CLC buys giant inflatable screen for outdoor movies

The coronavirus pandemic prompted CLC to innovate with outdoor alternatives intended to social distance attendees while still offering summertime fun to the general public, like its new older film series.

Central Lakes College Cultural Arts Series Producer Patrick Spradlin holds his hands high Wednesday, Aug. 5, and marvels at the giant inflatable screen the college recently purchased for about $11,000 to show movies outdoors on its Brainerd campus. John Erickson / Art Matters Studio and Gallery

A bad-tempered ogre with an affable donkey. Rampaging dinosaurs at an amusement park. A fedora-sporting, whip-snapping archeologist. A suit-sporting duo in black fending off aliens.

Those popular movies are so familiar that even without naming them, most people instantly know what Patrick Spradlin is referring to, which is good because he said he is contractually obligated not to say, even though they are part of Central Lakes College’s Cultural Arts Series.

“And I even asked if I had an interview with news outlets, ‘Could I mention the films?’ and I’m told I cannot mention them by name,” Spradlin said of the films’ licensing agency Swank, which restricted any mention of those movies’ names in emails and social media.

The four crowd-pleasing blockbusters are part of CLC’s new movies under the stars series, which begins Friday, Aug. 14, on the outdoor stage on the south lawn of the Brainerd campus.


Central Lakes College Theatre Director Patrick Spradlin gazes in wonder Wednesday, Aug. 5, at the inflatable screen that takes about an hour to inflate and has a display area that measures almost 24 feet wide and almost 14 feet tall. John Erickson / Art Matters Studio and Gallery

“We’re not all highbrow entertainment. … And this fits more into the popular vein, particularly in the summertime, where we tend to do more popular fare, I guess, because it’s pretty much what the public wants and needs during this time,” said Spradlin, series producer.

The coronavirus pandemic prompted CLC to innovate with outdoor alternatives intended to social distance attendees while still offering summertime fun to the general public, like its new older film series.

“When the pandemic hit in March, we had to cancel a live theater production we had scheduled for the end of April, we had to cancel seven other guest artists contracts … because of the closure of the facilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

Central Lakes College purchased in the months that followed an inflatable movie screen for $11,000 from Epic Outdoors that takes about an hour to inflate, has a display area measuring almost 24 feet wide and almost 14 feet tall and can withstand 35 mph gusts of wind.

“We started trying to find different avenues for presenting the arts,” he said. “We have presented a livestreamed music concert. We’ve presented a livestreamed play.”

Brainerd Community Theatre even produced two bouncy, upbeat musicals featuring popular songs performed outdoors on the grounds at the Brainerd campus: “Sh-Boom, Life Could be a Dream” ended in July and “The Marvelous Wonderettes” on Aug. 6.

“The Central Lakes Community Performing Arts Center looked at various means of keeping performing arts alive during the time of pandemic. … The idea of outdoor films was one of many ideas brainstormed,” said Spradlin, who is also the theater director.


The college marked off spaces at the venue for moviegoers that are 6 feet apart for social distancing. And attendees should park in the south parking lot of the campus.

Patrick Spradlin mugshot
Patrick Spradlin is the theater director at Central Lakes College in Brainerd and producer of its Cultural Arts Series. Submitted photo / Central Lakes College
Contributed / Central Lakes College

“When the weather starts to get a little nippier and bad, we’re going to move the screen to a parking lot area here on campus and do drive-in films. That’s what the FM transmitter will allow us to do. We can broadcast the sound to people’s radios,” Spradlin said.

Moviegoers should visit CLC’s website at for information on tickets, times and movie titles. They are also highly encouraged to visit the site for updated information on safety protocols related to outdoor gatherings.

“Our audiences who have come to the outdoor musicals have expressed, first of all, a real gratitude for an event that’s outdoors and is a performance art and have been very enthusiastic not only about the musicals but said they would definitely come back and watch films,” Spradlin said.

He said the college can only seat about 250 people total in the spaced-out area on the campus lawn, according to state guidelines.

“We’re just trying to keep arts programming going as much as we possibly can during these times. … We don’t know if this will be at all successful, but we’re willing to give it a try,” he said of the film series.


Organizers of the outdoor movie series will monitor for inclement weather the days of the showings like they have been with the college’s live productions. Signage will be displayed if there is a cancellation due to bad weather.

“We felt that there would be a good section of the community willing and eager to enjoy movies outdoors during these lovely summer nights. We saw movies as just one more addition to the variety of performing arts events we present throughout the year,” Spradlin said.

If you go

  • What: Central Lakes College Cultural Arts Series outdoor movies.

  • When: Starts at dusk at about 8:45 p.m. Aug. 14, Aug. 15, Aug. 19 and Aug. 20.

  • Where: Outdoor stage on the south lawn of the Brainerd campus. (Bring a lawn chair, blanket or flashlight as needed.)

  • Cost: $5 per person. Tickets will be sold at the outdoor tent next to the lawn beginning at 7:30 p.m. each evening. (Cash or check only, no credit cards.)

  • More info: .

Before you go

  • Limited snack, beverage or mask concessions sales available on site.

  • No large coolers, large bags or glass containers.

  • No alcohol or tobacco allowed on college grounds.

  • Portable toilets available on site.

  • Only service animals allowed.

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at . Follow him on Twitter at .

I cover the community of Wadena, Minn., and write mostly features stories for the Wadena Pioneer Journal. The newspaper is owned by Forum Communications Co.
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