The Speakeasy is Closing in SF
We had fun covering The Speakeasy over the last few years, it really was fun, creative, stiff drinking ride. But the ride’s coming to an end. Here’s their parting letter…
VIA – John Hill of Speakeasy
SAN FRANCISCO, CA, May 29, 2019 – Boxcar Theatre announced today that its hit show, The Speakeasy, will finally close on Sunday, August 4, after a remarkable run of approximately 425 performances before an audience of more than 72,000 attendees. Conceived and created by Boxcar Artistic Director Nick A. Olivero, The Speakeasy recreates an authentic Prohibition-era nightclub, complete with disguised entrances, secret passageways and vaudeville cabaret.
Often compared to other extravagant productions like Sleep No More in New York or Vegas Nocturne in Las Vegas, The Speakeasy raised the bar for immersive theater in the Bay Area. First opening on January 10, 2014 in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, The Speakeasy ran for more than five months earning praise from critics and audiences alike. “Impressively orchestrated” (San Francisco Bay Guardian), “Everything I love about San Francisco” (The Bold Italic) and “The best bar in San Francisco” (SF Weekly) were a few of the glowing reviews it received.
After being displaced from its original home, The Speakeasy signed a lease on a defunct movie theater on the border between North Beach and Chinatown. At 9,050 square feet, the new space, christened The Palace Theater, is almost three times the size of the show’s original location, accommodating up to 250 patrons each night. With design by San Francisco architect David Hecht the project cost approximately $3.5 million dollars to open.
In its second iteration, which opened to the press on December 8, 2016, The Speakeasy’s script ran to 1487 pages, with minute-by-minute precision required to coordinate scenes unfolding simultaneously in six different areas of the theater. Bucking trends for a night out on the town, The Speakeasy enforced a dress code for guests, offered period attire for rent, and required that mobile phones be turned off and stowed away inside the theater. After the first act, patrons were free to “choose their own adventure,” freely exploring The Speakeasy’s maze of rooms.
Critical acclaim followed first in the local press – “An intoxicating delight,” (San Francisco Chronicle), “Period perfect,” (San Francisco Examiner), “A voyeur’s playland” (San Francisco magazine) – and later in national and international outlets from Frommer’s to Condé Nast Traveler, the Toronto Sun to Haaretz.
Since 2016, The Speakeasy has evolved with later editions dubbed A Night at the Palace and most recently Age of Scofflaws. Despite its high profile, exceptional reviews and enthusiastic fans, the show has suffered seasonal drops in ticket sales aggravating its high costs.
“It’s a very expensive show to run,” said Olivero. “The difficulties we’ve experienced are not unusual here in the Bay Area. We’re very proud of the long run we’ve had, and we’re equally proud of the hundreds of jobs we’ve created since we started this project six years ago.” The weekly payroll includes about 120 individuals. Since inception, The Speakeasy has hired 178 actors, 87 musicians and 36 additional theater workers, paying out a total of $1.74 million to artists, overwhelmingly local Bay Area residents.
“We face special challenges as an arts organization, but we also face all the same challenges that every small business in San Francisco has to deal with: the affordability crisis, the labor crisis and the effects of living in the ‘shut-in economy’. We see vacant storefronts all over North Beach and throughout the city. More theaters are closing than new ones are opening. Hiring and retaining staff has become almost impossible.”
After its final show on August 4, Boxcar Theatre will continue to operate The Palace Theater as a rental venue. Limited engagements for theatrical projects will receive consideration. The Speakeasy’s producers are also pursuing opportunities to remount the show in other metropolitan markets. Until then, it hopes to sell out the remainder of The Speakeasy’s run. Tickets, $79 – $145, are currently on sale with shows on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and select Wednesdays and Sundays. To purchase, visit thespeakeasysf.com/reservations.