History

1998 – 2007

The Dragon is a 20 year old non-profit arts organization based out of Redwood City, CA (RWC). We were founded by Meredith Hagedorn in 1998 in Los Angeles. After she moved from LA to the Bay Area in 1999, and was burned out from the fight of trying to be a performer in a sea of others with the same dream, Meredith decided that to do something in this business, you’ve got to make it happen and not wait around for others to hand you the opportunity. That’s when she decided to start producing.

Read More about the Early Years

The more frustrated actors she met, the more she wanted to provide theatrical opportunities for them. Dragon produced 9 productions in its’ nomadic state all around the Bay Area before having a desire for a home in downtown Palo Alto (where there’s over 50 restaurants in a 5 block radius and not a lot of entertainment going on). The search landed Dragon in an art gallery on the corner of Alma and Hamilton. We knew that this would be a terrific location being right across the street from the Cal-Train station so people could access the Dragon Theatre from all over the Bay Area. We finished the build of our 42-seat black box theatre in February of 2006 with 120K in debt to start things off with. We realized the risks and knew that we would have to work that much harder than most to sustain the company and make it successful for the long run. By the middle of our 2nd full season in 2007, we had paid off our entire debt and found the company in the black.

We have continued to struggle to keep providing professional quality theatre to the masses by keeping our ticket prices low along with offering a wide variety of classes, special events, adult and young artist’s series, and a great deal of rental opportunities. Around 2010, Dragon began a late night series called Dragon After Hours to showcase individual and group talents in the Bay Area. We were offering artists of all types the chance to perform their acts in an open-mic-type set-up to those who were looking for late-night entertainment at reasonable prices. With acts ranging from musical acts, to magic shows, to new play readings, to sketch comedy routines, Dragon was, and continues to break new ground with these types of series.

Another program created was Dragon Lite. This program provided opportunities for young Directors looking to produce the plays they were passionate about, but perhaps hadn’t been given the opportunity to do so with other theatre companies. These individuals were mentored through the process of producing, and were able to share in some of Dragon’s resources, to performances. 

As Meredith grew the company through Dragon’s first permanent space in Palo Alto, CA, followed by the move to its current home in Redwood City, the real vision for the company began to take shape: The Dragon was a place where early career theatre artists could realize their passion projects, with the support and guidance of the Dragon staff; and where audiences could experience ambitious, unusual and thought provoking plays. Meredith created and fostered the essence of the Dragon; a community of theatrical artists and experiences for all. By 2012, the constantly increasing cost of real estate in Palo Alto resulted in our search for a new home for the Dragon. The search took us up the Peninsula to beautiful downtown Redwood City’s Theatre District. After a successful capital fundraising campaign through 2012, we raised the funds and created a wonderful new partnership with our current landlords and the Redwood City community to establish our current space. 

2007 – 2016

As Meredith grew the company through Dragon’s first permanent space in Palo Alto, CA, followed by the move to its current home in Redwood City, the real vision for the company began to take shape: The Dragon was a place where early career theatre artists could realize their passion projects, with the support and guidance of the Dragon staff; and where audiences could experience ambitious, unusual and thought provoking plays. Meredith created and fostered the essence of the Dragon; a community of theatrical artists and experiences for all.

Read More About Our Move to Redwood City

Our first season at our new home in Redwood City launched in 2013 with the dark satire After Ashley by Gina Gionfriddo. In 2014 Dragon’s 2nd Stage launched formally as an outgrowth of our earlier Dragon Lite. Our 2nd Stage plays comprised half of the company’s programmed season of plays every year. These plays were all pieces submitted by artists and supported with seed funding and dedicated support and mentorship for the selected entrepreneurial artists to put on their passion projects. 

2016 – 2019

Bora “Max” Koknar and Alika U. Spencer-Koknar joined the Dragon Family in 2016 and 2017, respectively, as staff members during a time when the Dragon’s founder was planning her retirement and succession plan. The Dragon’s programming continued developing to include more educational offerings, community game nights, children’s performances, late night programming (like music and comedy shows), a monthly aerial acrobatics show in partnership with Cirque de la Lune (which in late 2019 also began to feature displays of projection mapping technology created by Jacob Vorperien), and an open stage talent night, produced in collaboration with partners ranging from long-time RWC organizations like Community Street Jam to national ones like Hip Hop Congress.

Read More about The Change in Leadership

In 2016, we hosted over 4,800 audience members in our 65 seat Redwood City space, and launched our program Monday Night Play Space which opened our stage to approximately 12 artists to try out any work they would like to put in front of an audience and connected nearly 500 audience members with these works in progress and early efforts by local artists across the year. In the fall of 2016, we brought Bora “Max” Koknar aboard to split his time between building on the success of the Improv for Everyone class taught by long-time Dragon family member Corinne Kason as Education Director and supporting season of programming as well as the new Monday Night Play Space program as Assistant Production Manager. 

