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Notes from the Empathy Gym – January 2020

Notes from the Empathy Gym – January 2020

January 2020

First off, a huge thank you to everyone who contributed to our End of Calendar Year fundraising campaign. You gave over $400,000 — and big kudos to our board chair, Bill Adler. You successfully doubled his challenge match of $25,000. Yowza!!

We’re so grateful to you all for sustaining our empathy gym and making sure San Francisco Playhouse has the stability to take big risks and continue providing our community with our unique brand of intimate professionalism. Your support has allowed us to assume an essential position in the cultural landscape of our great city and the Bay Area.

Your belief in us as subscribers and donors provides the fuel we artists need to forge through the challenges of bringing great stories to life, turning printed words into breath, strangers into community, and fear into understanding. We would never be able to sustain the energy required to do this work were it not for your faith in us. Bravo!!

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed, adapted by Nia Vardalos
Opening on the San Francisco Playhouse Mainstage Feb 1, 2020

As we launch into the unknown of 2020, Groundhog Day is sending folks away humming and smiling. Tomorrow we’ll be starting rehearsals for Tiny Beautiful Things! We’re so excited to be putting flesh and bones into Cheryl Strayed’s experiences of being “Dear Sugar.” Our resident star, Susi Damilano, will team up with Mark Anderson Phillips, Jomar Tagatac, and Kina Kantor to take us on this journey of the heart. And two days later on Thursday, January 9th, in our Sandbox, we jump into rehearsals for Born in East Berlin, where the repressive, privacy destroying, totalitarian government of 80’s East Berlin runs smack into the rock and roll of Bruce Springsteen. An explosive collision indeed!

Born in East Berlin by Rogelio Martinez
Opening at The Creativity Theater Feb 14, 2020

January and February are dedicated to perhaps our most important work, the Rising Star Program. We’ll be highlighting some of its amazing accomplishments. If you curious, check out our website here for which nights Rising Stars will be attending and join them. There’s always a stimulating talkback with adults and kids sharing their impressions across generations.

2020. Every time I look at this number, I think of perfect vision. As far as the eyes go, a few of us have it, many correct it with glasses or Lasik or cataract surgery, and some just squint. But in our political, social and spiritual lives, it is a consummation devoutly to be wished. Because there is no such thing as perfect vision and anyone who claims to have it is a fool. Much as are they who claim to know “the truth.”

Those who treasure the search for clear vision know how hard it is to come by. We all have breakthroughs when the clouds of uncertainty part for a moment and we fall into that rare instance when everything seems clear. But those moments evaporate and we are inevitably plunged into doubt and uncertainly, struggling to find the right way through the fog and obstacle course of our complex lives. And of course, life these days becomes more complex by the moment. Our brains are bombarded constantly by the allure of advertising, the promises of politicians, and the endless babble of those offering to guide us towards physical and spiritual improvement.

As an artistic director, charged with the task of choosing stories that will have the most powerful impact on our community, I fight daily to keep my head out of the weeds of distraction, out of the chaos of information competing for my attention and keeping me from focusing my vision on the voices we need to hear. It is my great desire to feel the pulse of our times and to find the essential prophecy. I fall into despair when I cannot hear the beat of the earth and the universe that I know is trying to speak to me. For good vision is not just seeing what is on the surface but digging deep inside ourselves to look at truths we don’t really want to face and outwardly at truths we don’t want to see.

Great playwrights over the millennia — Sophocles in Antigone, Shakespeare in Hamlet, Pirandello, Arthur Miller, Annie Baker — have wrestled with the struggle to see clearly: what is right or wrong, true or false, and how we should act?

I’d like to dedicate this coming year to improving our vision, reaching with all our might for that elusive 20/20, even though we know it may be impossible to attain. In order to guide us at San Francisco Playhouse in that quest, I’ve come up with some New Year’s resolutions. Actually, I prefer the word vow.

Here they are in no particular order. Please let me know what you think. I would love to have a discussion about these vows, and for you to tell me some of your own. We at San Francisco Playhouse vow:

To make a safe place for all people (and animals)
To look deeply at both sides of a conflict
To empathize even with those with whom we strongly disagree
To have compassion for all humans
To promote understanding as the foundation of peace.

Write me at [email protected] Anytime. And thank you again for coming with us on the roller coaster ride that is theatre. And life.

Yours, Bill

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Bill English
Bill English is Artistic Director and Co-Founder of San Francisco Playhouse, and in fifteen years with Susi Damilano, has guided its growth from a bare-bones storefront to the second-largest theater in San Francisco.

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