Stage Left: A Story of Theater in San Francisco

Stage Left is a documentary film celebrating the Bay Area's unique theater community. This timeline is an interactive tool based on the film created to collect a comprehensive cultural history. Our first story begins post-WW II in 1946 with the founding of the Interplayers.

Inspired by a Western history of risk taking and exploration, a climate of political and social activism, a particular multicultural mix, and a geography that is seismically unstable, San Francisco theater artists have focused on pushing the boundaries of the form. Their interest in redefining performance—where it takes place, how it is staged, and what it encompasses—has had a lasting influence on theater in the United States and around the world. Stage Left brings together the directors, actors, composers and playwrights, the artists and the eccentrics that have made the Bay Area theater scene an experimental, multidisciplinary and political hotbed. ;xNLx;;xNLx;Please contribute your story to this dynamic and important history.

1946-06-25 18:34:33

Interplayers Founded

Begun by four conscientious objectors and Quakers, the Interplayers emerged in the 1950s as a reputable force for the presentation of serious drama in San Francisco. Founders Martin Ponch, who had worked with New York’s Washington Square Players, Kermit Sheets, Joyce Lancaster and her husband, Adrian Wilson, met and formed a theatrical practice while in Civilian Corps camps. The company’s first season, in 1947, featured works by Chekhov, Lorca and Shaw, at the Washington Street Theater in North Beach.

1948-06-25 18:34:33


Interplayers produced the West Coast premier of Jean Paul Sartre’s seminal play “No Exit,” which was written in 1944, at the Palace of the Legion of Honor. For the 1949-50 season, the Interplayers moved to a new venue at Hyde and Beach streets but the building was shut down by the Fire Department Bureau after only eight weeks of performances for a building code violation.

1949-06-25 18:34:33


During the 1949-50 season, Interplayers established an Audience Guild in the hopes of building a permanent and growing audience that would both contribute to and benefit from the theater company. This early example of an integrative approach toward subscribers saw them as part of the community rather than just consumers. Offerings that season included local poet James Broughton’s “The Playground,” a “cosmic morality play” that had appeared in an issue of Theater Arts magazine devoted to new theater forms. Largely nomadic during its first few years, the Interplayers had productions at the Friends’ Center, the Marines Memorial Theater (MMT), Mills College, a warehouse near Fisherman’s Wharf, and the San Francisco Museum of Art. Finally, the company moved into the Verdier mansion on Vallejo Street at Taylor. By this time, it had staged plays by writers including J.M. Synge, Gertrude Stein, T.S. Eliot and Luigi Pirandello.

1952-01-01 00:00:00

SF Actors Workshop

The first post-war San Francisco theater company to garner national attention, San Francisco Actors Workshop was founded by San Francisco State College professors Herbert Blau and Jules Irving. The founders chose the name to reflect their belief in the actor as the central element of theatrical performance, in the hopes that the workshop would be “a place where each individual could pursue his craft.”

1952-01-01 00:00:00

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1952-04-01 18:34:33


After March 1952 was dedicated as International Theater Month under the sponsorship of Unesco and the American National Theater and Academy, ANTA announced a full-scale drama festival to be held in April in Monterey, featuring the work of six Northern California companies. In June, a presentation was held by the Council of San Francisco Theaters at the Crossroads Theatre, featuring excerpts from productions by the Crossroads company, the California Labor School Theater Associates, Theater San Francisco and the Interplayers.

1952-06-25 18:34:33


The Interplayers’ move to the Verdier mansion was accompanied by a split of its founders. Kermit Sheets and some of the company left to form The Playhouse Repertory Company, which was later known simply as The Playhouse.

1954-12-01 00:00:00


The first play produced by the San Francisco Actors Workshop was Philip Barry’s “Hotel Universe,” followed shortly by “The Crucible,” Arthur Miller’s award-winning parable of the McCarthy hearings (a play that would stay in the company’s repertory and become their first production mounted when they moved into the Marines Memorial Theater). “The Crucible,” which climaxes in a trial, was believed to be part of the revitalization of American theater, along with the lyrical bittersweet dramas of pathos penned by Tennessee Williams.

1955-01-01 00:00:00

SFAW acquires Marines Memorial

The San Francisco Actors Workshop distinguished itself as a progressive American theatrical institution largely through its interpretations of European drama; the highly praised production of Lorca’s “Blood Wedding” enabled the company to move from its intimate loft space to an abandoned warehouse, and this move was followed in turn by SFAW’s acquisition of the Martines Memorial Theater in 1955. The SFAW eventually garnered national recognition for its embrace of the newly emerging European styles of Epic and Absurdist Theater, staging premier performances of Brecht’s “Mother Courage” and “The Caucasian Chalk Circle,” and groundbreaking productions of Absurdist plays by Beckett, Pinter and Genet. Tags: SFAW, European theater, American theater, Lorca, Beckette, Pinter, Genet, Brecht, Blood Wedding, MMT, 1955, Mother Courage, Absurdist plays, Epic Theater, The Caucasian Chalk Circle

1955-01-01 00:00:00

Dancers workshop founded

Equally important historically to the San Francisco Actors Workshop, Anna Halprin founded the Dancer ’s Workshop outside San Francisco. Many of her early students, including Simone Forti,Trisha Brown, Yvonne Rainer and Steve Paxton, would migrate and go on to find celebritythrough New York’s Judson Church performances.

Stage Left: A Story of Theater in San Francisco

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