Election Section

Many Treats Await Live Theater Lovers: By BETSY M. HUNTON

Special to the Planet
Friday August 27, 2004

So, this being the Daily Planet’s annual celebration of the opening of the new year at the university, it’s more than appropriate to remind anybody who has forgotten—or to tell anybody who doesn’t know—about the really good deals the Berkeley theaters put on for what we blithely call the “young adult community.” (Although whoever decided that the 18-to-35-year-old demographic fits neatly into one huge lump of togetherness obviously had to be under the influence of something not awfully legal). 

But one thing that all of you people do share, is your desirability. The Theater Wants You! They want your bodies there in the audience. People in theater know that if they don’t get you hooked on their product now, while you’re still open to new tastes and ideas, there won’t be any theater at all after a few more decades. No audience equals no theater. Gone. Poof. Shut down after all these centuries. 

And movies just don’t do the same thing. (Think of it: Movies can be great, all right, but nothing ever changes. And there is always the presence of the camera, almost openly commenting upon the action. Every single performance of a live drama is somewhat different than it was the night before. Every single production differs from any one that has ever been done previously. It’s alive). 

When you trek down into the black basement under La Val’s Pizza Parlor, about half a block up Euclid Avenue from UC’s North Gate, you can find plays produced by Impact Theater that are deliberately chosen to appeal to precisely your group: 18 to 35-year-olds. (Not, mind you, that there is any age discrimination practiced by the company, and there are usually a few people of—uh—more “maturity” to be found in the audience). So far, most of the plays have been very funny indeed—and there certainly is nothing wrong with that.  

Christopher Morrison, one of the three original founders, along with Josh Costello (now directing in Los Angeles), and Melissa Hilman (now artistic director), says that when they founded Impact Theatre in 1996, they purposely intended to create a theater for the now more widely-recognized-critical 18-to-30-year-old demographic.  

While many other small companies have served time in La Val’s basement on their way to more pretentious quarters, Morrison says he wants to stay right there; he delights in the fact that people feel they can bring a mug of beer or a piece of pizza downstairs to consume during a performance. It’s exactly the atmosphere they had hoped to establish from the very beginning. 

And cost? The tickets are cheap and even free on certain nights.  

So what’s happening is that almost every theater company in town has worked out some way to make their performances financially accessible to the young adults whose lifetime devotion they’re yearning to hook. It’s very common for productions to go on in full bloom for a couple of weeks before the official “Opening Night.” The difference in performance between the two periods is usually imperceptible. And the tickets are cheap during that time. 

The Shotgun Players who, after years of the usual vagabond route from one temporary spot to another will be opening up the first theater of their own on Ashby Avenue in the coming weeks, are finishing a no-charge performance of Brecht’s great The Caucasian Chalk Circle in John Hinkle Park on Aug. 29. They don’t charge for seats at any of their productions—at least for this year. They just pass a hat at the end of their performances. 

They do good work; give them a try. 

Don’t forget your age and/or your student status. Both are groups that often have special rates.  

Anyway, the situation is this: You’ve stepped into a hotbed of first-rate live theater. Maybe it’s the influence of the University’s excellent drama department; maybe it’s the fact that we share a pool of talent with San Francisco. Quite possibly it’s the presence of a large, well-educated populace. Whatever the reason, we’re spang in the middle of a first-rate, and growing, live theater scene. At least one new theater company has been opening in this area on a yearly basis. And most of them survive.  

Even more to the point, they’re leaning over backward trying to get you into their audiences. Give them a break, won’t you?