We Are The Theater That Will Survive
Who We Are - A Brief History
This building had its beginnings as a gymnasium for the San Francisco Theological Seminary, a building inspired by the great architecture of the times. Before long the space was converted into a charming theatre with arena seating above a stage deck converted from a gym floor. Over the years the theater has had many different management teams: from artist-in-residence to College of Marin’s Theater 3, to Marin Foundation-funded venue companies, to the nonprofit that operates the theater today, The Playhouse in San Anselmo. Through all these years the space has graciously been rented at below market prices from the Seminary and today that generosity continues with the current landlord, University of the Redlands.
The Little Theater That Could
The theater has had its ups and downs, what building of its type could not> Through the years the love and kindness of the performing arts companies have always provided the bare bones of the operating costs and theatrical systems that make everything possible in the magic of theater. Although the building has operated under different management companies through the years and survived funding strife, it is the availability of people willing to volunteer for the love of the building and the joy of live theater that has kept the doors open. In the 1980’s the doors nearly closed for good when the organization was unable to provide for the expense of running the business with a paid executive director and an on-site manager. This building has a way of working its way into the hearts of all that come in contact. The space was saved again by the school foundation known at the time as Ross Valley Community for Schools, now the YES Foundation. As a sub-committee of that organization, the Playhouse continued to operate, the doors stayed open and school children were able to continue their scheduled performances. Soon after, The Playhouse formed its own nonprofit company and has operated as its own 501c3 theatre venue ever since.
This is a theatre venue that will not die, it will be here to serve the community of performing companies as long as we have the breath to keep it so.
How We Survive
Our mission is to keep The Playhouse a low-cost rental facility so that the performing community in the area is able to work in a functional state-of-the-art theater and do so affordably. To keep that mission alive we charge the lowest rent possible to keep the space affordable for small local companies. Most of our tenant companies are student-cast or newly-forming production companies. These companies return again and again, raising awareness of live theater and the performing arts, whether as audience, performers, creative team or technical crew.
The space has a special feeling, experienced as soon as any one walks in the door, and that special burst of amazement helps us build support. Since our rental fees are very low, we keep a very thin margin between paying our ‘overhead’ and staying open. To help with these costs we operate a concession during productions and ask our companies to include a donation plea during their curtain speech and an acknowledgement in their performance program.
How do we keep our overhead so low? First, our staff is currently entirely volunteer. No salaries are paid to anyone in order to keep our rental fees as low as possible and stick to our mission. Our rent is below market rate thanks to the generosity of the owners of the property. Our operational overhead is a series of fixed costs that provide our renters and audiences with basic necessities, e.g. electricity, water, paper products, heat, cleaning supplies and services, alarm systems, lobby lighting and furnishings, trash collection and more. Our space is often fully booked year-round. These essential fixed costs are the core of our cost of doing business. During down times, as is occurring now during the pandemic, these costs go down, but are still bumping along month to month for services that do not stop even when the theater stands sadly empty.
Our in-kind volunteers are local professionals who work hands-on in theatrical spaces around the Bay and beyond. We benefit from people who are willing to teach our tenants how to use the features of the modern light board, build scenic pieces that expand the performance space, add lighting capabilities and electrics to spaces around the stage, create improvements in our backstage dressing rooms and so much more.
The Theater of Theatre
Our team loves to discuss the spelling of Theater. In our website you'll read all sorts of cases of theater and theatre. Because we prefer to keep the drama alive!
We have a theater space that offers all the necessary equipment that any theater company, any audience, would come to expect. That includes the lighting ‘grid’, the space above where lighting is ‘hung’, known to us as ‘the hang‘. The equipment that runs this lighting is new-to-us and a recent in-kind donation from a bay area concert hall. With this new light board, lighting designers are able to design and now operate the new lighting instruments that modern theater-goers have come to expect whether they are aware of it or not. Today’s lighting designers expect modern LED lighting and lights that refocus according to instruction from the board. These instruments , known as ‘movers’, allow lighting designers to create an infinite number of scenic lighting for scenes with instruments that move, controlled from the new board.
All this action takes electricity. We have improved our electrics many times over the years and continue to do so. The building is old, and not every outlet can power modern machines with a lot of electric ‘draw’. We have added power to dedicated circuits in the theater so that companies can operate high end sound systems, follow spots, and potentially a strategically placed air conditioning for those hotter months. We continue to work towards building more capacity, upgraded lighting to keep up with modern theatrical systems, and we always will work towards staying up-to-date with modern technology.
Upgrades and changes require more money than our basic operational budget can generally manage. This is where our supporters come in. Cash donations and in-kind labor are highly desired. If you are a theatrical technical professional, a builder, an electrician, a plumber, a painter, or interested in theater advocacy, looking to work pro bono in your community, we welcome you to join us in our passion for The Playhouse In San Anselmo.
Into the Future
The theater will always need help. Theater always will. The creative arts have been sponsored by societies throughout history and the same is true today. Over the years we have improved many areas of the interior of the building and upgraded the technical equipment necessary to offer a modern theatrical experience to our renters.
At the core of The Playhouse is a building, and that building is in need of some capital improvements to keep the walls from leaking and the building on its feet. The cost of building construction continues to rise, another simple fact of our world. The deterioration of the exterior shingles, roofing, siding, windows and window frames, doorways and decks means expensive upkeep in order to operate the space into the next decade. We will certainly be in need of strong fundraising from those who care about the building as a majestic centerpiece of the community. The landlords have no plans to upgrade the building, and the cost of doing so, should they choose to do so, would certainly cause the rent we pay to increase. All things need repair and maintenance. To protect The Playhouse properly, and maintain its integrity as a performing arts center in the community, funds and in-kind donations to provide supplies will certainly be on the pressing list of work to do.
General Manager from 2018
Playhouse Board since 1993