The Circle's History

Jerry Friedman (President from 1988 to 2010) states: “It was back in 1977 that the Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle was formed. A small group of theatre critics, headed by the San Francisco Chronicle's Paine Knickerbocker and Bernard Weiner, got together and formed the Circle, emulating the Circles that had been established in New York and Chicago.

"I joined in 1985. At that time there were 18 members. The size of the membership was always in the 20 range. The President then was Lee Hartgrave. I immediately became Vice President because I had come up with some ideas for the Circle -- I can't remember now what they were. Then, in 1986, I became President and held that office until 2010.

"I don't know when the giving of awards began but it must have been at the very beginning. The first Awards Ceremony that I was involved in was held at a small auditorium in the Academy of Science at Golden Gate Park. I presented an award with Lee Ann Meriwether to someone, but I don’t remember to whom or for what!”

In 2001, the Circle changed its official name to the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. In 2002, due to the economic difficulties that hit the Bay Area, the Circle lost its grants and corporate sponsors. This necessitated that the annual Awards Ceremonies downsize from a large-scale public event to an award winners-only affair.

Then in 2009, Actors’ Equity Association co-sponsored the Awards Ceremony via a generous grant. With another AEA grant the following year, the Circle conservatively transitioned back to a public event at the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre Lobby. Over 300 theatre professionals and supporters attended, making the event an overwhelming success. The Gala has been held at several different venues since then and continues to grow in size and scope with its most recent ceremonies held at the historic Victoria Theatre in San Francisco. The Circle continues to grow and evolve in fulfillment of its mission to promote and celebrate excellence in Bay Area theatre.

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Maintained by SFBATCC CIO Harry Duke / Updated 05/27/24