Theatre Rhinoceros, the world's oldest continuously producing professional queer theater, was founded in San Francisco, in August 1977, by the late Allan B. Estes, Jr. Its first play,The West Street Gang by Doric Wilson, was staged in a South of Market leather bar, The Black and Blue.
The production was so successful it provided the impetus for a move to The Rhino’s first home in the Goodman Building on Geary Blvd. From 1977 until 1984, Estes and Theatre Rhinoceros produced works by New York writers that included Doric Wilson, Robert Patrick, Lanford Wilson, Terrence McNally, and Harvey Fierstein (including the pre-Broadway one-acts—The International Stud and Fugue in a Nursery— that become part of his 1983 Tony Award-winning play, A Torch Song Trilogy), as well as several San Francisco playwrights including C.D. Arnold, Robert Chesley, Cal Youmans, Philip Real, and Dan Curzon. Audiences also experienced the staged work of several lesbian writers, among them Pat Bond, Jane Chambers, and Adele Prandini. This period of growth led to a move in 1981 to The Rhino's present location in the Mission District's historic Redstone Building.
In 1984 Theatre Rhinoceros was catalyzed by two significant events: Estes’ death from AIDS and the premiere of The AIDS Show: Artists Involved with Death and Survival, a ground-breaking work co-authored by twenty San Francisco Bay Area artists. This play was the first work by any theater company in the nation to deal with the AIDS epidemic, and brought The Rhino national attention. Directed by Leland Moss and Doug Holsclaw, the show ran for two years, toured the United Sates, and was the subject of a 1987 PBS documentary, directed by Academy Award-winners Rob Epstein and Peter Adair, and garnered a 1987 Media Award from the Alliance of Gay and Lesbian Artists.
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