Climate change

How does a small, intrepid theater company survive — and thrive — in turbulent economic times? Look to SoMa's Climate Theater

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I've heard about a fortuneteller with a tarot deck and a dead fish. I can smell the fish, but I'm daunted by the line in front of the curtain, so I wander into another room and stand before a terrycloth sculpture of some tropical beach getaway. It looks a little like a desert nomad's tent in Technicolor, and comes fronted by an immobile bare-shouldered woman in vertical repose, cast like a caryatid and basking in cat-eye shades under some imagined equatorial sun for, I'm told, hours on end.

I try not to stare at her beach towel, which not only conforms to her shape but also a life-size photorealistic representation of what you imagine to be the body underneath. Somebody finally offers her a color-appropriate drink through a straw as my eyes dart over to a bedroom scene of vaguely subconscious associations: an inanimate, incongruous couple pokes out from under a duvet, the whole scene partially obscured by a murky plastic curtain on which a playfully frenetic lightshow dances. Titled Sea of Dreams and fashioned by Joegh Bullock — landlord and Anon Gallery proprietor, in addition to being one of more than 20 artists with work on display here tonight — it stands just to the left of a DJ booth, and attracts a group of costumed art lovers who also break into dance.

Taking in Unseen/Unsaid, as this one-off evening of curated art and performance is called, is a lot like trying to take in the history of the Climate Theater itself, full of blurring boundaries and strange echoes. In some ways it's as labyrinthine as the floor plan of the former bordering house at Ninth and Folsom streets whose second floor contains the theater, its offices, and Anon Gallery. Branching out in several directions at once, it also stitches together the fringe arts, tech, and underground party scenes of the mid-1980s to those of the present.

Next year the Climate turns 25, an impressive run for any theater, and probably a better occasion than just now to trace this one's full baroque lineage. Suffice it to say that the Climate Gallery, as it was originally known, was an accidental theater started by artists who, by their own admission, had no background or even interest in theater per se. But in opening its doors in 1985 to Nina Wise, who had recently lost a performance space, it quickly became a vital scene and vibrant avenue for some of the most dynamic and promising crossover and experimental work around.

In the last year and a half, as a result of a spurt of new energy via new management — as well as a larger recrudescence, if you will, of some of the old SoMa arts scene of the '80s — the Climate has been looking pretty spry for a decades-old theater. Granted, this is happening at a time of supreme social and economic uncertainty. But what's particularly striking about this fresh whirl of eclectic programming, as well as some wider neighborhood networking, is how naturally it harks back to the early history of the quirky black box, founded by artists and famed trend-setting party impresarios Bullock and Marcia Crosby — also founders, with Mark Petrakis, of the famed Glashaus parties of the '90s and the still-influential Anon Salons. The current vibrant and dedicated bustle on this little corner of the city frankly inclines one to wax wise: do not the biggest downpours also give rise to the most unexpected blooms?


Then again, a few months ago Great Depression II: the Reckoning was just the big coming unattraction. By now it has officially hit theaters, and already set more than one teetering. Most dramatic cases so far: the Magic Theater — whose recent close shave with the bill collectors put in jeopardy the rest of the current season before a massive donor campaign was launched — and Shakespeare Santa Cruz, which underwent a similar, narrowly averted disaster.

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