Arts & Events

New Space for Aurora Theatre

By Ken Bullock Special to the Planet
Thursday August 13, 2009 - 10:32:00 AM
The new Neil and Jules Dashow wing of the Aurora Theatre.
The new Neil and Jules Dashow wing of the Aurora Theatre.

Aurora Theatre Company, entering on its 18th season, has announced the completion of the new Neil and Jules Dashow Wing, which will add 2,600 much-needed square feet to the 7,200 square feet already occupied by the company on Addison Street near Shattuck in downtown Berkeley. There will be a private ribbon-cutting ceremony this coming Monday. 

The new wing, named after lead donor Deborah Ruth’s parents, was designed by the late theater architect Gene Angell, with Brian Rawlinson; Oliver & Company was general contractor. 

“We’ve gone from a drawing room in the Julia Morgan-designed Berkeley City Club, where there once were card games, with 67 seats, to our present 150-seat theater,” said Artistic Director Tom Ross, “We’ve extended five of our past five shows, but the subscription season’s like a conveyor belt; we’ve had to close one show to build and rehearse the next—and we’ve been closing shows ahead of their time. We’d been looking for workshop and rehearsal space, and realized we should be here, right next door, where Kaufman’s Fine Fabrics once was.” 

The new wing will allow for more than rehearsal and work space for upcoming shows. “We’ll have artistic offices, a conference room now—where before we’d have to strike a set and put tables on the stage for board meetings—and also use it as a black box theater. It’s not programmed yet, but we think it would be nice for poetry readings, dance performances—and of course play readings.” The Aurora sponsors its own playreading series, the Global Age Project.  

“I’m amazed how staged readings on stated themes, presented on our dark nights, draw in audiences of 60 to 150,” Ross said. “Of course, they’re free—and people in Berkeley like to talk about topics. They’re interested, too, in finding out about the process of a play, what the director or sound designer does—a little bit like what’s on the commentary track for movies on DVD. They’re interested in the process of how the magic occurs.”  

The Global Age Project, an initiative in play development that solicits new plays from playwrights in the U. S., Canada and Mexico, culminates in a four-week festival of staged readings next spring. The project was begun four years ago, when Ross succeeded to the artistic chair when Aurora co-founder Barbara Oliver retired. Ross had been Managing Director and Producing Director; “I’ve been with the Aurora since the beginning,” said Ross, who came to the Bay Area in 1991, after serving as Joseph Papp’s executive assistant at the New York Public Theater.  

“How old do you have to be, to be an institution?” joked Ross. “I’m starting to feel a little institutional! But the Dashow Wing ought to be a sign of hope, even for other theaters, that something new and growing can happen in these bad economic times. It’s a beautiful space. The floor alone—the original floor from Kaufman’s has been preserved—is worth the show!” 

The company announced a $2.1 million capital fundraising drive for the expansion last year, and held a ceremony to break through the wall of the theater complex into the new space Jan. 12.