History of Brava

Brava Founder Ellen Gavin (R) with Lila Downs

Brava Founder Ellen Gavin (R) with Lila Downs

In 1986, playwright, activist, and arts administrator Ellen Gavin, along with an eclectic and talented group of 75 women artists, met at Galería de la Raza in San Francisco’s Mission District with the intent to bring attention to the unspoken realities of women’s lives. This goal first found expression in the production of a black, lesbian event at the African American Art & Culture Complex in the Western Addition, followed by a women’s writing showcase at the Victoria Theater. In the midst of these two projects, Brava! for Women in the Arts was founded.

Over the next 21 years, Brava! for Women in the Arts produced vibrant, culturally diverse, provocative work by prominent San Francisco feminists, community leaders, activists, and artists such as Cherríe Moraga, Amy Mueller, Jewelle Gomez, and Ellen Sebastian Chang; and produced award-winning premieres by Diana Son, Eve Ensler, Debbie Swisher, Reno, Cherylene Lee, Suzan-Lori Parks, Culture Clash, Joan Holden, Anne Galjour, Elizabeth Summers, Kate Rigg, Dan Guerrero, and Mabou Mines, as well as works by the internationally known playwrights Jesusa Rodriguez and Liliana Felipe of Mexico, Jorge Drexler of Uruguay, and Ojos de Brujo and Ismael Serrano of Spain.

A decade after its founding, Brava! for Women in the Arts purchased the shuttered York Theater, a former vaudeville/movie house built in 1926 on the vibrant lower 24th Street Corridor in the Mission District. The iconic building was renamed Brava Theater Center in 1996; and shortly after, a $3 million renovation ensued creating two performance spaces—a 360-seat main theater and a 60 seat studio. World-class artists featured on Brava's stages include Ritchie Havens, Lesley Gore, Janis Ian, Suzanne Westenhoefer, Sandra Bernhard, Coleman Barks, Kate Clinton, Bill Santiago, and Will Durst, Trios Los Panchos, Lila Downs, Astrid Hadad, Ely Guerra, and Liliana Felipe. 

In 2007, Raelle Myrick-Hodges succeeded Ellen Gavin as Artistic Director and renewed the founder’s vision and mission, producing three seasons of new and re-imagined works including the world premiere of Brian Thorntenson's Over the Mountain, the Beebo Brinker Chronicles, Scapel, Iph... (co-presented with African American Shakespeare Company), and the regional premiere of UnVeiled by Rohina Malik.

Current Executive Director Anastacia Powers Cuellar

Current Executive Director Anastacia Powers Cuellar

In 2012, Brava’s Board of Directors appointed Anastacia (Stacie) Powers Cuellar to the position of Executive Director. With 30 years of arts administration and production experience in San Francisco, Powers Cuellar ushered in a new era of stability for the organization. During her tenure at Brava, Powers Cuellar has revitalized Brava’s long-standing youth program San Francisco Running Crew, completed the capital project to renovate the building’s three storefronts to create necessary office and performance space, and launched Brava Presents to deliver an eclectic array of music, theater, dance, visual, and media art works in collaboration with local artists and arts organizations.

Brava Presents productions include the Bay Area premieres of Solitude by Evelina Fernandez & Latino Theatre Company, the Off-Broadway hit Mighty Real: A Fabulous Sylvester Musical, the annual events Baile en la Calle: The Mural Dances, and New Year’s Eve Comedy Fiesta, along with many others. Most notably, Powers Cuellar has recruited a strong and capable Board and staff to ensure a dynamic future for Brava! for Women in the Arts. 

Brava's Evolution Captured on Film

The buzz before the curtain rises. There is nothing like it. 

In this fundraising video from 2012, Brava! for Women in the Arts invites you to catch a buzz with us as we work to revitalize a San Francisco treasure:


Brava! for Women in the Arts turns shuttered storefronts into performing space and new Brava offices. Watch the video from June 2016:


Have a fond memory of Brava or the theater?

We'd love to hear it! Share it with us using the form below:

Name *