Many in the Castro LGBTQ community remain concerned about what's to come as the beloved Castro Theatre undergoes renovations and becomes a new live-entertainment venue managed by Another Planet Entertainment (APE). And now a coalition of neighborhood groups is pressing Another Planet for some promises.
The Castro Theatre feels to many like it belongs to the neighborhood and the city as much as it belongs to any one person or family. And, as such, the January news of the new management and an upcoming change of regular use caused some outcry and distress.
Now the Bay Area Reporter, SF's longstanding LGBTQ newspaper, has published an editorial calling for APE to be more proactive in meeting with neighborhood stakeholders and bringing the community more into the process of updating the theater — something that at least two groups say has not yet happened, despite promises that it would.
"I was cautiously optimistic in early February," says Tina Valentin Aguirre, the manager of the Castro LGBTQ Cultural District. "[But] In the past two months, APE has not met with us despite multiple attempts on our part. I now fear that their commitment to dialogue was less than genuine."
The cultural district penned a recent open letter to APE, in which it was joined by the Castro Merchants Association, stating that APE was "refusing to meet with us or respond with substantive answers to detailed concerns that we have presented to them privately and now publicly."
The city's two LGBTQ Democratic clubs, the Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza, the Frameline Film Festival, the Leather & LGBTQ Cultural District, and SOMA Pilipinas all cosigned the letter.
David Perry, a local communications and PR professional who is representing APE, tells the BAR that he has supplied the groups with detailed answers to many of their questions, and that they are "looking forward" to having face-to-face meeting soon.
One of the immediate demands of the groups is a walk-through of the theater both to assess any damage that occurred during two recent break-ins, and to catalogue existing objects, ephemera, or cultural resources that may be worth preserving inside.
Another demand: Some kind of pledge regarding space-rental rates for the existing groups that traditionally use the theater for events throughout the year, including the Gay Men's Chorus, and Frameline.
Frameline already has a commitment from APE about using the space for the festival this June, but it's unclear what happens next year (or if the theater's planned renovations will even be done by then), and beyond.
The SF International Film Festival kicks off tonight at the Castro with a screening of the film Stay Awake, and there will be more screenings there the next two weeks.
As Hoodline previously reported, APE has submitted plans to the city to remove all the seats on the main level of the theater and to install tiered platforms, on which movable seats can be placed for seated events. This change is similar to what occurred in the renovation of the Fox Theater in Oakland over a decade ago — and APE also programs and runs the Fox. Upstairs on the mezzanine level, theater seats will remain.
Many in the neighborhood remain worried about what other changes may bring — like what live-music and comedy audiences may bring to the neighborhood, for better or worse, and whether movies will ever be shown at the Castro again outside of festivals or premieres.
APE CEO Gregg Perloff told Hoodline that repertory film screenings will certainly fit in to the schedule, which will likely only be programmed with live events around 130 nights per year. But, he cautioned, it may not be like the old days when the theater might show an obscure double-feature that isn't especially well-attended. "It doesn't help anyone if 12 people show up to a film," he said.
Perry tells the BAR that, as a gay man himself, he would never work for a company that intended to erase any gay history, and he doesn't believe that will happen here.
It remains unclear when, or for how long, the Castro will close for its renovation — the project has barely entered the Planning Department bureaucracy, so it could be another year (or more) before any construction even begins. And whatever permits it is seeking, there will be public meetings and public objections likely happening at those meetings, so it would certainly help if APE made these neighborhood groups happy before that.
As for what happens at the theater after Frameline is over, this is all still up in the air.