Park typically encompasses a smattering of Thursdays in June and July, with August rain dates. This year, roll up on July 27 for Minions: The Rise of Gru, an animated action-comedy starring the lovably villainous Minions, and spread a blanket on the grass for the critically-acclaimed Shrek spinoff Puss in Boots: The Last Wish on August 3, a rain date from its original planned showing in June. The screens are big—46 feet and 25 feet, courtesy of Steets—and when you’re not watching the Minions’ onscreen shenanigans, the park offers a view of Narragansett Bay that can’t be beat. Keep an eye on moviesintheparkri.com to double-check if an event has been postponed.
But don’t let the name fool you—there’s more to Movies in the Park than just movies. Each event is attended by an array of food trucks, from Kona Ice and Kay’s Ice Cream to Haven Brothers and—new this year—Iggy’s. Other attractions include face painting, balloon art, and the aforementioned glow necklaces, all free of charge, and paid fun and games at booths from the events’ sponsors help to fund future Movies in the Park. Sponsors range from Wave Federal Credit Union (this year’s “presenting” sponsor), who have been involved since the first Movies in the Park, to BoldrDash, that in past years set up a miniature obstacle course at events. All of this begins at as early as 5:30 p.m. The movies start at sundown.
It takes a lot to put on an event like Movies in the Park, especially for free. For Slocum and Steets, that means about a dozen dedicated volunteers, even more sponsors, and working closely with the state and the Department of Environmental Management to make sure everything runs smoothly and safely. Each individual event costs about $6,000 to run, and even with passionate leaders like Slocum and Steets, Movies in the Park relies on scores of people and organizations alike to continue. Meanwhile, the events regularly draw over a thousand attendees. It’s a testament to the power of community that, against all odds, Movies in the Park does more than just survive.
After eight years and a pandemic, it thrives.