San Francisco

There’s an old (and annoying) line about how if you’re smart and ambitious you move to New York, if you’re ambitious but not smart you move to LA, and if you’re smart but not ambitious you move to San Francisco. Sixteen years ago I arrived here by accident in someone else’s car, and since then I’ve found myself often engaged in the examination of the kind of ambition that we have in this city.

The gold rush may be over, but in the Bay Area we’re still busy digging far down for the rich veins of meaning that you can only discover when you invest in a place over many years.

Arriving here on the eve of the dot com boom (or the sunset of the bohemian mecca that was, depending on who you ask), I found the theatre community incredibly welcoming. Deborah was one of the first people I met. I quickly got involved in her early work at Intersection and when I started a theatre company (Crowded Fire), Intersection was our fiscal sponsor and hugely helpful as we grew. I didn’t realize then how lucky we are in the Bay Area to have such a strong network of organizations that provide service and support to young artists and small companies. Along with the support I got from Intersection, I was helped enormously by Theatre Bay Area (where I later worked) and by the Z Space, who offered us office and rehearsal space and a community of like-minded artists to learn from. I also didn’t realize how unusual the collegiality of the Bay Area is. I’ll never forget the email I got from Patrick Dooley, artistic director of Shotgun Players, after Crowded Fire’s second show, expressing his admiration for our work and offering to help us however he could. Our community is particularly embracing of the new—both the newly arrived and the newly invented, which makes this a great place to experiment.

As I continued to work, I would periodically encounter the go-to-New-York question.  Sometimes an actor or designer I had been collaborating would vanish to LA or New York or grad school; at one point I was accepted into the Columbia MFA program and spent several weeks debating whether to abandon my company in San Francisco to study with long-time hero Anne Bogart. In the end, I stayed and worked myself more deeply into the community of artists who are here for the long haul.

Don’t kid yourself, we are ambitious here, but I think our community is distinguished by our ambition for depth. The gold rush may be over, but in the Bay Area we’re still busy digging far down for the rich veins of meaning that you can only discover when you invest in a place over many years. With less focus on “making it” somewhere else, we invest here in long-term relationships with other artists who are passionate about the way art can transform the places we call home. I’ve recently joined Intersection in a new role leading the Triangle Lab (a collaboration with the California Shakespeare Theater) and I’m delighted to find myself back at the beginning, revisiting and refreshing relationships I started nearly two decades ago, that have sustained me ever since. Maybe it’s the coffee like Deborah says, if so it’s a deep well of stimulating work that we can drink from again and again.

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Thoughts from the curator

A series featuring voices from in and around San Francisco's theatre community.

San Francisco Bay Area City

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Indeed! I think we in SF are blessed with an amazing and supportive community who are not only ambitious for depth, but who revel in a true artistic dedication -- we are ambitious in our artistic rigor, not merely the advancement of our careers. There will always be comparisons to NY and LA, as well as Chicago, and each place has it's own strengths and character. But comparisons can be odious; it's much more productive and revealing to focus on describing each community, as this series is doing. Thanks for your contribution to the community and this journal.

Rebecca,Having thrived in the 1970's SF Theatre scene, your article is particularly poignant.Thank you. The depth and except of most Sf work is dazzling . LA and NYC have no actual comparison.I was wisely nurtured by Ellen Sebastian, Spaulding Grey, Traveling Jewish theater and John O'Keefe and their depth informs me still. Sf focus us on depth which one can find nowhere else.I am currently living in Istanbul and would also like to take your virtual workshop. But cannot access it from here. This MAY be the Turkish Government blocking the site. But maybe you have another URL?I Hope to talk with you more.Roxanne Rogers