San Jose Repertory Theatre

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San Jose Repertory Theatre
Susan and Phil Hammer Theatre Center
The Rep's theatre, with signs promoting its production of Major Barbara by George Bernard Shaw.
Address 101 Paseo de San Antonio
City San Jose, California
Country United States
Capacity 565
Type regional theatre
Opened 1980 (company)
1997 (building)

The San Jose Repertory Theatre (or San Jose Rep, SJ Rep or, locally, just the Rep) was founded in 1980 by James P. Reber as the first resident professional theatre company in San Jose, California, and is currently the largest non-profit, professional theatre company in the South Bay.

The theatre's mission is "to engage, entertain and inspire people".[1]

The 2011-2012 season is the Rep's 30th anniversary, which it is celebrating with a World Premiere, two West Coast Premieres and three Regional Premieres.


The early years[edit]

San Jose Rep was founded by James P. Reber in 1980 (originally as San Jose Repertory Company). James Reber was born in Butte, Montana, but raised in Santa Clara Valley. He returned home after having been the first employee of the Berkeley Shakespeare Festival (now California Shakespeare Theatre in Orinda, California) as Business Manager and General Manager.

San Jose Rep was formed as San Jose’s first resident professional theatre (originally called San Jose Repertory Company), the Rep soon became the fastest growing regional theatre in the country. Mr. Reber led a group of young artists, technical staff, and administrative staff, most of them based in the Bay Area. The Rep's opening production of Noël Coward's Private Lives was the first step for the fledgling company. This was followed by three more plays in 1981 (including one directed by Tony Taccone before he was Artistic Director at Berkeley Rep).

Early support came from the City of San Jose's Fine Arts Commission, which provided funding and worked to help create a viable Board of Trustees. The first Board was led by Dr. Clayton Feldman, who was able to provide guidance for the young staff and helped recruit the future leadership of the Rep, including Attorney Phil Hammer, who succeeded Dr. Feldman. The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation provided a key early grant to help hire professional staff. Elaine Knoernschild joined the board in 1982 and became the third board president. As happens with most nonprofit theatres, the founding board members made success possible by their dedication and hard work.

Most notable among the Rep's early accomplishments was their payment of competitive wages, a commitment that Mr. Reber made for the company from its inception. David Lemos, a recent graduate of Santa Clara University, became the first production manager and eventually Artistic Director. Lemos and Reber negotiated with Actors Equity for early concessions and eventually to full Equity (Actors' Union) status. Artistically, San Jose Rep was a bit uneven, but given its age, many productions were surprisingly high quality and were given excellent critical notices and are still revered by patrons.

Among the more distinguished productions of the early Rep era were:

  • A popular WWII version of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew directed by Anne McNaughton and featuring a dashing and handsome young John Callahan, who later went on to a successful television career, as Petruchio.
  • A series of large productions done in collaboration with the San Jose Symphony, sponsored by Merrill Lynch and known as the Merrill Lynch Great Performances. These were produced in the massive San Jose Center for Performing Arts and had very short runs. The first was The Tempest with music by Sibelius and the next was the only known production of Peter Shaffer's masterpiece, Amadeus, featuring Ray Birk as Salieri and a chorus of Opera San Jose singers performing Mozart's Requiem. The music for both productions was conducted by George Cleave.
  • A collaborative production of Emily Mann's Execution of Justice, which told the story of the infamous slaying of San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone by Supervisor Dan White. The production was produced by San Jose Rep, Berkeley Repertory Theatr, and the Eureka Theatre. It premiered at the Montgomery Theater and later moved to Berkeley Repertory Theater.

