American Conservatory Theater
|Location||415 Geary Street
San Francisco, California
|Architect||Bliss and Faville
(Walter D. Bliss & William B. Faville)
|Architectural style||Classical Revival
|NRHP reference #||75000472|
|Added to NRHP||May 27, 1975|
|Designated SFDL||July 11, 1976|
The American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.) is a large non-profit theater company in San Francisco, California, that offers both classical and contemporary theater productions, as well as being an acting school.
A.C.T. was founded in 1965 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in conjunction with the Pittsburgh Playhouse and Carnegie Mellon University by theatre and opera director William Ball. By invitation from San Francisco philanthropists and officials, Ball relocated the company to San Francisco and presented twenty-seven fully staged productions in rotating repertory, in two different theaters – the Geary Theater and the Marines Memorial Theatre – during the first 40-week season. San Francisco Chronicle critic Paine Knickerbocker called Ball's opening performance of Molière's Tartuffe "a screaming, bellowing unbelievable triumph."
A.C.T.'s original twenty-seven member acting company featured René Auberjonois, Peter Donat, Richard Dysart, Michael Learned, Ruth Kobart, Paul Shenar, Charles Siebert, Ken Ruta, and Kitty Winn among others. Ball's mid-1970s productions of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew, starring Marc Singer, and Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac, starring Peter Donat and Marsha Mason were televised by PBS and are available on video.
In the mid-1980s, Ball, suffering from exhaustion and under accusations of financial mismanagement, was forced to relinquish his post as artistic director. He was succeeded by A.C.T. founding member and stage director Edward Hastings, who revived the company's fortunes until the Geary Theater was severely damaged by the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. The company continued performing in a variety of San Francisco venues while laying the groundwork for its restoration.
Since 1992, Carey Perloff has served as A.C.T.'s artistic director. A.C.T. is now financially secure and has enjoyed continued success for its work. In 2007, A.C.T. released a cast album of Perloff's production of the Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill musical Happy End, produced by LucasArts studios. It includes the full score and is the first English language recording of this musical.
A.C.T.'s primary home in San Francisco is the Geary Theater, located at 415 Geary Street near the corner of Mason Street in the Theatre District of San Francisco. Built in 1910 and designed by Bliss and Faville (Walter D. Bliss and William B. Faville) in the Classical Revival and Late Victorian styles, it was previously known as the Columbia Theater. The Geary Theater was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on May 27, 1975, and was designated an official San Francisco Landmark on July 11, 1976.
In 2015, A.C.T. opened the Strand Theater at 1127 Market Street between 7th and 8th Streets, across from the U.N. Plaza in the Civic Center neighborhood of San Francisco. The building has a 283-seat theater as well as a 120-seat event and performance space. A.C.T. utilizes the theater to present educational workshops, cabaret performances and specially commissioned new works, as well as productions connected to their M.F.A. and Young Conservatory programs.
A.C.T.'s founder's vision was for it to be both a theater company and acting school. The conservatory currently offers a wide range of classes and is accredited to grant Master of Fine Arts degrees for actors. Its MFA program is extremely competitive, admitting only eight students per year among hundreds who audition. It was ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the top five graduate acting training programs in the U.S., along with schools like Juilliard, Yale, and NYU. The current director of the conservatory is Melissa Smith. Among the many notable alumni of the MFA program are Denzel Washington, Annette Bening, Benjamin Bratt, Carlos Bernard, Amy Irving, Wynn Harmon, Elizabeth Banks, Anna Belknap, Dileep Rao, Marsha Mason, Danny Glover, Isiah Whitlock, Jr., Tom O'Brien, Harry Hamlin, Anna Deavere Smith, Omar Metwally, Steven W. Bailey, and Anika Noni Rose. In addition to the MFA program, A.C.T. offers training through the Studio A.C.T., the Summer Training Congress, and Young Conservatory programs. Alumni of these programs include Nicolas Cage, Teri Hatcher, Delroy Lindo, Milo Ventimiglia, Winona Ryder, Camryn Manheim, Marcus Orelias, Darren Criss, and Chris Pine.
A.C.T.'s Young Conservatory is an internationally recognized professional theater training program for youth through the ages of 19. It was founded by Luanne and Ross Graham in 1971. Successive YC directors include: Candace Birk, Sharon Newman, Linda Aldrich, and Susan Stauter. The program has been led since 1988 by the acclaimed Craig Slaight, to whom many young actors credit with igniting a lifetime passion for all things dramatic. The Young Conservatory is geared at performing new works specifically for young actors, and has premiered plays and musicals by prolific authors such as Horton Foote and Paul Zindel. The conservatory members are also offered roles in the mainstage productions, most frequently A Christmas Carol, which is performed every winter.
The first person to be given the title sound designer in regional theater was Dan Dugan at A.C.T. in the late 1960s. The term Sound Design was introduced to the film world when Francis Ford Coppola directed (and for which his father, Carmine Coppola, arranged the music and Charlie Richmond was the sound designer) a production of Private Lives at A.C.T., while the final cut of the film The Godfather was being edited in 1972.
San Francisco Symphony Recordings
According to Pristine Audio, the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Alfred Hertz, made a series of electrical recordings for the Victor Talking Machine Company on the stage of the theater in 1927. Pristine Audio has restored and reissued the 78 rpm recordings on CD.
- National Park Service (2009-03-13). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
- "City of San Francisco Designated Landmarks". City of San Francisco. Retrieved October 21, 2012.
- "San Francisco Preservation Bulletin No. 9: San Francisco Landmarks"
- "The Geary Theater" A.C.T. website
- "The Strand Theater" A.C.T. website
- American Conservatory Theater (2011). "YC Auditions for A Christmas Carol". American Conservatory Theater. American Conservatory Theater. Archived from the original on October 19, 2011. Retrieved October 18, 2011.
- Kaye, Deena; LeBrecht, James (2009). Sound and music for the theatre: the art and technique of design. Focal Press. p. 8. ISBN 0-240-81011-2.
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