While scrappy Tenderloin theater PianoFight may have survived the pandemic til now, it's been clear that the casualties are continuing to mount, and it is now adding itself to the list.
"Of course it’s sad to close. But we’re so grateful, and so proud of what we’ve been able to do," says PianoFight's Executive Director Dan Williams in a statement.
"We’ve hosted comedy, plays, music, dance, drag, magic, burlesque, circus, podcasts, films, video game tournaments, and game shows," Williams says. "We said yes to everything because we could, we wanted to, and it was more fun than saying no."
The company announced Tuesday that it will close both its San Francisco and Oakland locations on March 18, 2023.
PianoFight was founded by Williams, Rob Ready, and Kevin Fink in 2007, and they opened the SF location in 2014 at 144 Taylor Street, in the former Original Joe's location. The venue includes two performance spaces, one with 92 seats and one with 42 seats, as well as a bar. Since opening, the group says it has hosted 6,702 performances, sold 198,000 tickets, and paid $1.3 million directly to Bay Area artists. And, they estimate that around 10,000 artists have performed at the theater in the last nine years.
The Oakland location opened at the most difficult of times, in May 2020, at 1540 Broadway. According to a release, the Oakland venue has "been home to middle and high school students from Oakland School for the Arts, writing scenes and choreographing dance routines every school day," and also it's been home to The Formerly Incarcerated People’s Performance Project.
PianoFight's SF venue has provided space for groups and festivals including SF SketchFest, Killing My Lobster, The SF Neo Futurists, Theatre Pub, Awesome Theater, the SF Improv Festival, the SF Frozen Film Festival, and Faultline Theater, and it remained an active, independent small theater just a block away from BroadwaySF's bigger Golden Gate Theater, in what is still known as SF's Theater District, despite some hard times.
As PianoFight's Artistic Director Rob Ready told the Chronicle last month, it has been a rough road getting audiences to come out for smaller shows, even when the acts are fairly well known. He described a night in September when he'd booked acclaimed musicians The Runawy Grooms, and he lamented, "I don’t think they sold one ticket." Ready said that PianoFight's revenues were down 65% last year compared to pre-pandemic levels.
"PianoFight started because we thought there could be a different and fun way of doing things,” says Ready in a statement today. "We wanted to lower the barrier to entry so more people could perform; provide infrastructure so artists could focus on art; program eclectically to cross-pollinate creative mediums; and sell burgers and beers so artists could build their communities over a meal. We wanted all that to be sustainable and until COVID struck, it was."
PianoFight is encouraging fans to come out for the remaining SketchFest performances, and the remaining slate of shows through mid-March. See the calendar here.
Photo via PianoFight/Instagram