California Shakespeare Theater

California Shakespeare Theater ("Cal Shakes") is a regional theater located in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. Its performance space, the Lt. G. H. Bruns III Memorial Amphitheater, is located in Orinda, while the administrative offices, rehearsal hall, costume and prop shop are located in Berkeley.

California Shakespeare Theater
Cal Shakes logo.png
LocationOrinda, California
Founded byMikel Clifford
Peter Fisher
Jerry Landis
Rolf Saxon
Robert Eldred Schneider
Myron Schreck
Vince Tolman
Artistic directorEric Ting
Type of play(s)Shakespeare, Classics, New Classical Adaptations


Founded as the Emeryville Shakespeare Company,[1] the company began performances in 1974, with productions of A Midsummer Night's Dream with Deborist Benjamin as Peaseblossom, following her role as Celia in the premier production of As You Like It and The Tempest in John Hinkle Park in Berkeley.[2] It was founded by a group of amateurs who wanted the enjoyment and experience of acting and production: no one was paid, and the plays were free.[3]

The company produced several more plays in 1974–1975, including Pantagleize by Michel de Ghelderode during the winter, Twelfth Night and a transfer of the Berkeley High School production of As You Like It.[4] After that, the name changed to the Berkeley Shakespeare Festival, and started a schedule of four plays per year that continues to this day, although more non-Shakespeare plays are now on the bill. Dakin Matthews was Artistic Director from 1983–1987, with Michael Addison taking over as A.D. in 1987 and holding the position till 1995.

In 1991, the festival built its current performance venue, the 545-seat Bruns Memorial Amphitheater in the Orinda hills, and changed its name to California Shakespeare Festival. In 1995, actor Joe Vincent took over the theater's artistic direction, serving till 1999.

In 2000, Jonathan Moscone was appointed its Artistic Director. In his first season at Cal Shakes, Moscone directed a production of Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead; the company continued to produce one non-Shakespeare play a year until 2005, when its productions of The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, Parts One & Two (Charles Dickens, adapted by David Edgar) began a tradition of two Shakespeare plays and two non-Shakespeare plays each season. In 2003, the company officially changed its name to California Shakespeare Theater. In 2009, Susie Falk was named Managing Director, following the departure of Debbie Chinn.[5] In late 2009, Moscone was chosen by the Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation (SDCF) as the inaugural recipient of the Zelda Fichandler Award. The award was created to recognize an outstanding director or choreographer who is transforming the regional arts landscape through his singular creativity and artistry in theater.[6]

In 2015, Jonathan Moscone stepped down as Artistic Director after 15 years.[7] His final production was Charles Ludham's The Mystery of Irma Vep in August/September of the same year.

Eric Ting was chosen as its new Artistic Director joining in the fall of 2015.[8]His first production was 2016's Othello, produced with minimal sets and costumes in service of a community tour of the same production that fall. In 2017, Ting directed Cal Shakes' record-smashing hit black odyssey by Marcus Gardley, which featured music and choral direction by Linda Tillery and Molly Holm, and was remounted in 2018 with members of the original cast. In 2018, Cal Shakes presented The War of the Roses, a supercut of William Shakespeare's minor tetralogy (Henry VI parts 1, 2, and 3 and Richard III), co-adapted by Ting and resident dramaturg Philippa Kelly.

Participants in Cal Shakes productionsEdit

Artistic learningEdit

In 1979, Berkeley Shakespeare Festival began Summer with Shakespeare programs, six-week camps for ages 14–18, culminating with a performance in the John Hinkel Park amphitheater. The camps have continued, in one form or another, to this day, going under several different names (Camp, Conservatory, Summer Theater Programs). In 2009, the camps were offered to ages 8–18 in two- and five-week increments, with locations in Lafayette, Oakland, Orinda, and El Cerrito. Participants study acting, physical comedy, stage combat, movement, improvisation, and text, and the camps still culminate in a Shakespeare performance by each age group.

Also in 1979, the festival began holding fall classes, a training program in all facets of classical theater including voice and movement, period style, scansion, stage combat, and other production aspects. Also offered was an introduction to classical drama in both its literary and theatrical aspects. Fall and spring classes for youth and adults were offered as recently as spring of 2009.

