Nonprofit Theater Company Stages Pay-What-You-Will Shakespeare In The Tenderloin

If you regularly balk at the cost of live theater, you’ll be happy to know that there’s a new company in town that doesn’t want your money. Well, much of it anyway.

The Theater of Others aims to hold three to four pay-what-you-will productions each year at the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation’s Kelly Cullen Auditorium, and is halfway through its first show of 2015: a month-long run of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Simply name your price in the online box office or at the door to enjoy a live performance of this 16th century classic comedy.

“I have no interest at all in receiving anything from this,” said Glenn Havlan, one of the company’s founders and a veteran when its comes to producing public theater. Havlan ran Park and Rec’s Free Civic Theater program for 10 years, directing free live theater productions across the city before the department dissolved the program in 2010.

“When the Recreation Department reorganized and that type of program was no longer possible, I got out into the community and did something I wasn’t able to do — that you’re not able to do when you run your own company — and that is to be in other people’s shows,” he said.

But about a year-and-a-half ago, he met a fellow actor with a similar interest in directing and performing Shakespeare plays. Around the same time, Havlan’s work at the Tenderloin Children’s Recreation Center led him to conversations with TNDC about using the Kelly Cullen Auditorium at 220 Golden Gate Ave.

The Theater of Others held its first show, Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, in the space last November. The company aims to hold one show each season, with this year’s summer and fall shows tentatively scheduled for late August and early November.

The Kelly Cullen Community Auditorium (Photo: Gelfand Partners Architects)

As a project of the local Theater Residences, Incorporated, which Havlan describes as “an umbrella organization for small theater companies”, the Theater of Others is able to accept tax-deductible donations and grants, but Havlan and his business partner are currently funding the productions out-of-pocket.

“We broke even on Measure for Measure, and with two weeks to go we’re pretty close to breaking even here on Taming of the Shrew," he said. "Basically we just had a certain amount of money. We put it in, we got it back, we put it in, we got in back. So far that’s working.”

While Havlan is interested in being able to provide stipends to key members of the company in the future, he doesn’t think good theater requires large budgets.

“We have deliberately low production value in terms of scenery and costumes. A lot of Shakespeare companies, I think, are really guilty of throwing all sorts of resources into production value without really having actors understanding what they're saying," he said. "But if you do have actors who know what they're saying, you sort of don't need all of those production values.”

And limited resources aren’t stopping Havlan and his "band of merry Shakespeare nuts" from performing The Taming of the Shrew "as it was intended," including an induction that's often left off the beginning of the play. 

For those not familiar with the piece, the plot of The Taming of the Shrew's kicks off with a father who will not let his beautiful daughter wed until her older sister with a nasty attitude is married off first. “There was a time in the struggling feminist '70s when you couldn’t watch this play," said Havlan. "It was very incorrect. It says some things that are very anti-feminist, and it was not really something that people wanted to see." But, pointing to recent productions of the play by SF Shakes and the Half Moon Bay Theater Company, Havlan said that it's now back in style. "It's OK now, and I think it's partly because people realize it's just a silly romp."

There are six opportunities left to pay-what-you-will to catch this "silly romp" at the Kelly Cullen Community Auditorium, located at 220 Golden Gate Ave. Shows are held at 8pm Fridays and Saturdays and 2pm Sundays through the end of May.

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