Onstage at Z Below, the show tells her story about what it was like in the 1970s as the oldest child of the six Mitchell cousins, whose fathers Artie and Jim Mitchell founded the O’Farrell Theatre, San Francisco’s most famous adult-movie parlor and strip club, and ran a successful porn film empire.
“We were a colorful family, lived life a bit larger than most,” says Mitchell, 43, who was 20 in 1991 when her dad, Artie, was fatally shot by her uncle Jim.
Years in the making, “The Pornographer’s Daughter” is Mitchell’s unique take on the Mitchell brothers’ “huge” story, about her uncomfortable personal experiences growing up in a notorious family (including testifying at Jim’s murder trial), coming to terms with her destiny and wrapping up with the person she is today, a Southern California mom driving carpools for her elementary-school-age children.
“It’s not about getting revenge, it’s my truth. The truth is rarely pure and never simple,” says Mitchell, who had mixed reaction when openly telling her family members, some estranged, about the show.
While some were overtly supportive and others weren’t standing by her side, she says, “I’m hopeful that this work will help bring us closer together.”
Calling herself a “classically trained nonprofessional,” Mitchell, a singer with an educational background in theater or the arts, is joined onstage by a three-man band, The Fluffers, playing snippets of songs everybody knows as well as material written especially for the show.
“Music is the most universal art form, and it was a huge part of my healing process —it’s what pulled me through,” says Mitchell, who realized she didn’t have a normal life at age 6. By the time she was 10, she didn’t like going to the office with dad. She went “underground” about the family business, telling people her family made documentaries and had a video store (it did) but fudging the truth about its other activities.
For a long time, Mitchell — who went to prep school outside of the Bay Area and lived in Seattle in the 1990s — found San Francisco a “difficult” place to visit.
But today, she sees it as the perfect place to mount her show: “This is a San Francisco story. It’s the city where I was born. I’m literally coming full circle, telling who I am, getting it all out there. I couldn’t have done it when I was 25 or even 30. This is a great city to do that. It’s been an incredible journey to get to this point.”
IF YOU GO
The Pornographer’s Daughter
Where: Z Below, 470 Florida St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 8 and 10:30 p.m. Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays; closes Feb. 16