In North Beach these days, there’s a hum of activity at Club Fugazi, the longtime former home of “Beach Blanket Babylon” — and no huge hats in sight.
“It’s a work in progress on every level,” said David Dower, in the still-under-renovation theater where “Dear San Francisco: A High-Flying Love Story” featuring The 7 Fingers contemporary circus troupe will premiere next month.
Dower, a veteran local theater producer, founding artistic director of Z Space and executive director of “Dear San Francisco” presenter Club Fugazi Experiences, recently hosted a sneak peek of the show and venue while performers in rehearsal led by artistic director Gypsy Snider slid down poles and balanced on their hands.
Visitors familiar with “Beach Blanket Babylon,” the wacky musical revue that occupied the space for decades, noticed a change in the house: the missing balcony, which was taken down to improve sight lines.
“You can’t do circus if you can’t see the air, so we took out the balcony. We also left the floor flat,” Dower said, as he showed off new swivel chairs of varying heights that will allow folks in the audience to easily see the show as it “moves around the whole room.”
There will be nearly 340 removable seats and 40 standing room spots for “Dear San Francisco,” just a slight decrease from “Beach Blanket’s” capacity. Initially, however, due to COVID safety concerns, audiences will be limited to 175.
Ticket prices will start at $35 ($29 for previews) per seat and run up to $2,500 or $3,500 for the mezzanine-level 35-person “tiara” section, which was created for England’s Queen Elizabeth to see “BBB.” (The queen never sat there, as the show was held at Davies Symphony Hall during her visit to The City in 1983; but Prince Charles and Camilla did, in 2005.)
Dower and the show’s producers say the bottom level seating and standing room ticket costs always will remain affordable.
“We want to keep the price so that people can see the show,” he said.
That notion correlates with Club Fugazi Experience’s mission to be a neighborhood and Bay Area booster.
And it’s a prime reason why the building’s owner Italian Community Services, a nonprofit supporting Italians and Italian Americans since the 1800s, is renting the theater to the group.
“Their approach was all about community,” said Steve Leveroni, vice president of ICS’ board of directors, who negotiated what all parties agree is a good deal, and whose dad arranged the similar original rental agreement with “BBB” creator Steve Silver’s father Lou Silver.
“The theater became iconic because of what ‘Beach Blanket Babylon’ did for the community,’” said Leveroni, noting that Dower and Snider, whose family started Pickle Family Circus, have strong San Francisco connections; and, equally importantly, that their show would be dedicated to, and about, North Beach and the greater San Francisco Bay Area.
After considering just a few potential tenants, Leveroni said, the ICS board thought, “This one seems to be what will fit best for the venue. We all have the same end goal.”
To that end, “Dear San Francisco” creators are asking people to write them letters with comments, impressions and memories of The City, which will be woven into an evolving 90-minute production.
And with its ongoing cast and content changes, and different, excellent vantage points from every seat in the house, the show’s producers hope audiences will want to see “Dear San Francisco” repeatedly, and to drink, dine and hang out for a while when they do.
That community spirit also is reflected in the menu being offered before each performance (to keep the flying and bounding acrobatic performers safe, there’s no food and beverage service during the show), with many items from local purveyors.
In ICS’ historic community room above the theater, guests at the recent preview enjoyed samples of the tasty snacks, including: fried fava bean “popcorn,” Liguria Bakery focaccia, Mee Mee Bakery Cow Ear Snackers, Rustic Bakery crackers, Bohemian Creamery cheeses, Jose Gourmet’s smoked sardines and mackerel, and Stella Pastry & Café’s signature Sacripantina cake, a creamy, almond-y delight that’s to die for.
Preview performances of “Dear San Francisco: A High-Flying Love Story” are from Sept. 22-Oct. 10 at Club Fugazi, 678 Green St., S.F. The premiere is Oct. 12. For tickets, visit clubfugazisf.com.