In theater you need materials, you need collaborators, and you need a venue. The vision would never have taken shape without Stephanie’s first collaborator, Peggy Howe. They started a Monday Night performance series at the Hotel Utah in 1989, moved to Morty’s in North Beach the following year, then into the back room at Cafe Beano where The Marsh began presenting over 150 different performances a year. The collaboration had expanded to include the Performers, the Audience, and everyone involved in supporting the work (the Support) that goes on at a theater. In December 1992, The Marsh found its current home at 1062 Valencia, an intimate 110 seat theater. In 1996, it purchased this location, a 12,000 sq ft building, where the vision continues to evolve.
How it all began
In 1989, Stephanie Weisman, the theater’s founder and artistic director, started The Marsh because she wanted a place for writers and performers like herself to easily develop their performances. It began as a Monday night performance series, just at the time when solo performance was taking off in San Francisco, and it was an immediate success. Every week, four different performers performed for fifteen minutes each at the legendary Hotel Utah, a historic drinking hole formerly frequented by gold miners and Beat poets.
Competition with Monday Night Football drove The Marsh to Morty’s in North Beach, the famous sixties hang-out where Lenny Bruce and Sarah Vaughn, among others, used to perform. Then, in 1990, The Marsh moved into the back room of the now defunct Café Beano on Valencia Street (now Café Ethiopia). Within a month, it was putting on seven performances a week. The first staged workshop was Marga Gomez’s Memory Tricks, Josh Kornbluth’s Haiku Tunnel was The Marsh’s first full-length production (and first feature film!) and Charlie Varon’s initial solo piece Honest Prophets saw its debut there.
After a short stint at the old Modern Times Bookstore location, in December 1992, The Marsh moved to its current home at 1062 Valencia. It rented the friendly, laid back, 112 seat theater formerly occupied by the jazz club Bajones (where, according to local lore, you could get a margarita on the rocks at six in the morning). In 1996 The Marsh purchased the whole building, gradually developing the 12,000 square foot space into a community arts center. It currently includes two theaters, a comedy club, a cafe and a youth theater.
The vision continues to evolve, most recently with the opening of a new theater in the Gaia Building in Berkeley’s thriving art district and in its developing relationships with other Bay Area theaters to present Marsh productions which include the Luther Burbank Center in Santa Rosa, the Dance Palace in Point Reyes, and the Sonoma Community Center.
So why is it called The Marsh? The name, The Marsh, a breeding ground for new performance, came out of several months Stephanie Weisman spent living in a house on stilts on the Delaware Bay. The teeming interplay of the marsh terrain and its vast fecundity seemed a perfect metaphor.
The Marsh began with a creative vision. The name, The Marsh, a breeding ground for new performance, came out of several months Stephanie Weisman spent living on the edge of a marsh writing and watching the rich interplay between the different elements that created the landscape. The Marsh, it seemed like a perfect metaphor for artistic development in the urban environment.
It is about transformation, possibilities and community. Most people first come to The Marsh as audience members, but they often end up more actively involved: enrolling in a workshop, coming to a sing-along night, volunteering their services, participating in The Marsh’s internship program or maybe even testing their talents as a Monday night performer. The Marsh provides an encouraging place for both audiences and performers to branch out and offers opportunities for every level of involvement.