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How to Host A Socially Distant Summer Movie Night

July 16, 2020 by Tina Wargo
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In the times B.C. (Before COVID), summer was a magical season that brought along with it the promise of outdoor hangs, spontaneous trips to the beach, scorching days spent waiting in line for the chance to watch Shakespeare in the Park, and respite found in cool movie theaters, Broadway theaters, and makeshift home theaters on friends’ couches.

But now that we’re all stuck at home and holding fast to the safety measures set in place that will get us back to regular life quicker (Masks! Social distancing! Quarantine!), we’re all trying desperately to find ways to make this new normal feel, well, actually normal. If you, like me, miss the communal experience of live theater most of all, I’m here to give you a quick and dirty (but still safe and clean) guide to recreating a modified version of summer movie nights of yore!

Establish the groundrules

I love rules at parties, which is truly amazing because, like most theater kids, I get very mad at the implementation of rules almost everywhere else. But arriving at a home and being given a specific prompt to follow or being met with the evening’s goals or learning a strange quirk about the host I must work in accordance with as soon as I step foot inside is my absolute dream ballet.

Because we’re living in different times, rules are more necessary than ever. Before you expect everyone to reply with an “I’m there!” text, make sure you set the ground rules of your soiree. Are we hosting IRL or via URL? If the former, has everyone invited been quarantining adequately? Can we have themed masks to complement the evening’s offerings? If the latter, does anyone know how to actually work any shared livestream software? And most importantly: is this watch party a singalong?!

An example of one of my completely regular text exchanges in preparation for a Hamilton viewing party.

Pick a little, talk a little

Perhaps the most crucial point of the party planning process comes in deciding which movie you’ll be watching, for once the film is picked, the rest of the party accoutrement can be settled upon by the group. You’ll want to choose a movie that’s widely known enough that you don’t feel responsible for explaining too much, but not one that you’ve all seen so many times, it’s already old news.

It’s important to make your selection knowing full well that there will be some liveliness and conversation throughout, which is not at all something I had to learn the hard way after having invited friends over to watch Carol and then panicking when I felt as though they weren’t watching closely enough during the part where she stands up from the floor weirdly while Therese plays piano. Conversation is fine! Friendly debates are good! That’s why you had friends over in the first place, me!!!!

Snack wisely

Once your selection is made, you’ll want to create a menu that is reflective of the film at hand. Watching Mamma Mia? Order gyros! Putting on RENT? Wine AND beer! Getting together for a Cats viewing party? You’ll never want to eat again anyway!

If you’re hosting at your place, individualized snack packs and pre-plated menu items are the way to go in this Quarantine Age. If you’re hosting virtually, send over a few suggestions to each attendee along with your e-vite, or get super fancy and surprise Postmates everyone a li’l something special. All movie night guests can have a little human kindness, as a treat!

Dress to impress

Even if your party is screen to screen and your guests aren’t there to appreciate the event in all its glory IRL, there’s no reason not to get out your best boa, pull your favorite character shoes down from the back of your closet, and round up all the Halloween and murder mystery dinner props you’ve been hoarding under your bed “just in case,” because as they* say in the business**, a theater kid party isn’t a theater kid party unless everyone’s in costume.

A themed dress code will not only add to the ambiance and overall theatricality of the party, it’ll really help get you into the right headspace to embrace the final piece of advice on this list. It’s called character work, hunny, ever heard of it?


**to anyone still willing to come over and have a hang out with me even though I make grand statements like that

When in doubt, go for the bit

If all else fails and your movie-watching crew is too exhausted by *gestures at entirety of modern world* to commit to themed cocktails, snacks, and outfits, you’ll have to take matters into your own hands and do what has simply become my entire life philosophy: commit to the bit.

‘Commit to the bit’ does not mean go overboard, or make people uncomfortable, or force your guests to participate in activities they’d rather opt out of (even though my guests were very happy to transition into the portion of the evening where we all tried to recreate the weird way Carol stands up from the floor while Therese plays piano THANK YOU VERY MUCH). It means believe in what you’re selling. It means really feel the beat from the tambourine. It means that you’ve set up this whole evening and if you aren’t excited and passionate and ready to have the most fun 2.5 hours of the past 3.5 months, then none of your guests will be, either!

Mere moments before The Infamous Christmas Carol Incident of 2018

Summer may be theoretically cancelled, but it’s never going to be theatrically cancelled. Get your pals together, figure out where the musical episode of Even Stevens is streaming, and have yourselves a merry little quarantine movie party!