Magic Theatre

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For the organization of the same name in Omaha, Nebraska, see Magic Theatre (Omaha)

The Magic Theatre is a theatre company founded in 1967, presently based at the historic Fort Mason Center on San Francisco's northern waterfront. For half a century, The Magic Theatre has been one of the most prominent theatre companies in the United States solely dedicated to development and production of new plays.


The Magic Theatre originated in 1967 when John Lion, a student of Jan Kott at the University of California, directed a production of Eugène Ionesco's The Lesson at the Steppenwolf Bar in Berkeley. The theatre's name came from a crucial location in Hermann Hesse's novel Steppenwolf: "Anarchist Evening at the Magic Theatre, For Madmen Only, Price of Admission Your Mind".

The Magic's first real success came with plays written by renowned Beat poet Michael McClure, who sustained an eleven-year residency. The theatre reached a turning point when company members wanted to restructure it as a collective. Lion responded by moving the theatre across the bay to San Francisco, where it resided in a series of low-rent venues including another bar, the Rose and Thistle. In 1976 Lion learned of plans to convert a historic military base into an arts center with a view of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge . The idea was to change "swords into plowshares". The Magic became one of Fort Mason's first resident non-profit companies.

Sam Shepard began his long association with the Magic as playwright in residence in 1975. The Magic produced the world premiere productions of his Inacoma (1977), Buried Child (1978), Suicide in B-flat, True West (1980) directed by Robert Woodruff, Fool for Love (1983), and The Late Henry Moss (2000). Buried Child was awarded the 1979 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Shepard also developed collaborative pieces with the renowned actor and director Joseph Chaikin. Other playwrights associated with the theatre include John O'Keefe, who staged many of his plays there, including Shimmer.

In 1986, John Lion and the Magic received the Margo Jones Award, the highest honor given by the Dramatists Guild. The award cited the Magic's "significant contribution to the dramatic art through the production of new plays." John Lion left the Magic in the late 1980s to teach, direct and lecture. He died suddenly on August 1, 1999.

Larry Eilenberg became the Artistic Director in 1992, and was followed by Mame Hunt until 1998. Eilenberg resumed the position for five more seasons, during which time he premiered Charles L. Mee's Summertime and First Love and Moira Buffini's Silence. His Festival of Irish Women Playwrights resulted in the Magic's offering the U.S. premiere of Marie Jones' Stones in His Pockets, before its Broadway run.

Recent history[edit]

Current Producing Artistic Director Loretta Greco took the reins April 2008.[1] Prior to joining Magic, she was producing artistic director of the Women's Project in New York City and associate director and staff producer of McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey.

In the fall of 2010, the Magic Theatre collaborated with the Marin Theatre Company and the American Conservatory Theater to put on "The Brother/Sister Plays," a set of plays by Tarell Alvin McCraney.[2] The Magic performed "The Brothers Size", which was directed by Octavio Solis and starred Tobie Windham, Joshua Elijah Reese, and Alex Ubokudom,[3] with a set design by James Faerron.[4] Among the other plays at the Magic in 2010 two were listed in the San Francisco Chronicle's Top Ten: Luis Alfaro's Oedipus el Rey and Liz Duffy Adams' Or.


Actors who have performed at the Magic include Danny Glover, Peter Coyote, Kathy Baker, Ed Harris, John O'Keefe (also playwright), and the original cast of The Late Henry Moss, Nick Nolte, Sean Penn, Woody Harrelson, James Gammon and Cheech Marin.[5]


  1. ^ Taylor, Kate (2009-02-11). "Drama, Live and on the Financial Edge". New York Times. Retrieved June 29, 2009.
  2. ^ D'Souza, Karen (February 23, 2010). "Acclaimed "Brother/Sister" trilogy debuts in Bay Area this fall". A+E Interactive.
  3. ^ Hurwitt, Robert (September 23, 2010). "Theater review: 'The Brothers Size'". The San Francisco Chronicle.
  4. ^ Hurwitt, Sam (September 22, 2010). "Review: Rich relationship drives 'The Brothers Size'". Marin Independent Journal.
  5. ^ Roudané, M., ed., The Cambridge Companion to Sam Shepard (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), p. 19.

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