San Francisco Performing Arts - Theatre

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San Francisco's theatre scene is one of the most vibrant and experimental in the country. With the Bay Area's liberal-friendly freedom, relished diversity and Pacific Rim influences, San Francisco's theatres and theatre companies are the gateway to so many new fusions of art forms. So don't drag you feet--drag your butt to San Francisco's many theatres and get inspired.

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Orpheum Theatre

1192 Market St., San Francisco CA 94102; Tel. 415.551.2000

The Orpheum Theatre consistently debuts performances by national touring companies of successful Broadway shows. Phantom of the Opera, Cats, Rent and The Lion King have all made San Francisco's flagship Orpheum Theatre their home.

Actors Theatre of San Francisco

533 Sutter St., San Francisco CA 94102; Tel. 415.296.9179

The Actors Theatre of San Francisco was formed in 1989 by a collective of writers, directors and actors who wished to stage quality ensemble pieces dealing with the human condition. The reparatory that resulted has debuted works by Eric Bogosian and David Mamet, while constantly exploring the classic plays of Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee and Arthur Miller.

American Conservatory Theatre

415 Geary St., San Francisco CA 94109; Tel. 415.729.2ACT

Average Ticket Price: $16-$66

American Conservatory Theatre (A.C.T.) is San Francisco's flagship theater and boasts a national reputation. Going to the newly restored, post-earthquake Geary Theatre between Taylor and Mason is a grand affair and can easily be a dress-up occasion on a Friday or Saturday night. The American Conservatory Theatre does British comedies extremely well, but the acting is pretty white bread. This is great San Francisco theater to impress the folks with. Good seats are expensive, parking is a drag, but performance art patrons really get the theater experience. The American Conservatory Theatre seats 1000.

Buriel Clay Theatre

762 Fulton St., San Francisco CA 94115; Tel. 415.292.1850

The Buriel Clay Theatre is perhaps best know for its long-running productions of Viva Variety, a cabaret-like comic ensemble piece that reinvents itself each year. Like San Francisco itself, the Buriel Clay is a mix of the eclectic, the queer and the downright hilarious.

Curran Theatre

445 Geary St., San Francisco CA 94115; Tel. 415.551.2000

The Curran Theatre has a long history of staging successful runs of Broadway powerhouse touring companies. Perhaps the best stage outside of New York to catch chart-toppers like Phantom of the Opera (which opened to packed houses for years before moving on to the Orpheum Theatre) and experimental works like the Pulitzer Prize-winning Topdog/Underdog by Suzan-Lori Parks.

Eureka Theater

215 Jackson St., San Francisco CA 94111; Tel. 415.788.1125

Recently revived and refurbished, the Eureka Theater concentrates on drama and discovery. In its original incarnation, Bay Area audiences were introduced to Angels in America by Tony Kushner, as well as the works of David Mamet, Dario Fo and Anna Deavere Smith. With the renovation finally complete, the theater crowd has ecstatically embraced it again.

EXIT Theatre

156 Eddy St., San Francisco CA 94102; Tel. 415.931.1094

The experimental EXIT Theatre in San Francisco has a bohemian flare, often serving as a launching board for successful, larger productions. Unlike many San Francisco theaters, the EXIT is neither stuffy nor staid, and has more in common with the annual San Francisco Fringe Festival than it does Phantom of the Opera.

Herbst Theatre

401 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco CA 94115; Tel. 415.621.6600

Performances at the Herbst Theatre, located within walking distance of San Francisco City Hall, the San Francisco Opera and the San Francisco Symphony, have some stiff competition. Undaunted, the theater lures first-class classical musicians in search of a more personal performance space.

Intersection for the Arts

446 Valencia (at 15th St.), San Francisco CA 94103; Tel. 415.626.2787

A crossroads for San Francisco's performance art and one of the oldest alternative art spaces in San Francisco, Intersection for the Arts is a community-based showcase for new and experimental works of literature, music, theater and more.

