My first offhand memory of EXIT Theatre doesn’t even take place there. It was at the Potrero Stage in 2018, when I was there to review a show, and I was approached by EXIT Theatre's publicist. She’d read my reviews—something that always surprises me—and wanted to add me to EXIT's press list. Having spent the last eight years frequenting the Tenderloin venue, I wasn’t about to refuse. To say the least, I was happy.
I had the exact opposite emotion last month, when I learned that EXIT founder Christina Augello is closing the Eddy Street venue for good. I know that it’s neither the first nor last San Francisco business to close during this still-ongoing pandemic, but for frequent EXIT performers and patrons (I’ve been both), the news was an absolute gut-punch.
We all knew EXIT's origins, and how Augello started performing in the lobby of a Tenderloin residential hotel in 1983. We journalists who reported on the venue knew to always call it “EXIT Theatre,” no “the.” We knew that the firefighter’s hat above the cafe was temporarily taken down when a firefighter took offense (it was put back up a month or two later). And, of course, we knew it was the one and only home of the San Francisco Fringe Festival.
What few outsiders knew was exactly why we regulars referred to it as “the heart of San Francisco's indie theater scene.”
Its Eddy Street location puts EXIT just two blocks south of what’s considered the proper heart of San Francisco’s theater district, home to the Curran and Geary Theaters. That’s where you’ll find all the Geary Boulevard tourist traps: countless restaurants; an abundance of art galleries; and who knows how many hotels—all within walking distance of Union Square. It’s where people expect to see world-renowned shows and take a lot of photos.