Founded by James P. Reber in 1980 as San Jose’s first resident professional theatre, San Jose Repertory Theatre soon became the fastest growing regional theatre in the country.
In 1987, San Jose Rep made the decision to hire its first full-time Artistic Director, Timothy Near. The hiring of Ms. Near signalled a more focused commitment to making San Jose Rep an integral part of the life of San Jose. Producing plays that spoke to the city’s diverse community including innovative productions of the classics, and daring contemporary works, Near gained San Jose Rep a distinctive identity and respected place in American theatre.
Examples of her progressive programming included such classics as Oedipus the King, Anne Bogart's A Midsummer Night's Dream performed by SITI company, Desire Under The Elms directed by Michael Butler, and both Fences and the Piano Lesson directed by Kenny Leon (director of Broadway’s revival of Raisin in the Sun). Near’s adventurous belief in new work was soon evidenced by the world premiere of My Visits With MGM by Edit Villareal, The Geography of Luck by Marlene Meyer, La Posada Magica by Octavio Solis and Pick Up Ax by Anthony Clairvoe.
Near’s determination and commitment to make San Jose Rep an important contributor to the overall quality of life in San Jose led her to invite John McCluggage to join the company as Associate Artistic Director, with the particular responsibility of advancing the company’s outreach programs. In 1992, McCluggage launched San Jose Rep’s Red Ladder Theatre Company, which has become an award-winning, arts-based social outreach program. The Red Ladder Theatre Company works with under-served and disadvantaged communities to improve and enrich lives through the art of theatre.
San Jose Rep’s progress, however, was limited by its venue, the city-owned Montgomery Theatre. Despite San Jose Rep’s creative ability to overcome many of the Montgomery’s technical limitations, the company’s scheduling flexibility was severely hindered by the fact that it shared the theatre with several other local performing arts organizations. It was clear that San Jose Rep needed and deserved a home of its own.
The 1991 election as Mayor of Susan Hammer, a firm believer in the importance to San Jose of a vibrant cultural community, together with the city’s continuing commitment to redevelop and revitalize downtown San Jose, gave fresh impetus to San Jose Rep’s long held dream of finding a home of its own. Finally, in 1995, the City of San Jose partnered with San Jose Rep to build a new permanent home for the company in the heart of the downtown. San Jose Rep under the direction of then Managing Director Alexandra Urbanowski, successfully raised over $5 million towards the cost. Near and Ms. Urbanowski worked closely with the city and the architects to design a theatre that would reflect San Jose Rep’s artistic vision and answer the needs of the community it served.
In 1996 the Rep launched a New America Playwrights Festival, a fertile environment in which theatre artists could develop new works and innovative approaches to the classics. The New America Playwrights Festival consistently attracted renowned playwrights from across the nation, including John Henry Redwood, Oliver Mayer, Edwin Sanchez, Naomi Izuka, Lynn Nottage, Sandra Tsing Loh, Ronnie Gilbert, Keith Glover, Cherylene Lee, and Philip Kan Gotanda. The festival offered 20 playwrights extended residencies, readings, and further development/production opportunities.
The opening of the new theatre in 1997 ushered in a period of extraordinary artistic growth that catapulted San Jose Rep onto the national theatre scene. San Jose Rep’s programming for the first season in its new home signaled the company’s continuing commitment to reflect the diversity of the city and develop new plays. The inaugural production was the West Coast premiere of African-American playwright Keith Glover’s Thunder Knocking on the Door with a San Jose Rep-commissioned score by Michael Butler and local blues legend Chris Cain. The season also included a World Premiere of Icarus by Eddie Sanchez, which had been developed in San Jose Rep’s new play festival.
After Near’s departure, San Jose Rep conducted a national search and selected Rick Lombardo for his combination of artistic excellence, programming savvy, and leadership abilities. Lombardo joined the Rep in 2009 after 13 years as the Producing Artistic Director at New Repertory Theatre, one of Boston’s and the New England region’s leading mid-size regional theatres. Lombardo was selected as the perfect combination of a consummate artistic leader, exciting director and seasoned administrator. Now in his fifth season as Artistic Director, Lombardo has successfully built upon San Jose Rep’s reputation for artistic excellence by imparting his own brand of dynamic programming choices and directing style.
