TLC ON HOODLINE
The Lost Church Performance Space Sets Sights On Major Bay Area Expansion (Photos: Brittany Hopkins/Hoodline)
The Lost Church is the brainchild of Brett and Elizabeth Cline. After touring the country with their punk rock band, the couple settled down in the irregularly-shaped house built by David Ireland—a renowned San Francisco artist whose other former Capp Street residence is now a museum—and started a family. Unlike most young families, however, they decided to turn their living room into an intimate performance venue, the perfect stage for immersive musicals that could expand on the "vivid" story lines built into their lyrics, Brett said.
Before the Clines pulled the curtains on their first musical, they had a backlog of musicians eager to take the stage, Brett noted.
Over the few years, while other performance venues struggled to stay afloat, The Lost Church has staged eight original live musicals and between each, a host of other events, including film screenings, book readings, magic shows, local bands and comedy nights ... and also raised over $40,000 to bring their under-ground theater up to code.
So, it's no surprise that they're taking this success on the road.
To do so, the Clines and their newly formed board of directors are in the process of forming a The Lost Church nonprofit. In addition to supporting existing performance venues through information sharing, the organization will lease spaces for future venues.
When they initially played with the idea of expansion, Brett said he visited existing venues and five immediately offered to hand over the keys. But as he investigated their businesses, he learned that they each had a major business model issue—from inconvenient locations to unaffordable rent prices. He also almost signed a lease on a space in the Tenderloin himself, but came to the realization that it's better to have a nonprofit organization burden the financial risk rather than one private individual.
The Lost Church nonprofit will operate sort of like the YMCA, he added. One core group of staff members will handle leases, bills, helping to book talent and other back-end logistics for all of the theaters. But events at each space will be run by community members.
The idea comes from The Lost Church's own successful business model. Having just one individual fire up the PA system, greet guests and introduce the performer during each event has kept the tiny venues in business, Brett said. He's been turning Saturday nights over to community hosts, and so far, so good. And while hosting events at future The Lost Church venue won't be a full-time job, it will be a fun way to make a little extra cash, he said.
As The Lost Church grows under this new organization, Brett said each space will be "whatever the community needs it to be." They'll each be beautiful and mysterious speakeasy-like venues that draw in people who wouldn't normally go to the theater.
Excited by a diverse board of directors that has formed around this idea, Brett said the goal now is to solidify the organization's core infrastructure, build a strong online presence at thelostchurch.org and raise enough money to launch one new venue. And while a specific space hasn't been identified, their sights are set on opening the first spinoff in the Tenderloin, which is easily accessible from other parts of the Bay Area and already home to many property-owning nonprofits that may be able to help make room for a newcomer.
“The Lost Church a haven for adventurous souls hungry for new thrills in unexpected settings.”
I became a Lost Church disciple back in January, when an invitation to see local alt-country idol Paula Frazer came with the additional intrigue of watching her perform in a mysterious venue. Something about the place being named The Lost Church gave the space a theatrical flair in my mind, and when I walked off cracky Capp Street and through the unmarked door, I felt like I was entering a scene in a David Lynch film.
Once I got up the steps and into the main room, I noticed naked lightbulbs glowing all old-timey in a bright line from the small stage, and red velvet curtains framing Paula and her cohort Jesse Jackson. The words “The Greek Chorus” twinkled in gold glitter on an arrow hanging down the wall, and below tiny rose-colored lights were sprawled like ivy. The room was so intimate, holding just 50 people, it was like I’d crashed someone’s (supremely awesome) house party as my friend and I took the last two folding chairs available. We were front row, a couple feet from Paula and Jesse.
The affable tattooed guy ...at the door double-timed as the emcee (he’s also, I learned later, one of The Lost Church’s co-owners, Brett Cline). He made announcements between acts with the dramatic delivery of a sideshow barker, and I almost expected Tom Waits to snake out as the headliner – there was that wacky kinda vibe in the room.
Instead, I was pleasantly surprised by a different rock ’n’ roll character, Jonathan Richman, taking the stage. The former Modern Lover curled over his guitar as part of an acoustic trio, making funny faces the whole time. (How could I not notice? I was perched close enough for shy eye contact.)
By the end of the night, I’d been baptized by a new space that made the evening as much about the atmosphere as it was about the people on stage. I proselytized to my friends about The Lost Church until I’d brought back a dozen new converts for the next big gig – Sonny Smith’s zany spoken-word musical about being a broke dude and banging aliens. And, I should add, that show was awesome.
I was twice sold on The Lost Church after that gig, and had to learn more about how this unassuming building, just off the 16th Street bustle, had arrived on the ol’ discreet venue scene. It turned out the place has a long history with the arts.
They told me the building originally came to life in 1979, the creation of famous local conceptual artist David Ireland. He’s the one responsible for the geometrically-shaped windows, angled for ideal moon viewing, and the second floor bridge that winds across the room and doubles as a balcony during performances. Four years later, it became The Capp Street Project, an installation gallery, until Brett took it over in 1997. The space pretty much stayed out of the public eye until 2011.
The Clines are now creating what they call a “greenhouse for the arts,” a general description for big ideas that include plenty of cool multimedia happenings. Since opening to the public as a “theatrical production house” last February, they’ve hosted numerous plays, musical performances, and variations on those themes.
The Lost Church wasn’t created to be some kind of divey rock ’n’ roll haven. There are plenty of other Capp Street lofts and warehouses catering to that demographic, and the Clines’ backgrounds diverge into other areas. Elizabeth is an on-set tailor for Levi’s and Old Navy, among others, and she is quite the seamstress, creating napkin dresses and The Lost Church’s curtains. Brett earned his stagecraft chops as a sound and lighting engineer at many of the city’s major theaters.
The couple, who live in a building just behind The Lost Church, wanted to create a venue for grownups who support the underground scene. They were thinking of folks who have kids or who crash out well before the booty-calling hour.
That respect comes in part because, right off the bat, you know who is hosting you.... And just as it would be if you were a guest in someone’s home, the bathroom is actually clean.
As for the name The Lost Church, Brett tells me it has nothing to do with religion.
He goes off excitedly about being part of life-enhancing rituals before explaining that he just wanted to create a space that’s “good for the soul.”
I’ll add to that description by calling The Lost Church a haven for adventurous souls hungry for new thrills in unexpected settings. I mean, really, where else am I going to see Jonathan Richman one weekend and a sing-songy drama about “love, sex, drugs, spaceships, paranoia, and hallucinations” the next?
Author: Jennifer Maerz Photography: Joseph Schell