Opened in June of 1922 and owned by the same family, the 1,400-seat Castro Theatre in San Francisco, Calif., is a historic landmark and a beloved cultural nexus for the city’s LGBTQ+ community. After an extended closure during the pandemic, the Castro Theatre reopened under a new operating agreement with Berkeley-based Another Planet Entertainment. The full program of film festivals and special screenings is now back in full swing, with a total renovation slated for later this year. In the meantime, audiences are benefiting from an interim audio upgrade of the Berkeley, Calif.-headquartered Meyer Sound systems provided by rental partner UltraSound.
Among the first events at the reopened theater was the San Francisco premiere of “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” a critically acclaimed new film directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, collectively known as Daniels.
“A few weeks ago, we hosted a private showing of a new movie from Disney Pixar which was booked by the same independent promotion agency,” says Mary Conde, senior vice president at Another Planet Entertainment (APE). “Apparently, they liked what they saw — and heard — because they immediately asked to have this premiere at the Castro.”
The Theatre Audio Upgrade
When APE first assumed management, one of the first orders of business was to upgrade the theater’s aging cinema audio. Conde reached out to Josh Osmond, director of operations at UltraSound, and he quickly supplied a replacement LCR screen channel system comprising eight MSL-4 full-range loudspeakers in an upper/lower configuration for even coverage of the orchestra and balcony: one pair each for the left and right channels, and two for the center. Three 650-P subwoofers supply low-frequency effects.
Meyer Sound also supplied a small line array system for voice address in presentations and panel discussions during film festivals, and also appropriate for intimate acoustic and ambient music.
“These interim systems have been a godsend for getting the Castro back up and running, and our patrons have noticed the improvement” says Conde. “But this is merely a sneak peek at what we will offer in terms of audio quality after the renovations in the fall.”
According to Conde, APE will be working with the Shalleck Collaborative theatrical consultants as well as Meyer Sound and UltraSound to develop audio systems that will provide state-of-the-art reproduction for both cinema showings and live concerts.
“Nearly all the vintage movie palaces that have reopened are focused almost exclusively on live performance,” notes Conde, “with any film showings secondary. For example, when we took over the Fox in Oakland, it had been closed for 40 years, so there was no ongoing film program. That is absolutely not the case here. Individual screenings and film festivals will continue as a core part of the programming.”
Conde admits that the dual focus will require a substantial investment in audio. “We know the stakes are high, and we have to offer a system that can meet the expectations of discerning audiences that come to a world-class film festival. But we also need to offer sound reinforcement for anything from a director speaking through one mic to a rock concert, with consistent quality and clarity throughout.”
Conde continues, “I’m really looking forward to hearing our new, permanent systems, but in the meantime these interim solutions have helped put the Castro Theatre back in the limelight.”
The first event at the reopened Castro was on March 4, hosting an edition of the hugely popular “Lovett or Leave It” podcast, with the Berlin and Beyond Film Festival following from March 11–16. Other scheduled events include the 65th SFFilm Festival, 25th San Francisco Silent Film Festival (with live orchestral accompaniment), Frameline 46: The San Francisco International LGBTQ+ Film Festival, and a live music concert by Grouper.
The Castro Theatre was designed by Timothy L. Pflueger, a San Francisco native who, as an architect and interior designer, is responsible for many of the city’s most notable movie theaters, hotels and office buildings. The Castro Theatre is owned by the grandchildren of the founding Nasser brothers.