THEATER/DANCE In the world of performing arts, it often feels like there is a dearth of resources. The race for funding, rehearsal space, performance space, and audience attention can easily create disillusion. Lucky for San Francisco, there is a light in all this resource madness: the Garage, a small theater run by Joe Landini.
“There is a danger in believing in limited resources,” Landini recently said. He believes in abundance, that there is actually plenty of room for everyone who wants to create work, and that perpetuating this kind of thinking is essential to the mission of the Garage.
An unassuming building, the Garage’s little red door at 975 Howard St. leads into a modest foyer and black box theater. The basement houses a green room, dressing room, and prop closet in one. A lighting board allowing for tech support and sound can be found directly off the stage to the right of the audience seating. A single bathroom and sink are behind the stage’s back curtain. Yet despite its meager facilities, the Garage is home to a surprisingly large number of artists. Approximately 120 performers from diverse disciplines enjoy residencies at the Garage every year, culminating in more than 200 shows annually.
The Garage offers two kinds of residencies for performing artists: AIRspace (artist in residence), which is geared toward queer artists, and RAW (Resident Artist Workshop), the general program. Both are 12-week residencies culminating in a two-night performance run. Artists receive four hours a week of rehearsal space, totaling 48 hours, plus publicity and technical support. Resident artists may also have the opportunity to present their works-in-progress at the informal Raw and Uncut performance series. But perhaps the pièce de résistance of all this is that it comes at no cost to the artist: the Garage provides free rehearsal space, performance space, tech support, and press.
The Garage’s humble facility might be a clue to how this generosity is achieved. Another clue lies in the number of theater personnel; a friend who recently attended a Garage show commented on Landini’s presence, asking who the guy was who ushered, bartended, ran tech, and was basically the Garage’s ringmaster. In other words, there’s no staff and no expensive facility to run either. The Garage is funded entirely by grants and ticket sales, which goes to supporting the artists.
Angela Mazziotta moved to San Francisco earlier this year after completing her BFA in dance at the University of South Florida. Although she had choreographed within her BFA program, she had little experience creating work outside the college environment. Interested in further exploring her choreographic voice, she took up a residency at the Garage in August and will be presenting her new work, SMACKdab — a piece dissecting themes of belonging — Dec. 1-2 as part of the RAW performance series. While researching the dance community before moving to San Francisco, she stumbled across the Garage’s webpage and recalls feeling like the Garage sounded like a place she could start establishing herself. Mazziotta is an example of a newcomer to the SF dance scene who has been able to pursue her choreographic interests through the Garage’s magnanimity.
“The Garage is a place for anyone who wants to get their dance out there,” Mazziotta mused. More likely, the Garage is a place for anyone who wants to put anything out there. From traditional to classical to contemporary to avant-garde to downright insane, the breadth of the work presented at the Garage is staggering. Sometimes the Garage is sold out; other times there’s a sympathetic handful — but the work goes on.
Although the majority of resident artists come from dance backgrounds — due in part to Landini’s strong ties within the dance community — the Garage is by no means limited to dance. Anything performance-related — thespians, circus groups, musicians, poets, and artists of all walks have enjoyed time on the Garage’s stage — can ostensibly find a home there. The basic screening process includes a short write-up of the proposed work and a YouTube video of prior work, and the majority of applicants are granted residencies. This egalitarian mentality manifests the Garage’s guiding principle that anyone who is willing to give their time and energy in the name of art should have a place to do so.
Thus, a new dancer to the city who needs a place to start choreographing can begin at the Garage. A more established artist with limited funds who wants a theater to present work in is welcome there as well. A multidisciplinary artist interested in combining poetry and film would fit in. An eccentric group of performers who stand on their heads and juggle eggs with their feet could probably be accommodated as well. Imagination is the limit. Whatever the inclination or area of interest, the black box theater at 975 Howard will continue to house and assist performing artists through its generous programming and services. Everyone has a voice, and everyone who wants to should have a forum in which to express that voice. The Garage is a perfect example of an institution that supports and promotes the expression of all voices.