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From 1953 to 1985, Menomonie Outdoor Theatre in Wakanda Park was known as a good place to go and watch a bad or previously released film.
“The drive-in had primarily second run and B features,” said Chuck Backus, executive director of the Dunn County Historical Society.
A temporary exhibit that resurrects memories of those summer nights, Double Feature Drive-in: Good Times — Bad Films, opens at 7 p.m. Friday at Rassbach Heritage Museum, thanks to a dedicated group of UW-Stout students.
Students have designed and built an exhibit in the museum’s Holtby Auditorium recreating the feel of the drive-in. It will include a ticket booth, a concession stand and, of course, a place to watch movies. The museum is in Wakanda Park; the nearby city waterpark is where the drive-in stood.
Five movies on three successive Fridays will feature the work of B film master Edward D. Wood Jr., whose films often played at the theater. Friday it will be “Bride of the Monster” and “Night of the Ghouls.” On April 27 it will be “Plan 9 from Outer Space” and “Glen or Glenda.” On May 4 it will be the biopic “Ed Wood,” about the filmmaker, starring Johnny Depp.
“Ed Wood was the Orson Welles of bad films,” Backus said, comparing Wood to the famous American filmmaker.
The exhibit was mostly created and produced by and will be run by a group of six interior design and construction students, who donated hundreds of hours of their time.
In addition, research on the history of the drive-in will be presented Friday by the American Cinema literature class taught by Joan Navarre, assistant professor in the English and philosophy department. The class has found the names of every movie that played in the drive-in’s 33 years, along with other history.
“It’s amazing to have a resource like UW-Stout, to have these wonderful young people who have such skills and commitment to their adopted community,” said Backus.
The project leader is Katie Driver, of Eden Prairie, Minn., a senior art major with an interior design concentration. After Driver expressed an interest in film set design, Navarre put Driver in touch with Backus in fall 2011. Driver toured the museum and subsequently learned about the drive-in exhibit idea.
“I got so excited about this design opportunity. I could not have imagined a better opportunity,” Driver said.
Two other interior design students agreed to help, Kirsten Kuehn, of Owatonna, Minn., and Sarah Melaney, of West Bend. The three then recruited three UW-Stout construction majors to help build the set, Tanner Dufresne, of White Bear Lake, Minn., Matt Efflandt, of Cary, Ill., and Brian Quinn, of West Salem.
“These two teams have collaboratively worked together to make this project a total success,” Driver said. “I am so proud of the design team and construction team and what we have accomplished.”
Along with the six core student volunteers, another 15 members of the student Habitat for Humanity chapter also have pitched in, said Driver, who is on the chapter board with Melaney. “It is incredible as a designer to see student volunteers give up their time to come and support such a great cause.”
Backus agreed. “They’re giving up their weekends and their time and all for the satisfaction of doing important work. They’re really taking this project to heart,” he said. “These kids have so much to be proud of.”
The exhibit and films will be free and open to the public. Opening night also is part of Family Weekend at UW-Stout, with free shuttles provided from campus to the museum.
Don and Joan’s Lumber Farm of Menomonie donated wood for exhibit construction.
Students did not uncover photos of the drive-in but interviewed local residents who frequented the theater. A memory area will be part of the exhibit.
“What happened at the Menomonie Outdoor Theatre is a vital part of our history. Students have helped us recapture that aspect of our past,” Backus said.