Trevor Hoffmann, Marin Shakespeare Company’s Box Office and Communications Director interviewed board member Sandy Zuber on Tuesday, October 16, at the Marin Shakespeare administrative offices, currently operating from the San Rafael home of Company Directors Lesley and Bob Currier.
Trevor Hoffmann: Hi Sandy! Thanks for meeting me.
Sandy Zuber: My pleasure; thanks for having me.
TH: You’re the Capital Campaign Co-Chair. Is that the right title?
SZ: Yes, I’m the Campaign Co-Chair, along with Larry Rosenberger. Our job is to lead the charge for Marin Shakespeare’s 6.5-million-dollar capital campaign, of which we’ve raised 3.4 million dollars at this point. We’re firmly past the halfway point but we still have a ways to go. We’re still technically in our “soft phase”, which means that we are looking for lead donors to spearhead the giving before we offer the general public fun ways to contribute, like having your name on a seat or a tile. Obviously, lots of people know we’re raising money, though, so it’s nice to have this chance to give everyone a bit more detailed look at the campaign.
TH: What does a Capital Campaign Co-Chair do?
SZ: I spend a lot of time speaking to people who want to know more about Marin Shakespeare. There are meetings, think-tank sessions, and emails and calls back-and-forth. But the part of this responsibility that I probably enjoy the most is the chance to share my experiences of Marin Shakespeare with other people who want to know more. There is such wonderful work already being done there, and such amazing potential for its future; it’s always fun for me to tell people about Marin Shakes!
TH: And what is happening that is so exciting? Why a Capital Campaign, and why now?
SZ: For 29 years, Marin Shakespeare has been steadily growing! It’s gone from a home-based company in San Rafael, mounting one summer show a year at the Forest Meadows Amphitheatre at Dominican University, to producing a season of three amazing productions there every summer, to then stretching its wings to Education – working with local schools throughout the Bay Area, and creating after-school programs and Summer Camps. Then, 15 years ago, they started a program teaching Shakespeare to inmates at San Quentin, and have since expanded to 11 prisons throughout California.
TH: So it’s no longer a seasonal company, then?
SZ: Exactly – now, it’s very much a year-round company. This has demanded more staff and infrastructure for the company, as well as more available classroom, storage, and rehearsal space. So, staying at the original home base is no longer viable – we need a new home base where we can house the ever-expanding staff and infrastructure needed to run all of these programs. New spaces – as well as improvements to existing venues – will create classrooms for educational and training programs, office spaces for core employees, and a central artistic hub where the community can meet and mingle over all kinds of art! Ultimately, we’ll have a 165-seat theatre in our new space as well!
TH: Where will this new home be?
SZ: Right in downtown San Rafael! A very generous donation provided the needed funds and inspiration for finding a permanent home for Marin Shakespeare. We discovered and purchased that future home: the former Heller’s for Children building at 514 4th Street, which is dear to the hearts of many Marin-ites who have raised children. That building is now the 15,000 square-foot future home of Marin Shakespeare Company.
TH: Is that the only project that this campaign is geared toward?
SZ: Aha! Actually, the current capital campaign is a dual-venue project! We are also making much-needed upgrades to Forest Meadows Amphitheatre, which is, and will remain, our outdoor performance space for the mainstage season. That theatre has not been renovated in over 50 years, and is due for some improvements and upkeep! That renovation is going to commence shortly, with major work on the new 4th Street building to follow.
TH: Sounds like a lot of steps and contingencies. How do you keep track of the priorities?
SZ: We are mid-way with a 3-phase capital campaign. The first phase is complete already: Buying the building. The second phase is upgrading Forest Meadows. The third phase will make our new home on 4th Street a beautiful Performing Arts and Education Center with theatre, classrooms, and offices that will serve the people of Marin County for generations to come. The overall goal is to create a wonderful community center of the arts where adults and children will be able to gather and learn, view, and participate in not only Shakespeare, but in all forms of performing arts.
