Playground Takes over Thick House

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Thick House opened in 1996 in the Goodman 2 live-work building.  In the two decades since, the 78-seat, simple, unadorned performance space, owned by the nonprofit Art Space Development Corporation (ArtsDeco), has hosted a wide variety of productions by many diverse companies and independent artists.

The alternative group Thick Description made its debut in 1999 at the theatre with the world premiere of Under Western Eyes, an Asian American-themed adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s novel, directed by Thick Description cofounder Tony Kelly. Other companies that’ve used the venue include Theatre Rhinoceros, Blue House Arts, Crowded Fire Theatre Company, and Golden Thread.

Now comes an exciting new role for Thick House, which is located at 18th Street between Carolina and Arkansas streets:  PlayGround has signed a six-year master lease of the venue, with a five-year extension option through 2026.

Founded in 1994, PlayGround serves as an incubator, providing opportunities for playwrights and performers through its monthly Monday Night staged reading series, full-length play commissions, and New Play Production Fund, which offers support for new works by local playwrights.  PlayGround began producing its annual Best of PlayGround Festival at Thick Description in 2008, and has staged co-productions of new full-length plays there, including Diane Sampson’s Sleeping Cutie, Robin Lynn Rodriguez’s Hella Love Oakland, and Garrett Jon Groenveld’s The Empty Nesters. PlayGround Film Festival is its newest initiative, showcasing short films adapted from plays by Bay Area writers and filmmakers.

According to a press release, PlayGround has “supported 200 local playwrights in the development and staging of more than 750 original short plays and 60 new full-length plays, including 18 that have since premiered in the Bay Area, New York and around the country.”

A $260,000 capital campaign has been launched to support significant capital improvements to the Thick House, including new heating, ventilation and air conditioning, seating, lighting and signage. The last is particularly important, as one could pass by without realizing the theatrical delights taking place just off the street. Among the leading theatre consultants working on the project are lighting designer York Kennedy, acoustical engineers Charles Salter Associates, and The Shalleck Collaborative theatre planners.

“This is a wonderful time to strengthen a resource we already have,” said Jim Kleinmann, PlayGround’s artistic director and co-founder. He emphasized the company’s commitment to solidifying relationships with Potrero Hill, including neighborhood restaurants and other local businesses, schools, and the library. 

The veteran arts administrator has served as chief executive at some of the Bay Area’s leading performing arts organizations, including Smuin Ballet, Marin Theatre Company, A Traveling Jewish Theatre, and currently Berkeley Symphony. His master of fine arts is from Yale School of Drama, where he also worked for the Yale Repertory Theatre.

This year Thick House will host productions from Crowded Fire from now until April and September to October, Golden Thread in May and November, the 20th Annual PlayGround Festival of New Works in June and July, and 3Girls Theatre in August. The facility will close for several weeks in late-2016, reopening in early 2017, “renamed, renewed, rebranded,” according to Kleinmann.  Its new name yet to be determined, when it relaunches the theatre will offer a week-long celebration slated to feature an open house, performances and readings. Immediately following the week of festivities, the first show will be a four-week PlayGround co-production, currently in development. Other productions are scheduled through the summer of 2017, with a commitment to “collaboration and developing crossover content,” providing support for “bold new voices”.

“This is a really exciting moment!” Kleinmann exuded.