The Mountain Play is a unique community event, a San Francisco Bay Area cultural tradition for nearly a century. One of the oldest non-profit theatre companies in the area, the Mountain Play staged its first theatrical performances in the natural amphitheatre on top of Mt. Tamalpais in Marin County in 1913.
The first Mountain Play produced was Abraham and Isaac. Members of the audience hiked the six miles from Mill Valley or steamed up the mountain on the Tamalpais Railroad, the "Crookedest Railroad in the World." The Mountain Play Association (MPA) was formed the following year. Congressman William Kent, who owned the land on the mountain where the amphitheatre stood, was one of its vice presidents.
In 1916, Kent deeded the theatre to the MPA. Twenty years later, MPA turned the theatre over to the state park, which then surrounded it, and over the next ten years the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) worked to install the massive serpentine stones that now form the 4000-seat Sidney B. Cushing Memorial Amphitheatre.
The broad appeal of its programming in combination with the dynamic outdoor setting have placed the Mountain Play in a unique position to provide the experience of live theatre and the natural environment to a variety of under-served communities. For 21 years, MPA has provided services to people with physical challenges, including the hearing impaired and patrons in wheelchairs.
In 1980, the Mountain Play introduced sign language interpretation at its May performances on Mt. Tamalpais. In the early 1980s, special accommodations were developed for patrons with wheelchairs, including the grading of a path to the theatre and the construction of a shaded wheelchair platform.
A "Day on the Mountain" outreach program was introduced in 1993 to introduce low-income/at-risk children both to musical theatre and to Mt. Tamalpais. Working with Bay Area social service agencies, the Mountain Play provides tickets and transportation to the show, pre-performance workshops and guided nature hikes on the mountain. Since 1995, the Mountain Play has also presented an annual concert performance at the Redwoods retirment center in Mill Valley for an audience of elderly patrons who can no longer make it up to the mountain.
Since 1977, when Marilyn Smith took over as Executive Director, the Mountain Play has enjoyed an unparalleled level of success presenting Broadway musicals on the mountain. By presenting quality family entertainment and providing free bus transportation up and down the mountain, the Mountain Play was able to expand its audiences to include patrons of all ages and physical abilities while protecting the natural environment from heavy car traffic.
Weather permitting, the Mountain Play draws crowds of close to 4,000 patrons per show every year. With the goal of creating a vehicle to serve the many patrons who were being turned away each season, and because performances on the mountain are limited by the Park Service to six dates annually, we spent several years exploring the feasibility of expanding to include a second venue.
The product of these efforts was realized in our first Mountain Play in the Vineyard season during July of 1997, when our Board of Directors committed to a two-year pilot project in Sonoma County. The Mountain Play presented 3 sold-out performances of South Pacific in Jack London State Park and in 1998, our Sonoma season was expanded to six performances. Though highly successful in its own right, the performances in Sonoma did not further the Association's goal of enhancing financial stability and thus, the Mountain Play Board decided to concentrate its efforts at home, protecting the trust to which the mission commits them.