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South of Market, San Francisco's latest hotbed of experimental theater.

The current crucible for experimental theater in San Francisco is, oddly enough, the industrial district--South of Market, verging into the Mission District.

Stocked with a good supply of large, comparatively low-rent spaces left from the old blue-collar days, the area is bursting with creative artists and technicians who can now share facilities and gain inspiration from each other's proximity. If you want to gamble on an unconventional new experience, this is the place to be.

What's special about the kind of

theater that flourishes here?

Much of it derives from what is clumsily called performance art, originally created to be enacteda in museums and galleries under the equally awkward term" installation." It's a kind of kinetic sculpture--part dance, part visual art, with ties to new music and an interest in electronic sound and imagery.

Usually it's not strong on story content, though this varies considerably (Eureka, for instance, is very scrip-oriented), and some of the work takes the form of autobiographical monologue.

You migh sum it up as right-brain: a deemphasis on script, with an attempt to return to the origins of theater in ritual and mystery.

This part of the city, though pervaded with a spooky, nonresidential quiet after dark, is generally safe. And it offers what can be frustratingly hard to find elsewhere: reasonably easy free parking.

This spring, there's plenty of news

* The Eureka Theatre, well known to Bay Area audiences for its wit and innovation, is settling comfortably into its new home at 16th and Harrison.

* Intersection, respected presenter of avant-garde performance, has just moved from a tiny North Beach basement to the old Valencia Rose cafe, on Valencia Street near 19th.

* San Francisco Repertory, once wedged into tight quarters near Castro Street, where parking took as long as the show, is now performing at the easygoing old Victoria at 16th and Mission.

* The Climate Gallery, a small space at Ninth and Howard streets, promises to be an important place for new performers to work and be seen.

* The respected "American Inroads" series of performance-art shows has healthy new ties to Theater Artaud.

* And Artaud itself, at the geographic and artistic center of it all, is attracting top talent from near and far.

Artaud: why it's the center of its all

Focal point, in a way, of this new concentration of artistic energy is Theater Artaud, now a 300- to 400-seat performing space in a huge old foundry at 17th and Florida streets. Immense industrial-sash windows dominate the block-long brick structure, which fronts on still-used tracks for an old Southern Pacific spur line serving a cement works. (You're aware of these great glazed expanses inside, too--they make heating the building very difficult, and it's a good idea to bundle up when you come to a show here.)

Theater Artaud leases its performance and office area from the nonprofit collective Project Artaud, which provides studio and living spaces next to the theater for about 70 artists. The atmosphere is friendly, a bit loose. As executive director Bill Cook says, "The artists still tend to think of the theater as their living room."

But what a living room! It's really just a huge shell, a 250-foot-long expanse of cathedral-like environment under 45-foot ceilings. The intent here is to realize the vision of Franch dramatist Antonin Artaud, who felt that theater could become a much more direct transaction between audience and performers if the boundaries and limitations of the conventional stage could be dissolved.

Accordingly, nothing is permanent. Architects Tanner and Van Dine have created a modular "kit of parts." Sound and lighting systems, instead of being fixed to roof trusses, move on a crane that slides along a steel track high up on one long wall; they move to suit the needs of the show. The seating--bleacher-like scaffolding on wheels--can be repositioned in any configuration. There is no stage as such: there is only the performer's gaze. Under Cook's leadership, Theater Artaud was renovated to meet building codes--and within six weeks the 1986 season was fully scheduled. This is all good news for theatergoers: with potential audiences of 400 a night, investments in salaries and equipment not possible for a 99-seat theater become a reality. Experimental theater is now challenged to develop production values comparable to those of commercial houses; as Cook says, it must "come of age."

What kind of shows will you see here? In general, they'll be contemporary, interdisciplinary, and experimental, by theater artists with an established track record.

March and April bring a masked musical theater piece on the death of a parent, by Tony Pellegrino and Roger LaRue, followed by San Francisco Opera's showcase of new talent, then a recital by the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company.

May and June will show Lorraine Hansberry Theatre in a new work by award-winning experimentalist Ellen Sebastian and a large, sculptural dance/design by John LeFan. June and July welcome Dramcula in the Desert, a new work by Chris Hardman's try-anything-anywhere Antenna Theater.