TH: I’ve seen that there is a baby grand piano in some of the mock-ups for this new space. Is that indicative of the environment to expect, there?
SZ: We are hoping the lobby will be a “cabaret space”, which will host live music, open-mics, first-readings of plays, poetry readings, and improv. We’re planning to use every part of the building and fill it with creativity. We already do that to the extent allowed, but as the projects proceed we will have far more freedom to do more.
TH: So, there are already some things happening at that building?
SZ: Yes. Even in its raw state, the building is being used as much as it can be. From the moment we held the key to the building, every part of it from the bottom to the top has been used to the fullest extent possible. The downstairs is used for small classes; after-school groups in clowning, improv, and Shakespeare-specific study are all meeting there regularly, with students from Davidson Middle School and San Rafael High able to easily walk or carpool there. Over the past summer, several of our Shakespeare Camp students were among the first actors to rehearse inside the new space – they traded off with actors in the Mainstage Company who also had rehearsals there, which is particularly nice when you need to rehearse fights on very hot days. We’ve held auditions in the main room; we’ve had a play-reading to benefit the Center for Domestic Peace, held in the space that will one day be the lobby and offices. Both rooms have been and will continue to be rented by local artists and theatre groups for meetings and rehearsals. So, it’s always busy, and we’re looking forward to making it even more full, more often, as we increase its readiness and capacity.
TH: You mentioned using the building “bottom-to-top” – what’s happening upstairs?
SZ: Thank you – good question! The attic space – which I sort of consider the most fun part of the building to look at, at least right now – is already in full use. For the first time in decades, Marin Shakespeare has somewhere to house the phenomenal collection of costumes and props that the company has amassed over its nearly 30 years of operation! We’re already seeing huge benefits from this, as directors and designers can now peruse aisles of costumes, furniture, prop weapons, et cetera, instead of hauling boxes from cramped storage every time they need to design a new show! In its final form, the attic of Marin Shakespeare’s 4th Street building will house costume, prop, and scenic storage.
TH: With so much happening now, it seems like the new building is already pretty full!
SZ: Well, it’s often at its maximum allowable use, at this point, yes. Once the building is renovated to meet current fire and ADA standards, we hope to start putting on full, professionally-crafted theatre performances year-round, as well as many other events.
TH: In light of all the ongoing activity, it’s easy to see why you’re excited about MSC. But there must have been a time when you did not have an inside view to all that progress, and some of it was not even in the works yet. What initially drew you to this organization?
SZ: To begin with, having a professional Shakespeare company in our backyard, performing in this magnificent outdoor space, was the very, very first draw. We’re a theatre-loving family, and the first time we were introduced to MSC, we fell in love with the performances in the summer. At that time, we didn’t even know about the Education Program or the Social Justice Program. Once I did find out about those two programs, I became completely enamored with Marin Shakespeare Company.
TH: What about those programs was so impactful for you?
SZ: The extraordinary work that this theatre company does in our community! And it’s not only in our local community; the Social Justice programs have an impact throughout the State of California. But, for instance, in Education, we’re serving thousands of Bay Area children, many of whom wouldn’t have the opportunity for arts education or a chance to experience theatre as audience members, and giving them access to the work of Shakespeare. Some of these schools have been heavily impacted by constant cuts to education, which prevents them from experiencing the amount and depth of arts education that the schools once could provide them. Other schools have never been equipped with the resources needed for arts education. We do our best to fill that need. So, in schools and in our own facilities, whether they are studying or watching or performing it, kids are getting access to the confidence-building, thought-provoking work of analyzing, interpreting, and creating theatre.
TH: How is that accomplished?
