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Susan's City Scene
October 26, 2013, 05:00 AM By Susan Cohn Daily Journal

BILL AT THE BEGINNING. Jeremy Kahn portrays the 20-year-old Bill Gates in playwright Evelyn Jean Pine's FIRST, in its world premiere at Stage Werx in San Francisco, through Nov. 10.

FIRST, IN ITS WORLD PREMIERE AT STAGE WERX, TELLS AN ENGAGING TALE OF THE PERSONAL COMPUTER REVOLUTION. What with Google and Apple and Facebook and Yahoo and Twitter being the stuff of daily conversation, it’s easy to forget that the beginning was not so long ago. Playwright Evelyn Jean Pine’s FIRST puts the audience in the (not so) way-back machine (Mr. Peabody’s, that is) for a trip to meet 20-year-old Harvard drop-out Bill Gates as he attends the very first personal computer conference and prepares to do battle with the hobbyists stealing his software. It is March 26, 1976 ... and you are there. A delightful, fictional retelling of the events that launched the personal computer revolution. Two hours and 15 minutes with one intermission. Written by Evelyn Jean Pine. Directed by Michael French. Through Nov. 10.

TICKETS AND STAGE DIRECTIONS. Thurs. through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at Stage Werx, 446 Valencia St., San Francisco. Tickets are $25 for General Admission and $35 for Premium Seating. Online at For more information visit

AN ASIDE: Playwright Evelyn Jean Pine said, “The intimacy of both theater and software couple in FIRST, this fantastical, fictional retelling of a remarkable moment that launches us into the 21st century and beyond. The story of Bill Gates’ ‘Letter to Hobbyists’ and the controversy it spawned has been told and retold. (Glory in Steve Levy’s Hackers, delight in the Altair exhibit at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, hear it described in the History of Microsoft videos on YouTube.) Media maven David Bunnell convened and created the First World Altair Computer Conference in Albuquerque in March 1976 to celebrate and sell the computer that many anoint as the ‘First Personal Computer.’ I love moments like this. They feel exhilarating, charismatic, rich in possibility.”

THE LETTER. Wiki says ... The Open Letter to Hobbyists was a 1976 open letter written by Bill Gates to early personal computer hobbyists, in which Gates expressed dismay at the rampant copyright infringement of software taking place in the hobbyist community, particularly with regard to his company’s software. In the letter, Gates expressed frustration with most computer hobbyists who were using his company’s Altair BASIC software without having paid for it. He asserted that such widespread unauthorized copying in effect discourages developers from investing time and money in creating high-quality software. He cited the unfairness of gaining the benefits of software authors’ time, effort and capital without paying them.

OH, AND DID YOU KNOW? A key figure in Pine’s play is Ed Roberts (Sept. 13, 1941 – April 1, 2010), often called “the father of the personal computer” for his development of the Altair 8800. The Altair 8800 personal computer was featured on the cover of the January 1975 issue of Popular Electronics, and hobbyists flooded Roberts’ company with orders for the $397 kit. Bill Gates and Paul Allen joined Roberts’ company to develop software and Altair BASIC was Microsoft’s first product. Roberts sold his company in 1977 and retired to Georgia where he studied medicine and eventually became a small-town doctor. Roberts died after a long bout with pneumonia. During his last hospitalization, in Macon, Georgia, hospital staffers were stunned to see an unannounced Bill Gates, who had come to pay last respects to his first employer. After Roberts’ death, Gates and Allen said, “Ed was willing to take a chance on us — two young guys interested in computers long before they were commonplace — and we have always been grateful to him.”

JOIN IN POST-SHOW DISCUSSIONS WITH LEE FELSENSTEIN AND DR. ARMANDO FOX. After the performance on Saturday, Oct. 26, join in a discussion with Lee Felsenstein, a pioneer in both the design of early computers and in the formation of the personal computer industry from a hobbyist pastime. Felsenstein is a Laureate of the Tech Museum of Innovation and has been awarded a Pioneer of the Electronic Frontier award from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. On Saturday, Nov. 2, the post-show discussion brings Dr. Armando Fox, a professor of computer science at UC Berkeley and an aficionado of computing history, especially the birth and ascent of the personal computer.


DIRTY LITTLE SHOWTUNES RETURNS TO NEW CONSERVATORY THEATRE CENTER. We are all adults here, right? So enjoy this bawdy, naughty Broadway parody revue featuring popular show tunes mixed with racy adult humor, biting social commentary and outrageous camp. Written by Tom Orr. Conceived and Directed by F. Allen Sawyer. Musical direction by Scrumbly Koldewyn. New Conservatory Theatre Center (Decker Theatre). 25 Van Ness Ave. (at Market Street), San Francisco. Wednesday – Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets $25 - $45 available at Through Nov. 10. A post-show panel discussion with the playwright, director and cast follow the Oct. 27 performance.

Susan Cohn is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. She may be reached at

Susan Cohn is a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle and the American Theatre Critics Association. She may be reached at



Tags: computer, personal, first, software, gates,

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