Stagewerx and SF Olympians Festival go big
It’s been a turbulent year for independent theatre and its venues. In truth, every year is. But there have been some notable successes too. Boxcar Theatre ’s addition of a new studio space on Hyde Street. Bindlestiff Theatre ’s move into a new permanent space. Pianofight ’s acquisition of the old Original Joe’s in order to create a hybrid performance space-kitchen-bar right on the cutting edge of the downtown theatre district.
And just in case you’d missed it, this is the month that Stagewerx , which has been occupying the literal theatrical underground in the basement of 533 Sutter since 2007, has opened the doors of its community-supported digs at 446 Valencia — the old Intersection for the Arts space.
Following a big-ticket Kickstarter campaign* and months of hard labor, rebuilding one venue from scratch while running another, the Stagewerx crew’s labor of love has finally put down its expansive roots in the Mission District.
It was a low-key but convivial christening, a bevy of Stagewerx supporters and performers (and supporter-performers) poking around the nooks and crannies of the strangely familiar, yet revitalized space. The evening’s emcee, Mikl-em, presided over a variety show of musicians and comedians (and musician-comedians), including a special guest appearance from Carol Channing, as well as one by Sean Owens, who mysteriously often appears on the same bill as Channing. (It’s rumored they share a booking agent.)
Other acts included Circus Finelli, Tom Sway from Undergroud Sound, Joe Klocek from Previously Secret Information, Tom Jonesing, Don Seaver, and Gerri Lawlor. No sooner was the party over, Stagewerx hit the ground running with a Monday performance of the Picklewater Clown Cabaret and a four-weekend whirlwind of sketch comedy dubbed PanderFest 2011, co-starring Pianofight’s Mission CTRL and Crisis Hopkins.
Meanwhile downtown, another theatre festival of quietly epic proportions. The SF Olympians Festival , opened with staged readings of new full-length plays by Thunderbird Theatre Company and Megan Cohen and a veritable constellation of shorts, kicking off a four-weekend run of its own on the EXIT Theatre  mainstage.
In its second year, the SF Olympians Festival uniquely fuses ancient Greek mythology with modern-day theatre-making, with each play featuring a different mythological figure—from Andromeda to Zephyrus—and a different local playwright (there are 29 represented in this festival of 32 plays).
On Friday, a three-play bill of two shorts and one full-length work debuted, thematically clustered around Orion, one of the most recognizable of all constellations. Claire Rice’s very short, “Dog Day”, starred Benji Cooper as Canis, who morphed into the narrator of stage directions for Megan Cohen’s full-length “Hunter and Hunted,” which turned the Orion myth into an updated crime noir.
Starring Matt Gunnison as the beleaguered “Joe Ryan,” an old-school detective on the trail of the Scorpio gang, Cohen’s often humorous play turned the otherwise familiar streets of San Francisco, from North Beach to the Panhandle, into a giant playground for the infamous Scorpio gang.
Rounding out the evening with a case of constellation envy was “Scorpio,” a short penned by Seanan Palermo, starring an exasperated John Lennon Harrison as the titular character, fruitlessly pursuing Orion across the deserts of Arizona. There’re still three weekends left of the festival, each night more ambitious than the last, and at just ten bucks a pop, repeat visits are not only possible, but recommended.
*Full disclosure, the author of this piece made a kickstarter donation to the Stagewerx campaign.
Through Oct. 29
Various times, $20
446 Valencia, SF
SF Olympians Festival
Through Oct. 29
Various times, $10
156 Eddy, SF