Typing At The Drive-In: Celebrating ‘Correspondence’

You find your seat. The house lights dim. The crowd murmurs lower to a hush. The curtain goes up. Then you hear the first keystroke.

Keystroke? Yes, you read that right, the sound of a typewriter key…At least that’s what I envisioned when I first heard of the Boston Typewriter Orchestra.

The group is just one of the attractions next week at the QWERTY Typewriter and Letter Arts Festival held at the Greenville Drive-In from Sept. 14-19. The festival is usually held in the spring, but as with everything this year, it was pushed back because of COVID.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, (those of you of a certain age): “Typewriters? What are those?” They were an ancient form of…Heck, anyone who doesn’t know probably isn’t even reading this. The point is, they used to be the Number One way people communicated – to type letters, write manuscripts, take notes, etc. And it’s kind of ironic that this festival is being held in the middle of a pandemic while everyone is communicating online via Zoom or what have you.

The focus of this year’s festival is exploring that very dichotomy, and also how we use words to form, and maintain, a greater bond with our world. That’s one thing that Greenville Drive-In owner Leigh Van Swall wants festival attendees, and others, to know: “How important staying in touch with one another is.”

She knew the theme of this year’s festival was going to be “Correspondence” even before the pandemic hit, but, she said, “the need for connection and staying connected to loved ones is so much more important now.”

Usually held in person, this year’s Typewriter festival kicks off Monday with a free series of online workshops being held in collaboration with Creative Caravan.

The event culminates Saturday with a “type-in” featuring the typewriter collection of Erik Molbach, a mail arts exhibit inside the Greenville Drive-In snack bar, a performance by the Boston Typewriter Orchestra, streamed on the drive-in’s screen, (MORE IRONY!), and a screening of “You’ve Got Mail”, the 90s classic with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.

The Boston Typewriter Orchestra will be performing pieces that will have never been heard before, and are original to the Festival.

Mail art; what is that? I wasn’t sure, but I found this on the drive-in’s Facebook page:

“Just like anyone can take part in the making of mail art, the choice of the materials is vast and versatile too. Because of their accessibility in terms of production and price alike, items like paper, and techniques like painting and collage, provide the participants with a great number of opportunities to express themselves – and it is interesting to see the ways they (do), and are able to turn a ‘plain’ concept of letter and envelope into a true piece of art.”

The workshops are as follows:
● Connecting with Words (via ZOOM with poet Maya Stein) – Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, 10 a.m.
● Collage Anything (via ZOOM with artist Amy Tingle) – Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, 7 p.m.
● Lost Art of Letter Writing (via ZOOM with Maya Stein and Amy Tingle) – Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020, 2 p.m.
● Thankful Thursday (via ZOOM with L. Schnable Kaldor) – Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020, 3:30 p.m.
● Friday 18 Sept, 2020 – Personalized Typewriter Poetry. Send a word and Creativity Caravan sends a poem by USPS

Each workshop requires a ticket, with a limited number of tickets available. Registration is here: https://www.signupgenius.com/go/5080C45AAAD2CAAFF2-qwerty.

On Saturday, you’ll be able to type your own letters (or haikus!) on any of the various typewriters available – fully sanitized and socially distant, of course. Van Swall urges us all to just send a note to our loved ones – even if you don’t come and physically type one at the festival.

She adds that this year’s workshops help to add a more personal element to the festival, as it enables discussion surrounding all of the elements of communication that we’re losing as we enter into an almost fully digital world.

Van Swall wanted to find a way to bring this important undertaking to the public for free, so the QWERTY Festival is made possible with funds from the Decentralization Program – a regrant program of the State Council on the Arts with the support of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature and administered in Schoharie County by the Greene County Council on the Arts dba CREATE Council for Resources to Enrich the Arts, Technology & Education.

I for one, am completely psyched for the sensory experience of typing a letter at the festival. A computer keyboard just doesn’t have the same…ding.



1 Comment

  1. R.D Francis

    I didn’t quite know what I was going to read as per your article’s intriguing title. I assumed it would be an insight to the screenwriting days of old. Very interesting! I had no idea there were “keyboard orchestras” — and performing at Drive-Ins, no less.

    I learned how to “keyboard” on an electric. I could never get the hang of a manual; the “pressure” for my strokes. And now, being so spoiled by keyboards and laps, I’m a disaster on an electric TP.

    It’s amazing that some of the more weathered screenwriters, Woody Allen comes to immediate mind, still crank out scripts on manual (some electric, but mostly manual) typewriters. I’d be lost without the cut-n-paste and click-n-drag options of software.

    Anyway, Chuck the Writer, with his “What’s Up in the Neighborhood?” blog, bought me here. Great read!


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