How I See San Francisco: New Conservatory Theatre Center Artistic Director Ed Decker
Ed Decker has been the artistic director of the Civic Center’s New Conservatory Theatre Center since he founded it in 1981. Although NCTC began as a progressive arts education program, it’s since grown into a powerhouse on the San Francisco scene, staging eight productions a year, touring throughout Northern and Central California, and acting as a home for the thespians of tomorrow — particularly in queer and allied theater. To Decker’s knowledge, no one else does all that under one umbrella.
What makes NCTC different from other theater companies?
There are other places doing arts education and offering classes for kids, and other children’s theater touring companies. But there isn’t any company in the nation that is doing arts education, queer and allied theater, and a consistent touring program for the LGBT community. And we have a conservatory for young people, ages six to 17.
How does NCTC prepare young actors for a life on the stage?
Our Family Matinee program produces in the fall and winter. We employ our young actors who have come through or are going through our conservatory program. We give them their first jobs on stage — and we pay them! They perform in the Family Matinee series, designed to expose very young children and their families to live theater. Everything’s so virtual these days that we’re on a mission to introduce theater to children as early as possible, so that it becomes part of their consciousness and they know their imaginations can feed and thrive and do wonderful things.
How many students do you reach in a year?
About 20,000 kids on tour, and between our classes here at NCTC and all our satellite classes that we have at schools around San Francisco, we serve another 800-1000 kids a year.
When touring through conservative places, how does NCTC advocate for LGBT rights?
We don’t just bring the show there and leave. We spend the whole year leading up to the show with community leaders on the ground. They work the whole year preparing for the production in conversation between one another, with faith-based groups, with community groups, their gay center — they all use the theater to enrich the conversation. All the tickets we sell and the money we raise stays in that community, and they get to use it however to choose to advance their agenda for their own LGBT community. So it’s a really rewarding effort.
What neighborhood do you live in?
My husband and I live out at Ocean Beach, in the Sunset. I live at the beach and near the park, so that’s always a constant source of amusement for me. I love hiking around the Legion of Honor, and below there at Lands End.
Where do you recommend people go for a pre-theater dinner?
A good friend runs a restaurant a bit further away on Laguna and Fell, Il Borgo. It’s a family-run Italian restaurant that makes its own bread and makes its own pasta, a well-kept secret. I send a lot of folks there.
When out-of-towners come for a visit, where do you take them?
The Asian Art Museum, the Inner at the Opera, Kabuki Spa, Oasis (the night club), the farmers market at the Ferry Building, and Tazaki Sushi near Ocean Beach.