Saturday, we wrapped up our run of Cinnamon and Cigarettes at the San Francisco Fringe Festival. We, theatre artists, often remark on how an audience shapes a show, however, place does as well. The other week I mentioned the greatness of Exit Studio where we were performing. Really, it was the perfect venue for Cinnamon and Cigarettes - intimate with great sight lines and killer acoustics. Today, I want to talk about the Exit Theater in context, the neighborhood that surrounds it which no doubt interacted with the work, not only for us, but for out audiences as they made there way to and from the theater. The Exit, which hosts the Fringe Festival, is located at 156 Eddy Street in the Tenderloin neighborhood. The headline of a 1959 Time Magazine article on an acclaimed jazz club (the Black Hawk) captures the Tenderloin’s reputation with the alliterative and pejorative headline “Success in a Sewer.” A half century later, one can still imagine a national magazine referring the Tenderloin (or at least parts of it) with the same sensational headline. Piss and pot were the dominant fragrances along the two blocks of Eddy Street that we traveled back and forth as we loaded our set in and out for each show. Afraid of becoming stranded in a Bay Area traffic jam and missing a performance, we would often arrive two hours early and go sit in coffee shop on the corner of Eddy and Cyril Magnin. This was not the kind of coffee shop patrons usually hang out in, rather, it was one of those purely functional spots where folks come to get a cheap cup of coffee, an aspirin (they came attached, gratis, to the cup sleeves) and a donut before heading into work or diving down into the Metro Powell Downtown Station. Once as we were sipping our coffee and remarking on the city, another customer, (a middle-aged woman with purple highlights in her jet black hair), sensing that we were not from around here, gave us the lay of the land saying that down the street was all “junkies, pimps, and whores” while around the corner was “all corporate and boring.” She identified herself as a gallery owner and advised us that the area near Valencia street was the happening area in the city. Having walked past a man bitching out a dealer over what his $20 got him and looking out at the Gap and Forever 21 across the street, it was easy to agree with her assessment. When you turn the corner from the coffee shop at a sharp diagonal, you are whisked away from the harsh urban landscape of Eddy and greeted by throngs of tourists and giant retail stores (Uniqlo, Sephora, Lush, H&M) blasting dance music. Just as there are individuals running hustles on Eddy, there are street performers running another kind of hustle here. One night on Eddy, I encounter an older, probably homeless, gentleman who pressed a dying rose into my hands, I accepted and then handed the flower back with an apology that I had nothing to offer him. One day along the retail avenue, I saw two teenagers performing a Miley Cyrus song on an electric ukulele, for tips. Jeremy, the protagonist of Cinnamon and Cigarettes, had an artistic streak – the two poems in the play were written by him, and was homeless in his late teens. I could not help but wonder where he would have fit in the San Francisco landscape at different points in his life. Taking Cinnamon and Cigarettes to the San Francisco Fringe was an exciting and empowering experience and performing it in the Tenderloin, a sobering one.
- Asae Dean