Mike Gaines has worn many hats, but today, he’s got on a fedora. It’s a warm Sunday afternoon, and Mike – who has the build of a linebacker and calm of a surgeon – is watching his wife, Shannon, dance in roller skates to the James Bond theme song.
We’re inside the Florida Street warehouse InnerMission, where the couple’s Vau de Vire production company is staging its latest, and perhaps last, event in the space – a four-course, Barbary Coast–themed circus dinner called Soiled Dove that will run through April 4. In the spirit of Vau de Vire, the people behind Hell in the Armory, it’s an elaborate, sexy, humorous, gravity-defying affair. Of course, it could also a farewell show.
“Change is really cool, actually,” says Gaines. “But I don’t want to abandon this city yet.”
Vau de Vire is one of several arts organizations set to be evicted to make way for a 276-unit housing development. The company’s tattooed aerialists, who perform mid-air burlesque to the music of bird-masked violinists, may end up in Oakland.
“If I want the same kind of space, I’m staring at $30,000 a month,” Gaines says.
It isn’t the first time the Gaineses have been edged out of town.
Vau de Vire started in 1997 as a non-profit in Fort Collins, Colorado where Mike and Shannon Gaines had moved for graduate studies. Mike was planning on medical school, and Shannon was finishing dance instructor training. Instead of medicine, Gaines began working on film sets, and discovered a knack for acting.
“I just got this bug,” he says.
The Gaineses bought a downtown church for cheap and turned it into a performance venue.
“We started doing thematic once-a-month fundraisers,” he says. “Our fundraisers were definite parties.” They included midnight circus and theatrical performances and, on at least one occasion, a naked queen of England.
The parties drew hundreds of people – and the ire of local authorities, who demanded a $40,000 payment for a “street oversizing fee.”
“We didn’t have the money to deal with bureaucratic extortion,” says Gaines, who added that the parties, though fully permitted, clashed with the town’s conservative mores.
Gaines remembers the reaction of Fort Collins’s head of planning and zoning to their parties: “‘My grandmother was baptized in this church and I just think it’s absolute blasphemy what goes on there.’”
The Gaineses found a more friendly cultural climate when they moved to San Francisco in 2001.
“In San Francisco, it was just easy to integrate ourselves into the city,” says. They turned the non-profit into a business and got a foothold with a party called Sunday School. Six and a half years ago, Gaines began leasing at InnerMission.
Gaines set to work legitimizing the zoning of InnerMission – formerly known as Cellspace – where an underground community of artists and performers had gathered since the mid-nineties. The space hosted live/work artist studios, Burner sculptors, and an Aztec dance troupe, and recently has been home to MorningGlory early-morning alcohol-free raves.
Gaines was on the verge of signing a new 10-year lease when the landlord sold the building to the developer Nick Podell.
“We’re a family…a family that’s created it’s own culture,” says Gaines. If the development moves ahead as planned, Vau de Vire will have to move out by June. “I’d like to stay in the city. I’d really like to. It’s becoming difficult to rationalize financially.”
The Soiled Dove runs on Friday and Saturday evenings at 633 Florida Street through April 4th. Tickets and information are available here.