In 2008, Lombardo was awarded the Norton Prize for Sustained Excellence from the Boston Theatre Critics Association for his work at New Rep. He has also been the recipient of four individual Elliot Norton Awards and is a nine-time winner of the “IRNE” award for his productions of The Clean House, Sweeney Todd, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, A Streetcar Named Desire, Ragtime, Waiting for Godot and The Weir. His world premiere of According to Tip, which starred Ken Howard, transferred to Boston’s theatre district in the fall of 2009. His New Rep production of Bill W. and Dr. Bob enjoyed an extended run off-Broadway in 2006.
In the New England area, Lombardo also directed at Opera Boston, the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theatre and the Actors Shakespeare Project, among others. He was previously the Artistic Director of the Players Guild in Ohio, as well as the Founding Artistic Director of the Stillwaters Theatre Company in New York City. He was the Co-Director of the theatre program at Fordham University’s College at Lincoln Center, and is a member of the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers.
Renowned in the Boston and New England area for selecting plays that engaged the mind and the heart, Lombardo opened his inaugural season at the Rep in 2009 with a critically acclaimed, contemporary re-imagining of Shakespeare’s As You Like It. This production received rave reviews and tremendous praise for its use of cutting edge technology and innovative interpretation of the timeless story. As You Like It has been nominated for 8 Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle awards, including the top honors for ensemble, production, and director.
Following As You Like It, Lombardo selected the groundbreaking production of Groundswell, written by the award-winning South African playwright Ian Bruce. Lombardo continued to astonish at San Jose Rep with his production of the award-winning The Weir by Conor McPherson. The Weir received numerous accolades for its direction and stellar cast. Creating theatre that is vital, exciting and urgent continues to be Lombardo’s trademark. His critically acclaimed first season at San Jose Rep garnered a total of 25 Bay Area Theatre Critic Circle award nominations for The Kite Runner, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, As You Like It, and Groundswell.
Lombardo’s commitment to education and outreach launched San Jose Rep on Tour, San Jose Rep’s new education outreach initiative modeled after Lombardo’s successful education program at New Repertory Theatre, which brings fully produced plays to middle and high schools in the Bay Area. San Jose Rep’s diverse education and outreach programs also include the Red Ladder Theatre Company, the social outreach program of San Jose Repertory Theatre, which works with under-served and disadvantaged communities to improve and enrich lives through the art of theatre. These programs strive to make a significant contribution to improving the quality of life in the broader community.
Through San Jose Rep’s Silicon Valley New Works Initiative, the Rep has commissioned four new works including Philip Kan Gotanda’s The Wind Cries Mary, The Last of the Boys by Steven Dietz and The Haunting of Winchester, a musical by the award-winning team of Craig Bohmler and Mary Bracken Phillips. The Last of the Boys continued to receive its premiere at the McCarter Theatre during the 2004-2005 season. In October 2002, The Wind Cries Mary became the third play—the others are Fire in the Rain…Singer in the Storm and Legacy—to successfully travel the full course of new work development at San Jose Rep, from initial commissioning to world premiere.
San Jose Rep continues to be a major contributor to the national body of theatre literature, to produce theatre that engages the heart and mind, and is deeply relevant to the community and people’s lives. “I believe that we respond to theatre that has real value in our lives, that explores our shared hopes and fears, that entertains, and that leaves us richer for the experience,” says Artistic Director Rick Lombardo. “When the theatre does this it means we’ve been deeply touched—intellectually, emotionally or spiritually, and hopefully in all three ways.”
As San Jose Rep celebrates more than 30 years of adventurous storytelling, the theatre remains as dynamic and forward-looking as ever but will always uphold its commitment to serve, reflect and enrich the lives of the community that has nurtured it.