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Shotgun Founder Dooley Aims Play 'In Your Face'

Tuesday April 15, 2003

Pinball machines, beer and pizza stand guard while below, in the dungeon of La Val’s Pizza Parlor on Euclid Avenue, Berkeley’s 10-year-old phenomenon, The Shotgun Players, launch their latest theatrical offering: Harry Kondoleon’s “The Vampires.” 

Just a few days earlier this repertory troop closed Oedipus Rex at the Julia Morgan Center for the Arts on College Avenue. Later this summer these same actors will perform Bertolt Brecht’s “Mother Courage And Her Children” for free at the John Hinckle Park. Last year more than 3,000 people came to see the Shotgun Player’s annual free show in the park. 

“We go 18 straight weeks without a break. We produce six main stage productions, plus four experimental pieces every year,” Shotgun Players founder Pat Dooley said. 

Despite the rootless and penurious lifestyle he’s chosen, Dooley, 35, is charming, quick to laugh and easily engaged. He speaks enthusiastically about the burden that Shotgun’s 12 members bear in pursuit of their muse. 

“Everybody does one thing to help support the structure of the company,” said Dooley, “and they are either actors or designers or directors in addition to the other tasks they do, like administrative or technical, to support the company.” 

Dooley drifted into Berkeley more than 10 years ago to visit his brother, then a student at UC. Shortly after arriving Dooley started the Shotgun Players company. 

“One thing that’s so great about Berkeley is it has such a vibrant theater community,” he said. “People are doing relevant theater here. The Berkeley Rep, Aurora, Transparent, they’re all doing new plays and they’re all doing interesting things with older plays, the classics. 

“We do that as well. There’s an audience to support new work and there’s an audience to support seeing MacBeth. A lot of other towns wouldn’t support that kind of risk. In this town those things aren’t even risky.” 

Dooley earns $12,000 a year as one of only three paid members of The Shotgun Players. Brought up of modest means on an isolated farm in Pungo, Va., the price of theater tickets concerns him.  

“Being affordable is really important for me,” he said. “I started out without any money. Most people are not going to spend $40 per ticket to go see a play. That makes a date $100. They’re not going to do it and I’m not going to do it. Our tickets are from $10 to $18, and we have several ‘Pay What You Can’ nights.” 

Dooley said the company needs more space, but is making the most of the cozy confines at La Val’s, which holds 50 seats. 

“We try to get places where we can seat more people,” Dooley said. “It’s really challenging to find spaces that are legal to perform in.” 

When “The Vampires” first premiered in New York some 14 years ago, it was not well received. 

“A lot of good plays get bad reviews,” Dooley said. “The Village Voice loved it. [Kondoleon] was the darling of the East Village. I think the Berkeley audience is more akin to that audience. The people who come to see our plays want to hear that kind of voice. 

“For me there’s a lot going on in that play. It’s very bizarre but the things that happen in those relationships are very real. The Times trashed it as another family drama, but I feel like there’s hope at the end of the play. There’s an opportunity for redemption that’s not cornball. There are some things that are funny and there are some things that are really gut wrenching. I really love that the play has this really wide arc of emotional possibilities.” 

Dooley said “The Vampires” is the right kind of play for a company like The Shotgun Players. 

“I really want to do in-your-face theater. At La Val’s we’re literally in your face,” he said. 

“People, especially today, we’re numbed. Entertainment on television is so stripped away from anything real that we see happening in the world. We want to do plays that are going to really touch somebody. In the way that the world is touching them. So when they go to experience art, art is not separate from the world, it’s a part of the world.” 

“The Vampires,” by Harry Kondoleon, directed by Joanie McBrien, runs through May 10 at La Val’s Subterranean at 1834 Euclid Avenue at Hearst Avenue. Call 704-8210 for ticket information and show times, or visit the web site at