People-Watching at the IMA Summer Nights Film Series

When the Indianapolis Museum of Art draws movie buffs to its tiered lawn for al fresco flicks, the ensemble cast of comers can steal the show. Here, a field guide to the regulars.

The Early Settlers

These dogged Johnnys-on-the-spot leave work pronto to stake their claim at the front of the line. They rush the gate the moment it opens at 7 p.m., make a beeline for the supreme vantage point on one of the upper terraces, kick off their shoes—and read their Kindles until the movie starts, at dusk. But their technique might go the way of camping out for concert tickets; this year, the IMA started offering presale tickets to members.
The Wanderers
There is no escaping these free-range moviegoers. They need to go to the bathroom. They need to buy another glass of wine. They need to visit friends five rows up. They need to chase their Frisbee. They need to keep their dirty Converse off of your picnic blanket. “The terraces are pretty wide, so people usually leave paths,” says IMA spokesperson Katie Zarich. “The courtesy is to just tap somebody on the shoulder if you would like to walk through.”
The Minimalists
0713-IMA-MINIMALISTS-2It would be easy to mistake these low-impact moviegoers for Summer Nights virgins. They don’t bring much (nothing that won’t fit inside a Trader Joe’s bag). They usually arrive at the last minute, having already eaten. They hunker under a single hoodie for warmth and bum bug spray (a necessity for a venue that edges the Central Canal, by the way). But these aren’t rookie mistakes. To wit: Locate them squeezed into a vacant patch on a good row, sharing a bar of Green & Black’s Dark 85%. Then watch as they make a quick getaway after the movie while everyone else packs up the potato salad and wrestles quad chairs back into their sleeves.

The Socialites

For them, Summer Nights is one big potluck block party where a mix of First Friday regulars, Butler alums, and 30-something couples can blanket-hop, sipping wine and catching up while everybody gets settled in. They often have the best hors d’oeuvres and are quick to offer up an artisan cracker. Seeing them smiling and relaxed gives the rest of us something to shoot for. “We encourage you to bring a crowd,” Zarich says. “The best part of the night is when you are visiting with your friends before the movie starts.”
The Enforcers
Also known as The Hall Monitors and The Librarians. Listen for their mating call: “Shhhhhhh.” And steer clear of them if you like singing along to Rodgers and Hammerstein (The King and I, July 12) or if you can’t help but cheer for the underdog (Hoosiers, August 9).
The Costume Department

Often traveling in packs, these enthusiastic peacocks wear outfits themed to their favorite classic movie. “Rocky Horror Picture Show was probably 0713-IMA-COSTUME-DEPTour most animated crowd,” Zarich says of last year’s series. Expect a run on bomber jackets and bullwhips for the July 5 showing of Raiders of the Lost Ark, and hair gel for There’s Something About Mary on August 2.

The Urban Sprawlers

Their setups are worthy of a Martha’s Vineyard clambake—art-directed vignettes of mismatched stadium blankets, coolers, ice buckets, picnic baskets, cupcakes, Pottery Barn citronella candles, and other accoutrements purchased specifically for the big night out. Though space is limited, the museum doesn’t set guidelines for how much square footage you can claim, says Zarich. But the crowd maxes out at 600, which helps keep the rampant expansionism in check. On the short list of items not allowed: pets, grills, candles taller than 12 inches, knives, and alcohol.
Red Flag! There’s a bar, but you can’t BYOB. After the movie, you can reclaim that pinot you tried to sneak in.
Rain Plan! Sit at row’s end to make a break for the Toby. 
Insider Tip! The IMA galleries stay open until 9 p.m. Duck in to escape the heat.
Illustrations by Gemma Correll
This article appeared in the July 2013 issue.