Cutting Ball Theater‘s production of TENDERLOIN portrays the lives of residents living in the neighborhood, brings their stories to the stage and challenges audiences to rethink one of San Francisco’s most misunderstood neighborhoods.
TENDERLOIN is an unforgettable piece about the people and places that make up this neighborhood and suggests a place that may not conform to an outsider’s impressions. Rather it speaks of a deep love of the neighborhood and of its surprising beauty.
Some of the themes that have emerged are what is a home, how do we deal with the poor as individuals walking through the neighborhood, as churches and social service organizations serving the needy, as a city government who, through concentrating social services in one neighborhood creates “containment zones,” and as a country making choices about providing (or not providing) a social safety net?
Creating TENDERLOIN was a year long project commissioned by Cutting Ball and came together through the efforts of Annie Elias, writer/director and a team of actors including Tristan Cunningham, Siobhan Doherty, Rebecca Frank, Michael Kelly, Leigh Shaw, David Sinaiko, and David Westley Skillman, that took to the streets to get a first hand account of the lives they portray.
Gathering the stories and conducting the interviews, that would later become the script, required the cast to reach out to the neighborhood and interact with the community. Each actor conducted numerous interviews with those living and working in the neighborhood to gather material.
Using transcripts from these interviews, TENDERLOIN literally brings the neighborhood into the theater. The production is a powerful experience, honoring the essence of the Tenderloin through the stories of the everyday people that make up this historic San Francisco district.
“It was an amazing process and an eye opening experience,” says Bay Area actor Tristan Cunningham, “Conducting the interviews and connecting with each person was challenging. I would interview the people I was drawn to and try to establish a connection.”
Not everyone wanted to be interviewed, she explained, but those that did spoke candidly about their experience of living in the Tenderloin and being part of the community. “Each person I met brought a different perspective,” Cunningham says.
Cunningham recalls some of the interviews she conducted:
“One man has lived in the neighborhood since 1957 and loves it. He walks the streets, greets people and is very much part of the community. It’s his home. Another moved to the area as an ex-con. The only job he could find was sweeping the streets. He has many strong feelings against the Tenderloin and is trying to save money to move.”
The actors conducted approximately 40 interviews ranging from activists, healers, police officers, street cleaners, artists, ex-junkies, immigrants, SRO residents, children, and Tenderloin movers and shakers – and their stories are told to provide an unflinching view of the neighborhood.
To fully recount and honor the stories each person shared, the actors have taken on the characteristics, mannerisms and personalities of each character. Bringing the characters to life takes tremendous talent. TENDERLOIN not only showcases the community, but offers great insight into the talent of San Francisco’s theatrical community.
“TENDERLOIN paints the neighborhood as a beautiful, interesting, multi-layered place”, says Suzanne Appel, Managing Director of Cutting Ball, “and provides audiences an opportunity to see the neighborhood through the eyes of its residents. They will leave with a deeper understanding of the community.”
Cutting Ball Theater is part of the Tenderloin community. It is the resident theater company of EXIT Theater on Taylor located at 277 Taylor Street and its business office is a block away. Throughout the process of creating TENDERLOIN, Cutting Ball has made tremendous efforts to ensure the production is accessible to those that don’t normally attend the theater.
A great deal of interest has been building around TENDERLOIN, stemming from the way in which it was produced. The outreach needed to create the script has generated a lot of buzz and “word of mouth” promotion. As Cutting Ball developed specific programs to make the show more accessible, they found that there was already a great deal of interest, and many organizations throughout the community were willing to partner and support TENDERLOIN.
In partnership with numerous organizations and individual donors including the Tenderloin Economic Development Project, The Boys and Girls Club of San Francisco, the North of Market Tenderloin Community Benefit District, the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation and many individual donors including Carol Shorenstein-Hayes, Cutting Ball is able to offer “Neighborhood Tickets“.
This offering was made possible through a successful “Pay What You Can” campaign, which raised funds to provide free and discounted tickets to the production. Cutting Ball met its goal of raising $9,000 and is offering “Neighborhood Tickets” to Tenderloin residents for all productions.
Cutting Ball has also worked with neighborhood schools and social workers to arrange dates for students and shelter residents to attend the theater as a group. “Not everyone is comfortable going to a show”, says Appel, “making it possible for non-theater goers to attend the production as a group will provide for a more comfortable experience.”
Additionally, they created “Tenderloin Trail” a fundraising and marketing program that encourages audiences to experience some of the great restaurants in the neighborhood. Fish and Farm, Farmer Brown, Jasper’s and 50 Mason Social House are participating and will offer a sampling from their menu prior to the Saturday shows.
TENDERLOIN runs through May 27th. Tickets may be purchased online or one hour in advance of performances at the Cutting Ball Box Office at EXIT on Taylor (277 Taylor Street). Visit the following links for more information about Cutting Ball Theater and TENDERLOIN.
In the words of TENDERLOIN writer and director, Annie Elias, “I hope you will take this piece as an entry point and an invitation to get to know this neighborhood better, to shed your own defenses, look up and look beyond first impressions to see the vibrant humanity around us.”