Other 1986 bookings include such ambitious groups as Nightfire Theater, A Traveling Jewish Theater, and Soon 3/Kronos Quarter; call (415) 621-7797.

As time goes by, Theater Artaud also plans to be more active as a presenting organization. Director Cook has recently been given responsibility for the avantgarde series "American Inroads," formerly at New Performance Gallery. (New Performance remains the home for the Margaret Jenkins and Oberlin Dance Collective dance teaching programs.)

Other places to see good new work

Interesting experiments are going on at many places south of Market; don't be afraid to gamble once in a while. Our list is merely intended to improve your odds with an introductory choice. Ticket prices range from under $5 to about $15 for top seats at Artaud and Eureka.

Climate Gallery, 252 Ninth Street: 626-9196. This new space has already put on some outstanding single-performer pieces (Nina Wise, Bill Talen); look for more.

Eureka Theatre, 2730 16th Street; 558-9898. In March, you can see John Guare's Gardenia, a study of an American attempt at Utopia, set in post-Civil War New England; in April and May, an adaptation of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard by English dramatist Trevor Griffiths; late May through mid-July, a comic performance pice by National Endowment for the Arts fellow and Bay Area clown Geoff Hoyle; and, late July through August, The Island, an Athol Fugard probe into the nature of apartheid. Eureka subscribers get a 10 percent discount at several area restaurants.

Lipps Bar and Grill, 201 Ninth Street; 552-3466 or 668-9769. Improvisational comedy is the specialty here. A wonderfully off-the-wall group, Faultline, performs Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays; the more topical National Theatre of the Deranged, descended from the now-defunct Committee revue, plays Fridays.

New Performance Gallery, 3153 17th Street; 863-9830. "American Inroads" commitments this season include John Jesurun and his company on March 26, 27, 28, and 29; Stephanie Skura of New York on April 23, 24, 25, and 26; the Glass Orchestra of Toronto on May 14, 15, 16, and 17; and Maria Cheng in in June.

Valencia Rose, 766 Valencia Street; 863-3863. Innovative performances will be presented here by Intersection.

Victoria Theater, 16th and Mission streets; 558-9977. Look for productions by San Francisco Repertory to be staged here, also occasional outside presentations, such as a recent musical version of The Little Prince.

Video Free America, 442 Shotwell Street; 824-0455. Check here for works that experiment in video and projected illusion.

For current programs, pick up a copy of the Sunday Examiner/Chronicle. Or look for a copy of Call Board, a monthly publication put out by Theatre Bay Area (2940 16th St., San Francisco 94103) on the local theater scene.

How about a meal before the show?

We asked theater staff members for the names of favorite area restaurants handy to theaters (though you'll probably have to park twice) that are able to meet the hurry-up needs of playgoers. Most are quite reasonable in cost; Le Domino and the Zuni Cafe are more of a splurge. Call to check specialties, hours, and reservation policies. Asimakopoulos (Greed), Connecticut and 18th streets; 552-8789. Augusta's South of Market Grill (unprentious California cuisine), 1256 Folsom Street, between Eighth and Ninth; 626-4459. Chagio (Vietnamese), 2732 24th Street; 824-6059. Connecticut central (hamburgers, extensive salads), 100 Connecticut Street, near 17th; 552-4440 Garibaldi Cafe (meats, seafood, interestingly finished), 1600 17th Street, near Wisconsin Street; 552-3325. Goat Hill Pizza, Connecticut at 18th Street; 641-1440. Hamburger Mary's Organic Grill, 1582 Folsom Street, at 12th; 626-5767. Le Domino (Continental), 2742 17th Street, at Florida, cater-corner from Theater Artaud; 626-3095. Pasta II, 381 S. Van Ness Avenue, near 16th Street; 864-4116. Roosevelt's Tamale Parlor (Mexican), 2817 24th Street; 550-9213. Soon Lee (Chinese), Bryant at 16th; 431-6824. Zuni Cafe (California cuisine), 1658 Market Street, between Franklin and Gough; 552-2522.
COPYRIGHT 1986 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Sunset
Article Type:Directory
Date:Mar 1, 1986
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