Motion Institute is a nonprofit organization that produces theatrical performances and workshops in the performing arts.

Date of incorporation: August 4, 1974



Knowing that since that dawn of civilization, humans have engaged in the performing arts to heal from physical and psychological ailments, to gain understanding about the human condition, to knit community bonds, and to share in ritual, Motion Institute offers theatrical performances which address issues of immediate relevance to people throughout the world.

Understanding that creative self-expression is essential to the physical, psychological and spiritual well-being of individuals and societies, Motion offers training in creative methodologies for people from all walks of life.

Motion is committed to the craft of living culture in three primary ways:

  • Presenting original performance works that directly address the issues of contemporary life.
  • Providing workshops in Motion Theater® and the creation of original performance art.
  • Providing workshops to specific populations in need including those suffering from life threatening illnesses and caregivers.


Motion produces original theater works in theaters, galleries, planetariums and at international conferences and think tanks. We work in two primary styles:

  • Scripted work that is highly designed and utilizes text, visual, choreographic and musical elements;
  • Motion Theater® works: improvised, autobiographical pieces that are site specific.


Motion was founded in 1974 by three performance artists interested in creating multi-disciplinary works. In 1987, Nina Wise became the Artistic Director and has created a broad range of performances produced in some of the most prestigious avant-garde venues in the country including the Magic Theater, SFMoMA, Theater Artaud, The Marsh, New Langton Arts (SF); Highways, espace dbd (Los Angeles); Theater for a New City, Franklin Furnace, NY Open Center, and the Bowery Poetry Club (New York). In addition, Motion has produced work in prisons, parks, living rooms, and for international conferences and think-tanks. Motion has given performances in Czechoslovakia, Brazil, Ireland, Switzerland, the Netherlands, France, Italy, Russia, Thailand, India, and Nepal.

Motion performances address social, ecological, and spiritual issues: death and dying; the environment; family relations; the effect of intergenerational trauma; the intergenerational impact of war. Motion’s pieces have garnered seven Bay Area Critics’ Circle Awards, multiple fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the California Arts Council, the Marin Arts Council, among other awards. Videos of Motion’s work have been broadcast locally and nationally and several stories derived from performance works have been published in contemporary journals.

Since becoming Artistic Director in 1987, Nina Wise has led the organization in the creation of an outstanding array of original work including:

  • Singing My Mother to Sleep (1984), named one of the Ten Best Plays of the Year by the San Francisco Bay Guardian;
  • What to Call Home (1997), featured at the 4th Annual Festival of Theater in Sao Paolo,Brazil;
  • Election Year: Illuminating Talk, Enlightening Theater at Theater Artaud (2006) and The Lensic (Santa Fe, 2008);
  • What Just Happened at The Marsh in San Francisco and The Marsh in Berkeley (2010). 
  • The Kepler Story, an immersive theater piece designed for planetariums at California Academy of Sciences Morrison Planetarium (pilot, 2011; full production 2013) and the Fiske Planetarium, Unviersity of Colorado, Boulder (2016)  This was the first time in the history of California Academy of Sciences that they have co-produced a theater piece and opened the doors solely for a performance work. 

The Kepler Story

The Kepler Story is an immersive theater piece about 17th Century astronomer and mystic Johannes Kepler. Designed for planetarium domes, The Kepler Story blends theater, history, engulfing visuals and state-of-the-art sound design for a transformative, visceral experience.


Motion Theater

Created by Nina Wise, Motion Theater® is a unique form of improvisational theater that integrates movement and autobiographical narrative in a seamless flow of spontaneous expression. Motion Theater workshops and performances have been offered worldwide in theaters and at conferences, think tanks, and festivals.

While the work is autobiographical and intimate, it is also inclusive of the political and social contexts within which we live. Stories about global climate change, war, racial injustice, and sexual politics often make their way into the work through the portal of an actor’s immediate experience of the world. As the actor reveals and takes delight in the stories of his or her life, the audience’s own experience is often brought to light and the sense of isolation that so plagues modern culture is relieved.

Motion Theater workshops and performances have been offered worldwide in theaters and at conferences, think tanks, and festivals.


Motion Board of Directors 2017

Yaz Shehab, President, Entrepreneur and Start Up Advisor
Nina Wise, Secretary, Artistic Director, Motion Institute
Rob Pavey, Treasurer, IT specialist, game developer
Jodie Evans, Organizational Consultant, Activist, Philanthropist
Michael Farr, Computer software developer, Adobe, Apple
Barbara Graham, Writer, consultant
Nancy Whitley, Writer, photographer



Motion’s programs are financed from a combination of box office income, fees generated from workshops, individual contributions, and grants from government agencies, private foundations and individuals.

Szekely Family Foundation
Roy A. Hunt Foundation
Zellerbach Family Fund
San Francisco Foundation
Society for Experiments in Contemporary Arts
Women Arts

Motion has received support from:
National Endowment for the Arts
California Arts Council
Marin Arts Council
Skoll Foundation
Tara Foundation
Kalliopeia Foundation


Motion Institute  |  310 4th St., San Francisco, CA 94107  |  415.459.3766