Real Live Theater

Posts Tagged ‘plays’

The Mountain Play’s Sidney B. Cushing Amphitheatre

In Places and Spaces on January 1, 2009 at 12:13 am

by Kim Taylor

The Sidney B. Cushing Amphitheatre on opening day of the Mountain Play’s 2004 production of “My Fair Lady.”  Photo by Kim Taylor

The Sidney B. Cushing Amphitheatre on opening day of the Mountain Play’s production of “My Fair Lady.” Photo by Kim Taylor

MARIN COUNTY, CA – The Bay Area’s highest theatrical experience can be found at the Sidney B. Cushing Amphitheatre located a top Mount Tamalpais in Mill Valley. Home venue for the Mountain Play Association, this beautiful outdoor amphitheater is located approximately 2,500 feet overlooking the Golden Gate and San Francisco skyline.

Since its official opening day on May 4, 1913, thousands have trekked up Mount Tamalpais for an afternoon of theatrical entertainment featuring jaw dropping surprises and special elements and effects including horses, stagecoaches, World War II planes and even the Wicked Witch flying overhead.

The location’s theatrical life began when San Francisco lawyer John C. Catlin, U.C. Berkeley drama professor Garnet Holme and experienced Mt. Tam hiker “Dad” O’Rourke were hiking on Mt. Tam and paused to take in the view.  Holme saw what he said later was “the perfect place for an outdoor theater.”

The three made plans to produce and present a play. Catlin advanced the money, O’Rourke got the support of hiking clubs and Holme recruited a cast from his drama classes for a production of Abraham and Isaac. Twelve hundred people attended the opening performance, some hiking from Mill Valley and others riding the mountain railroad known as the “crookedest railway in the world.”

In 1914, The Mountain Play Association was established and a year later Congressman William Kent deeded the theater to the Mountain Play Association. The Cushing Memorial Theater was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. The natural-stone amphitheater seats 3,750 people.

American playwright Dan Totheroh, who performed in Mountain Play productions as early as 1915, wrote Tamalpa which was presented in 1921. Totheroh eventually became director of the Mountain Plays and helped shape the destiny of the organization. Attendance had grown to the point that the 1961 production Robin Hood was presented on two successive Sundays; the first time a show had been performed in the mountain top venue more than once.
The sizable audience attendance was welcome, but it presented parking dilemma. In the 1970s members of the Mountain Play Association decided it was time for major changes for accommodating larger audiences and presenting more professional, profitable productions.

In 1977, Marilyn Smith was named producer. Smith transformed the Mountain Play Association establishing its annual outdoor presentation into a popular tradition by instituting shuttle bus service and presentations of popular and beloved Broadway musicals. In addition, Smith hired James Dunn, head of the College of Marin’s respected Drama Department, as Artistic Director. Production values improved and performances were presented over five week runs in late spring.

As it moves towards its 100th Anniversary, the Mountain Play Association is today an award-winning theater company featuring the Bay Area’s finest talent; dazzling sets, costumes, choreography and dramatic special effects and hosting 10,000 to 20,000 theatergoers each year.

The Cushing Memorial Amphitheatre is a Bay Area landmark where audiences of all ages enjoy memorable outdoor presentations of lavish Broadway shows in a beautiful outdoor setting.

A former entertainment calendar editor and features writer at the Marin Independent Journal, Kim Taylor, combined her media experience and appreciation for arts and entertainment and established herself as a successful and award-winning publicist.


How many live theater (or theatre) performances do you attend per year as an audience member?

In An Invitation for You, Who's watching? on November 26, 2008 at 5:10 pm

Real Live Theater is on a quest for knowledge and you can enlighten us.

You are invited to participate in our simple poll to help us discover how many live theater performances people attend per year as  audience members. Please click on the answer that best applies to you on the survey form below, then be sure to click the “Vote” button. (Note: all responses will remain anonymous.)


Thank you for your participation!

Theater (or theatre) as Communication, Entertainment and Social Interaction in the 3-D World

In Editor's Note on November 15, 2008 at 4:38 pm

Editor’s Note

Talking Bubbles photo by Sirin Buse

Talking Bubbles photo by Sirin Buse

“Real, live theater. You know, the kind of theater where actors perform plays and musicals live, on a stage.”

I find myself saying these phrases a lot these days.

Upon meeting someone for the first time, the course of polite conversation always, ultimately seems to turn to, “So, what is it that you do?”

To which I answer, “I’m in theater.”

To which they often reply with uncertainty, “Uh, a movie theater?”.

The “Uh” of their uncertainty seems almost always to stem from the combination of their instant identification with movie trailers, movie advertisements, movies they’ve gone to see, and a vision of the megaopolis movie theater complex in their neighborhood that they regularly drive past during their commutes to work or to school or to both, and some cloud of remembrance of some other type of theater they vaguely recall from their far distant past. It is because of this hazy memory they are are unsure if “movie theater” is the correct guess.

When I correct them with my reply, flint rubs steel and there is a spark. The spark may be of: a play at church or at school in which they played some small part as a child; watching friends or their children or their grandchildren sing and dance across the stage in Guys and Dolls or Grease or more recently in High School Musical in, well, a high school musical production; or of a long buried desire to sing or dance or act on stage that was never fully ignited. Everyone, it seems has some story to recall and sadly, too often the existence of theater in their consciousness is referred to in past tense.

During the present technological times the preferred method of most of the world’s communication, entertainment and social interaction funnels through electronic devises and is delivered at a time of convenience to the sender and is received at a time of convenience to the end user, in the privacy of their own homes, laps, hands or offices usually via a two-dimensional rectangular screen that comes in varying sizes, sometimes with earphones or speakers attached. Fast. Reliable. Generic. Often bad. Sometimes good. Occasionally great. But where in this electronic age is real human interaction? Why is the need for privacy encouraged, pursued and prized to the point of creating a society of socially inept individuals? When does actual, not virtual human contact come into play?

We are distracted from our need for human contact as new services emerge that allow us to send and receive an ever-increasing number of voicemails, emails, text messages and an endless stream of hot, new products enable us to download endless hours, days and years, albeit more than a lifetime’s worth of information and entertainment to enjoy in the luxury of our own self-imposed solitary confinement. We are blinded to the fact that isolation is marketed to us as a most desirable situation and is highly encouraged in order to boost the sales of more and more gadgets.

Don’t get me wrong. I do understand the benefits of electronic communication, on-line entertainment and virtual social interaction — after all I am using an electronic device to write this to you and you are receiving it on your two-dimensional screen, all the while people have been sending me voicemails, emails and text messages for goodness sake! – however, I also understand the power of: attending a convention or conference to listen to and witness a live speaker move an audience; partaking in an engagement or celebration where food and drink is shared; real hands touching briefly in formal acknowledgment or in casual appreciation of each other; watching (or participating in) a live performance; and evidencing first-hand the ability of human effort to warrant a standing ovation.

Real, live theater is communication, entertainment and social interaction in the three-dimensional world. A three-dimensional world that must be reclaimed and nurtured in order to maintain our humanity set against the dimension reductionist marketing movements of our day. (What’s next – devices that reduce us all to a one-dimensional existence? We will all end but as a small dot on a globe somewhere in a far flung corner of the universe, but perhaps that is all we are anyway. It’s almost too much to fathom.)

[Applause] to you for your interest in balancing your two-dimensional and three-dimensional worlds.

I hope you take a moment to communicate with a friend and invite them to see a show, be entertained, enjoy the human interaction between the artists and the audience, then applaud yourself for being a part of the three-dimensional world of real, live theater.


Cheryl Itamura is the Founder and Editor in Chief of Real Live Theater.