A true believer. Not in the religious sense, but more like a deep trust in the human spirit. That’s the first thing you notice about Bill English, the Artistic Director of The SF Playhouse, now celebrating its tenth season in San Francisco’s Theater District.
Sound corny? After having a few conversations with Bill and Playhouse co-founder Susi Damilano, they made a true believer out of me – and they just might do the same conversion for you. In his pre-show welcome speech, Bill challenges audiences to come to the “empathy gym” in the safe darkness of this intimate professional theater:
Our theatre is an empathy gym where we come to practice our powers of compassion. Nelson Mandella, Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, Ghandi: These are the olympic athletes of empathy. But the rest of us need to go to the gym. It’s tough to be compassionate in everyday life. We get cut off in traffic, get our purse snatched, get knocked down, our house broken into, our country is threatened. It’s tough to be empathetic. But from the darkness and anonymity of our seats, we are safe to risk entering into the lives of the characters on the other side of the proscenium. We feel what they feel, fear what they fear, love what they love, and hope for what they hope for. And along the way, with our one hundred hearts beating together in the dark, we realize that under the skin we are the same. And as we leave, we take that miraculous spirit of unity out into the world to make it better.
– Bill English, Artistic Director, The SF Playhouse
Bill says he believes in using theatre to build community. Then he follows-up by investing in strong education programs, loaning (not renting) one of their two performance spaces at 533 Sutter Street to a community discussion group, and hosting free play readings by local playwrights.
It’s all in a day’s work with the Playhouse’s stated mission “To share stories that uplift our spirits, deepen self awareness and nurture compassionate community.”
– Interviews by Barbara Graves, Spring 2012