Real Live Theater

Posts Tagged ‘San Rafael’

Forest Meadows Amphitheatre

In Places and Spaces on July 3, 2009 at 5:12 am

By Kim Taylor

The Comedy of Errors at Forest Meadows in 1992 (Photo courtesy of Marin Shakespeare Company)

The Comedy of Errors at Forest Meadows in 1992 (Photo courtesy of Marin Shakespeare Company)

MARIN COUNTY, CA – One can swear by the moon, the constant moon as it rises over Forest Meadows Amphitheatre located on the campus of Dominican University of California in San Rafael, where the stage was carefully designed and constructed to showcase a full moon rising directly above the players and audiences during the summer months.

The outdoor amphitheater, located in a meadow filled with trees and a creek, is noted as California’s first purpose built Shakespearean amphitheater. The venue was completed 1967 to provide a new home for Marin Shakespeare Festival, which relocated from the Redwood Amphitheatre at the Marin Art & Garden Center in Ross. Unfortunately, the Marin Shakespeare Festival took its final bow in 1972.

In the summer of 1989 Robert and Lesley Currier received a recruitment call from a small but devoted group of community minded Marin residents hoping to resurrect a summer Shakespeare theater festival at the Forest Meadows Amphitheater location.

By August 1990, the Marin Shakespeare Company was established and presented its first production, “As You Like It.”

During its past twenty seasons at Forest Meadows, the Marin Shakespeare Company has received countless honors including Dean Goodman Choice Awards; San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics’ Circle awards and nominations; the Marin Magazine Editors’ Choice award; the Pacific Sun’s Best of Marin Award; and the Bohemian’s Boho Award.

Today the venue is also used for Dominican University graduation ceremonies and other school graduations and various events. Marin Shakespeare Company also uses the amphitheater space for a limited number of classes each summer.

But, the venue has its challenges. Despite its natural intimacy, noise can travel from Highway 101 and sometimes be heard within the seating area. It’s something the Marin Shakespeare Company would love to correct. More than forty years old, the venue could also benefit from upgraded restrooms, pathways, lighting and seating. And because the venue doesn’t have a lobby the Marin Shakespeare Company builds a new lobby area each season using hay bales and portable buildings.

Despite all its flaws, there’s something special about that man in the moon spotlighting the Forest Meadows stage.

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.

Additional articles by Kim Taylor include:


Making theater without a theatre?

In Behind the Scenes on May 1, 2009 at 4:07 pm

by Phil Gravitt

For Rent, photo by joe potato

For Rent, photo by joe potato

MARIN COUNTY, CA – “The challenges of creating a theater out of an empty storefront are what make it fun,” says Jeanette Harrison, Artistic Director and Actor with AlterTheater, a Marin County theater group. Art galleries and retail stores also have been locations for AlterTheater performances. “Our point is to be in places where people walking by on the street will see in, and see theater going on, like on 4th street in San Rafael.”

“Our space designers, technicians and directors must be flexible and interested in the challenge,” explains Harrison.  “For each space, we design the stage and sets, the audience areas.  Often even the dressing rooms must be created, occasionally with stacked boxes in a storeroom.    Sometimes the stage is defined by a piece of tape on the floor; occasionally we create location with a soundscape instead of building a fancy set.   If we are in a retail space, we move the furniture or use it as props.”   The seating may be arranged so the audience surrounds the actors, or form a horseshoe shape around the stage area, or a normal theater configuration.

“We have no fancy stage,” says Harrison. With no formal separation between the actors and the audience, an AlterTheater director once observed, “The advantage and disadvantage of working this way is there is no place to hide.”

Another challenge is finding and analyzing the right space and electrical power in the available area.  Harrison explains, “If there is power, will it have the capacity we need, or will we be limited to just a few lights?”

The idea for AlterTheater came from Marin actors who, in the face of rising bridge tolls, “began looking to work on our own side of the bridge.” Harrison says, “We started using empty storefronts because we would rather pay actors instead of landlords.”  Altertheater also prides itself on being a found-object theater: almost everything you see in their productions is borrowed, found for free, rescued or recycled.

Having a reputation for taking care of the space has helped AlterTheater find locations, which are needed for five weeks, one week longer than the four week run of a performance.   Commercial realtors and building owners have been happy getting publicity for their empty storefronts.  “And art galleries are interested in supporting all arts, not just visual arts,” says Harrison, “while retail store owners are excited to have people who don’t typically come into their stores.”
In an empty storefront, AlterTheater can stay set up for the entire run of the performance.  However, Harrison says, “We usually have a backup location.  Twice the space was rented during our run, and we had to move, even after the postcards and posters were printed.”

While AlterTheater relies on Facebook, mailing lists, calendar listings and publicity in local papers, the best publicity is the storefronts themselves.  “A good percentage of our audience is non-theatergoing people who live and work in neighborhood.” says Harrison. “Sometimes passengers waiting for a bus read our posters in the window. By being in the neighborhood, we bring theater to the people.”

New actors also must be up to the challenge.  “Although we primarily work with a core ensemble of actors, when we bring in new people, reaction varies,” observes Harrison. “I recommend actors see one of our shows first to know what they are getting into.”

Additional information about AlterTheater can be found at

Phil Gravitt is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner, the Noe Valley Voice & other San Francisco neighborhood newspapers, and the Bay Area Visual Arts Blog

Additional articles by Phil Gravitt include:

Belrose Theatre

In Places and Spaces on February 3, 2009 at 2:43 am

by Kim Taylor

Belrose Theatre photo by Kim Taylor

Belrose Theatre photo by Kim Taylor

MARIN COUNTY, CA – The Belrose Theatre in San Rafael has to be one of the most charming venues in Marin County. The three-story building, which still features its original design as a church, is a multi-function building with a costume shop on the basement level, a Victorian style cabaret theater that doubles as a dance studio and school on the main level. Hidden from the main street entrance, is a charming two level apartment featuring a rooftop greenhouse.

In December 1913, 1415 Fifth Avenue in San Rafael was the site of the new church of the parishioners of St. Matthew’s German Church. It cost a mere $5,000 to build the church structure, which featured a bell tower and stained glass windows. In 1942, the Trinity Lutheran Congregation purchased the Fifth Avenue church which served their parishioners for 20 years.

In 1962, David and Margie Belrose, the owners of Belrose Studio Theatre School of Dance and Performing Arts in San Rafael, were searching for warehouse space that would allow them to expand their school. Instead, a church for sale caught their eye. After buying Trinity Lutheran Church, the couple transformed the church space into a dance studio, theater and home for themselves and their two children.

In 1971, her husband David Belrose died unexpectedly. Margie continued to run the dance and theatrical school, producing plays and expanding her business while raising her son and daughter. Over the years, a variety of youth and adult productions have been presented at the Belrose including Oliver, The Wizard of Oz, Peter Pan and The Lion in Winter, plus a variety of vaudeville and cabaret productions and a weekly Open Mic Night.

Today, Margie Belrose continues at the helm producing plays and cabaret dinner shows. She also operates a successful costume shop which she opened in 1977. After more than 50 years, Belrose continues to offer instruction in ballet, tap, jazz, ballroom and swing dancing and theater training.

Margie Belrose has established Belrose Theatre as one of Marin’s many blessings and a mainstay of its entertainment scene.

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.

Additional articles by Kim Taylor include: