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Ribbon cut on district renaissance

By John Geluardi Daily Planet Staff
Wednesday March 07, 2001



With a dramatic flourish, actor Derrick Lee Weeden unsheathed a stage-prop Greek sword and slashed a purple ribbon Tuesday signifying the opening of the Berkeley Repertory’s new, $20 million theater.  

The ceremony was attended by 300 people who gathered in front of the 600-seat theater on Addision Street. The new building was christened the Roda Theatre in honor of the Roda Group, a venture capital company that arranged for $3 million in donations to the project. 

One city councilmember sounded a cautionary note, saying the opening of theater is fine, but arguing that now it’s time for the city to invest in the thousands of artists being forced out of Berkeley because of skyrocketing rents for studio and living space. 

The theater will ultimately be part of what Berkeley Repertory Theatre Director Susan Medak called a “theatrical complex,” that will be made up of two theaters and a theatrical school. 

Mayor Shirley Dean, who was heralded by Medak as one of the driving forces for the completion of the project, said the ribbon cutting signaled an artistic and economic renaissance for the downtown area.  

“This new theater nourishes our souls, brings fresh vitality to our minds, delights our eyes and satisfies our hearts,” Dean said. “And let us not forget to celebrate that it also brings dollars to our cash registers.” 

The emerging downtown arts will eventually include a variety of theatrical venues on Addison Street including the Freight and Salvage Coffee House, The Jazzschool, the Capoeira Arts Café and Aurora Theater Company 

The ribbon cutting kicked off a series of celebrations for the opening of the new theater, including a March 13 gala that will include a catered dinner served in a large tent in Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park. Diners will be entertained with a performance by Academy Award winner and Berkeley resident Rita Moreno. 

After dinner, guests will attend the theater’s premiere performance of Act I of Aeschylus’ 2,500-year-old trilogy “The Oresteia,” which stars Weeden as Agamemnon. 

There will also be a free community open house on March 17, at the theater located at 2025 Addison St. 

The theater fund-raisers, Campaign for Expansion, have raised $17.5 million toward the final cost of the $20 million building. The city kicked off the fund with a donation of $4 million. The Ask Jeeves Foundation donated another $2 million. The rest of the funds came from corporate and individual donations and a variety of grants. 

Councilmembers Polly Armstrong, Betty Olds, Mim Hawley and Linda Maio also attended the ribbon cutting ceremony. 

A note of discord among was sounded by Councilmember Kriss Worthington, in a separate interview, who said he and Vice Mayor Maudelle Shirek were concerned that the city had to borrow the $4 million it contributed to the theater and that the loan will end up costing tax payers $10 million once the interest is paid off. 

“It’s all well and good for the city to help the largest and most well off artistic institutions but the city needs to make an equal contribution to all the smaller artists who are being driven out of the city,” Worthington said. “And I can guarantee you this issue will be brought up during this next round of budget negotiations.” 

BRT Artistic Director Tony Taccone said the theater was founded in 1968 by “a group of renegade grad students who opened a theater in a storefront on College Avenue, which served an artistic touchstone.” 

According to a BRT press statement, 145,000 people attend the theater each year, and 20,000 students participate in education programs.