Will Geer’s Living Legacy
Long before he founded Theatricum Botanicum, Indiana native Will Geer was well-known for his work on the New York stage, in film, and on radio. By the mid-1950’s, he had relocated permanently to California and had established a successful Hollywood career. His future looked bright. But after being called to testify before the U.S. Congress’ Committee on Un-American Activities, he suddenly found himself blacklisted by the major studios with no viable means of income.
For Geer and his young family, the McCarthy Era had arrived. Relocating to an acreage in Topanga, California, Mr. Geer established a theatre for similarly blacklisted actors and folk singers on the property. Because he held a degree in botany (one of his life long interests) the theater was named for a landmark botany text book, Theatricum Botanicum, which means, quite literally, “a garden theatre.”
In the years to come, Geer cultivated not only theater, but a bountiful garden that enabled him and his wife, actress Herta Ware, to earn a living from the sale of vegetables, fruit, and herbs. With the success of television’s “The Waltons” in 1973, Geer discovered renewed popularity with his portrayal of Walton family patriarch, Zebulon Walton. Now he re-gathered his family (many of whom were working actors in regional theatres across the country) and together they formed a non-profit organization, Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum. In those heady days, audiences flocked to free workshop performances of Shakespeare, folk plays, and concerts featuring such well-known artists as Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, Della Reese, Burl Ives, and many more.
After his death in 1978, the family (led by their mother, Herta Ware) and a small troupe of dedicated actors tirelessly dedicated their energies to transform Theatricum into a professional repertory theatre, with educational programs and musical events incorporated into its programming.
Since 2016, Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum has been a member of The Folger Shakespeare Library Theatre Partnership Program.
Today, under the creative supervision of Artistic Director Ellen Geer (Will’s daughter), Theatricum has blossomed into a vital creative force that has been recognized internationally for its interpretation of Shakespeare’s work. In addition to an annual summer season of 5 repertory plays, Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum offers year-round classes to actors of all ages, hosts live music concerts, nurtures budding playwrights, and successfully reaches schools and students across the Greater Los Angeles County with the aim of making live theater bloom for generations to come.