Among the distinguished alumni of San Jose Rep's early years, all of whom were recruited by the young Artistic Director David Lemos and played significant roles in launching the young company, are: James Houghton, Founding Artistic Director of New York City's unique Signature Theater Company; Richard Rodgers, Director of the Drama Division at Juilliard; James Bundy, artistic director of Yale Repertory Theater and dean of the prestigious Yale School of Drama; Elaine Avila, Associate Professor of Theatre Dramatic Writing at the University of New Mexico; Fingerstyle Guitarist, Singer, Songwriter. Educator Stevie Coyle; Oregon State Representative Peter Buckley (D-Ashland); and Kenneth Kelleher, Artistic Director of Pacific Repertory Theater.

The Timothy Near era[edit]

The arrival of Timothy Near as Artistic Director in 1987 signaled the theatre's commitment to produce plays that spoke to the city’s diverse community both directly or by inflection. The Rep achieved this with modernized versions of the classics, contemporary works, and a commitment to developing new plays.[2]

In 1997 the company moved from the Montgomery Theater (attached to the San Jose Civic Auditorium[3][4]) into a new building in downtown San Jose, built specifically for the Rep. No longer restricted by space or required to share their venue with other organizations, the Rep was able to offer a wider range of programming, produced to high artistic and technical standards. Since moving to the new building, the Rep has commissioned several new works and has produced World premieres, U.S. premieres, and West Coast premieres.[2]

Artistic Director Timothy Near's vision of reaching the ethnically diverse San Jose population was highlighted by opening the newly built new home of the Rep with the West Coast premiere of Thunder Knocking on the Door by African American playwright Keith Glover, with a Rep-commissioned score by Michael Butler and local blues legend Chris Cain.

The Rick Lombardo era[edit]

After Near’s departure, the Rep conducted a national search and selected Rick Lombardo for his combination of artistic excellence, programming savvy and leadership abilities. Lombardo joined the Rep in 2009 after 13 years as the Producing Artistic Director at New Repertory Theatre, one of Boston’s and the New England region’s leading mid-size regional theatres. Lombardo was selected as the perfect combination of a consummate artistic leader, exciting director and seasoned administrator. In only two years, Lombardo has successfully built upon the Rep’s reputation for artistic excellence while imparting an extraordinary wealth of imagination, ideas and images to the Rep’s stage. Lombardo’s critically acclaimed first season at San Jose Rep garnered a total of 25 Bay Area Theatre Critic Circle award nominations for The Kite Runner, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, As You Like It and Groundswell.

Current leadership[edit]

  • Rick Lombardo, Producing Artistic Director[5]

Civic participation[edit]

The Rep held a benefit performance February 14, 2005, with some of the proceeds going to victims of the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami.

The Rep's Red Ladder Theatre Company "works with under-served and disadvantaged communities to improve and enrich lives through the art of theatre."[6] San Jose Rep also offers Pay What You Will Nights once for each show's run.[7]

Lombardo’s commitment to education and outreach launched San Jose Rep on Tour, the Rep’s new education outreach initiative modeled after Lombardo’s successful education program at New Repertory Theatre, which will bring fully produced plays to middle and high schools in the Bay Area. The Rep’s diverse education and outreach programs also includes the Red Ladder Theatre Company, the social outreach program of San Jose Repertory Theatre, which works with under-served and disadvantaged communities to improve and enrich lives through the art of theatre. These programs strive to make a significant contribution to improving the quality of life in the broader community.


The Rep runs all of its performances from the Sobrato Auditorium. The auditorium is in the Susan and Phil Hammer Theatre Center,[8] named for former mayor Susan Hammer and her husband, who were instrumental in getting the theater built.[8] The theater consists of three seating sections, seating 584 people.


  • Orchestra: 166 seats (Modified Thrust)
  • Front Orchestra: 56 seats (Proscenium)
  • Parterre: 197 seats
  • Balcony: 165 seats


Wheelchair and handicap access are available in the orchestra and balcony only. Assisted listening devices are available upon request. Slight variation in seating configuration may occur based on the needs of the show in performance. It is also possible to make the front orchestra slightly less intimate, configuring it with two rows instead of three, resulting in 41 seats rather than 56.

See also[edit]


External links[edit]