January 1, 2010

Burton Theatre's Version

The Burton Theatre set up shop in an empty school in the Cass Corridor, screening films in the second floor auditorium. They put a pool table in the boys' bathroom.


Did you see correlation between your experience of Detroit and the media's depiction in 2009?

I think to an extent there was a sizable correlation between the media's coverage and approach to Detroit and our experiences. On a microcosmic level we were able to experience troubles and impasses with the city government and the police department. Our zoning hearing was a great example of why this city finds itself in the undesirable spot it's in, between the neighbourhood in-fighting and the perception from city officials that any thing outside of the downtown/foxtown area is unworkable and, maybe more alerting, uninhabitable. It took the zoning board of 5 people about a half an hour to acknowledge that we were not a porn theatre but in fact a credible operation moving in to an area just off the campus of one of the most densely attended colleges in the country.

All that aside though it is definitely a more workable city than the media would have you believe. There are so many committed and pro-Detroit people within the area that would do almost anything to help you succeed. From the other small business owners in the area to the actual patrons who have donated art for our walls and even time watching our parking lot there is a much stronger sense of community than the media would have you believe.

What'll be different about 2010- for the city? For you personally?

I think the major difference in the city for us would be a stronger year where people are figuring out that we are a destination and further, we will strive to make a stronger commitment to programming for the city. It took us a little while to get an idea of what people in this town want to pay to see. With money as tight as it is for most people and the fact that, whatever you think about the city it is definitely a place where nightlife and entertainment remains competitive. What other city in the country can you get a beer for $2? So we are working to keep our place a new destination and maybe drop the idea that we are a "hidden gem." The goal for us and hopefully every other small business in the area is to just be a gem. We need to drop the idea that Detroit exists as a big city that you can hunt around and adventurously find the cool little spots. Granted, I love making a new discovery in this town but it would be nice to lose the perception of being a bright spot in a bad city. Can we instead just start to look at this place as an actual functional city? - and perhaps when we do it will encourage other places to open and take on the hidden gem moniker.

Why do you live in Detroit? How's it different from other places?

I think we live in Detroit because it is a place where you can make things happen. We have all lived in other towns and experienced life in bigger or more vibrant towns but there is a certain energy in Detroit that you can tap into and really feel like you are making a big difference. David (one of the gentlemen who runs the BURTON) summed this up best when he observed that when you move to most major cities you ask what can New York/Chicago/LA do for me, but in Detroit you are asking what can I do for Detroit. There is such a strong sense of caring and community and further a thriving art scene that makes this place almost an island. We all know the perception of this town and we can have this whole town to ourselves as everyone outside remains dismissive. Speaking specifically toward the Burton it also remains that Detroit is probably the one city that a group of college age fuckups can start a theatre for six grand.

What kind of things do you get into in Detroit? Do you have a job? What is it? Why not do it in Royal Oak? in Chicago? NYC?

The reason why not Royal Oak, New York, Chicago is the fact that there isn't this type of energy. When my car was stolen I moved to Royal Oak and to say I was unimpressed is a great understatement. The surrounding towns and larger towns in this country have lost their personality; they have become larger suburbs with taller buildings. New York specifically feels this way to me. Remove the gritty romance and the post 9/11 feelings of fellowship and actually walk through that town. I found things to be a Royal Oak hiding in the New York facade. I can only drink at so many Caribou's, eat at so many Rio Wraps and night cap at so many TGI Friday's. There is something so unimpressive about a city - no matter how big - that has traded character for a Barnes and Noble. I think that we are lucky in this town to be so removed from the corporate radar as such an undesirable destination. We are lucky that we have scared Wal-Mart away, because instead you can shop at the Bureau of Urban Living. Borders couldn't sustain so we can instead go to KING and Leopold’s. I like that about this town, dive bars everywhere and 20 stop shopping. That said, the major plus I think is a high quality of life for a low cost of living. Detroit is a very cheap town and that to me is a very appealing thing.

What's your favorite thing that happened here in 2009?

Selfishly my favourite thing in Detroit in '09 was the city's residents making Taxidermia (a bizarre Hungarian film that we showed at the Burton) the biggest surprise cult film of the year. At our tiny theatre it out grossed every other theatre in the country.

Outside of the Burton I have to say that the best part of Detroit this year was finding Open City (a great resource for small Businesses).


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