Word for Word

Word for Word

Word for Word Performing Arts Company is an ensemble whose mission is to tell great stories with elegant theatricality, staging performances of classic and contemporary fiction. Founded in 1993 by Susan Harloe and JoAnne Winter, Word for Word believes in the power of the short story to provide solace, compassion, and insight into our daily lives. (Photo left: Word for Word in Xingu, Edith Wharton, 2001, by Jaime Kibben)

"Their brilliant inventiveness in performance, choreography, and staging has created a new art form, and a deeply affecting experience." - Tobias Wolff

Word for Word is honored to have won two Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle awards for In Friendship in the under 100 seat category: for Entire Production as well as Laura Hazlett for Costume Design.

Stories by Alice Munro: “The Office” and “Dolly”

Word for Word's Upcoming Full Production

Mar 4 - Apr 12

Word for Word is honored to announce our next full production, two short stories by 2013 Nobel Prize winner Alice Munro: "The Office" and "Dolly"-- from Ms.Munro's first short story collection (Dance of the Happy Shades) and from her latest (Dear Life). This production is especially exciting because you—Word for Word's loyal audience—helped us choose these stories from our Off the Page readings. You voted for your favorites of the four Munro stories we presented, and these were your choices!

In "The Office" a young housewife is convinced that an office of one's own is what she needs to be a real writer--but when she finds the perfect place, her landlord presents an unexpected and surprising obstacle; in "Dolly", our protagonist is confident that she and her husband have the enduring love of late life—until Franklin's old flame, Gwen, pops up. From Munro's first short story collection to her most recent, these two stories showcase the irony, humor, and surprise found in Munro's heroines.

“The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson” by Alan Bennett

An Off the Page reading at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco

Apr 13 7:00 PM

Off the Page staged readings are the first step in developing a Word for Word production—taking a short story from the page to the stage. Come see the very first steps of our process, and, after the reading, let us know what you think! In “The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson”, a recently bereaved widow supplements her income by performing as a patient for medical students, and renting out her spare room. Quiet, middle-class, and middle-aged, Mrs. Donaldson will soon discover that she rather enjoys role-play at the hospital, and the irregular and lascivious entertainment provided by her tenants.

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

An Off the Page reading at Z Below

May 19 7:00 PM

Off the Page staged readings are the first step in developing a Word for Word production—taking a short story from the page to the stage. Come see the very first steps of our process, and, after the reading, let us know what you think! The Things They Carried is a ground-breaking meditation on war, memory, imagination, and the redemptive power of storytelling.  The selection(s) being read from this collection of stories is TBA, please check this webpage as the performance date nears for more information.

Off the Page is the first look at Word for Word's forthcoming productions.  With a public staged reading of a short story under consideration as a future show, we invite audiences to see the very first steps of our process of bringing a work from the page to the stage in the Word for Word style.  After the reading, we engage in a conversation with our audience, which gives us lots to think about as we decide on the next steps in bringing the short story to the stage.

For a list of upcoming Off the Page readings, see the "Upcoming Shows" tab above.

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1 Reading of Xingu by Edith Wharton 2011, left to right: Stephanie Hunt, Amy Kossow, Nancy Shelby, JoAnne Winter, Patricia Silver
2 Reading of Julia, by Lillian Hellman, 2011, left to right: Susan Harloe, Christopher Herold, Stephanie Hunt
3 Reading of The Last Stand by Siobhan Fallon 2011, left to right: Ryan Tasker, Marcus S. Thompson, Nicholas Pelczar, Patrick Alparone
Photos by Ulla Havenga

Co-Artistic Directors Susan Harloe and JoAnne Winter founded Word for Word Performing Arts Company in 1993 as part of the Artists in Residence program at The Z Space Studio (Z Space's original name). The very first performance, to a packed audience in a rehearsal space on Howard Street, was Dorothy Parker’s “The Standard of Living.” It was directed by Amy Freed and featuring John Balma, Susan Harloe, and JoAnne Winter.

After early performances in public libraries and schools, Word for Word soon began performing short stories on stage, quickly becoming a local theatre favorite. In 1994, Word for Word became a program of Z Space and has maintained popularity ever since.  In 1998, they established an arts education program known as Youth Arts employing the Word for Word style of in-depth, literature-from-the-inside-out workshops in Bay Area schools.

