Robert Ernst

is an award-winning actor/ playwright/ director/ producer who began developing and performing original solo works in 1973.  He has written and produced 10 solo works during his career. He is a co-founder of Berkeley’s Blake Street Hawkeyes, a theatrical ensemble devoted to daily training, teaching, and the development of original works for performance. Bob received his B.A. in Theater and English from the University of Iowa in 1967. He went on to participate in the M.F.A. program at the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop in creative writing with an emphasis in poetry from 1967 to 1969. In 1968, he became a staff member at the University as an artist-in-residence within a new department that was created with major funding from the Rockefeller Foundation called The Center for the New Performing Arts (CNPA). While on staff, he helped co-found The Iowa Theatre Lab, a theatrical ensemble that was inspired by the concepts and methodology of The Polish Laboratory Theatre director, Jerzy Grotowsky. He remained at this position until the fall of 1972, when he moved to Berkeley to teach, act and direct at The Magic Theatre. Ernst co-founded the teaching department at the Magic (Techniques for Experimental Theatre) with artistic director John Lyon and playwright John O’Keefe. He has received Dramalogue awards for Best Director and Best Production (Tokens, 1984) and as a part of the Best Ensemble for the Eureka production of Road, 1987. On Dec. 13, 1987, he performed non-stop according to The Guinness Book rules for twenty-four hours and one minute, besting the existing record for longest play.


Ernst has written two plays (Nautilus and Smokin’) and three “pocket operas” (The Drunken Sailor, Towards Away, and The John), all of which have been produced in the Bay Area. The John was first produced as a site-specific piece by Climate Theatre in the men’s restroom of the Maritime Hall in San Francisco. The show then moved to The Intersection for the Arts in October, 2001, where it received a Dean Goodman Award in Performance, and was also mentioned in the Best Of The Year series in The Bay Guardian. He continues to develop and teach a system of ensemble improvisation that involves movement, music/rhythm and character development, from which a set performance piece is created. In his own writing, he continues to explore different mixes of the poetic, the musical, the character and the story; searching for a seamless blend.


As an actor, Ernst has appeared in film, television, and onstage, performing in a critically acclaimed production of People’s Temple at Berkeley Repertory Theatre and William Saroyoan’s Time Of Your Life, a tri-production sponsored by The Steppenwolf Theatre of Chicago, Seattle Repertory Theatre, and American Conservatory Theater of San Francisco, and directed by Tina Landau. His performance in the Sam Shepard play Eyes for Consuela was picked by the Bay Guardian as one of the year’s best in 1999. He understudied for Nick Nolte in Sam Shepard’s play, The Late Henry Moss, at the Theatre on the Square (Dec. 2000). Ernst has performed on every major, and most small, theater stages in the San Francisco Bay Area. Film/tv credits include Surefire, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Burglar, Metro, Escape from Alcatraz, Nash Bridges and Hill Street Blues. Ernst also writes songs for, and is a member of, the band Smooth Toad. With AlterTheater, Ernst developed The Changer, which received a First Look workshop production in 2011. AlterTheater also developed and premiered Catherine’s Care, nominated for a Critic’s Circle Award for Best New Play.