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.

Word for Word’s Holiday High Jinx

Bums, Broads, and Broadway

Nov 25 - Dec 24

Word for Word's next full production!

With stories by Damon Runyon ("Dancing Dan's Christmas"), Joseph Mitchell ("The Cave Dwellers"), and E.B. White ("Christmas and Relative Pronouns", "Notes and Comment"—from The New Yorker, 12/17/32).

All three of these writers were journalists, and all three were journalists in New York, in the 1920’s, 1930’s, and beyond. Their stories give us the poetry of the city and its uncelebrated people. The warmth of these writers in a cold world—winter cold and ‘30’s Depression cold—glows with holiday spirit. Runyon, Mitchell, and White show us people drawn together in community, celebrating the season and bringing us all a cup of good cheer.

Come have a Tom & Jerry with us (that's the cocktail, not the famed cartoon cat and mouse duo, nor the first incarnation of Simon and Garfunkel), and join the spirit of the Winter holidays.

“The Driver’s Seat: What We Learn When We Learn to Drive”

Word for Word and Author Adam Gopnik perform a reading of his essay for City Arts and Lectures

Dec 7 7:30 PM

A Benefit for Legal Services for Children: Word for Word is thrilled to join City Arts & Lectures to present a theatrical reading of Adam Gopnik’s New Yorker essay “The Driver’s Seat: What We Learn When We Learn to Drive.”  Co-artistic Director JoAnne Winter will direct this special excursion of the theatre company at the Nourse Theatre. Starring Adam Gopnik as himself, the work will be performed by Word for Word favorites Jeri Lynn Cohen, Margo Hall, Søren Oliver and Jeremy Kahn, and joined by members of the acclaimed Mugwumpin ensemble.

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,” Stories 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.

Since 1993, Word for Word has performed the following works of literature:

Floor Show by Julia Alvarez • Winesburg, Ohio: Tales of the Grotesque by Sherwood Anderson • The Killing Blanket by Rilla Askew • Sonny’s Blues by James Baldwin • Gorilla, My Love by Toni Cade Bambara • The Wonderful Story of Zaal by M & N. Batmanglij • Hyacinths, The Sight of You, and Silver Water by Amy Bloom • Sorry Fugu by T.C. Boyle • The Confessions of Madame Psyche: Chapter One by Dorothy Bryant • The Falling Girl by Dino Buzzati, translated by Lawrence Venuti • The Fall River Axe Murders by Angela Carter • More Than Human by Michael Chabon • Stories from The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros • Doctor of the Moon by Harriet Doerr • Looking After Louis by Lesley Ely • Gold Star and The Last Stand by Siobhan Fallon • The Kitchen Side of the Door by Edna Ferber • Communist by Richard Ford • Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox • The Debut, The Java Entertainment, The Cold Shoulder, Nobody Sick, Nobody Poor and Covers for Seven by Zona Gale • Mlle. Dias de Corta by Mavis Gallant • There’s a Garden of Eden by Ellen Gilchrist • A Jury of Her Peers by Susan Glaspell • The Islanders by Andrew Sean Greer • A Passion in Eden by Joanne Greenberg • A Story, A Story by Gail E. Haley • Wiley, His Mama, and the Hairy Man by Virginia Hamilton • The Most Girl Part of You by Amy Hempel • Wrongly, Naturally, Arguably, and Particularly by Daniel Handler • The Blues I’m Playing by Langston Hughes • The Gilded Six-Bits by Zora Neale Hurston • The Master-Maid as retold by Joseph Jacobs • Emergency and Dun Dun by Denis Johnson • Rose-Johnny by Barbara Kingsolver • The Elephant’s Child by Rudyard Kipling • The Love Nest and Reunion by Ring Lardner • John Henry as told by Julius Lester • The Jewbird and Spring Rain by Bernard Malamud • The Necklace by Guy de Maupassant • Suddenly Home by Armistead Maupin • Enough by Alice McDermott • Which Is More Than I Can Say About Some People by Lorrie Moore • Friend of My Youth by Alice Munro • The Isabel Fish and Note to Sixth-Grade Self by Julie Orringer • Goodbye and Good Luck and The Loudest Voice by Grace Paley • The Standard of Living by Dorothy Parker • Berenice by Edgar Allan Poe • The Bunchgrass Edge of the World by Annie Proulx • Tugboat Annie by Norman Reilly Raine • Stories from Sonoma Mountain, Ancestor, How Tom Smith Caused the 1906 Earthquake, Joy Ride and Slaughterhouse by Greg Sarris • The Halfway Diner by John Sayles • Scattering Poems All Through the Night, a compliation of works by over thirty poets • 36 Stories by Sam ShepardOil! (Chapter One: The Ride) by Upton Sinclair • Miss Furr and Miss Skeene by Gertrude Stein • Cannery Row and The Pastures of Heaven by John Steinbeck • Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout • Immortal Heart by Amy Tan • A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas • Lily Daw and the Three Ladies by Eudora Welty • Xingu by Edith Wharton • Two on a Party by Tennessee Williams • In the Garden of the North American Martyrs, Lady’s Dream, Bullet in the Brain, Firelight, Sanity and Down to Bone by Tobias Wolff • Mrs. Dalloway’s Party by Virginia Woolf

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
Siobhan Fallon
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

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien May 2015

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

At  Z Below, 470 Florida St.


Stories by Alice Munro: “The Office” and “Dolly” Mar 2015

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... more

At Z Below, 470 Florida St

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“The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson” by Alan Bennett Apr 2015

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

At the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco.


“Two Women” by Colm Tóibín Jan 2015

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

On the Z Space Main Stage, 450 Florida


“Saint Marie” by Louise Erdrich Dec 2014

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

At Z Below, 470 Florida.


“Silence” and “A Song” by Colm Tóibín Nov 2014

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

At Z Below, 470 Florida St.


“Free Radicals” by Alice Munro Oct 2014

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

A Litquake Event


“The Office” and “Dolly” by Alice Munro Sep 2014

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

On Z Space's main stage at 450 Florida St.


Word for Word’s “Off the Page” Reading Series: Jul 2014

Get a glimpse of the Word for Word process in this series as we take our first theatrical look at stories under consideration for... more


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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