by Marjorie Beggs, July 2010
Arts projects keep on rolling into the Tenderloin, raising hopes that they’ll help turn grit into cultural gold.
The latest is a proposal to launch a live performance venue at 80 Turk St., currently the Doll House, showing adult movies. According to TL historian Peter Field, it was built in 1922 as a storefront with lofts, not a theater, and also had stints as a gambling joint in the 1930s, a cafe in the ‘40s and a tavern, The Buccaneer, in the ‘50s. It became the Gayety Theatre in 1963, and in 2001 changed its name to the Gaiety.
Sean Owens and Cameron Eng, principals of the 2-year-old Foul Play Productions, announced their plans for the Gaiety Project at the June Tenderloin Futures Collaborative.
“We want this be a sanctuary for the lost arts, like cabaret and circus arts,” said
The 99-seat theater will present “family friendly performances with chic, classic, state-of-the-art technology”: a holographic sound system (3-D, spatial sound), programmable lighting, trapdoors, puppet stages and projection for films. It will even have circus weight points — structural points in the ceiling and walls strong enough to hold performers doing aerial, strap, hanging, and ring work. Eng says few small halls have the ceiling height to accommodate such weight. Eng.
A storefront cafe, lobby art gallery, basement and second floor offices and workshops also are part of the plan.
“We’ve been working on the Gaiety Project since January,” Eng said. “The project will be the managing nonprofit for the theater space, with Foul Play being just one of the resident companies.” Their hope is to draw other companies and new writers to the venture — what their prospectus calls “untapped media like the burgeoning burlesque and vaudeville revival that
has fostered.” San Francisco
From the start, the Doll House site seemed a perfect fit for their project, Eng said, with its location just off Taylor Street along the city’s nascent arts corridor. “It will be part of the inviting gateway to the Tenderloin,” he said.
Owens and Eng also seem to be the right people to get the project off the ground. Owens, author of 35 plays ranging from musicals to noir mysteries, has worked in
theater for 20 years and is heavyweight EXIT Theatre’s playwright in residence. Eng, a performer in underground theater, has produced events and shows in the Bay Area for 12 years. He was key in turning The Dark Room theater in the San Francisco into a year-round venue for live shows and film. And he has the blessing of the Tenderloin’s diva of divas: Mission
“Sean has been a part of EXIT Theatre since our beginning,” said Christina Augello, EXIT’s artistic director. ”He’s a talented, creative, generous artist and a good friend.
And I’ve followed his collaboration with Cameron and enjoyed many Foul Play productions. I’ve always seen our neighborhood as the downtown entertainment district, and the Gaiety Project would be a great addition.”
The Gaiety’s premiere is still a ways off. Owens and Eng are negotiating the lease with 80 Turk’s owner, Carlos Jimenez. He has agreed to upgrade the electrical and ventilation systems, Eng says. They have $50,000 committed for ground-floor build out but need another $100,000. The new nonprofit is applying for a grant from the city’s Cultural District Loan fund and will approach private foundations, too.
Meantime, Foul Play is in preproduction for “Left-Hand Darling,” described in promos as “a theatrical adventure.” A staged reading of the comedy at EXIT Theatre on July 16, 17, 23 and 24 will be a prep for a full performance next year, perhaps at the new Gaiety Theatre, if it’s ready.
This was the Future Collaborative’s second meeting after being “dark” for four months. It wasn’t quite standing room only, but 24 people came to hear about the Gaiety and four other projects, all important to the central city — the new mid-Market PAC, proposed Grant Building renovations, an update on housing plans for 220 Golden Gate Ave. (the old YMCA), and the new community garden at Larkin and Hyde.