Stark Insider Presents: Robert Kelley on TheatreWorks, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’

Much like Silicon Valley's venture process for tech startups, Kelley and his team introduced the New Works Festival nine years ago.

Robert Kelley, artistic director TheatreWorks, with Loni Kao Stark
Robert Kelley, artistic director TheatreWorks, with Loni Kao Stark

Robert Kelley is one of the most well-regarded and influential figures in Bay Area theater today. Forty years ago he started TheatreWorks, and has since grown it into a successful, innovative theater company that stages world-class productions.

There are far more qualified people than me that can describe Kelley and chronicle his background. In fact, in the press kit we received for To Kill a Mockingbird there were no less than five interesting articles (Bay Daily News, San Jose Mercury News, San Mateo County Times, Los Gatos Weekly Times and an interview in the Mockingbird program by Ashleigh Hill) about the latest production and the passionate man Loni speaks to in this episode of SSC Presents.

Much like Silicon Valley’s venture process for tech startups, Kelley and his team introduced the New Works Festival nine years ago which fosters new ideas and brings together the resources to incubate future productions. The result has been consistent innovation affording all of us in the Bay Area the ability to enjoy fresh, diverse, and constantly evolving theater.

“It only makes sense that an area that is a fertile, creative and diverse as the Silicon Valley that we live in should also have arts that are creative, innovative, diverse, and at the absolute top level of professional quality,” says Kelley as he describes the evolution and goals of TheatreWorks to Loni.

TheatreWorks is also known for detailed, lavish sets and stage design. Mockingbird is no exception. The moment you step into the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts theater, you’re transformed into a small Alabama town. The rustling winds. The large, sprawling trees (and there are a lot of them, with painstaking attention paid to each leaf… an apparent TW specialty!). The old, worn rickety fences surrounding the tiny wood frame homes.

Kelley tells us when dialect coach Kimily Conkle, originally from the deep South, walked onto the set she said, “I’m home!” That’s exactly what he wanted to hear.

In this video you’ll see a model of the set. I’m constantly amazed at how much effort and detail goes into these. Plus when you see the show and the actual set you’ll realize how accurately they captured the vision. Very impressive.

One final thing: Robert Kelley’s office is a veritable theater time machine! Nicknacks and photos from past shows adorn the shelves and walls. It’s like being surrounded by a thousand stories, just waiting to be told; and an equal number of questions waiting to be asked. Like, as Loni asked, why do you have a small cow up there on the top shelf? Or a basket of umbrellas? Ah, stories for another time…

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