Walking into The Lost Church is like coming upon a scene from a Barbary Coast dream. The lights are low, the walls are wooden planks or draped in burgundy velvet with gold-tasseled accents, the paintings loom large with absurd realism. The excitement and warmth of the host, bartender, audience and talent make the intimate room come alive. Then comes the exquisite sound, rich in being cozied with natural objects. A unique and real situation is happening…
No wonder owners and proprietors Brett & Elizabeth Cline are working so hard to make the 50-seat performance parlor located at 65 Capp Street in San Francisco the blueprint for a number of other Lost Churches in and around the Bay Area, and hopefully, beyond.
The The Lost Church was established in 2011 after the Clines decided to leave life on the road behind, find a permanent home for their band Juanita & the Rabbit, and start a family and small performance space in the living room of their home in the Mission. The space was really just for Brett to produce his musicals, but soon the theater’s size, aesthetic, and sound quality filled up the calendar. Eventually, the Entertainment Council came around and The Lost Church had to emerge from the underground and get up to code with permits. Crowdfunding and an eight-month closure got the theater started on the proper permits, and got the Clines looking around to see if there would be spaces more permit-ready to move The Lost Church. “We began looking at other spaces and started realizing that there was a way to use this business model to create these in-demand performance spaces and that there were rents that we could afford with this business model,” Brett said. “We got an education in how this city works and in spaces and what you need to do to make spaces legal. It would be possible to have other small 50-seat theaters using our business model and to keep our current location.” They also knew that in order for the organization to survive and properly serve the community, it had to become non-profit.
Turning The Lost Church theater into a non-profit, having that theater be the seed for many more Lost Churches, and raising the capital to do it all was more than the Clines could handle alone. They began getting to know and assembling a group of people over the course of a year from the artistic, non-profit, tech, and business communities, many of whom approached Brett about getting involved after hearing his eloquently spouted vision in between acts. From that group, they chose people to be on the board of directors who had the skillsets to propel The Lost Church into a non-profit that would create, sustain & defend spaces for live performance.
The non-profit is THELOSTCHURCH.ORG and its immediate goal is to raise funds through community and city arts grants, and through local corporations to open a new space in San Francisco in the next year. It has a three–five year goal to have five performance parlors in the Bay Area. The spaces would all have the same warm, intimate aesthetic as the original theater. The Lost Church would handle the business end of the theater; leaving local artists and promoters free to focus on hosting and curating each evening’s performance. The next step would then be to connect a network of these intimate venues that artists could play and tour.
The other goal is to use the website THELOSTCHURCH.ORG as a tool and robust online platform that could be used to help promote and support other small performance spaces, as well as the artists who use them. “This is a bigger issue than one little space. The dream would be to do something like what the YMCA does for personal fitness, but say for, artistic fitness,” Brett said. “ A chain of little performance parlors could act as a greenhouse for the arts and could support the community and artists in a way that 1,500 seat theaters just don’t. There is an intimacy and a direct connection that happens in a small space, that becomes diluted the larger the space becomes… and besides, there are far more artists that can fill a 50-seat theater than can fill a 500 seater!”