Berkeley's Theater Companies Offer Diverse, Affordable Art

Photo: Dramatis personae. Theatergoers await a show at Berkeley Rep, just one of the many great options for taking in a play in Berkeley.
Patricia Kim/Photo
Dramatis personae. Theatergoers await a show at Berkeley Rep, just one of the many great options for taking in a play in Berkeley.

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When the weekend rolls around, most people think of going to the movies, a restaurant or a concert; few seem to think of going to the theater. And yet in a city like Berkeley you can be sure that, on any given Saturday night, there is a play underway. The East Bay's theater scene offers an extensive and varied array of dramatic voices, from the seasoned professional to the decidedly amateur. Living in Berkeley, live performance is never difficult to find.

Undoubtedly the most renowned of Berkeley's theatrical institutions is the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, the original venue of two of this year's Tony nominees ("In the Next Room" and "American Idiot"). This company has been around since 1968, drawing all kinds of nationally acclaimed talent to the city. Berkeley Rep produces exceptional work, and it is certainly a worthwhile experience to attend a play on either of their two beautiful stages. However, it can get expensive.

Probably the number one reason college students don't go to the theater is cost. We all believe that going to a play has to be expensive. This is not true especially not in Berkeley. Even theaters like Berkeley Rep and its next-door neighbor in both location and caliber, the Aurora, have half-price discounts for students and patrons under 30. But there are also far cheaper options.

Shotgun Players, a wonderfully innovative theatre company often performing on Ashby Ave., offers pay-what-you-can tickets every opening weekend. Similarly, Impact Theatre, the quirky little troupe which operates out of the basement of La Val's Pizza, has pay-what-you-wish Thursday performances. This means that you can easily see quality theatre for a dollar, or whatever you feel like giving. With movie theater prices rising ever higher, going to a play may actually be one of the cheapest ways to spend your Saturday night. Furthermore, most of these theaters sell alcohol at their performances. There are few movie theaters where you can have a drink while you enjoy the show.

On campus we have our own lively theatrical community. BareStage is UC Berkeley's oldest student theater group, and produces shows every semester directed, acted and often written by Berkeley students. Whether you have a dramatic bent yourself, or simply want to see your friends embarrass themselves, BareStage is definitely something to be explored during your time at Berkeley.

We also have plenty of theater of the more activist variety. Theater for Charity puts on productions expressly to raise money for various philanthropic causes. To top it off their shows are generally hilarious. They keep their prices down to five dollars, and you know it's going to a good cause. Theatre Rice is Cal's first Asian-American theater group, and their goal is to address misrepresentation of Asians through performance. Both of these are great options if you want to attend a show and feel like you are contributing to something socially productive.

The myth that theater is a pastime exclusively for the wealthy and the middle-aged is one that simply does not hold up in Berkeley. There is a whole world of theater here that is engaging a modern, young audience. In this city, live plays are accessible and affordable for students. Most of those who pass through UC Berkeley probably don't take full advantage of the remarkable cache of alternative theater we have, but you shouldn't miss the opportunity.

Pay a visit to the box office with Gwen at [email protected]

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