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Profiles of people who uplift, maintain, or change traditions within their communities.

A love letter to San Francisco at Club Fugazi

Kevin Berne

For more than 45 years, the musical parody Beach Blanket Babylon entertained tourists and San Franciscans alike.The show featured bawdy songs, political commentary, and over-the-top costumes – including an enormous hat of the city’s skyline. But the show held its last performance at Club Fugazi in 2019.Now, there’s a new production on that stage, an acrobatic homage to San Francisco’s history. For our series, Culture Keepers, KALW’s Sandra Halladey met with the creatives who’ve reintroduced San Francisco-themed theater to Club Fugazi, with a show that encourages audiences to celebrate this city.

I’m in North Beach, at Club Fugazi, for a rehearsal of a show unlike anything I’ve seen before. Acrobats move across the stage as if they’re one organism. From the front row - I’m so close I can hear the squeaks of shoes and see clouds of chalk dust. https://www.clubfugazisf.com/gypsy-sniderI almost jumped out of my seat when an acrobat swung out past the stage, and another one plunged down a pole to land with their face an inch from the ground. These performers are rehearsing “Dear San Francisco,” a cross between a contemporary circus, a sporting event, and a cabaret.

Co Director and Creator Gypsy Snider didn’t need to run away to the circus…she grew up in one!

"My parents originally were working at the San Francisco Mime Troupe in the late 60s. They wanted to create something that was going to be uplifting and positive and so they kind of created this offspring out of the San Francisco Mime Troupe, which was called the Pickle Family Circus."

Gypsy made her debut there at age 4, and she’s been performing in and teaching contemporary circus internationally ever since. Of a fateful trip home in 2019, Gypsy said:

"I was here visiting my father and Beach Blanket announced that they were going to close. And it just hit me like lightning." 

She called Club Fugazi and asked:

"What are you going to do now that they're gone? And they said, well, we have no idea. "

That’s when “Dear San Francisco” was conceived. Here's Co-Producer and Executive Director David Dower:

"Actually -  the point of being here is to, uh, love the city. And, uh, basically hold the heart of the city as a beating heart, as a, as alive."

The way Beach Blanket Babylon once did.

Just like in Peter Pan:

"If you don't believe in Tinkerbell, Tinkerbell won't live. Uh, and so we thought we were making a piece that would remind people that you have to... Fight for San Francisco. You have to live San Francisco for San Francisco to be alive"

As the show is about to start, we ask audience members what they expect to see:

"We were here when it was Beach Blanket Babylon. Okay. And we wanted to come back and see it. 'cause we lived here 25 years ago.  And, uh, just love North Beach. Just great to be back." 
Another says:
"The unexpected.  Lots of fun, lots of surprises, and lots of San Francisco ness." 

When they arrive at the theater, attendees are encouraged to write love letters to San Francisco.
David Dower shares one of his favorite letters. It’s pinned on the bulletin board at the entrance, and includes a drawing of the acrobats.

"Dear San Francisco I'm not great with words, but I will try for you. You brought me out of the darkest time of my life Thank you for helping me find a home in myself."  

The show starts with a film of old San Francisco projected on the rear of the stage, then a news reel of the 1906 earthquake. Some performers move as shadows behind the screen. Some speak directly to the city itself:

"With all of your faults, you shudder and crumble, yet like a phoenix of fools, you rise up again and brush off the ashes.  Down your winding streets and despite my stumbling feet, we find a common ground.  We are poets,  radicals,  and we will roll like the fog."

There’s hoop diving, pole climbing, diablo, juggling, trapeze, music making and more throughout the show - there is no 4th wall. The performers invite the audience to join in as they trip through San Francisco history. There's insider local knowledge alongside well known sports and literary references like this from Beat Poet Diane DiPrima:

"I won't promise you'll never go hungry. But that you won't be sad on this gutted, breaking globe. But I can show you, baby, enough to love to break your heart forever."

But the heart of the show, where it gets its name, is those love letters to San Francisco:

"Dear San Francisco,  Thank you for welcoming a closeted gay boy from Alabama, and giving me the space and acceptance to be myself."

Performers even read segments of letters written by tonight’s audience members:

"Dear San Francisco, Thanks for the magic.  I fell in love with my now wife, lying under a blanket in a thunderstorm in Glen Park. We got married three years later. Pure magic. Signed, Sean. I've loved thunderstorms, this is adorable. Sean, where are you? There. There.

Dear San Francisco, Remember that time we ran naked together, giggling wildly"

After the show, the crowd pours out onto Beach Blanket BabylonBoulevard - here's what a few audience members thought of the show:

"They were great. It's just a great show. Uh, Beach Blanket Babylon was the time and place and it's good to see a new generation. They did things that I couldn't believe somebody could possibly do." 


"Yeah, it was amazing. It just captured all the things that I love about San Francisco. It just made me fall in love with it all over again."  

Something that’s been happening in this theater for decades.

This story was made to be heard, click the play button above to listen

"Dear San Francisco" was co created by Gypsy Snider and her friend Shana Carrol and their company The Seven Fingers.

This story aired in the February 6, 2024 episode of Crosscurrents.

What do you love about San Francisco? Your love letter might be posted on our social media channels on Valentines Day! You can submit your love letter here: bit.ly/SFloveletter

Thank you to our listeners who sent in the following love letters to San Francisco:

"North Beach, San Francisco, where the coffee is strong and the people value poets and the arts and culture find a center and a hub….always have…even Dylan Thomas fell in love with it here"

"I’ve loved you since I first saw you from a window at the top of the Jack Tar Hotel, at the age of ten. I remember saying out loud ‘This is where I REALLY live.’"

"It took me twenty five years to get here, but San Francisco was and still is my North Star."

"I love climbing Bernal Hill to walk accompanied by neighbors, dogs, red tail hawks, a murder of crows, and an occasional coyote."

"Thank you for teaching me to embrace all the beautiful weirdness life has to offer, stay weird and wonderful!"

"This city, I believe, is the epitome of what the USA has to offer aesthetically, professionally, and culturally."

"I hope the city stays true to its spirit of openness and creativity and can once again be a healing refuge for those in need."

"Finding community, adventure, and love seemed effortless here. Bashert - a true match, meant to be."

Sandra Halladey is a member of the 2024 KALW Audio Academy.
Passionate about speaking up for and building a constituency of support for public institutions — especially public education and the arts.