San Francisco Theatres: Small Houses are worth a visit. Attending a play or musical at one of the major San Francisco theatres can be quite taxing on the wallet. Expect to shell out, on average, sixty to eighty dollars for a good seat. If you don't have that kind of money for a theatre experience, don't fret, for there are plenty of small houses throughout the city to choose from for solid live entertainment. Here's our select guide to the best small San Francisco theatres.
Actors Theatre of San Francisco
533 Sutter Street (at Powell Street) (415) 296-9179 Official Website, Current Calendar & Ticket Sales: Actors Theatre SF
Famous theatre critic R. Connema once described the Actors Theatre of San Francisco as "the best off-Broadway style theatre west of the Hudson," and it's easy to understand why he'd make a statement as grand as that one. The Actors Theatre enjoys an unparalleled reputation as being one of the Bay Area's most talented and busy theatre companies, with productions of Broadway and Off-Broadway classics mounted continuously throughout the calendar year (just this year has seen acclaimed productions such well-known plays as "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," "A View From the Bridge," and "Crimes of the Heart"). The Actors Theatre has not one but two stages, and each is committed to not only presenting classics, but also new and daring works from emerging playwrights throughout America. In addition to productions, performance workshops are also offered, with classes in beginning, intermediate, and advanced acting.
156 Eddy Street (between Mason and Taylor Streets) (415) 673-3847 Official Website, Current Calendar, & Ticket Sales: Exit Theatre
The Exit offers theatergoers the chance to take in exceptional, wildly original entertainment in a no-frills environment. The theatre actually has two different performance spaces-there's the main stage, which is quite large and offers terrific views even from the side seats, and then there's Exit Stage Left, which is a smaller, even less fussier affair than the main stage. Because of these decidedly unglamorous settings, ticket prices for most shows are shockingly inexpensive, making it easy for scrappy theatre lovers to take in great productions on the cheap. The Exit is beloved throughout the Bay Area for its annual September mounting of the San Francisco Fringe Festival, which offers near-continuous hour-long productions of new performances from both local, national, and international theatre companies. Don't expect dazzling, million dollar sets and a champagne bar at intermission when you come to the Exit; do expect stellar performances and thought-provoking works that will stay with you for days on end.
San Francisco Theatres: Magic Theatre
Fort Mason Center - Building D (415) 441-8822 Official Website, Current Calendar & Ticket Sales: Magic Theatre
The Magic is a tucked-away theatrical jewel, nestled along the San Francisco Bay not far from Fisherman's Wharf. Located in the sometimes-confusing maze of buildings that is the Fort Mason Center, the Magic offers a nice-sized stage that has the distinction of being completely surrounded on all sides by bleacher-type seating. When a play is being presented, the seating that lies behind the set is roped off with a curtain and goes unfilled with attendees; when a barebones solo performance is being mounted, all seats are available for sale, and all afford terrific sightlines. Known for taking chances on new work and burgeoning playwrights, the Magic established its cutting edge reputation when the legendary Sam Shepherd set up shop here in the 70s to work out kinks on new plays he was writing. Since then, works by such writers as Rebecca Gilman, Michelle Carter, and Matt Smart have seen the light of day here.
San Francisco Theatres: The Marsh
1062 Valencia Street (at 22nd Street) (415) 826-5750 Official Website, Current Calendar & Ticket Sales: The Marsh
"A breeding ground for new performance," The Marsh is a San Francisco institution, enjoying a reputation as being the place to catch, hot, politically minded, and wildly hilarious one-man shows like Brian Copeland's hit "Not a Genuine Black Man." The cozy 110-seat theater hosts well over 100 performances a year, including ones that occasionally involve the audience in some weird and wacky way. Tickets are inexpensive, with Thursday nights being the night everyone gets to pay on a pre-set sliding scale, and Monday night is one night you don't want to miss. Monday Night Marsh is an ongoing works-in-progress series in which viewers get the chance to take in blossoming works from local talents like Marga Gomez and Josh Kornbluth. Ticket prices on this night are ridiculously cheap-usually you'll pay somewhere around $7 for admittance. The Marsh also offers classes in the art of performance for both adults and youngsters, so if you're interested in getting in touch with your inner-thespian, give the theater a call.
2926 16th Street (at South Van Ness Avenue) (415) 861-5079 Official Website, Current Calendar & Ticket Sales: Theatre Rhinoceros
Theatre Rhinoceros has the wonderful distinction of being the longest-running professional queer theatre in the world, having been mounting performances since way back in 1977 (their first show ever-"The West Street Gang"-was mounted inside a now-defunct South of Market leather bar!). The Rhino has not one but two performance spaces-both are quite tiny, but both afford audiences a near hands-on theatre-going experience (quite literally-you can almost reach out and touch the performers). If you're on a tight budget but hungry for good theatre, don't worry-the Rhino's ticket prices never go beyond $25. Both new and classic works are presented at the Rhino, and the performances, set designs, and material are always inspired and original.