In 2017, we welcomed Alika U. Spencer-Koknar to the company as our new Company Manager while we began to build on the success of the new Monday Night Play Space program with the new Late Night Series which brought a new array of artists like comedians, musicians, dancers and more to the Dragon and introduced us to the local nightlife scene with our post 10pm events for audiences aged 21+. 

These early efforts to expand the utility of our space to a wider audience and more diverse artistic community also crystalized for us the scope and breadth of the need for artistic space across all the performing arts. Equipped with the knowledge of this need and an expanded idea of Meredith’s original vision to create opportunities for artists like herself, in 2018, we started a number of new pilot programs housing artists from a variety of artistic disciplines on an ongoing basis: 

Led by Anna Yanushkevich Cirque de la Luna presents Circus at Dragon, quickly became a cult favorite with monthly, sold out performances with themes ranging from the family friendly and beautiful Nutcracker Circus, The Little Prince: a circus retelling, or Story: a Journey Through Russian Folklore; to visceral explorations of adult themes such as jealousy in the circus adaptation of the classic ballet Giselle or the the missteps of early psychiatric sciences in the performance art meditation, Nocturnicon. The program continues as a platform for circus artists to create work to be presented online. 

Initially conceived by Ricardo Archila, the program now known as Community Street Jam presents Live at the Dragon began its life at Enter the Dragon. An Open Stage Talent Night for performers of all backgrounds and disciplines with a focus on elements of hip hop, community building, and social justice activism. The program has grown into an online international platform under the leadership of Barb Miron, with our host, Rahman Jamaal of Hip Hop Congress and an incredible team of artists and organizers including DJ Lars, Jamar Hopkins, Chaz Cabonce, Ivy Chen and Ricardo Archila. 

Created by Geek Club Books, an Autism Awareness and Education organization, Dorktales became part of our weekend storytelling tradition for youth. In 2019, the project grew under the leadership of Justine Bechler to tour the San Mateo County Library System. In 2020 the project went on hiatus due to the pandemic except for regular visits by Reginald the Hedgehog at the online storytelling program Storytelling with the Dragon that shared stories from around the world, and explored social justice issues in ways youth could understand. Storytelling with the Dragon was featured as a guest in Redwood City Library’s COVID programming ‘stories from the community’. 

2018 also marked the announcement of the planned departure of our Founder and Executive Director and the following search for new leadership for the company. The challenge ahead would be great because not only would this mean a change in leadership but a test of the ability of the Dragon to stand on its two feet as our founder and her husband also began to step back as our primary angel donors. Our board, after a long and diligent search, recruited Max and Alika, who had been responsible for a lot of the new programs since joining the Dragon family, into the role of Co-Artistic Directors. 

2019 – Present

In 2019 Max and Alika officially took the helm as Co-Artistic Directors at the Dragon to rebuild and reimagine the company not only as a theatre producing a season of plays, but as a vibrant community hub which connects artists and audiences across a wide range of demographics and can respond dynamically to the needs of our local community. Justine Bechler joined the Dragon as the Education Director to continue growing our offerings for adult theatre students, as well as create a year-round youth education program under the brand of Redwood City Youth Theatre.

Read More about The New Beginning

In 2019, we continued to produce our season of plays but reimagined some old projects and developed some new ones.

2nd Stages became Dragon’s Nest, an incubator for artists and artistic projects, focused on centering those which don’t fit into the overwhelmingly white, privileged ‘emerging artist’ pipelines elsewhere in our industry. As part of Dragon’s Nest, we developed new collaborations.

We partnered with Fuse Theatre to create Redwood City Play Festival, which launched with Gender Shorts featuring three plays exploring gender issues from three different gender perspectives and a slew of companion events like live music, art installations and social justice discussions spanning partner businesses and public spaces across downtown Redwood City. 

We joined forces with Sedric Drake to produce a monthly late night stand up comedy showcase of hilarious, and diverse local talent. 

We also developed Dragon Experience Design Lab which manifested itself first as a companion piece to the play in our season Shoggoths on the Veldt by Cameron McNary: The Riggstone Chronicles – a narratively driven escape room housed in our classroom which explored the universe and backstory of Shoggoths on the Veldt. Dragon Experience Design Lab also explored storytelling through the combined use of Virtual Reality technology and live actors, and the use of projection mapping in production of circus shows, plays and to create magical environments for parties.

In January 2020 Max and Alika, together with long-time Managing Director, Kimberly Wadycki, launched a plan to fully transition the Dragon into its new form by 2023. They also worked with local designer Maggie Ziomek to roll out new branding and, along with the support of Dragon’s Board of Directors, voted to adopt the current mission, stated above.

Into the Future: Our Plan for 2021 and Beyond

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