SZ: Marin Shakes sends teaching artists into many underserved classrooms in the Bay Area to provide free teaching – the teaching artists are funded through grants and donations. These programs help foster comfort and competence with Shakespeare, reading comprehension, and an enjoyment of performance art in general. We also use our resources to bring large groups of students to us: the mainstage performances at Forest Meadows include Student Matinees, and we make sure they are available as field trips for schools that might otherwise not have the opportunity to provide their students with live Shakespeare on stage. It’s always better, if you’ve had to read the play for school, to be able to actually see it performed! We’re there to help complete the picture and show students who are studying Shakespeare what the end result can be.
TH: You’ve touched briefly on work in California prisons. Can you describe that “Social Justice” arm of the company in more detail?
SZ: Gladly. Of all the aspects of the company, this was the biggest surprise to me when I found out about it. It separates Marin Shakespeare from… well, from pretty much all other theatre companies I’ve ever come across! There is exceptional theatre throughout the Bay Area, for sure. But for me, what really stood out at Marin Shakespeare was the fact that Lesley and Bob and their team of extraordinary drama teachers and volunteers have created a program that brings Shakespeare and drama therapy-based classes to inmates at eleven California Prisons. And much of that program’s growth is recent; they started at San Quentin fifteen years ago and the program has spread tremendously, especially over the past few years.
TH: To what would you credit that success?
SZ: When I say they’ve created a program, I mean they’ve created a whole curriculum that is able to be duplicated reliably at different locations, while fitting the guidelines of each prison institution and the needs of each group of incarcerated students. The program also brings the men and women in these facilities an experience that is completely different from anything many of them have seen before. It combines principles from drama therapy, and the group challenge of performing one of Shakespeare’s plays, to help the students exercise trust, empathy, cooperation, communication, and to dissolve barriers and fears they may be carrying from other aspects of their lives.
TH: Have you been to any of the in-prison productions performed by any of the groups in California prisons?
SZ: As a matter of fact, the thing that really cemented my dedication to Marin Shakespeare was my first attendance of a performance by incarcerated actors at San Quentin. Now, I had thought I was going to see a Shakespeare play performed, but it turned out I was attending one of the “Parallel Plays” – performances written and performed collaboratively by the incarcerated actors from the cast of the recent Shakespeare performance. So I showed up and got to see a play that was inspired by the group’s Shakespeare work, and by their own lives.
TH: How was that, as an introduction to the program?
SZ: I was so moved and blown away by what I experienced. Not just because of the performances themselves, but by the incredibly insightful and eloquent responses at the Question and Answer session that occurred between us and the cast afterwards. It really drove home to me the value that the Social Justice Program brings to these incarcerated people – not just to the actors in the plays, but to their fellow inmates in the audience, many of whom are incredibly affected and moved by the experience of seeing the performances.
Ok, I’m going into a lot of personalized experience and detail here – and I could literally talk for hours about how moving those performances are, and why. But the gist of what I’m trying to say is this:
Once I saw the power of the work that Marin Shakespeare is doing to transform lives – with inmates in prisons, with children in and out of schools, with the opportunities given to acting interns and formerly incarcerated actors to be cast in the professional season – when I see the big picture of all the incredible things that Marin Shakespeare Company is doing, I realize that I have to be part of ensuring that this work continues long into the future. I want to make sure that it outlives all of us – me, the current company leadership, even the incredible team that is currently doing so much to continue to refine and expand Marin Shakespeare. This amazing work needs to continue and grow: the only way to do that reliably is by finally having a home base, and a community space where the programs can grow and live on.
TH: Is there anything else you’d like people to know about the Capital Campaign?
SZ: Yes! We have an incredibly generous offer to match any gifts or pledges made before the end of 2018 – as long as pledge amounts are received no later than December 31, 2020. The match comes from my fabulous co-Chair Larry Rosenberger and his wife Diane. So if anyone reading this is thinking about supporting the capital campaign, there is no better time than NOW!
TH: Wow. Sandy, thanks for everything you do for Marin Shakespeare.
SZ: I’m happy to! And thanks for the interview!