Cutting Ball Theater brings 'The Tenderloin' to the Tenderloin with neighborhood touring show

First row: David Sinaiko, Siobhan Doherty, Paige Mayes. Second row: Jeunée Simons and director/creator Annie Elias. | Photos: Liz Olson/Cutting Ball

This month, Cutting Ball Theater is reviving "The Tenderloin," a 2012 documentary-style show it created to showcase the neighborhood it calls home.

But this time, it's also bringing the show to the neighborhood, as performers take over local spaces like Glide Community Church, the Tenderloin Museum, UC Hastings, the Main Library, and even Boedekker Park.

The new "Tenderloin Tour," like the original production, is woven from oral histories of neighborhood residents, with the goal of "capturing the essence of the people," said Cutting Ball artistic director Ariel Craft.

But by leaving the confines of its usual performance space at Taylor Street's Exit Theater, Cutting Ball also hopes to reach local audiences that may not be accustomed to seeing live performances.

"If you're not accustomed to coming to the theater, it may not be comfortable" to come into a more formal setting, said Liz Olson, Cutting Ball's managing and producing director. Along with the company's standard pay-what-you-can admission for neighborhood residents, the Tenderloin Tour aims to spread the message that Cutting Ball is always open to the neighborhood.
Photo: Cutting Ball Theater/Facebook

Founded in 1999 by Rob Melrose and Paige Rogers, Cutting Ball has an identity rooted in the Tenderloin, Craft said.

Its original 2012 production of "The Tenderloin," created by director Annie Elias, was designed to bring awareness to parts of the neighborhood that are often overlooked.

"The neighborhood is drastically stigmatized," Craft said. "People often miss the whole breadth of the vibrant culture, history, and ... some exceptional people."

As the company geared up to celebrate its 20th anniversary this year, it decided to revive "The Tenderloin" in a shorter "prime cuts" format that would allow it to collaborate with nearby nonprofits.

Each performance will be one hour (instead of the original two), followed by a participatory discussion of the changes and challenges that have confronted the neighborhood in the intervening seven years.

Two of the performers from the 2012 production, David Sinaiko and Siobhan Doherty, will return for the new showcase. The other two cast members, Jeunee Simons and Paige Mayes, are making their Cutting Ball debut.
David Sinaiko, Siobhan Doherty and Paige Mayes look at Jeunee Simons, who is appearing in the Tenderloin Tour courtesy of the Actors' Equity Association.

To facilitate its post-show discussions, Cutting Ball is working with Skywatchers, a local nonprofit focused on self-expression and storytelling, as well as street ministry Faithful Fools.

For all of the performances held at the Exit space, Cutting Ball is also hosting an on-site art installation, featuring work from fellow local theater group CounterPulse's neighborhood lending library. Local nonprofits, such as the Tenderloin Boys and Girls Club, Skywatchers, the Luggage Store, and Creativity Scores, will also provide art for the showcase.

826 Valencia's Tenderloin outpost also teamed up with Cutting Ball to develop a multimedia podcast installation for audience members at the theater's performances.

Finally, Cutting Ball has teamed up with several tech partners to undertake the project, including Tenderloin "Mayor" Del Seymour and his Code Tenderloin initative, and Mid-Market neighbors Zendesk and Dolby.

"Programming this event has been life-reforming, working with the neighborhood nonprofits and seeing everyone's willingness to collaborate," Olson said.
Artwork from the Tenderloin Boys and Girls Club will be featured at the theater. | Image: Cutting Ball Theater/Facebook

Tickets to the Tenderloin Tour range from $35-50, but as always, Tenderloin residents can pay what they're able to afford -- including seeing the show for free.

"We hope those with means will pay, but we want all neighborhood residents to enjoy it and participate," Olson said.

The first performance of the Tenderloin Tour will be held tomorrow, January 9, at the Exit Theater (277 Taylor St.) It will continue at other venues around the neighborhood through January 26. To see the full schedule of venues, or purchase tickets, go here.
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