Founded by five artists in 2004, AlterTheater got its start producing new and contemporary plays in downtown San Rafael storefronts. The company was established with the mission to support artists outside of the dominant culture, intentionally centering Black and Indigenous voices.
AlterTheater has been commissioning plays since 2008, and in 2011 launched the first iteration of its flagship yearlong playwright residency program, AlterLab. AlterLab supports writers through the process of working on a self-identified creative risk or challenge they wish to take with their work. Residents are offered a fee, time, readings, and a supportive community to reflect with as they write a new play. Historically, AlterTheater has produced, on average, 75% of all work created and developed in AlterLab. Half of the program’s commissioned writers have later landed on American Theatre’s list of most produced plays/playwrights, and all of the AlterLab writers have gone on to win, been finalists, or received honorable mentions for local, regional, and national awards, including the Relentless Award, Rella Lossy, Princess Grace, and USA Pen Literary Award in Drama.
Since its inception, AlterTheater has focused on shifting local and national notions of which stories should be told onstage and by whom. Even today, our programs and organizational structure are still poised to address inequities that exist in our field and region. Our top concern is supporting BIPOC theater artists, which is not a singular external imperative but a daily practice for our ensemble. Like many theater artists, we have endured harmful experiences on staff and in productions as artists. AlterTheater creates a space to create new possibilities for ourselves as administrators, the artists we collaborate with, and the communities we serve—from our Bay Area audiences to our network of artists and the communities they write from.
Alternative Theater Ensemble is committed to developing new works and local culture bearers by:
supporting the creative growth of theater artists from historically underrepresented communities;
centering theater’s power as a tool for healing and connection; and
sharing stories that reflect our complex and diverse communities, in places where people are.
We believe that artists are essential in creating a more just and equitable existence throughout the 9 county Bay Area.
Who We Serve
AlterTheater currently and historically works with audiences and artist communities in the nine counties of the Bay Area: Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano, and Sonoma.
AlterTheater seeks to always center underrepresented voices. We do not see enough stories about people who identify as Black, Indigenous, people of color, LGBTQIA+, women, low-income, disabled, youth, elders, neurodivergent, and other marginalized identities. We do not see ourselves reflected in the leadership of organizations making funding, programming, and artistic decisions. Inequity touches all parts of our field, our economy, and our neighborhoods; artist-community relationality is invisibilized by the dominant culture to the detriment of all. In response, we are intentionally gathering a diverse set of stakeholders to reknit theater processes with community needs.
Our model is alive. It grows, adapts, and responds. There aren’t enough examples of how American theaters in the 21st century can operate sustainably outside of the existing systems, which are steeped in practices that uphold white supremacy, patriarchy, and tradition for tradition’s sake; so we made one. We are committed to taking risks, making mistakes, and learning from them. Here’s how it works:
We lead with listening. We gather meaningful data directly from affected communities. We first listen for the needs, wants, challenges, and assets of a given people before deciding how we will work with them.
We utilize consent-based practices. Whether community participant, staff, board member, or artist, we seek permission from one another prior to acting.
Our work is co-created and co-located in activated community spaces. We do not use traditional theater/art spaces for our programs. We go to places where people are already comfortable and connected. Then we bring our offerings directly to them on their terms.
We serve multiple stakeholders. We don’t mean one thing when we say community. We are referring to geographic localites we serve, groups defined by an intersection of identity, theater artists- especially creators, and people who love live performance.
Our work isn’t one thing. We commission. We educate. We develop. We facilitate. We produce. We listen. We consult. We tour. We are proud of our expansive vision. We embrace a cross-sectional approach to connecting to a diverse range of peoples with whom we may share common interests.
We engage in praxis. We put new ideas into practice and then we evaluate to understand how we may improve upon the idea. It’s a continuous cycle of listen - act - adjust - repeat.