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To Save Us or Destroy Us

Three boys shared a bedroom in their family’s duplex. There wasn’t much room for anything but the three beds, arranged against three walls with a chest of drawers thrown in somehow on the fourth wall between the door to the hallway and the closet door. Two windows. The boys were 11, eight, and six, with …

The Christians by Lucas Hnath

‘The Christians’ | A Note from the Artistic Director

We are amazed by the power religious belief exerts in our world. So much good—and so much bad—has been done in the name of religion; and at home and abroad, we are dumbfounded by the power of fundamentalism to wreak havoc on our social and political institutions. What is belief? Why is it such a …


The Cast of ‘She Loves Me’ Sings at Tree Lighting

On the day after Thanksgiving, the cast of She Loves Me kicked off Macy’s 27th Annual Great Tree Lighting in Union Square. The cast sang three holiday songs, including “Twelve Days to Christmas.” Watch the video below.


Whose Story Is It?

It occurred to me last month while writing “The First Story,” that I was just grazing the tip of the iceberg of the subject of “storytelling.” Certainly, in the theatre it is our life’s blood and the very reason for our existence. As an Artistic Director, it defines my purpose, to decide which stories to …


She Loves Me | A Note from the Artistic Director

A country divided, fractured into a half dozen splinter groups. Ungovernable. Where every faction hates every other faction, all lacking the capacity to empathize with the struggles of others. Lacking the ability to even talk to each other, these alienated splinters claw for power, marginalizing minority groups, all driven by the panicky fear that they …


The First Story

November 2016 Newsletter A group of ancient humans sit huddled around the fire, hunkered down in a shallow cave so the rain doesn’t put the fire out, the sound of distant wolves and other creatures of the night echoing off the cliffs around them. They are eating fresh kill, an elk-like animal that was brought in …


Who Am I This Time?

October 2016 Newsletter   In the great Kurt Vonnegut short story, “Who Am I This Time?”, Harry Nash, the awkward hardware store clerk, but also the best actor in town, struggles to relate when off-stage. His mutual crush with Helene Shaw goes nowhere until she discovers that Harry can be romantic, but only if he is …


Seared | A Note from the Artistic Director

What a spectacular privilege to open our fourteenth season with a World Premiere commission from Theresa Rebeck. The saga that created this opportunity goes back six years. Always huge fans of her work, we first dipped our feet into her pool with “The Scene.” And when Maurice Kanbar, one of SF’s great philanthropists chose to …

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Constructing the Set of Seared | Timelapse

It took four full days to assemble the set of Seared on our stage. The crew worked tirelessly, starting as soon as the final curtain fell on City of Angels on Saturday night, all the way through the following Wednesday. When they were done, our theater had been transformed into a working kitchen! Watch this painstaking process …

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Community and Theatre

September 2016 Newsletter   I was recently at a preview of our current Sandbox Show, “All of What You Love and None of What You Hate.” As the patrons were leaving, I asked a couple about what they thought of the show. They both sighed and admitted that the play had struck a little close to …


all of what you love and none of what you hate: A Note from the Artistic Director

In the endless parade of new scripts that cross our desks, 400 to 500 per year, it is tough for one to really stand out. A couple years ago, Jordan Puckett, our associate artistic director and the producer of our Sandbox program, sent me a script by Phillip Howze. I was immediately struck by the …


‘City of Angels’ Cast Performs the National Anthem


Ego and Humility

August 2016 Newsletter   When San Francisco Playhouse moved from 533 Sutter to 450 Post, it was a Herculean undertaking, fraught with grave risks on all sides.  I feared that though we had challenges with our Sutter Street landlord, we might have even more difficulties with our new landlord, the Elks. I feared that the Department …



July 2016 Newsletter   In the military sense, vulnerability means that your position is open to attack, that there is a gap in your defenses, a chink in your armor, an Achilles’ heel. Military strategists work ceaselessly to eradicate any weaknesses in their country’s defenses through which an enemy could penetrate. In the social sense, …


City of Angels: A Note from the Artistic Director

A Tony-winning Broadway hit, a brilliant jazz score by Cy Coleman, and a book by M*A*S*H*-writer genius Larry Gelbart, City of Angels has unfathomably not been revived on Broadway in 25 years. Why do it now? First off, it is a theatrical tour de force, pitting the two worlds of black and white film noir …


The Rules: A Note from the Artistic Director

When we look back at the last century, since women achieved the right to the vote in 1920, we believe that huge progress has been made. In the 1960s, so much attention was placed on Women’s Liberation. Legislation has been enacted in decades since that protects women from discrimination and guarantees their rights to property …

June 16 Empathy Gym Banner- Never Good Enough

Never Good Enough

June 2016 Newsletter   My father, William English, senior to my junior, had high hopes for me – his namesake. In his imagination, I would simultaneously play first base for the Cubs and sit first chair oboe in the Chicago Symphony. He was a dedicated father, and I was an ambitious kid who wanted more than …

