Portraits / Society

Fresh Faces and New Collaborations: Changes in San Francisco Bay Area Theater

nicholas pelczar hs

Ten years in the Bay Area and today he is a regular on many important Bay Area Theater stages including Marin Theatre Company and California Shakespeare. Regional Bay Area actor Nicholas Pelczar has managed to stake out a reputation as a “bayvrite” despite the new and ever-growing trend in the Bay Area Theater of seeking talent from outside of the Bay Area and establishing connections with non-regional theaters.

The San Francisco Bay Area has long served as an attractive destination for aspiring artists. With its long-standing tradition of experimental and innovative theater, the Bay Area has maintained its own appeal and has set itself apart from other theatrical destinations in America. It may be small in comparison to New York and lack the option of film and television that Los Angeles has to offer, but it seems to offer something else, an eagerness to experiment and a sense of community, that has made it a very special place for actors. The Bay Area has undergone many transformations since its beginnings, from the transition from for-profit theater to non-profit theater that Rebecca Novick points to and more recently extending their community to non-regional actors, directors, and producers.

Like many actors, Nicholas Pelczar moved to New York after completing his bachelor’s degree at the University of Virginia. Like Pelczar, many of them learn that New York is both a difficult and expensive city. Pelczar laughs as he reminisces about a rather memorable experience with Henry IV Part II in which the performance took place behind a courthouse next to a dumpster with a cast of fourteen people and an audience of only twelve. Landing a part, let alone a quality role was challenging for Pelczar. After September 11th, acting jobs in theater only became even scarcer. This coupled with his girlfriend’s recent move to San Francisco encouraged Pelczar to decide that it was time for a change and he made the move from New York to the Bay Area.

See trailer for documentary, Stage Left:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gBMwFU96krQ

Becoming a “Bayvrite”

The Bay Area theaters have their favorites, or as many regional actors, including Pelczar, refer to them, “bayvrites”, Bay Area Favorites. These are the actors who have broken into certain theaters and are constantly working. Dan Hiatt, Danny Scheie, and Anthony Fusco are just a few examples of the older, legendary Bay Area actors that constitute a “bayvrite”. Pelczar has performed with many of these actors in over ten different productions, but does that make him a favorite? It is clearly a sensitive topic. There is a slight hesitation in his voice as he tries to answer. “I’ve sort of broken into some of these theaters so it’s weird to talk about the fact that these theaters clearly have favorites and I’m maybe one of them.”

Although Pelczar is slightly uncomfortable in acknowledging his growing reputation within the Bay Area theater scene, he is no doubt quickly becoming a household name. Averaging five shows each year at some of the Bay Area’s most well known theaters including California Shakespeare, A.C.T. (where he received his MFA) and Marin Theatre Company, Pelczar is not only popular but in demand.

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Pelczar, far right, with Bay Area actors (from left to right) Liam Vincent, Dan Clegg, and Danny Scheie in The Taming of the Shrew at California Shakespeare Theater. Photo Credit: California Shakespeare Theater, All Rights Reserved.

“You can’t get a job at Berkeley Rep until you’ve moved to New York”

While certain theaters may have their favorites, or “bayvrites”, others are searching for actors outside of the Bay Area. In an effort to re-invent their image and keep their shows new and exciting for audiences, there is a growing trend of hiring actors from outside the Bay Area as noted in the San Francisco Theater Pub. Pelczar jokes, “There is a joke at Berkeley Rep that you can’t get a job there until you’ve moved to New York”. It appears he may only be half-joking. Pelczar asserts that this is true for most of the theaters in the Bay Area and as a result, it has placed an added sense of pressure and competition on the regional actors.

Read More about Regional Theater

Despite this recent development, one of the Bay Area’s distinguishing and lasting traits is its sense of community. Many of the actors have appeared alongside their fellow regional actors for years. This helps in establishing a sense of community and providing a sense of security for many actors but it can also work against the theaters. Theaters are also establishing relationships with non-Bay Area theaters in an attempt to, as Nicholas Pelczar describes it, “fight against some of that same faces fatigue”. Last January, A.C.T. teamed up with the Canadian theater, Theatre Calgary, for the production of Major Barbara. While this co-production may have provided fewer parts for the regional Bay Area actors, Pelczar recognizes the benefits as well. Pelczar was cast as the lead, a demanding part that was surprisingly encouraged by the Canadian casting director, not A.C.T. Nicholas Pelczar explains, “He [the director from Canada] is the one who advocated for me even though the theater where I got my MFA at saw me as this other part”.

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Co-Production of Major Barbara with Canadian theater, Theater Calgary at American Conservatory Theater. Photo credit: StarkInsider, All Rights Reserved.

New York: The Locus of Theater

In spite of the Bay Area’s unique and appealing qualities, Nicholas Pelczar concedes, “New York is still the locus of American theater in a way that San Francisco will never be. It is the center of the theater universe”. Theater cities all across the United States, the Bay Area included, often look to New York for the next big show. Nicholas Pelczar provides the example of his current show at The Marin Theatre Company, The Whale. The Whale is a new play by Samuel D. Hunter that first premiered at the New York off-Broadway theater, Playwrights Horizons. The play centers on Charlie (played by Pelczar), a six hundred pound online English professor who hides in his apartment while desperately trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter. After receiving great success from New York, The Marin Theatre Company picked up the production using Jasson Minadakis as the artistic director. Having worked with Minadakis before on The Glass Menagerie at Marin Theatre Company and establishing a positive working relationship with the director, Pelczar was chosen for the role of Charlie.

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Nicholas Pelczar performs the role Charlie, in the recent production of The Whale at Marin Theatre Company. Photo Credit: SFGate, All Rights Reserved.

The Future Remains Open

It is nearly impossible to foresee the future for the Bay Area Theater. The recession was a hard hit for theaters all across America, and the Bay Area was no exception. But they appear to be fighting back and are far from assuming the position as merely a receiver of New York’s second hand productions. They are competing and re-inventing themselves in their own way, bringing in new talent and expanding their reach to communities outside of the Bay Area while challenging their regional actors.

For Nicholas Pelczar, the future looks promising. After nearly ten years in the Bay Area, Nicholas Pelczar is in a good place. He has proven himself as an actor to prominent directors of the Bay Area, which has in turn enabled him to bypass the standard audition process, establish strong relationships within the Bay Area theater community, and most importantly provide him with a sense of security, or as close to security as a regional theater actor can get. As he experienced with the production process of Major Barbara and now with The Whale, directors are thinking outside of the box and trusting him to take on new complex roles. He clarifies, “I think that as I’m getting older I’m going to start getting parts that are a little more satisfying and challenging and I’m excited about that”.

For further reading on regional theater:

Volz, Jim, Working in American Regional Theatre, London: A & C Black, 2011.

Zeigler, Joseph, Regional Theatre: The Revolutionary Stage, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1973.

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