It is a distinct pleasure to write the season in review article for the Northern California region: in part because it is an opportunity to acknowledge both artists and theaters, and in part because the number of new works being produced in Northern California is heartening (not to mention inspiring). A celebration of new works of theatre is lovely to write at any time. Right now, though, pulling it together is bittersweet, since virtually all theatres have been forced to hit “pause” on producing live, in-person theatre. Many companies continue to develop plays, however, and others are producing online and audio work during the shelter-in-place. The theatre innovation occurring during lockdown is one of the bright spots of the quarantine experience. I am humbled to assemble the list, and hope it is as complete as I tried to make it.
Any season in review for Northern California will center on the San Francisco Bay Area’s seven counties, while including notable world premieres in Sacramento and the valleys. The entire Northern California region is a hotbed of new work, with approximately 65 world premieres last season! Developing and producing so many new plays is a relatively recent phenomenon for our area. I believe it is also notable that this season achieved nearly 50/50 dramatist gender parity for new shows during this time frame: another distinctly recent (and welcome) change.
It is worth noting those theatres focused exclusively on developing and producing world premieres: Central Works and TheatreFirst, both in Berkeley, Campo Santo, Awesome Theatre, and PlaygroundSF in San Francisco, and AlterTheater Ensemble and Reduced Shakespeare Company in the North Bay. Theatres with an abundance of new plays in their seasons include Berkeley Rep, San Francisco’s Theatre Rhinoceros, Cutting Ball, The Marsh (solo shows), and SF Playhouse (Sandbox Series), and Ubuntu Theater Company.
On Thursday, March 19, 2020, all of California was placed under a shelter-in-place order. The city of San Francisco and other Bay Area counties shut down two days prior. Many theatres had closed their productions even earlier than the official order, to better protect the health of artists, staff, and patrons. Thus, most of the March and April world premieres noted (save one) were either interrupted, cancelled, or postponed.
Several world premiere productions—including Love by Kate Cortesi at Marin Theatre Company and Coded by Dramatists Guild member KIRSTEN BRANDT at City Lights Theater in San Jose—were streamed online as the region moved into quarantine. Meanwhile, in April, Queer Cat Productions debuted Felix B. is NOT Alone! by NICOLE JOST and Carson Becker, an online, interactive theatre experience written specifically for Zoom. The first Women’s Theatre Festival in the San Francisco Bay Area moved some of their performances, including The Lady Scribblers by Dramatists Guild member MICHAELA GOLDHABER, to the Twitch platform.
With that introduction, let’s give a toast to the full-length world premiere productions that took place in Northern California from May 2019-April 2020, and make a wish for the swift, safe return of our incredibly talented and resilient artists to the stage!