Closure of SF’s Exit Theater, ending 40 years of odd little happenings on Eddy Street

Mikka Bonel (left) as Queen Mary and Christina Augello as Queen Margarita rehearse for ‘Exit the King’ at the Exit Theatre. Photo: Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle 2018

The Exit Theater — Tenderloin’s stalwart venue with three small theaters and a cafe, home of San Francisco’s Fringe festival — is closing its Eddy Street doors by the end of 2022, artistic director Christina Augello announced in a post. Facebook on Friday, August 19. .

The move ends 40 years of creating strange independent theater on Eddy Street, 30 of them at this address.

In a phone interview with The Chronicle, Augello said she felt a mixture of pride and sadness in her accomplishments. “Not everyone is lucky enough to spend their life working in theatre. But I also think very clearly that it is a good decision.

“Literally, financially, it just doesn’t work at all.”

A volunteer explains to the audience that donations are an important part of the Fringe Festival before Alicia Dattner performs “Too Soon” at the Exit Theater in San Francisco. Photo: Nick Otto/Special for The Chronicle 2019

In July of this year, the company spent $35,000 on rent and utilities, but only earned $5,000 in return. Artists still aren’t booking space as much as they did before the pandemic, and audiences still aren’t attending as much. The Exit’s financial model – minimum wage workers and volunteer work – only works when all four spaces are full, but a recent performance of “The Anarchy Quartet” had only seven people in the audience while other spaces were vacant. “My gut tells me — and I usually trust my gut — that things aren’t going to pick up for a while,” Augello said.

The problem is compounded by AB5, California’s gig law, which has made it harder for hiring entities to classify workers as independent contractors. Augello said that under this law she could only afford to produce one show a year instead of three.

Augello noted that Exit Theater will still exist in a format, possibly nomadic, and that she plans to remain in the business. In recent months, she’s felt more like an accountant than an art director, she said, and she’s looking forward to becoming more of an artist again. “It’s not an end,” she said. “It’s a progression and a change.”

The departure from the release follows other recent closures of small theaters in the Bay Area. In November, FoolsFury held a wake – a closing ceremony with a last hurray of improvised art among friends and family. Bay Area Musicals was one of the first victims of the pandemic. In 2019, Ragged Wing Ensemble relinquished its lease.

Magician Ryan Kane performs a card trick for Anil Nair and Ashley Springer in the Exit Theater cafe during San Francisco’s annual Fringe festival. Photo: Nick Otto/Special for The Chronicle 2019

The company had a significant impact on the Bay Area theater scene. Its Fringe Festival alone has helped launch the careers of countless artists – San Francisco writer-director Mark Jackson, Colma magician-storyteller Christian Cagigal, rock opera composers from Oakland the Kilbanes. It also contributed to the birth of entire companies, including Cutting Ball Theater and Mugwumpin.

But output shouldn’t be measured solely by how high its performers will later fly. His dedication to the new and the present, to the strange and the wild, is his unparalleled contribution to the Bay Area theater scene. Here you can stroll inside most weekends of the year and feel the buzz in the hallways and cafe, taking in your pick of shows. Here, you didn’t need to have a fancy resume or degree to produce a piece. Here, the theater did not need a big budget or brilliance to mark and move its spectators.

The fate of its sister venue – the exit on Taylor, where the separate Cutting Ball Theater has a long-term lease from the company – is stable. Cutting Ball plans to announce its next season in early September, according to general manager Jess Klein. The Exit also has a new location in Arcata (Humboldt County), where Augello lives part-time. She performs in her October show, a riff on “Waiting for Godot”.

Christina Augello (left) as Queen Margarita and Mikka Bonel as Queen Mary rehearse “Exit the King” at the Exit Theater in San Francisco. Photo: Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle 2018

“The Anarchy Quartet” takes place in the Eddy Street space until Saturday, August 20, followed by the 2022 San Francisco Fringe Festival, with 21 shows from September 8-17. In October, Awesome Theater and Killing My Lobster have rentals. In November, the outlet is set to host a festival of pandemic-related stories — likely its final show.

Augello contains a track inspired by the 1961 musical titled “Stop the World – I Want to Get Off”.

“Who thought this would happen?” Augello told The Chronicle. “But it stopped, and I feel like I’ve gone down.”

  • Lily Janiak

    Lily Janiak is the theater critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @LilyJaniak

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