In 1970, a shoe-string budget production called Popcorn hit a local stage in Palo Alto. Today, celebrating 50 years of national acclaim, Palo Alto’s TheatreWorks puts on a variety of modern, classic, and contemporary theatrical productions each season.
For those searching for culture and stunning theatrical performances, there really is no need to travel to San Francisco’s SHN Curran Theatre. TheatreWorks, led by Founder and Artistic Director, Robert Kelly, has transformed from its humble origins as an art workshop for teenagers and college students to one of the largest professional theatres in California.
Highly regarded for its new works as well as reinterpreted classics, and regional and West Coast premieres of modern and contemporary Broadway and off-Broadway shows, TheatreWorks is a immensely talented company based in the heart of Palo Alto.
Bay Area Native and graduate of Stanford University, Robert Kelly founded TheatreWorks in 1970, tasked by the City of Palo Alto with developing new work by local youth in reaction to the unsettled times. The company’s inaugural show, Popcorn, was an original musical that spotlighted the clash between generations in the community. In its first three years, the company produced 13 original works, many of them musicals. In its early days, TheatreWorks performances were held in a parking garages, warehouses, and outdoor amphitheaters.
After a half century of stellar dramas, musicals, and comedies, Kelly remains a vital creative force, having personally directed over 175 shows. The company puts on eight to ten productions every season, including numerous world or regional premieres. The Silicon Valley non-profit has matured into a leading theatre company with a full time staff of 40, a 30 member board, and a $9 million dollar budget. Gone are the days of performing in garages; TheatreWorks shows are now held at proper venues, the Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto and the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts.
In 2001, TheatreWorks launched its New Works Initiative in a concerted effort to expand its dedication to new plays and musicals. The Initiative, headed by Director Giovanna Sardelli, has since been expanded to include its lauded annual New Works Festival and Writers’ Retreat, developmental workshops, commissions, and numerous mainstage world premieres, making it an integral keystone to TheatreWorks’ mission and reputation. According to the TheatreWorks website, 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.”
Throughout its history, TheatreWorks has performed hundreds of shows. The immense talent that goes into each performance is evident and theatre-goers—both frequent and sporadic—leave having experienced something powerfully memorable. The company’s performance history is impressive, with some of its latest works including the Tony award nominated political showdown, Frost/Nixon, the soulful musical Marie & Rosetta, and in the 2019-2020 season, the world premiere of Pride and Prejudice, The Book of Will, and Mark Twain’s River of Song will hit the stage.
If you are a lover of theatre, you are sure to be enthralled and captivated by TheatreWorks performances. We encourage you to support this Silicon Valley non-profit that is bursting with talent right in our our backyard. Get season tickets, bring your children or grandchildren and expose them to the incredible culture and talent of the entire cast and crew of this esteemed local theatre company.