Bay Area Theater

Bay Area Theater Coronavirus Update

KPFA theatre critic Richard Wolinsky discusses theatre closings, streaming plays by Bay Area theatre companies, and theatre you can watch on-line, including how to watch shows from Berkeley Rep, ACT and TheatreWorks Silicon Valley.

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Live entertainment has shut down all across the Bay Area. This is particularly problematic for local theatre companies. Shows that were in the midst of their runs were forced to close early. Shows in rehearsal shut down, never to open. Shows on the schedule and in pre-production involving set, lighting and costume design, even before rehearsal have been cancelled. Free-lancers who were already reeling bedue to the collateral damage of AB 5, which affected theatre companise relying on gig economy workers, now are in bigger trouble. Actors, directors, lighting designers, set designers and other key technical staffers are all out of work. But expenses — from rent to insurance to utilities do go on, and all companies will move toward the red. The fallout will be severe, and we don’t yet know its full extent. Some companies will fold. And we also don’t know when this will end, or how it will end, which means it’s wishful thinking on the part of artistic directors when they say they’ll cancel the upcoming show, but not the one after that, and they all know it. When a show is cancelled, it’s hard to reschedule because cast members often have commitments far into the future. In this summer of Stephen Sondheim’s 90th birthday, special productions of Follies at SF Playhouse or the two versions of Merrily We Roll Along at 42nd Street Moon will especially be missed if they are cancelled.


We also, of course, don’t know when this will end, which means it’s probably wishful thinking on the part of most artistic directors when they say they’ll cancel the next show, but will produce the one after that. Nobody knows.


Of the larger companies, Marin Theatre Company, San Francisco Playhouse, Shotgun, and Aurora are all dark for the current and next production, at least. The Curran has cancelled performances of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and Broadway SF of Hamilton until May 1st. Again, wishful thinking, but we’ll see.


The Bay Area’s three largest non-profit theatre companies Berkeley Rep, ACT and TheatreWorks Silicon Valley have all negotiated separately with the various unions to stream recordings of their most recent shows on-line. How to see the shows and the dates involved are different for each.


If you have a ticket to either of the two Berkeley Rep shows, the two ACT shows or the Theatreworks show, you’ll be sent, or have been sent, an email with instructions on how to access the streaming recording.


Berkeley Rep’s upcoming show School Girls, or the African Mean Girls Play, was scheduled to play the Roda. A recording was made at a performance following two tech rehearsals. Costumes weren’t completed and there was no audience. The general public can buy tickets to see the show streaming at Broadway HD through the Berkeley Rep website,, or by calling the box office at 510-647-2949, through tomorrow, Friday March 20th, at 5 pm. Ticket holders only for Culture Clash Still in America can still see a recorded performance, and e-mails are being sent out. All ticket holders will have two weeks to see their respective shows.


Over at ACT, Gloria at the Strand was in the middle of its run, and Toni Stone had just completed its opening performance when the shows were shut down.

Patrons who had purchased tickets prior to the cancellations can also see the shows in their own homes on the Broadway HD app or website. For new ticket buyers interested in streaming Gloria and/or Toni Stone, go to or call A.C.T. at 415-749-2228. Purchasers will receive a link to a password-protected site from A.C.T. to view the production. Ticket buyers have until Friday, April 3 at midnight to purchase tickets and all ticket holders have until Sunday, April 5 at midnight to view the recordings online. ACT is asking ticket buyers to consider choosing a price point for themselves that feels generous, as well as financially accessible, keeping in mind the number of people in their household who will be watching the production.


Theatreworks was playing They Promised Her The Moon by Laurel Ollstein at the time they closed down. The show will be available for streaming by patrons who have already bought tickets to the show, and e-mails will be sent when the negotiations are finalized. For up to date information you can go to Ragtime, which was scheduled to be the next show for the company, has been moved to spring, 2021.


For those who need their theatre fix, there is Broadway HD, which has a free 7 day trial period in which you can binge as many shows as you can. Both Amazon Prime and Netflix have theatrical recordings, but you have to search really hard to find them, going down several rabbit holes, but they’re there. There’s also Kanopy, a free streaming service from your local library that has an incredible line-up of films and recorded plays. There’s a monthly limit on what you can see, and your library pays $2 for each viewing, but it’s free to you.


A personal plea here: If you have tickets for cancelled performances at any theatre venue in the Bay Area. Please consider ripping up the tickets rather than asking for a refund. This is true for companies like Marin Theatre Company, SF Playhouse, New Conservatory, Brava, Piano Fight or Shotgun, or Bay Area Musicals, 42nd Street Moon, Ubuntu, Aurora, Virago, I can’t name them all, and down to the smallest theatre company or school production, as well as the various community theatres that keep the canon of musicals and classic plays alive. Just as with restaurants and small businesses, we don’t know what will survive the shutdown, and the more that stay open, the richer the entire Bay Area will be. Think about it.

I’m Richard Wolinsky on Bay Area theatre for KPFA. If you miss any information I’ve given here, feel free to contact me at Richard at




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