Hi! I’m Ken Robertson, and as of April 1st, I’m the new BATS’ Artistic Director.
I’m taking over the position from Kasey Klemm, who’s stepping down after six years of service – if you see Kasey shake his hand, give him a hug, or buy him a drink. When you see that beautiful view of the Golden Gate Bridge from our lobby (one of the best views from any theater in the world) think of Kasey. It’s because of him our lobby moved to the Bay side of the theater, and got a badly needed makeover. And that’s just one tiny thing he did to make BATS an even better place. Thanks Kasey!!!
As for me, I’m not sure I need to introduce myself. We may have met before, in a BATS class or at a show. But even if we haven’t met face to face, I know we already know each other.
Let me explain…
I first stepped foot in BATS in February of 2003. It followed one of the most difficult times in my life – a family member had passed away, a romantic relationship had imploded spectacularly, and I’d just finished four consecutive 100-hour-work weeks (not an exaggeration) which I’d done to save an entire department from being “downsized”. I was exhausted, and a hair’s breadth away from a serious emotional tailspin.
I happened to see an article mentioning improv classes in San Francisco. I’d never heard of BATS. But it sounded fun, and I desperately needed of something very different from what I’d been doing.
So I signed up.
I was nervous in that first class despite having been a professional actor for years. Performing Shakespeare and Arthur Miller in thousand-seat auditoriums was a whole different ballgame – we had scripts, directors and rehearsal time. I told no one about my acting background just in case I was terrible. I didn’t want everyone to think “now we know why he’s not acting anymore!”
But there was something special about being at BATS, even on that first day. Sure, successful improv depends on exceptional teamwork, accepting other’s ideas; co-creating, making teammates look good.
But this was something more.
Company members were smart, funny, warm, genuine, generous, encouraging and supportive. They were humble despite their exceptional talent. They were theater nerds and movie buffs. It was easy to lose ourselves in long conversations about improv theories, Tennessee Williams and obscure movies no one else had heard of.
They were happy when I did well (something that doesn’t always happen amongst actors…trust me). They were helpful and supportive when I fell flat on my face (which I did…a lot). They always had time for my questions, no matter how stupid the question was or how obvious the answers might be.
Teachers became mentors.
Mentors became friends.
When I started playing in company shows, I saw the same generosity everywhere in the BATS community, in those who saw shows and those who attended classes. Those qualities weren’t just for performers – those qualities were felt and reflected by everyone who walked through our doors.
During my time at BATS, I’ve heard wonderful stories from many other people, of how that support, acceptance and teamwork have changed peoples’ lives.
Like the entrepreneur whose business took off as he found new confidence in his improv class.
Or the couple who loved BATS so much they felt our stage was the perfect place to get engaged – and then returned exactly a year later to celebrate their anniversary.
A beautiful and moving group of emails came from an addiction recovery group that attended a show. They talked about laughing during the show – many of them for the first time since they started their recovery program – and how that laughter restored their faith that a brighter future lay just ahead.
I understand. It’s a rare occasion indeed when I don’t leave BATS better than when I walked in, even if it’s just working out for a show.
The BATS community is about inclusion, welcoming you just as you are. We say “yes” to each other, joyfully accept our own mistakes and those of others – they’re gifts on stage AND in life. Everyone’s uniqueness adds a new bit of spice, creating something infinitely more original than any single person could create on their own.
As politicians create travel bans, weaken civil rights legislation and create myriad other ways to exclude and divide, the BATS community has responded, strengthening and expanding our environment of inclusion – because that’s what we do. It’s a scary time, but for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
The more others want to draw lines and divide, the more we want to celebrate uniqueness AND bring everyone together to play.
You come to BATS to have fun, to be transported by stories and characters, to be surprised and delighted.
I do too.
You offer your ideas and suggestions to see something new and unique, where your contributions are valued and acted upon.
You’re here to share a one-night-only experience with a theater full of others here for the same reason.
We DO know each other. We have a lot in common. We’re kindred spirits.
We’re friends, even if we’ve never met.
And if you happen to have a story of how BATS has helped you, or a time when coming to BATS brightened you day, or if you just want to say “hi”, please go here and drop me a line. It’s always nice to hear from a friend.
Welcome home – it’s good to have you here! Hope to see you soon!