Hidden Stages: A New Service Creates a Rental Market for Low-Budget Performers

Anyone familiar with San Francisco's theater district also knows that it's a patchwork of derelict and abandoned spaces. There's the 285-seat Strand Theatre on Market Street, which was actually a bird graveyard until ACT Artistic Director Carey Perloff launched a capital campaign to reopen it in January 2015. There's the Alcazar on Geary, which once hosted Audrey Hepburn and Ginger Rogers, but now serves as a rental space for bar mitzvahs. In fact, many once-prosperous downtown venues lie vacant, their paint chipping away and their walls crumbling, even as local performers vie for production space.

A New York-based nonprofit sought to rectify that problem with its own sharing-economy service, a sort of Open Table for shoestring arts operations. Launched last Tuesday, the Bay Area Performing Arts Spaces website would connect underused venues to needy artists, cultivating what its founders describe as "a lucrative last-minute rental market." Renters would enter their criteria — lighting, sound, date, time, accoutrements — and pay online. Members of the parent nonprofit, Fractured Atlas, are so committed to their idea that they won't even charge a booking fee.

While the service might seem incredibly localized, it's a boon in cities with a high concentration of artists and an ever-fluctuating real estate market. And it's especially suited for tech-savvy San Francisco, where web developers added a feature that allows venue operators to post their calendars online. According to Lisa Niedermeyer, program director for the national Spaces project, that's the real game-changer. "We all get caught up in the online booking aspect," she says, "but the Bay Area took the next step to create a marketplace."

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