If you’re not looking it’s easy to miss the EXIT Theatre, a small and inconspicuous venue located in an unlikely spot above the Moore’s Sleepwear storefront on the Arcata Plaza. But once you discover the entrance and walk up the flight of stairs, you’ll find an intimate space showcasing many local performances including music, variety shows, plays and burlesque dancing.
The cozy theater, which seats only 35, is a perfect space for DIVA Burlesque – a monthly showcase put on by a different local group of performers each month, featuring striptease dance entertainment. March’s showcase was presented by Bare Elegance Burlesque Beauties and included performances by Nephelé Rose, Alora Devora, Jadis Coyote, Darling Demoania, MadamFoxx, Lottie Deluscious, Knaughty Nebula, Petite Félicité and hosted by Jamie Bondage.
Petite Félicité, or Carissa Titius when she’s not on stage, recently took over leadership of Bare Elegance, after the troupe’s founder Electra Gray moved on to new adventures. With a background in tap, jazz, hip-hop and lyrical dance, Titius has been a burlesque performer since 2018. Starting out her career in San Francisco and the Bay Area, Titius moved to Humboldt in 2021. Having lost her husband to cancer in 2020, Titius felt it was time to start fresh.
“One of the reasons I moved up here was to get away from where everything reminded me of him,” Titius said in an interview with the Outpost after her show on March 10. “I was up here for my friend’s birthday and I just fell in love with the beauty. [We] went to the beach in Trinidad and I cried … I thought ‘this feels like home.’”
After Titius decided to relocate to Humboldt, she promptly went to work finding out where to do burlesque. She found Bare Elegance, went to an audition and secured a spot with the local troupe. Since then she has been performing pretty regularly around Humboldt, making appearances at the Clam Digger, Siren’s Song Tavern and many more local venues.
Having performed for years in the Bay Area, Titius said that there is something special about the artist community in Humboldt. Because it is a smaller community, Titius said, there is a lot of intertwining of different types of performances. Particularly drag performers and burlesque dancers will often do shows together, whereas in the Bay Area, you might see more separation between the two. There also seems to be less of a competitive attitude in the burlesque world and more of a collaborative one.
“I feel like over here it’s more community-oriented,” Titius said. “In the Bay Area, it was so easy to be really cutthroat, and to feel like you had to be really good or you can’t get a spot to do [shows].”
Titius said that with an artform like burlesque, where you are being very vulnerable, it is really important to encourage each other and promote a safe and supportive environment. That attitude is something she really tries to pass on to new performers in the troupe.
“I’ve just been really trying to think about how we can really push the new performers to be professional and community-oriented,” Titius said. “ I just want them to really understand this is a very sacred artform, and there is a lot of vulnerability with it. So you have to give that capacity to everyone.”
Christina Augello, the co-owner and artistic director of EXIT Theatre, also relocated from San Francisco pretty recently and took over the Arcata space in 2020. With a long background in theater and acting, Augello owned and operated the original EXIT Theater in San Francisco for the last 40 years, while also working as a bartender to help support herself. After COVID temporarily shut down both of her means of income, Augello said, she started thinking it was time to move on. Having visited Humboldt many years ago, Augello thought it might be the right fit.
“For me, it was cost, culture and climate,” Augello said in a recent interview with the Outpost at the theater. “And I’m an old hippie. So, I figure this is where old hippies go to die.”
Since opening in 1983, the EXIT Theater on Eddy Street in San Francisco has become a well-loved gem of the Tenderloin District. Probably most recognized for hosting the SF Fringe Festival, Augello and her theater were also known for hosting unique, independent shows that often gave newer artists a chance to develop their work and build their audience. The venue was quite a bit larger than the Arcata space, holding a complex of four different theaters – the largest was an 80-seat theater, and the smallest a 25-seat café theater that served food and drinks.
But like many live venues, EXIT Theater struggled to survive after the pandemic. Even after the space was able to open again, it was difficult to cover the overhead costs, Augello told the Outpost. On top of the impacts of COVID, conditions in the Tenderloin District worsened, and people just didn’t want to come to the theater as much. In 2022 Augello had to close the Eddy Street space.
Before that, Augello had been splitting her time between Arcata and San Francisco, trying to keep both theaters open. Though closing the San Francisco venue was a difficult decision, Augello said, it did give her the opportunity to spend more of her time in Arcata, where she now lives, and to focus on the new space on the Plaza.
Overall things have been going very well at the Arcata theater, and since live shows have been making a post-COVID comeback, Auguello has had many performers eager to utilize the new Arcata space. With this theater, Augello strives to continue the previous EXIT Theatre’s mission of providing a place for artists to create, experiment, and grow by producing new works, and providing production support and keeping the theater rentals as low-cost as possible.
To check out the list of upcoming events at EXIT Theater – located at 890 G Street, above Moore’s Sleepworld on the Arcata Plaza – and to find tickets, visit the theater’s website. The next DIVA Burlesque is at the theater on April 14 at 8 p.m. You can find tickets here. You can also purchase tickets at the box office inside the theater 30 minutes before showtimes, but because the theater holds only 35 seats, the shows often sell out. It’s recommended that you buy tickets beforehand.
If you simply want to check out the space it is open during Arts Arcata – the second Friday of every month from 6 p.m. – and features free live music by jazz saxophone artist Stan Fleming. If you would like to use the theater for your own project, Augello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The door’s always open and I’m open to an eclectic combination of work,” Augello said. “If you wanna do something, just tell me what it is…My job is to build a village. And when the village says, ‘I would like to do this,’ my job is to see how we can make that happen.”