A Home Theater Under the Stars

Rich and Lisa Morgan have turned their back yard into a showplace for movies, football and even PlayStation.

By ELIZABETH BETTENDORF

Published October 28, 2005

LUTZ – Beneath an old Florida canopy of lanky oak and pines trees, Rich and Lisa Morgan watch a captivating show against the night sky.

Yes, there’s a scattering of stars overhead.

But there’s also another kind of outdoor entertainment this evening: a Disney movie.

The big screen isn’t at a long lost drive-in, but on their patio outside their cozy, art-filled house in Lutz not far from Nebraska Avenue.

“Our friends think it’s really cool,” explains Lisa, 37. “They say, “How did you do that? Where can I get that?”‘

Of course, they fall in love with it. A tented gazebo with wicker furniture offers an outdoor living room for kicking back.

And prime seating for the night’s event.

The movies play on a 12-by-9-foot screen that Rich – a projector sales representative and amateur outdoor theater designer – made from a $12 painters’ drop cloth. The poles are PVC pipe. He added grommets to hoist the drop cloth into the trees with a rope. A small, $999 Sanyo LCD projector plays the nightly flick. The image is as crisp as the moon on a fall evening.

The family can watch movies, football, even use a PlayStation.

Setup was a cinch: He ran a cable to the audio visual system in the house; a couple of speakers nestled in the planters provide surround sound.

Their two children, Amelia, 4, and Adam, 21/2, watch enraptured.

“It really beats going to the movies,” says Lisa, a stay-at-home-mom and artist whose paintings of sailboats, woods and beaches fill the walls of their small house that backs up to a wooded county park.

“We wait for everything to come out on DVD and then watch it together at home.”

A longtime salesman for Projector People, a local company that sells projectors on www.projectorpeople.com Rich has been known to cart his 9-pound model PLV Z2 projector to block parties and even to the country, where he has shown movies to friends on the side of barns and in the middle of fields.

It’s a true “high-definition projector,” said Rich, 37.

His point?

Even if you don’t have big bucks to blow on an entertainment room or big-screen plasma TV, you can still watch movies on the big screen, stylishly and for not a lot of money.

And with little technical skill.

“Most people think you have to live in an MTV crib or be a rock star to afford a home theater, and it’s just not true,” he says. “Projectors are so much cheaper than many big screen TVs and the quality has just gone up and up and up.”

If you live in Florida, you can enjoy outdoor movie watching year-round. The setting can be adapted to anyone’s taste or preference.

The Morgans’ outdoor theater area is beautifully designed and romantic-looking. It has a hand-laid flagstone patio, a pond that Rich built, a curtained gazebo and canopy of lush trees.

The only drawback is the cost of replacing the projector lamp – $300 to $400.

“But even if you show movies a couple of times a week, (the lamp) should last you three to four years,” Rich says.

For the Morgans’ annual Halloween costume party, which also celebrates their anniversary, dozens of guests mingle while movies play on the big screen outside.

“Halloween is very special to us. We love Halloween,” says Lisa, who grew up on Davis Islands and met Rich back when he played guitar locally in an 1980s rock band.

Dangling from the rafters are dozens of fuzzy handmade spiders with pipe-cleaner legs she created with her daughter.

“We show kid-friendly (movies) first, then, when it gets late, scary ones for the adults,” Rich says.

Guests watch outdoor movies and mingle in the renovated house that’s a tribute to Lisa Morgan’s art skills. Handpainted murals adorn the walls in the children’s rooms. The theme is nautical in Adam’s room, in deference to their love of sailing. They sail their small Catalina 25 sloop out of New Port Richey, a regular weekend outing that includes the kids and sometimes their 120-pound chocolate lab, Buddy.

When the weather’s too hot or cold for outdoor movies, the couple relaxes in movie-theater comfort in their lodge-style living room, where Rich affixed a similar, but more permanent, roll-up screen to the ceiling beams.

Still, there’s nothing like watching a flick on the patio, they say, something their friends will enjoy this Halloween weekend.

At a party, no one’s really watching, he says. It just provides a back drop for fun.

Kind of like at the drive-in.

At home.

[ originally published in the St. Petersburg Times, October 28th, 2005 ]

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