The Eureka Theatre, Where Angels In America Began, Is Closing After 45 Years

by Kathy Eddy

San Francisco’s Eureka Theatre, has announced it will cease operations after 45 years as of July 5th due to insurmountable budget issues. The official statment cites rising costs of production overhead, building maintenance, and the loss of appropriated arts funding from the city’s hotel tax which helped sustain operations as factors in the decision. It is particuarly sad that the Eureka is closing at this moment of sharp debate of theater funding, cultural freedoms, LGBTQ rights and the national healthcare debate as it was Eureka that originally commissioned and produced Angels in America

In 1988, Oskar Eustis and Tony Taccone, the co-artistic directors of the Eureka at the time, commissioned an unknown playwright, Tony Kushner to develop Angels in America. Following an intensive development process, Part One premiered in 1991, co-directed by Eustis and Taccone. The play in two parts, Millennium Approaches, the first half and Perestroika, the second part, went on to win both the Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize, among many accolades. It speaks on a universal level as a narrative that is as releveant today globally as it was when it opened at Eureka. 

In fact, Angels is now celebrating a 25th anniversary revival at London’s National Theatre directed once again by Oskar Eustis. The production will come to Broadway next season and Tony Taccone is also directing a revival at Berkeley Rep. (You can see a behind the scenes look at the change over between parts at the National Theatre's production when Angels in America is played entirerly in one day here.)

The Eureka Theater Company was founded in 1972, originally as the Shorter Players, but got its current name in 1974, when the original group was joined by such directors and performers as Richard E.T. White, Danny Glover, and Julie Herbert. Over the past three decades, the company has launched the careers of many well-known actors and directors, staged over 70 World, West Coast, and Bay Area premieres, and commissioned new works that have achieved national recognition and acclaim. During the 1970s, the Eureka was recognized by more Bay Area Critics Circle Awards than any other theater group. At the time the company staged its work in the basement of a Castro district church, which was destroyed by a fire in 1979.

In the early 1980s, the company moved into a building in the Inner Mission where an annual season of challenging plays was successfully produced for almost a decade. In 1988, the Eureka commissioned playwright Tony Kushner to create Angels in America. In addition to the triumph of Angels in America, several other plays went on to tremendous critical success: Shadow of a Man, by Cherrie Moraga (with Brava! For Women in the Arts), From the Outside Looking In, On the Road: San Francisco 1990 by Anna Deavere Smith, Ubu Unchained, by Amlin Gray and Execution of Justice, by Emily Mann, to name a few. During this time the Eureka also helped to launch the careers of numerous artists including playwrights Caryl Churchill and Dario Fo; actors Geoff Hoyle and Danny Glover; and directors Richard Seyd, Tony Taccone, and Oskar Eustis.

In 1998, the Eureka leased and renovated the Gateway Cinema in downtown San Francisco in order to provide a venue for culturally diverse playwrights and performers. Since then the Eureka has joined forces with other arts organizations to co-produce work that might not otherwise have a life, and where--in the midst of a space crisis--theater companies from all over the Bay Area can rehearse and perform. The goal of the Eureka’s co-production program is to develop artistically excellent programming that reflects our mission statement, generates income and attracts many first-time visitors to the heart of downtown San Embarcadero.

In recent years, the Eureka has served as a home for several San Francisco arts organizations, providing rehearsal and performance space for such companies as the Bay Area One-Act Festival, the San Francisco Sketch Comedy Festival, the LGBTQ-focused Eastenders Repertory Company, and 42nd Street Moon, which dedicates its programming to rarely-performed musicals.

The venue itself, where Eureka called home, is slated to reopen under new management as the Gateway Theatre. Eureka’s archive of manuscripts, posters, and other materials will be gifted to the Museum of Performance + Design, while all of the fixtures and production equipment will be gifted to the 42nd Street Moon, which will remain at the venue under a new lease. The theatre’s remaining cash assets as well as its Lemonade Fund, which provides financial aid to artists with illnesses, will go to Theatre Bay Area, the region’s theater service organization. 

Be sure to also see the video of the Change Over at the National Theatre for Angels In America - Two Plays in One Day here.