Richard Reineccius, a pioneer in the Bay Area’s midsize theater scene and San Francisco’s neighborhood arts programs, died at Oakland’s Altenheim Senior Housing Center on February 5, just 11 days before what would’ve been his 79th birthday. The cause of death is unknown, but is believed to have been a heart attack, according to his family.
A passionate advocate for contemporary theater and creating opportunities for emerging artists, Reineccius founded the Julian Theatre in 1965, with his wife, Brenda Berlin and a group of students from what was then San Francisco State College, where he was teaching. At the time, the only professional theater companies in the region were the Actor’s Workshop and the San Francisco Mime Troupe. Within the next five years, University of California, Berkeley students and other aspiring theater artists had followed suit, starting Berkeley Repertory, the Magic, Eureka and other companies, ushering in the active, diverse theater community that has thrived in the Bay Area ever since.
Richard Ronald Reineccius was born February 16, 1937, in Cambridge, Minnesota, the youngest of 13 children, and grew up working on his parents’ farm. He attended Iowa State University as an electrical engineering major, but soon switched to drama, and spent the next few years working with different theater companies. In the early 1960s, during a stint with the U.S. Army at Fort Bliss, he and Berlin, recently married, worked with Playhouse El Paso, where he became managing director. He graduated from San Francisco State in 1965, and received his master’s degree there in 1968.
Reineccius served as artistic and general manager for the Julian, where he also acted and directed. Dedicated to producing “revitalized classics” and works created by exciting contemporary playwrights from Britain, Germany and Eastern Europe, it became a home for new Bay Area writers during its almost three decades.
The company had a rocky first few years, during which it moved several times, starting at St. John’s Episcopal Church, on Julian Street, and working at various sites — including in Walnut Creek and Berkeley, in the space that became Berkeley Rep’s first home — before settling at the Potrero Hill Neighborhood House in 1968.
For most of the next two decades, the Julian was one of the region’s principal midsize theater companies. It hosted a diverse array of other dance companies, including John Doyle’s Grassroots Experience, Danny Glover and Gloria Weinstock in “Sugarmouth Sam Don’t Dance No More” and the African Uhuru Dancers.
During this time, Reineccius became involved in an Arts and the City program, which evolved into the Neighborhood Arts Program, now the San Francisco Arts Commission’s Community Arts and Education Program. He also spearheaded a movement, with other arts activists, that resulted in the City purchasing in 1973 the four buildings that remain its primary neighborhood cultural arts centers: Bayview Opera House, Mission Cultural Center, South of Market Cultural Center and the African American Art & Culture Complex.
The Julian faltered in the mid-1980s, after Reineccius and Berlin divorced and she left the company. It closed in the early-1990s, when Reineccius was invited to direct a play in Poland, where he remained for the next 11 years. He moved back to the Bay Area in 2005.
Reineccius is survived by son, Stacey Reineccius, daughters, Narda Skov and Celia Chamberlain, and six grandchildren, ranging in age from six to 17.
A memorial celebration will be held at the Nabe on April 24, 3 to 6 p.m. In lieu of flowers donations can be made to the Nabe.