Red Velvet

Red Velvet: A Note from the Artistic Director

When Susi and I saw Red Velvet at the Tricycle Theatre in London, we knew immediately that we would want to bring it to San Francisco audiences. Sadly, we had known nothing about Ira Aldridge, so at the simplest level this play is a wonderful history lesson about this very important actor, a pioneer, who …


The Art of Risk

May, 2016 Newsletter When I was thirteen, under the influence of Errol Flynn and Burt Lancaster, I was determined to become a swash-buckling movie daredevil.  Our Junior High School had recently built a one-story temporary structure that intruded into what was formerly playground space.  My fellow seventh-grade classmates, always at war against teen boredom, quickly …


The Tortured Artist

April, 2016 Newsletter During eleven days in March 2016, San Francisco Playhouse opened three shows on two different coasts.  “Ideation” in New York, “Colossal” on our Main Stage, and “On Clover Road” in the Sandbox. Whew!  So tired!  But recovering today, I found myself remembering a time when such an achievement would have been unthinkable …


Colossal: A Note from the Artistic Director

I started college at Arizona State with two contradictory ambitions – to play varsity baseball and to act in theatre productions. And for most of my freshman year, I was able to balance the sports and arts commitments pretty well. At the beginning of my sophomore year, I was offered an opportunity to redshirt on …

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Lessons from Strips of Paper

March, 2016 Newsletter I was an alienated teenager. I spent a vast amount of time alone, face down on my bed, terror-stricken at the prospect of having to interact with other people. But even back then, my strong interest in storytelling manifested itself. Before I had acted in three or four plays, before I had …


From the Empathy Gym: Transformers

February, 2016 Newsletter Several years ago, while in the lobby after performances of “Abigail’s Party,” I would find Allison White, who played Angela, chatting with audience members, and I would frequently hear them ask her, “How did you enjoy the show?” We would both laugh, and then one of us would point out that Allison …

The Nether

‘The Nether’ – A Note from the Artistic Director

In the early 21st Century, we already think of experience as being offline or online, and we are spending exponentially more of our time in digital realities. For many, surfing Facebook or Twitter, our heads buried in our computers and smartphones, our world is shrinking down to our 5-inch screen. The Oculus Rift is the …

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From the Empathy Gym: A Dangerous Place

January, 2016 Newsletter I attended my very first live theater performance at the age of 7. I saw Tad Lincoln in the White House as part of an amazing theatre program sponsored by the Evanston, Illinois school district that produced plays specifically aimed at school-age audiences. At the time, I was mostly interested in baseball, …

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From the Empathy Gym: Mirror, Mirror

When I prepare to design a new set or craft a production concept, I often try to picture our stage as a giant 32’ x 16’ mirror in which we see ourselves reflected back. In this imaginary piece of glass, every aspect of theatre – playwriting, scenic design, acting, the costumes and lights, the props …


From the Empathy Gym: The Temporary Forever

The Temporary Forever Before I became an artistic director, before I had a scene-shop and drafting associates and amazing carpenters to actualize my artistic vision – I put on one-off productions in whatever available temporary black-box stage I could rent. I wore all the theatre hats; producer, director, actor, stage manager. Designing them as i …


From the Empathy Gym: Any Given Sunday

These days, on any given Sunday, it seems that in my neighborhood, there are more people at Starbucks communing with their laptops and smartphones than attending services at traditional houses of worship. Our opportunities to feel connected to something greater than ourselves or to each other have dwindled. Many say that the theatre is dying …

The Empathy Gym

From the Empathy Gym: The Antipathy Gym

Most of you have heard me talk about the Empathy Gym – how San Francisco Playhouse has built a safe space where our community can practice its powers of compassion and empathy. But why do we need such a space? What makes empathy difficult to practice? Is empathy something that comes naturally? Or do we …


Happy August

Happy August! Company is in full swing, and we all get a little rest from producing during its long run. I wanted to share some thoughts with you that arose from my first newsletter and many of your responses and questions. The quality that most distinguishes humans is our capacity for change. It is built …


Stephen Adly Guirgis wins the Pulitzer Prize for Drama

Stephen Adly Guirgis, who has had many plays produced at San Francisco Playhouse, won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for drama for his play “Between Riverside and Crazy.” The Pulitzer committee praised it as “a nuanced, beautifully written play about a retired police officer faced with eviction that uses dark comedy to confront questions of life …

Anne Hathaway in Grounded, written by George Brant and directed by Julie Taymor, running at The Public Theater. Photo credit: Joan Marcus.

‘Grounded’ goes to New York City

“Grounded” written by George Brant is making its Off-Broadway debut this week at the Public Theater in New York City. The play stars film actor Anne Hathaway, famous for “Les Misérables,” and is directed by Julie Taymor, well-known for receiving a Tony for “The Lion King.” “Grounded” was produced in the San Francisco Playhouse Sandbox …

The Empathy Gym

The Empathy Gym

Our theatre is an empathy gym where we come to practice our powers of compassion. Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, Ghandi: These are the Olympic athletes of empathy. But the rest of us need to go to the gym. It’s tough to be compassionate in everyday life. We get cut off in traffic, …