'Dear San Francisco' at Club Fugazi is a Love Letter Written for Everyone

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Janru Wang during her hand-balancing act in 'Dear San Francisco' at Club Fugazi. (Kevin Berne)

If you wrote a love letter to San Francisco, what would you put in it? Would you extol the virtues of its burritos? Wax rhapsodic about its many subcultures and radical movements nurtured over the years in a seven-square-mile proximity? Maybe you would even write about yourself—how you changed while you lived here, how living here changed you?

If you've already written such a letter—responding to a recent call by circus collective the 7 Fingers—there’s a chance you’ll hear it read onstage during the open-ended run of Dear San Francisco at Club Fugazi.

Formerly the artistic home of the long-running Beach Blanket Babylon, Club Fugazi has been given a welcome makeover (comfortable chairs, updated lighting), but the aims of its new show remain similar: to provide San Francisco-centered entertainment that riffs on familiar enough tropes that locals and out-of-towners alike can find something to hold onto. (And, likewise, to serve as a North Beach destination bringing welcome foot traffic to its restaurants, bars and bookstores.)

The ensemble cast of 'Dear San Francisco' at Club Fugazi. (Kevin Berne)

In Dear San Francisco, a vibrant group of circus acrobats fills the diminutive stage with whimsy and heart. They soar to the literal rafters thanks to the addition of two Chinese poles and a static trapeze. They are windblown and earthquake-rattled. They read actual newspapers and talk on actual payphones. They recite beat poetry and read love letters. They strum guitars and banjos, and play accordion while perched aloft on a pair of strong hands. They drop “acid” and spin up and down the poles like tops as psychedelic projections spill across the stage and a druggy remixed song by The Doors spirals outward.

Natasha Patterson plays accordion while perched in Melvin Diggs' hands as Ruben Ingwersen looks on in 'Dear San Francisco' at Club Fugazi. (Kevin Berne)

Like many circus shows, the core of the performance lies squarely on the trained shoulders of its cast. A multicultural troupe with San Francisco lineage and a permanent artistic home in the well-known circus center of Montreal, 7 Fingers brings Dear San Francisco's kaleidoscopic series of vignettes to life with friendly synergy. Even during their most dangerous-seeming feats—divebombing the stage headfirst from the top of their poles, leaping two stories into the air on a giant teeterboard—each performer exudes delighted bonhomie. They slap each other on the back and clasp hands over a stunt well-executed. At times they lock eyes and caress each other’s faces in affection. A trapeze act becomes a pansexual orgy of longing. A phone booth becomes a miniature dance club.

Ruben Ingwersen and Jérémi Levesque soar on their teeterboard in 'Dear San Francisco' at Club Fugazi. (Kevin Berne)

Each performer gets to demonstrate a specialty talent or two. Enmeng Song dazzles on the diabolo. Ruben Ingwersen surprises with his madcap unicycle skills. Isabella Diaz plays multiple instruments and sings with sweet confidence. Natasha Patterson contact-juggles a series of “mysterious orbs” as she dances ferociously to a fractured remix of dialogue from The Maltese Falcon. Junru Wang performs an expressive hand-balancing act as her fellow performers write affirmations on her body with thick slashes of marker ink.


At times, in their ebullience, the performers threaten to tumble off the stage into the audience’s laps, and at times the action does spill over into the aisles and balconies, even occasionally onto the new, narrow tabletops. Amping up every act is a clubby, electro-heavy soundscape composed by Colin Gagné, with Alexander V. Nichols filling in the spaces with video projections and textural lighting.

Ruben Ingwersen on unicycle with the ensemble cast of 'Dear San Francisco' at Club Fugazi. (Kevin Berne)

Ultimately, Dear San Francisco is an exercise in nostalgia as performed by a generation some years removed from the key events depicted—the poetry readings once held by the Beats at Club Fugazi, the Merry Prankster acid tests, the “hardboiled” noir of Dashiell Hammett. Even in its more harrowing moments—ones depicting high winds, ruinous earthquakes, raging fires, and even, briefly, the infamous “orange skies” of 2020—Dear San Francisco keeps it light. This is no history lesson, and it’s not designed to be. This is a celebration of survival, albeit at times an anachronistic one.

What it did bring up for me was a letter of my own. The reasons I love San Francisco, despite and sometimes because of its flaws. The quality of light on an autumn afternoon. The insularity of its hilltops. The expansive views from its shorelines. The poetry and the pupusas. And most especially the artists, who against all odds continue to craft new ways to amaze and inspire.

Dear San Francisco is one of a million letters that could be written about this storied city. What makes it special is that we can experience it together.

'Dear San Francisco' is in ongoing residence at Club Fugazi in San Francisco. Details here.