The Performant: Howard's End

Joe Landini of the Garage: moving out and up

While the Performant is off hugging trees in Oregon, please enjoy this series of interviews with the curators of three innovative performance spaces.

After five years of making the address 975 Howard synonymous with emergent dance, queer, and fringe artists, Joe Landini has packed up The Garage and relocated it further down SOMA way. Now tucked in an industrial zone next to an automotive repair shop, The Garage’s new location at 715 Bryant might lack the allure of being a hidden gem on ramshackle Howard Street, but has the distinct advantage of having fewer neighbors to annoy, a consideration no low-budget performance space can afford to completely ignore. Particularly one as active and prolific as The Garage—which has hosted over 1000 performances for some 50,000 people during its five-year tenure.

“We are awful neighbors!” Landini admits when I swing by to check out the new digs.

“We are loud. We host 120 choreographers a year, 230 shows a year, that’s a lot of music to listen to.” After looking around the Central Market area for three years without finding a space that was both affordable and allowed for public assembly, Landini set his sights on the section of SOMA he knew to have some of the lowest rental rates in the area yet was still mostly accessible via public transportation—a consideration for many of his performers and audiences.
After a cacophonous May Day parade from Howard Street to Bryant, led by a merry conglomerate of performers — familiar faces from The Offcenter and Garage performance series such as RAW and AIRspace -- The Garage opened back up for business just 24 hours later. The space is still a work-in-progress a few weeks later (aren’t all moving projects?), but its current bare bones state will not seem unfamiliar to its fans (makeshift risers, a table over to the side for the board operator, minimal but effective lighting). What’s most important, from Landini’s POV is that they are finally ADA compliant, and they have repainted the front door red: “theatre’s love tradition.”

In addition to moving into a new physical space, The Garage is occupying a new psychic space, expanding its definition of incubation, by helping its emerging artists connect to spaces where they can create work for larger audiences. Recently, six Garage artists dubbed The WERK Collective, participated in a joint mentorship program between The Garage and ODC <>, culminating in a weekend of performance at ODC, the next step up the narrow ladder of professional possibility that defines the San Francisco Bay Area dance community.

“We’re the only free space in the city now and that does attract a very specific group of broke artists,” Joe muses. “We’ve been so lucky to have some of those artists stay with us for the whole five years, and that’s where the partnership with ODC came up, because I had to come up with a way to keep them involved, and they had clearly outgrown the space…so hopefully that’s going to be a model for the future, an artist could start here and then work their way into ODC (which is) pretty well-organized in terms of where they want their artists to go….(ODC Director) Christy Bolingbroke is very sharp, and she has a real clear understanding of the national profile, and what’s happening nationally.”

What has also changed for Landini is a deeper understanding of The Garage’s overall mission and impact on its core community.

"The old space was such a lark…we threw a lot of mud at a lot of walls and some stuff stuck, but that’s not going to work here…..we’re going to have to become a really shrewd organization. I didn’t really have a sense of the importance of the work we were doing. I mean I kind of knew in the back of my mind, because so many people were coming through…and that community rallied to move into this space…they really really got behind it."

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