Theater: Trying To Get Its A.C.T. Together

San Francisco's resident troupe copes with bumpy times

Many organizations devoted to the arts -- and not a few corporations -- are badly shaken by the transition from a founding father to a new generation of more practical managers. The changeover is always bumpier if the founder's departure is forced. But rarely is the switch as onerous and nasty, or the repercussions so lingering, as in the boardroom battle that in 1986 ousted William Ball from San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater. Even today, Ball's successors seek to justify his removal by selling the theme of "renewal" to a still skeptical public.

When Ball founded A.C.T. in 1965, one aim...

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