In its vibrant history, Word for Word has performed over 70 stories by some of the world’s best writers. Many of these stories have been performed in front of the authors themselves. they perform regularly in Bay Area theaters and since 1996  have toured annually throughout California and France.

In 1997, Word for Word received a special Bay Area Critics Circle Award for its unique concept and in 1998, 2002, 2003, and 2005, the Bay Area Critics Circle awarded the company numerous honors for productions including “The Halfway Diner,” “Winesburg, Ohio,” Stori es by Tobias Wolff,” and “Immortal Heart.” In 2008, Word for Word received the Best Ensemble Award for “Sonny's Blues,” with composer Marcus Shelby receiving the best Original Score for the production.

The advisory board of Word for Word, the Charter Group, is also the core acting ensemble and directing pool for the company.  Meeting monthly since the company’s founding in 1993, the Charter Group works with the Co-Artistic Directors to shape the company’s vision and select stories for production.  A group of talented theatre professionals as well as fanatical readers, the Charter members feel fortunate to be part of such a unique and dynamic company—“how lucky we are to read aloud, be read to, and then perform short stories on a regular basis!”

  • JoAnne Winter, Artistic Director

  • Susan Harloe, Artistic Director

  • Sheila Balter

  • JeriLynn Cohen

  • Stephanie Hunt

  • Amy Kossow

  • Delia MacDougall

  • Wendy Radford

  • Nancy Shelby

  • Patricia Silver

The following writers have had their work performed by Word for Word, and lend their names in support the work of our company.

Greg Sarris
Honorary President

Julia Alvarez
T.C. Boyle
Dorothy Bryant
Sandra Cisneros
Paul Fleischman
Richard Ford
Ellen Gilchrist
Joanne Greenberg
Andrew Sean Greer
Daniel Handler
Barbara Kingsolver
Armistead Maupin
Greg Sarris
Octavio Solis
Amy Tan
Tobias Wolff

Description Credits Photos Video Press

36 Stories by Sam Shepard May 2014

This show is part of Magic Theatre's “Sheparding America” festival, celebrating the work of Sam Shepard on his 70th Birthday. Partners... more

At our Z Below Theatre at 470 Florida

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In Friendship - 2014’s Tour of France March and April 2014

Word for Word is thrilled to be returing to France for their 19th annual tour, with In Friendship by Zona Gale. In the small... more

Every year Word for Word takes their show on the road to France. This video is a great introduction to their international efforts.

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“All Aunt Hagar’s Children” by Edward P. Jones February 10, 2014, 7 pm

Off the Page staged readings are the first step in developing a Word for Word production—taking a short story from the page... more

"All Aunt Hagar's Children" by Edward P. Jones Directed by Stephanie Hunt


“Don’t Eat Cat” by Jess Walter January 14th, 2014, 6 PM

Off the Page staged readings are the first step in developing a Word for Word production—taking a short story from the page... more

"Don't Eat Cat" by Jess Walter Directed by Nancy Shelby


Off the Page: Dan Chaon’s Stay Awake Oct 2013

Word for Word will visit the Oakland Public Library's Piedmont Branch for a special Off the Page staged reading from National Book Award... more

Directed by Amy Kossow CAST Michael Patrick Gaffney * Stephanie Hunt* Sheila Balter* Patricia Silver* Molly Benson Jomar Tagatac* Stage Manager: Justin Schlegel* Production Assistant: Rosie Hallett


Litquake - Word for Word: Dan Chaon’s Stay Awake Oct 14th 7PM

San Francisco’s legendary Word for Word performing ensemble (resident here at Z Space) brings to life the title story from Dan Chaon... more

This LITQUAKE event is at Z SPACE (450 Florida St).


In Friendship Aug 2013

Word for Word invites you along to celebrate their 20th anniversary, as the entire Charter Group performs together for the first time ever. Zona... more

This event takes place in our new Z Below venue at 470 Florida. Previews are August 14-16. Opening night is August 17th.

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What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank Apr 2013

Word for Word is pleased to take its Off the Page program to the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco center for a reading... more

Directed by Adrian Elfenbaum Stage Manager: Justin D. Schlegel*


You Know When the Men are Gone at SF State Mar 2013

Following on the success of their run at Z Space, Word for Word brings You Know When the Men are Gone to San Francisco... more


Word for Word’s 2013 Tour of France Apr 2013

For the 18th year, Word for Word is touring France, bringing great American literature to French audiences. In 2013, we tour stories from You Know... more

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