Popular interactive theater experience The Speakeasy, which has been on an extended hiatus since mid-2019, is returning to its underground digs in North Beach this spring, and the waitlist for tickets closes today.
One of the more notable and popular performance events of the last decade in San Francisco, The Speakeasy, is coming back to life in the theater that was originally built for it. The interactive piece originally conceived by Boxcar Theatre first debuted in 2014 (see SFist's review here), and in April 2024, the clandestine 1920s melodrama-cum-variety show will start running again, once again giving costume-loving Bay Area residents a reason to dress up in vintage garb and spend an evening with some actors in a hidden gin joint.
Today (November 14) is the last day to sign up for the current waitlist, giving you early access to tickets when the show reopens in April. But fear not if you're reading this too late — more opportunities will surely become available to get tickets for the limited 10-week run, and you may want to give them a week or two after opening anyhow to get the machine well oiled again.
As originally structured, attendees of The Speakeasy were told in an email to rendezvous with a figure in a certain color hat in Jack Kerouac Alley. You'd be told to turn your cellphone off and keep it tucked away, and you'd be given some poker chips and coins — a mode of paying for drinks, your credit card would kept on file for a tab — and led a block away to what's lately been called The Palace Theater.
It's a space underneath China Live at 644 Broadway that's divided into three main rooms: a bar, with an actual cocktail menu, where some of the action takes place; a casino, where you can spend and earn chips, though not bet real money; and a cabaret with waitstaff and a stage, where you can also order drinks and watch vaudeville-esque variety show.
The audience was divided, in the first incarnation, into two groups — one started in the bar and one started in the cabaret. Each group saw a different part of the scripted drama unfold first, and then they traded places. Beyond those initial "scenes," there were other, ongoing, smaller vignettes taking place in a showgirls' dressing room — into which the audience could look through a fake two-way mirror — the casino, a lounge, and other corners of the space.
"Thirty-five actors inhabit the space and it is up to the audience to decide what they want to see," explained director/creator Nick Olivero back in 2014. "Throughout the night patrons may encounter flappers and floozies, business men trying to start a doomed bootlegging operation, couples both older and younger working through their marital problems, a novelist seeking inspiration, a degenerate gambler who brings his little girl to the bar, a bouncer with a heart of gold, the club owner who's been having an affair, World War I vets, and more."
The storylines and structure may be revised in the new incarnation, which closed "for good" in mid-2019 — effectively skirting the pandemic.
The space has most recently been used for The Illusionist, an intimate magic show by illusionist Kevin Blake. And Boxcar Theatre has brought back characters from The Speakeasy in order to throw 1920s-themed New Year's Eve parties in the space, which they will be doing again this NYE.
Photo via TheSpeakeasy/Instagram