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It’s hard to overstate the importance of EXIT Theatre to the San Francisco performance scene. Independently owned and operated since 1983, the four-stage “theatreplex” of the Tenderloin is easy to miss — sandwiched between the Powell St. BART station, big-budget venues the A.C.T.’s Geary and the Curran, and fellow indie venues PianoFight and the EXIT on Taylor.

Yet, the scrappy little storefront has become the go-to location for performers putting on everything from black box to burlesque. It’s no wonder the EXIT is often regarded as “the unofficial heart of the S.F. independent theater scene.”

But, like every other venue, the pandemic forced the EXIT to close its doors in March 2020. This left countless independent performers without a stage, and the venue’s flagship event, the annual San Francisco Fringe Festival, had to be canceled.

One year and several lifted restrictions later, the EXIT is ready to welcome back both Fringe performers and live audiences alike. From Sept. 9-18, the 10 companies from San Francisco and beyond — chosen from the venue’s annual performing artist lottery — will occupy three of the EXIT’s stages with a variety of offbeat, provocative material.

The 2021 San Francisco Fringe Festival avatar was designed by Sophia Alonzo. (Graphic courtesy Sophia Alonzo/San Francisco Fringe Festival)

The main-stage shows include “Confessions of an Aging Twink” by Pippin D’B (Eugene, Ore.), “Moose & Tweety” by Analog Theatre (S.F.), “Priest or Not a Priest” by Bradley Paterson (S.F.) and “Taking Our Life: Suicide, Ecocide, and Daring to Live” by Shoshana Alexander (Berkeley).

EXIT Stage Left will host “Dear Kitty … Querida Ana” by More Más Marami Arts (San Jose), “Grandma’s Million Dollar Scheme” by Koorosh Ostowari (S.F.) and “Dave, Muhammad and I at the Americana Hotel” by Edward Lebowitz (S.F.).

EXIT Studio will host “All That Jazz” by All That Jazz Improv (S.F.), “Best of LCTC” by Left Coast Theatre Company (S.F.) and “The Playwright & the Producer” by Cory Lawson and Garret Milton (Lubbock, Texas).

San Francisco Fringe Festival theater-goers approach EXIT Theatre in 2018. (Photo courtesy Colin Hussey)

In a statement accompanying the announcement of the festival, the EXIT staff say that although they expect full audiences, they will abide by all up-to-date COVID-19 precautions (masks and sanitizer will be made available).

In that same release, they wrote: “We’re thrilled to be reopening to independent artists and audiences with a taste for risk, and can’t wait to invite you back indoors with us.”

* The 30th San Francisco Fringe Festival runs Thursday, Sept. 9, through Saturday, Sept. 18, at EXIT Theatre at 156 Eddy St. in San Francisco. Performance times and admission prices vary by show. All up-to-date COVID precautions will be enforced. Tickets and information on performers will be available online at https://www.theexit.org and at the door the day of the show.

* Charles Lewis III is a San Francisco-born journalist, theater artist and arts critic. You can find dodgy evidence of this at The Thinking Man’s Idiot at https://thethinkingmansidiot.wordpress.com/project-type/journalism/.

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