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Strand Theater Enjoys Encore Appearance On Market Street

October 18, 2016

It is fitting the building housing the revitalized Strand Theater, the centerpiece of today’s arts and civic renewal in San Francisco’s Central Market area, was 100 years ago called the Jewel. Then, it was the crown of the Great White Way, a block of vaudeville theaters with brightly lit marquees.

‘We are making art in the heart of a great city,” Carey Perloff, the artistic director of the acclaimed American Conservatory Theater, said. She called the Strand “the crucial engine for democracy and civic life,” praising the transformative power of live theater.

The Strand is ACT’s second theater space. Its theater on Geary features large-scale stage productions. Highlights this season include Tom Stoppard’s The Hard Problem and Mike Bartlett’s King Charles III, a hit in New York and London. ACT is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

Located at 1127 Market Street, the Strand is directly across the street from the UN Plaza and the Civic Center MUNI and BART station. It is steps away from the Trinity Place apartment complex. Dance groups like Lines and tech companies like Twitter are its neighbors.

Because the Strand sits at the intersection of art and technology, the theater is intended to be more intimate and experiential than ACT’s 1,040-seat Geary Theater. It is designed to be an integral part of the neighborhood. Its two small, flexible performance spaces host internationally acclaimed performances, touring shows, and ACT-commissioned programs. The second season opens in late November. Four provocative shows launch the 2016-17 series. Each play is 90 minutes without intermission:

OBIE award–winner Martin Moran performs his intense, emotional-laden shows All the Rage and The Tricky Part in repertory November 29-December 11. The solo plays explore “sexuality, spirituality, and the mystery of human experience.”

The Skivvies: Holiday Roadkill follows December 22-23. Billed as an “undie-rock, comedy,” it stars Lauren Molina and Nick Cearley of the New York cabaret club scene.

Tony Award–winner Bill Irwin riffs on Samuel Beckett’s plays, prose, and poetry in his performance On Beckett January 10–22, 2017.

The distinctive feature of The Strand is its red façade. A glass wall of windows on the ground floor gives those passing by a view of the 18-foot tall LED-screen dominating the multi-story lobby. Gigantic digital scenes flash past history and present productions. One marquee shot from the 1970s advertises the movies I was a Teenage Zombie and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Another screen tells the ticket price: $1.25 for shows before 2 p.m.

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Restored neon letters from the 1959 Strand marquee light up the wall of the lobby-level café. The café-bar is open during the day and for performances. White metallic railings and steps replace the grandeur of the onyx stairway of the old theater and lead to the Strand’s two performance spaces.

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The Toni Rembe Theater is a 283-seat theater for innovative plays, dance and music performances, and film. The setting can be maneuvered from traditional theater to cabaret seating.

On the level above, the Rueff, a 1,500 square feet space with flexible seating, offers views of the gold-trimmed dome of City Hall. Here performances, educational programs, actor training, and community events are held.

The Strand makes free rehearsal space available to local arts groups.

Built in 1917 as a theater for silent films, the then 1,200-seat theater became known as the Strand in 1928. It was named after a movie theater in Times Square in New York City that opened in 1914. Since its beginnings on Cinema Row in the early 1900s, the Strand was always a theater, mostly for film but also cabaret, even for an all female orchestra. The advent of television in the 1950s sent cinema theaters into decline. The Strand was lavishly restored in 1977, but the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake disrupted downtown businesses and entertainment. The Strand became an adult theater and after a police raid, the theater closed in 2003. ACT bought the dilapidated building in 2012. Groundbreaking for ACT’s Strand was October 2, 2013.

Live theater has revived the downtowns of Philadelphia, New York, New Orleans, and Louisville. That is the vision for the Strand, entertainment anchor of the Market Street Theater and Loft National Register Historic District. Mayor Ed Lee called the groundbreaking of The Strand “a moment of meaningful change.”

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