A circus show from two Bay Area natives is moving into the storied North Beach theater that was once a Beat Generation venue before becoming the longtime home of Beach Blanket Babylon. And, like its predecessor, it's going to be an ever-evolving show using the city as its inspiration, and you can go back to it over and over and have it never be quite the same.
SFist first reported on the new tenants of Club Fugazi back in March when we learned that one of the people behind the new show is Gypsy Snider, daughter of Pickle Family Circus co-founders Peggy Snider and Larry Pisoni. Snider was the lead circus coordinator/choreographer for the Tony Award-winning 2013 Broadway revival of Pippin, and for years she has been working with a circus troupe she founded in Montreal called The 7 Fingers.
As the Chronicle reports this week, the new show by Snider and co-artistic director Shana Carroll (daughter of former Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll) has begun taking shape but it does not yet have a name. It will use San Francisco and its history as an inspiration for its acts — but this won't be a narrative show, more of a "a Picasso series of images," according to Snider.
"San Francisco is such a wonderful city of tensions, of exploding and then imploding, and contradictions and meetings of minds," Snider tells theater critic Lily Janiak. "We’ve been going through the history, from pre-colonized to now, and tried to capture through images exactly that tension and find a way for the audience to love that tension."
Among the acts will be at least one contortionist, Natasha Patterson, a dancer-acrobat-musician named Isabella Diaz, and hoop diver and pole artist Melvin Diggs.
Snider adds that she's especially excited to bring her version of circus performance to the intimate environs of Club Fugazi — which will look slightly different to Beach Blanket regulars, with the mezzanine getting removed to allow for more aerial performances.
"A circus becomes so much more explosive when it’s in a compressed space,” Snider tells the Chronicle. "It just takes every inch of the real estate."
Seating will be sort of cabaret-style with food and drink served, but for this show, all the seats will swivel 360 degrees so audience members can see all the action around the room. See a rendering of the remodeled space below.
Partnering with Snider and Carroll as co-producer and executive director is Z Space founder David Dower, who returns to the Bay Area after a stint as artistic director of ArtsEmerson in Boston. Dower tells the Chronicle that the ethos and aesthetic of 7 Fingers has always been to make their performers into characters the audience gets to know. "They wanted to get to a place where people could see the performers, know them by the end of the night, feel something for them, so that as this death-defying thing is happening, you’re actually thinking about the person," Dower says.
He also said that the decision to bring the show to North Beach, to this historic venue, instead of, say, the Mission District, was about wanting to give something back to the city and the neighborhood, and to not let this venue stay dark for long. (Beach Blanket Babylon closed on New Year's Eve 2019, shortly before the pandemic that would have shut it down anyway.)
Dower added in a statement, "This project is a labor of love for all involved... I launched my career in theater here in San Francisco. Gypsy and Shana are native San Franciscans. To have the opportunity to reanimate a venue with such a rich history, at the very moment we are coming out from under this long, dense cloud, is a powerful and energizing privilege for us. Without optimism, there will be no recovery. We are proud to be injecting a burst of hope into the story of San Francisco’s resurgence."
There is no opening date for the unnamed show just yet — the website just says "Fall 2021 — but we'll likely be getting that in the coming months, along with the show's title. Tickets are apparently going on sale in late June, though.