If this can happen to established, midsize institutions, what of the little guy? And with funding for the arts promising to be an even shakier proposition than usual $50 mil in the stimulus bill notwithstanding it's small wonder that GDII is the inevitable topic of conversation in theater circles.
Climate Theater artistic director Jessica Heidt, however, is talking to me about sloths. We're parked at a table outside Brainwash, a couple blocks east of Climate, and it's becoming clear she admires them. "There's this theory," she says, "that the reason sloths are so sedentary and stay in one tree is that they then fertilize their tree."
I wait for the relevance of this remark to wash over me. I had thought we were discussing the Climate.
"I'm really interested in being rooted in the neighborhood that you're living in," she continues. "So you can fertilize what's around you and have a more symbiotic relationship."
Heidt took over Climate in September 2007, shortly after leaving her associate artistic director position at the Magic. Since then, and true to her words on symbiosis, she has been strengthening the theater's area ties. Recently she banded together with colleagues from other small neighborhood theaters and dance venues under the banner of the newly formed SOMA Culture Coalition, organizing the first theater crawl between the Garage, Boxcar Theater, and Climate.
Meanwhile, Heidt has been coordinating some theater and dinner packages with Climate's downstairs neighbor, the Medici Lounge. Then there are the collaborations she's facilitating between Climate artists and neighborhood organizations. She describes one involving women in the penal system based out of the women's re-entry program on Bryant Street. "That's been key with the resident artist program," she says, "figuring out partnerships for my eight resident artists to go work with social service organizations, specifically in this neighborhood, where they can give back a little bit the sloth theory."
THE BIGGEST LITTLE THEATER IN SAN FRANCISCO
So much sprang from the Climate's operation in the 1980s and '90s that the outfit was soon labeled "the biggest little theater in San Francisco." And no wonder, since the space managed to be at the precise center of some mighty major trends. Tapped into the local vanguard geek scene of the burgeoning tech industry, for instance, Climate opened the country's first Internet-wired restaurant-bar downstairs, the Icon Byte Bar and Grill. Meanwhile, the same confluence of art-types and venturesome techies spurred on new social networking strategies, including the earliest version of ex-Climate board member Craig Newmark's ever-expanding online message board.
In the performance world, Climate helped spawn the storied Solo Mio Festival in 1990, a jaw-dropping who's who of the form which enjoyed a real vogue as the most promising segue out of a performance art shtick everyone was getting pretty bored with. Solo Mio's principal curator was also, as it happens, its second performer, after Wise, to grace the Climate's new stage in 1985: former SF denizen Bill Talen, a.k.a. Reverend Billy, followed by a runaway hit that solidified Climate's new status as a serious alternative venue, "avant-vaudevillian" Helen Shumaker's turn as Mona Rogers in Person, which ended up ensconced off-Broadway. One could go on. There was the international avant-puppetry performance showcase Festival Fantochio ...
Climate worked with the hand they were dealt: once, Winston Tong, one "performance art crossover guy" who sparked Fantochio, was stabbed onstage. "Suddenly there was this big blood-spurting thing that we knew wasn't special effects," remembers Crosby with a cringe.