May. 13, 2016

A Conversation with Sunset Magazine

The PROXY Walk In Theater was recently written up in the April issue of Sunset Magazine. Check out the article below!

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Thanks to mare than $100,000 in donations, a walk-in theater space now towers over Hayes and Octavia Streets—the intersection Proxy founder Douglas Burnham is helping transform into a cultural crossroads. This season, the architect behind Hayes Valley’s most innovative public space launches its first Proxy Spring Series, at the Proxy Walk-In Theater, with six weeks of films and cultural performances that are free and open to the public. Here, Burnham tells us what to expect. proxysf.net. -JS

Why open an alfresco theater?

It began with the Proxy project, where we turned vacant lots into a public space where culture, commerce, and community converge. The new Proxy Walk-In Theater is the next evolution-an outdoor theater that is free and open to the public. With it, we want to change people’s perception of public space, mainly that you can use minimal means to create a lovely cultural place without walls.

Tell us about the spring series.

It’s part film festival, part cultural collaboration. We’re working with some of the city’s biggest culture organizations like the Exploratorium, the San Francisco Opera, and SFJAZZ to curate seven evenings of film and live performances. It goes beyond using the space to show movies: It’s designing an event with them that is the result of a long dialogue. We might start out with the question, “What is it like to perform opera out in the city instead of, say, in a concert hall? How formal would that be?” I don’t know, but let’s see.

What kind of films can we expect?

We’re showing a selection of new films that are circulating on the festival circuit, like Sundance or South by Southwest. No blockbusters. Events will continue through June and include films from the Exploratorium’s archive that illuminate the sensory experience of the city. We’ll also be helping SFJAZZ kick off its summer jazz fest with two or three live bands followed by a related film. We want to grow from 7 films to 10 for the Fall Film Festival.

Describe the theater experience.

There’s just something magical about watching a movie outside, at night, with 450 strangers. The screen is 20 feet by 49 feet, so screen size and quality-wise, it’s like being at a traditional movie theater. The main difference is that the city is alive all around  you, which is part of the ambience. You’d think that could be a problem, but it actually adds to the experience. And the audio and visual qualities are state of the art, so don’t expect it to be the some as, say, watching Spaceballs in Dolores Park.

Are there concessions?

Yes, but it’s sort of picnic-style. Our neighbor, Biergarten, pours beers and we have one or two food trucks on hand each night, including Casey’s Pizza, J-Shack, and Lei-Feng Ramen Truck. Miette will also offer a selection of sweets. People bring their own chairs and blankets or you can buy them on-site. Plus, we rent patches of plush synthetic grass to sit on.

How does your background as an architect influence this?

As architects, we try to focus on designing immersive spaces that are connected to the culture of the people who use them. This is doing exactly that, but with live events that hopefully surprise and delight.


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