Lower Nob Hill cabaret spotlights local talent

Photo: Society Cabaret

Standing almost in the shadow of larger rooms like Feinstein's At The Nikko and the Venetian Room, Society Cabaret, which operates inside the Hotel Rex at 562 Sutter Street, has made its reputation by focusing on locals with talent.

The venue is a labor of love from husbands G. Scott Lacy and Christopher M. Nelson, and husband and wife Paula and Tim Heitman, all of whom have strong backgrounds in theater. They also operate a sister Society Cabaret at 44 South Almaden in San Jose.

"We had been friends for a long time,"said Paula Heitman. "We collaborated in the theater world -- Scott says I gave him his first musical directing job. So from there we became fast friends."

Heitman recalls how Society Cabaret came to be. "Scott always wanted to have a cabaret," she said. "I had just retired from San Diego State where I taught theater and drama. Scott and Chris were staying at our house -- we sat around talking about the possibility of doing a cabaret."
Photo: David-Elijah Nahmod/Hoodline

The foursome settled upon San Francisco after considering San Diego. They began at The Starlight Room inside the Sir Francis Drake Hotel with singer/actress Molly Ringwald as their opening attraction -- Ringwald was staying at the Hotel Rex.

"Ina Dong, the manager of the Hotel Rex, said that she had a room which would be great for cabaret," Heitman said. "She dragged me and Molly over, and that was five years ago."

Heitman said that she was very happy with their Union Square location. "I like the neighborhood because it's vibrant and alive," she said. "There's always been a history of cabaret here. There are so many wonderful performers, we're glad to provide them with a space. We appreciate them and the audiences -- it's the magic between the audience and the stage that makes the show happen."

She was quick to point out that while the other clubs gravitated towards bigger, more nationally known names, Society Cabaret generally prefers to provide a platform to artists from the Bay and LA.

"Besides supporting regional artists, we have an educational component," said Heitman. "We run classes where people who want to put on a show are taught how to structure a show and how to put songs together. Ultimately they do their own show down the road."

Those classes, called The Cabaret Intensive, cost $800.
Photo: David-Elijah Nahmod/Hoodline

There are also open mic nights, dubbed Curtain Call, where fledgling cabaret artists can test their skills performing before an audience.

Society Cabaret is chock full of atmosphere. The room's lighting is low key, and portraits of literary figures from San Francisco's past, such as Dashiell Hammett, grace its walls.

"The room has good acoustics," said Heitman. "It has an ambiance of the time when there might have been ten cabarets on the street."

But there are challenges in running Society Cabaret. "The space is not our own," said Heitman. "People are sleeping upstairs so we can't do a late night show --this is a hotel first, so we have parameters set by other people. The sky is not the limit."

They also need to find and book the talent for the two shows per week they schedule. "People wander in for Curtain Call," she said. "Agents call us. We see people when we travel."

Interested parties can also submit for a show online at the Society Cabaret website. Callbacks are promised.

Heitman said that she and her partners do not intend to slow down. "We have no retirement plans," she said. "We're always coming up with new things to do."

For information on upcoming Society Cabaret shows, to submit your name to perform, or to inquire about Cabaret Intensives, please visit the club's website.
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