Readers Choice 2013: Culture

Local Theater

“The play’s the thing.” It was true long before Shakespeare penned those words for Hamlet and remains true today for theatergoers throughout the Bay Area.

The American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco may be nearing 50 years old, but it remains as edgy and dynamic as ever. ACT is recognized internationally for its cutting-edge treatment of classical plays as well as its willingness to break new ground with contemporary works. Pre- and post-show discussions allow theatergoers the opportunity to learn more about the artistic process and what goes into staging a play and performing in it from the actors, designers and artists involved. Hopefuls vie for a spot in ACT’s Conservatory, a training program that develops the next generation of theater artists.

Berkeley Repertory Theatre draws audiences from all over the Bay Area with its mix of interesting interpretations of classic productions and groundbreaking new works by emerging and established playwrights. Renowned stage and screen artists have written, designed sets and performed in numerous productions. The company has premiered several plays prior to Broadway engagements, in addition to a few that have toured nationally, moved on to London or been turned into films. With two stages, a School of Theatre for kids and adults, outreach programs and a reputation for excellence, it’s hard to believe Berkeley Rep started out in a storefront.

TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, with venues in Mountain View and Palo Alto, has grown from a small theater arts program for high school and college students into a theater company with 8,000 subscribers, 41 employees and a $7 million budget. Reinterpreted classics, modern plays and musicals share billing with innovative original works. Nontraditional casting of traditional works and roles are part of the company’s determination to reflect the diversity of its community. TheatreWorks continues to grow its reputation through developmental workshops and readings, commissions of new works and main-stage world premieres.

Since 1966, Marin Theatre Company in Mill Valley has been presenting provocative plays by passionate playwrights from the 20th century through today. Communications director Sasha Hnatkovich says MTC is “most proud of our growing education programs, which … serve more than 6,000 students from over 40 Bay Area schools each year.” In addition to the regular six-show season, a five-show series for young audiences is produced with the Bay Area Childrens’ Theatre. Hnatkovich says, “We are committed to the development and production of new plays by American playwrights with a comprehensive New Play Program.”


San Francisco

American Conservatory Theater

(415) 749-2228


East Bay

Berkeley Repertory Theatre


(510) 647-2949


South Bay/Peninsula

TheatreWorks Silicon Valley

Palo Alto

(650) 463-1950

North Bay

Marin Theatre Company

Mill Valley

(415) 388-5200


Local Museum

The Bay Area is home to a range of museums that vary greatly in their collections and programming. Readers identified these museums as favorites, whether for the purpose of edification or just to enjoy the views.

Daryl Carr, director of marketing and communications for the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, describes CJM as “an engaging forum for diverse audiences, where new perspectives on Jewish culture, history, art and ideas thrive.” The museum presents programs that “educate, challenge and inspire,” such as this summer’s “Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg.” CJM is the first museum in the country to host the New York–based oral history project StoryCorps StoryBooth, which is recording visitors’ stories through Oct. 15. Founded in 1984, CJM’s mission, says Carr, is “making the Jewish experience relevant for the 21st century.”

San Francisco’s M.H. de Young Museum provides “its community and region with high-quality exhibitions, programs and outreach,” according to marketing and communications officials. The de Young opened in 1895 as the Fine Arts Building in Golden Gate Park. Still in the park, but now housed in a copper-clad landmark building, the museum showcases its significant and diverse collections of paintings, sculpture, decorative arts and costumes and textiles, in addition to regularly hosting noteworthy exhibits. The de Young and Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park comprise the city’s Fine Arts Museums, whose mission is “to extend and enhance that service well into this century.”

The Oakland Museum of California is all about the place we call home: California. OMCA opened more than 40 years ago with the mission to connect California’s diverse communities to the cultural and environmental heritage of the state. Through art, history and natural sciences exhibits and interactive activities, OMCA educates and engages visitors. The collection includes some 70,000 works from the 19th century — with many from the Gold Rush era — to the present. A recently completed remodel has transformed the space and allows for a new appreciation of all the museum has to offer.

The Cantor Arts Center on the Stanford campus is exceptional in many ways: the range and variety of art — 32,000 artworks spanning 5,000 years — and the programs, all free to the public. Anna Koster, head of communications, says the new Family Sunday program, with “family-friendly docent tours, art-making and guided sketching in the galleries,” is very popular. The permanent collection, special exhibitions and array of free programming for all ages guarantee that “the Cantor truly has something for everybody,” Koster says. “Whether it is your first visit or your 50th, you will always discover something new.”

San Francisco

Contemporary Jewish Museum

(415) 655-7800

de Young Museum

Fine Art Museums of San Francisco

(415) 750-3600


East Bay

Oakland Museum


(510) 318-8400


South Bay/Peninsula

Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University


(650) 723-4177