Magic Theatre

Fort Mason Center, Building D, Third Floor, San Francisco CA 94123; Tel. 415.441.8822

Average Ticket Price: $22-$37

Magic Theatre, around for nearly three decades, is dedicated to new plays and got its reputation from producing Sam Shepard's premieres, namely True West, Fool for Love and Buried Child, all of which are now in the canon of American post-modern dramatic literature. The Magic still puts up some intriguing new works, but it's always good advice to read the reviews before calling the box office. Also, the Magic has a beautiful view from Fort Mason of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay, free parking in a big lot, although the theater is relatively inaccessible by public transport. The Magic has two theaters: North is a proscenium, South is a Thrust.

Marines Memorial Theatre

609 Sutter St., Suite 200, San Francisco CA 94102; Tel. 415.771.6900

Few San Francisco theater venues have as rich a history as the Marines Memorial Theater in downtown San Francisco. As the sometime home for the renowned Actors Conservatory Theatre (A.C.T.), the Marines Memorial Theatre has housed cutting-edge productions, including the debut of Tony Kushner's Angels in America. Imogene Coca, Sir Ian McKellen, Charlene Tilton, David McCallum and Cyd Charisse have all graced the stage, as have the most reputable reparatory companies in the San Francisco Bay area.

New Conservatory Theatre Center

25 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco CA 94102; Tel. 415.861.8972

A small San Francisco theater near the San Francisco Opera and boasting a company that turns out first-rate productions.

Off-Market Theater & Studio

965 Mission St. (between 5th & 6th Sts.), #205 & 250, San Francisco CA; Tel. 415.896.6477

A new San Francisco theater just South of Market--don't mind the somewhat sordid stretch of SoMa, its surface degradation actually weeds out the mewly and fills nearby (pre- and post-theater) bars like Anu and Arrow with iconoclasts and adventurers. Off-Market's two spaces are ideal for smaller casts, improv acts, stand-up comedy and acoustic music groups.

Palace of Fine Arts Theatre

3301 Lyon St., San Francisco CA 94123; Tel. 415.567.6642

The 1000-seat Palace of Fine Arts Theatre lends itself to larger than life performing art pieces with a greater touch of accessibility than some of the more obscure San Francisco venues. From children's musicals to jazz exhibitions and film retrospectives, one never knows what's going on behind the buildings gorgeous French facade; one just knows it'll be worth stopping in.

Post Street Theatre

450 Post St., San Francisco CA 94102; Tel. 415.771.6900

Refurbished as a playhouse for the whimsically avant-garde, the Post Street Theatre was originally built as as lodge and meeting hall for the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. Now a 729-seat theatre, the Post Street Theatre of San Francisco (PSTOSF) has premiered hit after hit, including Steve Martin's Picasso At The Lapin Agile, Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, Forever Tango, Dame Edna: The Royal Tour and Lily Tomlin's The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe.

Theatre Artaud

450 Florida St. (between 17th & Mariposa), San Francisco CA 94110; Tel. 415.621.7797

Theatre Rhinoceros

2926 16th St., San Francisco CA 94103; Tel. 415.552.4140

Theatre Rhinoceros is the West Coast's premiere gay and lesbian theater, and, though it's in a sleazy (albeit colorful) part of town, the Rhino is very accessible (a block from 16th St. BART station) and their new artistic director, John Fisher, is bringing plays that address life in San Francisco and the whole spectrum of sexual orientation instead of just breaking sexuality down into men's and women's categories. The Rhino is a true San Francisco treat, and de rigueur pilgrimage for the queer set, but the productions are worthwhile for the straight set as well, simply because the humanistic plays are often heart-warming. The Theatre Rhinoceros rents their downstairs studio to other groups who put on some bare bones, if worthwhile, drama. The Theatre Rhinoceros seats 117 and the studio seats 54.

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theatre

700 Howard St., San Francisco CA 94103; Tel. 415.978.2787

Like the intercultural Center which houses the Yerba Buena Center of the Arts Theatre, the nine-year-old newbie space in the Metreon complex is dedicated to bringing the best in the performing arts to the Bay Area. While its wide array productions makes it difficult to pigeon hole, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theatre boasts a terrific history of modern dancers and neo-classical musicians.

North Bay Theatre

Marin Theatre Company

397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley CA 94941; Tel. 415.388.5200

Average Ticket Price: $28-$45

If you want to head across the Golden Gate Bridge, the North Bay theater to see is Marin Theatre Company. Lee Sankowich runs a professional show in Mill Valley. The Marin Theatre Company seats 300.

