Hold the Curtain!

A funny thing happened at The Garage, an underground performance space in San Francisco’s SOMA district, on Sunday night: The venue’s artistic director, Joe Landini, held the curtain for at least15 minutes minutes while several audience members tried to find parking and even went as far as to call one of them on her cellphone to find out her estimated time of arrival.

“Everyone say, ‘Hi Jessica’,” Landini instructed, striding up to the front of the room theatrically with his cellphone pressed to his ear. He was going to milk this one for all it was worth. When the woman on the end of the line picked up her phone, Landini held his phone up in the air and we all dutifully yelled “Hi Jessica.” What lemmings! “How far away are you?” he asked. A few seconds later, he snapped his cellphone shut and said to us all: “Alright, folks, Jessica’s coming.” Some fifteen minutes or so later, a small group of theatregoers turned up and were ushered to their seats. We were all instructed to say “Hi Jessica” once again. Then the lights went down and the show began.

I didn’t get the impression that Landini had a special relationship with these latecomers. In fact, he may not have known them at all — some other audience member acquainted with Jessica and party may have asked Landini if he would kindly delay the start of the show for a few minutes, and he decided to make a big deal of it for a bit of fun. It wasn’t as if the theatre was empty and starved for patrons, either — on the contrary, practically every seat in the house was occupied.

In short, it was one of those touching, funny and slightly annoying experiences that makes going to see shows at small venues so unique. It’s hard to imagine this kind of thing happening at ACT, Berkeley Rep or any other sizable house — unless a visiting critic from The New York Times or Wall Street Journal happened to call in claiming to be stuck in traffic.

I wonder to what extent receiving this “special treatment” from The Garage made latecomer Jessical feel like a V.I.P.?

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