More than twenty years ago Sharon Gans was a leader of a group located in San Francisco, California. Sharon and her husband Alex Horn ran the "Theater of All Possibilities. But a scandal drove them out of town during 1978. The San Francisco Examiner ran an investigative report about the group titled "Strange School."
The story ran the day before Christmas Eve 1978, after Sharon and Alex had already left San Francisco. They and a core group of devoted students eventually ended up in Manhattan and Boston.
Former members of their school told shocking personal stories to reporters from the Chronicle. And their accounts about the Gans/Horn school included allegations of "brainwashing" and "violence."
The "Theater of All Possibilities" like Gans current school, claimed to be based upon the precepts of Russian philosophers George Ivanovich Gurdieff and P.D. Ouspensky. A "theater" supposedly devoted not only to art, but also to "enlightenment."
In December of 1978 the Gans/Horn Theater on Golden Gate in San Francisco closed its doors and they were never opened again.
It seems Gans and Horn left town when they learned that police and social welfare investigators were interviewing their former students. Investigators were told about beatings, child neglect and large fees charged by the couple, which generated a huge income.
Students said they paid hundreds and at times thousands of dollars in cash to Gans and Horn. They also talked about repeated "intimidation."
Some former students were too afraid to come forward. However, others eventually shared their personal stories with a San Francisco police inspector, a juvenile court probation officer, a city social worker and Chronicle reporters.
Police investigated an informal group child-care center after receiving reports of bruises and injuries concerning some of the children.
A probation officer in Juvenile Court told The Chronicle that he and a police inspector made preliminary inquiries about the group's child-care arrangement. They said children were not properly cared for.
Frederick Mindel an attorney representing Gans and Horn at the time refused to comment.
No known formal complaints had been filed with Bay Area law enforcement at the time of the story.
The students explained they believed that the bizarre behavior within the group was part of their "learning process." And that somehow whatever happened was tied to their teachers' understanding of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky.
Students also said that the harsh discipline and long hours wore them down. They did not have time to think. One student said, "They kept telling us we were shit and so we finally came to believe it."
One of the group members who did leave told reporters that her husband stayed. She explained, "If your spouse leaves, you either go with him or her or you get divorced and remarry within a month. And students are ordered never to speak to ex-students."
California corporation papers filed for "Everyman Inc." in 1973 listed Frederick Mindel, Martin Kahn and Lynne Scalapino as "the persons who are appointed to act as first directors." Everyman was the official corp. name that the Gans/Horn theater operated under at one time.
Mindel told the Chronicle he was "assisting the Theatre of All Possibilities, as a friend of the Theatre, in becoming properly introduced to the San Francisco theater community."
Incorporation articles for Everyman described its purpose as "a theater for the performance of stage productions, and to initiate, sponsor, promote, and carry out plans, policies and activity that will tend to further the prosperity and development of this theater and the theatrical arts."
Everyman's first play ran four hours and was titled, "The Fantastical Arising of Padraic Clancy Muldoon," written by Alex Horn and starring Sharon Gans. Gans was somewhat known for her film performance in the movie, "Slaughterhouse Five." However, it was her first and last movie role.
Critics apparently didn't appreciate Horn's work. One wrote, "In more than ten years of reporting on the local theater scene, I remember no more punishing experience&"
In San Francisco the Gans/Horn theater group was well known for selling tickets aggressively to anyone they could on the streets of the city. One former student said that they knowingly over sold performances to raise more cash. And group leaders held "ticket meetings" to harass members to sell more. A former student told reporters that "at least a dozen times," she watched leaders "slap or punch men" because they didn't sell enough tickets.
Students were told to come to class to "help us improve our lives." The initial fee was $100 cash and then typically $200 per month.
Between 50 and 100 members were paying monthly fees. One estimate put the cash flow from fees alone to Gans and Horn at about $20,000 per month, with an additional $20,000 monthly from ticket sales. The two apparently pulled in almost a half million dollars annually.
"Total Theatre Inc." was also a California corporation formed during 1976, by Gregory Koch, Mike Hilsenrad and Mike Imlay, all associated with the Gans/Horn group. According to public records that corporation's directors included Robert Klein, Hilsenrad and lawyer Mindel.
In early 1978 the California Department of Corporations listed Mindel on forms regarding the issuance of stock in Total Theatre. But no stock was issued by December of 1978 and Gans and Horn were not named in that paperwork.
In 1978 Sharon Gans and Alex Horn lived in the exclusive neighborhood of Pacific Heights in a home valued at about $300,000.
The couple listed some of their personal expenses within documents filed at San Francisco City Hall.
During March of 1977, Alex Horn and Sharon Gans-Horn signed a long-term lease for $1,500 a month, on an 11-room house. In the application Horn claimed that he made $60,000 annually as a "teacher-director-writer." He also called himself a "producer-director," and stated he had no superior.
The Chronicle could never reach Sharon Gans or Alex Horn for comment. Apparently, they left town in a hurry.
On November 18, 1978, a little more than one month before the Chronicle ran its story "Strange School," the mass-suicide-murders at Jonestown occurred. Almost a thousand people, overwhelmingly former San Francisco residents, were led to their deaths by cult leader Jim Jones in the jungle of Guyana.
San Franciscans were shocked by the tragedy, which also claimed the life of their congressman Leo J. Ryan. Ryan. was murdered by Jones followers while on a fact-finding trip undertaken to investigate the group.
When asked if Sharon Gans or Alex Horn would ever return to the Bay area one student explained, "It's very iffy if they'll return. Alex and Sharon are frightened as hell, paranoid about the possibility of press reports linking them to 'another Jonestown in the making.'"
One reporter responded, "Leaving town with no comment would suggest guilt."
But apparently Gans and Horn didn't care. They probably reasoned that everything would eventually just blow over. And it appears they were right.
Sharon Gans has amassed millions of dollars in assets and lives a much more comfortable lifestyle today. She has an apartment in Manhattan, an estate in upstate New York and a ranch in Montana.
Moving from the West Coast to the East Coast has proven to be quite lucrative for the enduring "teacher," some now call a "cult leader."
Notes: This article was largely based upon "Strange School" San Francisco Chronicle/December 23, 1978 By Michael Taylor and Bernard Weiner