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Regional Theater of the Week: Berkeley Repertory Theatre in Berkeley, CA

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By: Linda Hodges

BroadwayWorld.com, the largest theatre site on the Internet, is excited to announce a new feature to its comprehensive regional coverage - the Featured Regional Theater of the Week! Each week, BWW will introduce its readers to a regional theater located in one of our (over 130!) coverage cities. By exploring these different venues, their history and showcasing the production seasons, BWW continues its commitment to expand our presence in communities and cities across the United States.

This Week's Featured Regional Theater: Berkeley Rep in Berkeley, CA

Last week Nick and I (Hodges & Hodges Set the Stage column), along with theatre critics from across the bay area, were invited to tour Berkeley Reps’ nearly complete, 62,000-square-foot campus in West Berkeley.  Located a mere nine minutes from their renowned theatre complex in Berkeley’s Downtown Arts District, the new campus is an all-in-one pre-production center, administrative hub and dream incubator.  With that many artists, artisans, designers and administrators all under one roof, who knows what creative sparks will ignite!

Managing director Susan Medak and PR director Terence Keane, as well as architect Patricia Motzkin and economic development manager for the City of Berkeley Michael Caplan, led us on the tour that started on the ground floor of the naturally lit, reclaimed wood beamed structure. 

What had previously been North Face company headquarters had now been transformed into a state-of-the-art costume shop, with ample space for artisans to create the wondrous wardrobes of Berkeley Rep’s many productions; a grand and glorious kitchen capable of feeding many hordes of theatrical creative types, as well as enticing writing studios that looked ready made to get the creative juices flowing.  Meeting rooms, open spaces and a delicious looking script library were also a part of the delightful amalgamation.

Susan Medak pointed out that most of the rooms on the first floor lined either side of a central walkway, creating a main street, meet-and-greet vibe for their many employees.  “We purposely ripped up the carpets here to create this walkway feel,” she said.  “It’s a great fit for us.”

It’s a great fit for West Berkeley too, with its history of supporting light manufacturing. “This project beautifully demonstrates how arts organizations can build community, create jobs across a range of skills and become a force for neighborhood revitalization,” said Caplan as we stopped near a giant alligator (one of the props from a show).

Local commercial real estate agent Robert Hamilton (Hamilton, Cohn, Thatcher & Associates) agreed, saying earlier, “Berkeley Rep’s new campus on Harrison is a major asset to the area. When people consider moving into a neighborhood, they are quite thrilled to realize there is a cultural facility there."

Certainly the addition of the new campus dovetails nicely with Berkeley Rep’s history.  “We have a proven track record as a force for neighborhood revitalization, with our significant contribution to the creation of the Downtown Arts District and the transformation of that part of the city,” said Medak as we continued the tour.

Next we visited a highly efficient paint deck, and what can only be described as ginormous, three-story-high prop and scene shops, as well as a rehearsal room that had to be every actor’s dream for collaborative space. 

As we rounded the final corner of the downstairs area, Medak directed our attention to some architectural drawings taped to the cement wall near a vast open space.  Architect Patricia Motzkin came forward to elaborate on their plans for the future -- rooms where artists could live while they were engaged in the creative process as well as more rehearsal and common space areas.

We recalled that Keane had started the tour with a quote by Winston Churchill that stated, “We shape our buildings and afterward they shape us.”  Berkeley Rep had come into the space with the desire to have their entire team under one roof – and then the building itself had presented them with new possibilities. With space to play with they envisioned a place where artists could come together to collaborate, nurture new ideas and steep themselves in the creative process.  The whole building, but especially this new part, would make their dream incubator a reality, however far into the future that would be.


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