In July 2019 TheatreWorks Silicon Valley launched its 50th season, featuring eight productions that celebrate the human spirit. From a fledgling amateur troupe born in suburban Palo Alto, California, it has grown into one of the largest professional theatres in California and a nationally respected producer of new works.
TheatreWorks was founded by Stanford grad Robert Kelley in 1970, charged by the City of Palo Alto with developing new work by local youth in reaction to the unsettled times. The first show, Popcorn, was an original musical highlighting the clash between generations in the community. The company produced 13 original works in its first three years, many of them musicals, playing in parking garages, warehouses, outdoor amphitheatres—wherever space could be found.
As TheatreWorks matured in the 1970s, re-imaginings of Shakespeare and other classics, established plays, and landmark musicals joined the world premieres in the repertoire. Talented artists flocked to the company, attracted by its artistic innovation, its blend of music and drama, and its determination to reflect the diversity of the region on stage. While continuing to perform in unique spaces, the company began producing regularly in Palo Alto’s historic Lucie Stern Theatre.
By 1980, TheatreWorks had four full-time staff members, a six-member Board of Trustees, 700 subscribers, and a six-figure annual budget. From 1981 to 1983, Todd Harris, the company's first full-time Managing Director, quadrupled subscriptions to over 3000. In 1984, he was succeeded by Randy Adams and the company began growing into a major professional theatre; within three years the annual budget surpassed $1 million and the company signed its first contracts with Actors' Equity Association, the union of professional actors. TheatreWorks' commitment to diversity and innovation remained strong; it consistently produced plays and musicals about minority experiences and cultures, and became a regional leader in bold, non-traditional casting of traditional works and roles.
As the 1990s began, TheatreWorks employed a full-time staff of 11, a 16-member Board of Trustees, 5,500 subscribers, and an annual budget of $1.7 million. Over the next decade the company enhanced its reputation for artistic excellence. When the 600-seat Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts opened in 1991, TheatreWorks began producing five mainstage productions there each season, with three shows continuing at the Lucie Stern Theatre. A Stage II series of smaller shows was added, and flourished in a "black box" theatre the company built in Palo Alto. The decade also saw the launch of TheatreWorks' award-winning Education Program.
At the turn of the millennium, TheatreWorks had a strong regional profile, 30 full-time staffers, a 20-member Board of Trustees, 8500 subscribers, and an annual budget of $4.5 million. In 2001, determined to expand its commitment to new plays and musicals, the company launched the New Works Initiative. It would eventually include an annual New Works Festival and Writers’ Retreat, developmental workshops, commissions, and many mainstage world premieres, making it central to TheatreWorks' mission and reputation.
The Initiative has attracted authors and composers of national stature, including Beth Henley, Paul Gordon, Marsha Norman, Rajiv Joseph, Henry Krieger, Stephen Schwartz, Duncan Sheik, Colman Domingo, Joe DiPietro, Jules Feiffer, Andrew Lippa, among many others. Their works, and scores of others developed here, have gone on to many regional, Broadway, and international productions. The 2010 Tony Award-winning musical Memphis was first developed in the Festival, and then premiered at TheatreWorks in 2004. Stephen Schwartz’ new musical The Prince of Egypt had its world premiere here in 2017 and will debut in London’s West End in early 2020. TheatreWorks will present its 70th world premiere in December 2019, directed by Founding Artistic Director Robert Kelley in his 50th year with the company.
In 2005 TheatreWorks became a fully professional member of the League of Resident Theatres (LORT). Joining the company in 2006, Executive Director Phil Santora has helped grow the New Works Initiative, greatly increased the company’s endowment, and forged new relationships between TheatreWorks and other regional theatres.
Executive Director Phil Santora has helped grow the New Works Initiative, greatly increased the company’s endowment, and forged new relationships between TheatreWorks and other regional theatres and producers.
As TheatreWorks celebrates its 50th season in 2019/20, it is one of California’s largest theatres, a LORT B company with 48 permanent staff members, a 30 member Board, and a $9 million budget. It offers many public services including an extensive Education Program that reaches 25,000 students annually. A pioneer in diversity programming, a welcoming home to world and regional premieres, and an acclaimed source of new works for the American stage, TheatreWorks is the nationally-acclaimed theatre of Silicon Valley. In June of 2019, TheatreWorks received the American Theatre Wing’s Tony Award for Regional Theatre.
TheatreWorks has a long legacy of quality productions spanning since the early 1970s. For a list of these shows, click below!