East Bay Theatre

Berkeley Repertory Theatre

2025 Addison St., Berkeley CA 94704; Tel. 510.647.2900

Average Ticket Price: $38-$54

The Berkeley Repertory Theatre won a Tony for best regional theater, and this East Bay Theatre has the best show in the East Bay, bar none. The "Rep" is purely professional, with two theaters, parking garages for $5, great restaurants all around in the Berkeley's new arts and business district and located just two blocks from the downtown Berkeley BART station. The actors are professional, theater artists from around the country contribute and the Berkeley Rep's Artistic Director, Tony Taccone, is a master at play selection. This East Bay Theatre should be at the top of any theater lover's list, and it is worth the trip across the Bay Bridge to catch a show. The Berkeley Rep's RODA Theatre seats 600 and the Rep's smaller Thrust Theatre seats 400.

Aurora Theatre

2081 Addison St., Berkeley CA 94704; Tel. 510.843.4822

Average Ticket Price: $28-$38

Right next door to the Rep is a small house run by Barbara Oliver and Tom Ross, who run a close second to the Rep for being the best show in the Bay Area. Aurora Theatre does the classics well, Shaw in particular, while managing to successfully mix the well with modern pieces. For such an intimate space, the acting and direction are exemplary. The Aurora Theatre, along with the Berkeley Repertory, is a thinking person's theater. After all, it is Berkeley. The Aurora Theatre seats 150.

Impact Theatre and the Shotgun Players

Average Ticket Price: $15-$20

Two little hotshot companies in Berkeley deserve mention: Impact Theatre and the Shotgun Players. They are hit-and-miss in productions and nomadic in place (sometimes in the 8th St. Studio below San Pablo, sometimes in the Julia Morgan on College Ave., or in La Val's Pizzeria basement, where theatre patrons can eat and drink while watching a show). But, in all, these two East Bay theater companies are adventuresome and showcase gifted production and talent. Read the reviews first, but these companies offer cheap tickets and sometimes present some of the best shows in town. Impact Theatre and the Shotgun Players productions seat around 100.

Center Rep

1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek CA 94596; Tel. 925.943.SHOW

Average Ticket Price: $25-$30

Two East Bay theaters, beyond Berkeley and Oakland, deserve mention. Walnut Creek's Center Rep hires very good actors and directors (two Bay Area Critics Circle award winners are directing and acting in the Center Rep's current production of Pygmalion). Walnut Creek has grown up into a great place to party before and after a show, with lovely restaurants, chic shops, and the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts (the East Bay's answer to the Lincoln Center). Add to this the climactic fact that Walnut Creek has warm, beautiful evenings and suddenly the drive is even more worthwhile.

Willows Theatre

1975 Diamond Dr., Concord CA 94520; Tel. 925.798.1300

Average Ticket Price: $25-$30

Another East Bay theater, even further out than the Center Rep, is the Willows Theatre in Concord. Somehow Richard Elliott, the boy from West Virginia who heads it, keeps turning out excellent plays with a lot of support from the city. Willow Creek produces excellent musicals as well as hosting the outdoor John Muir Mountain Days Summer Festival. The Willow Theatre seats 300.

California Shakespeare Festival

Shakespeare Festival Way, Orinda CA 94563; Tel. 510.548.9666

Average Ticket Price: $13-$55

For summer in the East Bay, the California Shakespeare Festival is mandatory for all lovers of Shakespeare and the outdoors. Getting to be the best in the West for outdoor Shakespeare, the California Shakespeare Festival offers wonderful seating outside at the Bruns Amphitheatre. Even though it gets chilly at night, the buoyant festival atmosphere is warming. There is gourmet food available and many fans choose to bring a romantic picnic. Take the bridge to Route 24 toward Walnut Creek, go through the Caldecott Tunnel, and exit on Shakespeare Festival Way. For fans of the Bard, this is the place (they do other classics, as well). The Bruns Amphitheatre seats 545.

Other San Francisco Theatres

Florence Gould Theatre

100 34th Ave. (Lincoln Park), San Francisco CA 94121; Tel. 415.750.3638
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