When the coronavirus pandemic made large gatherings a dangerous thing, artists and performers of all kinds had to find new ways to connect with audiences. For Justin Sherburn, the leader of the band Montopolis, the natural pivot was to move from performing in traditional venues to working exclusively in drive-in theaters. It made sense for Montopolis because their shows always feature the band playing along to a film or multimedia presentation.
“I had some shows that I had to finish… so I just moved them to drive-in theaters,” Sherburn says of his reaction to the pandemic. “And they ended up being really amazing, exceptional events and so I just decided to do the same thing with our current new show Draw Egan.”
Montopolis has performed live scores for a number of environmental documentaries (The Living Coast and Yakona among other), but this show is a little lighter in tone. They’re performing their interpretation of the music of Ennio Morricone for the silent film western The Return of Draw Egan, which has been re-edited with the original title cards removed and new comedic dialogue cards inserted in their place. “It’s [written by] Mac Blake – he’s done a lot of work with Master Pancake Theater, so he’s got a lot of experience making fun of movies,” Sherburn says. “[He] and his partner Carlos LaRotta, who runs Fallout Theater, this wonderful comedy club, they did it together. And they did a stellar job. It’s hilarious.”
Sherburn says he’s happy to be doing a fun and non-serious show at this particular time. “You know, we’ve been doing these heavy environment shows, which are great and I love doing it,” Sherburn says, “But it’s also fun just to do something that’s ridiculous and fun and… have a good time.”
The version of Montopolis that’s performing Draw Egan is a smaller band, and Sherburn says everyone’s staying socially distanced while they perform. “I was given a bunch of platforms by Zilker Theatre,” he says, noting that each band member has their own small stage to perform on. “So we’re really far apart.”
This being a drive-in setup, all the audience members are in their own cars, of course. “You literally never have to roll down the windows of your car if you don’t want to,” Sherburn notes. He’s been surprised by how well the setup works for the kinds of shows Montopolis puts on. “It works great. It’s amazing,” he says. “I was lucky in that regard – as artists we just kind of adapt and do what we can, and sometimes great things come out of it.”
He’s been so happy with performing in drive-ins that Sherburn says this is how he wants to perform for the foreseeable future. “Basically, I’ve decided for the next six months to a year, I’m going into the drive-in theater business,” he says. He’s investing in his own portable drive-in screen setup and plans to use it for Montopolis performances and to rent it out to other artists. “Montopolis uses imagery and projection in all of our shows, so it’s a great investment for me,” Sherburn says. “And it’s also a great way for me to serve the broader community here in Austin during these times, when people are trying to gather but do it safely and distanced.”