California Shakespeare Theater also presents Student Discovery Matinees, afternoon performances of Shakespeare productions for school groups that include pre-show activities geared toward youth. In 2001, they began teaching pre- and post–show workshops wherein Cal Shakes teaching artists visit classrooms in order to enrich and support the Student Discovery Matinee experience. That same year, Berkeley’s Malcolm X Arts Magnet Elementary School and Pinole Valley High School hosted playwright Karen Hartman in Cal Shakes residencies; Hartman taught creative writing and storytelling in both residencies, and each one culminated in a presentation of the students’ works directed by Jonathan Moscone. In 2007, Cal Shakes received the first of several grants from the NEA's Shakespeare in American Communities initiative to expand its residency program and Student Discovery Matinee activities.[10] The theater now offers classroom residencies, after school programs, and home school programs throughout the Bay Area. [11][12][13]

New Works/New Communities (2003-2010)Edit

In 2003, Cal Shakes launched New Works/New Communities (NW/NC) with the aim of engaging marginalized communities while creating new works of theater based on the classics. Hamlet: Blood in the Brain was the first major NW/NC project, partnering Cal Shakes with playwright Naomi Iizuka and San Francisco's Campo Santo, resident theater company at Intersection for the Arts to relocate Shakespeare's Hamlet to the 1980s-era drug-ravaged streets of East Oakland. The two-year process (2004–2006) included interviews with former drug lords and Shakespearean scholars; writing workshops in schools, juvenile halls, and churches; and Q&A panels attended by the public. It culminated in a sold-out, eight-week run of the play directed by Moscone at Intersection for the Arts.[14][15] In 2010, the Advanced Drama Department at Oakland Technical High School revisited Hamlet: Blood in the Brain, choosing the play as their entry in the American High School Theatre Festival, which they won. The Oakland Tech students then performed their production at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August 2010.

From 2005-2007, the NW/NC program developed King of Shadows, an adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa that took place in San Francisco, with gay urban youth at its center. Cal Shakes partnered with MFA students at American Conservatory Theater and community organizations such as Larkin Street Youth Services, Guerrero House, and LYRIC (Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center) for discussions, workshops, and field trips.

In 2005 Cal Shakes began a partnership with Write to Read, a juvenile hall literacy program run by the Alameda County Library, holding writing workshops based on Hamlet: Blood in the Brain. In 2007, actor and Cal Shakes Associate Artist Andy Murray began to teach workshops and extended residencies using Shakespeare to develop the public speaking, leadership, and cooperation skills of the juvenile hall residents.

In 2007, Cal Shakes commissioned San Francisco playwright Octavio Solis to adapt The Pastures of Heaven, an early novel of interconnected stories about farm life in the Salinas Valley by John Steinbeck. The project partnered Cal Shakes with Word for Word Performing Arts Company for a series of development workshops; community partners include the National Steinbeck Center and Alisal Center for Fine Arts, both located in Salinas. The adapted work is the first play specifically commissioned for California Shakespeare's Main Stage, and had its world premiere in June 2010, directed by Jonathan Moscone.

New Classics InitiativeEdit

The aim of the New Classics Initiative is to explore what it means to be a classical theater in the 21st century, and to allow living writers with the same vision and scope of Shakespeare to expand the classical canon and by extension, what is thought of as universal. Piloted in 2017 with Marcus Gardley's black odyssey and officially launched with 2018's Quixote Nuevo by Octavio Solis, the New Classics Initiative continues in 2019 with the world premiere of House of Joy by Madhuri Shekar. Future NCI productions will reimagine classic Western drama through a diversity of form and content, cultural and gender perspectives, and adaptation and reinvention.

The Bruns AmphitheaterEdit

In 1988, philanthropist Clarence Woodard led a capital campaign that resulted in the building of the 545-seat Lt. G.H. Bruns III Memorial Amphitheater in Orinda's Siesta Valley in 1991. It was named in memory of the late son of George and Sue Bruns of Lafayette, CA, who was killed on June 26, 1967, in an automobile accident just before he was due to ship out for service in Vietnam. The Bruns grounds feature an annual sculpture installation, Art in the Groves, multiple picnicking groves, pre-show performance talks by dramaturges, and on-site cafe. The stage itself has the Orinda hills as its backdrop, and patrons are encouraged to bring their food and drink into the amphitheater for the performance.

In 2009, Cal Shakes announced a second capital campaign, titled Building for the Future, to renovate the Bruns Amphitheater—including its grounds, backstage area, technical facilities, and the theater itself—using sustainable practices. [16][17][18]


  1. ^ San Francisco Public Library. "Newspaper Clipping Files, Subject: B". Retrieved 1 May 2010. and "SF Station Cal Shakespeare Festival". Retrieved 1 May 2010.
  2. ^ "Berkeley Landmarks: John Hinkel Park". Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association.
  3. ^ Engle, Ron; Felicia Hardison Londré; Daniel J. Watermeier (1995). Shakespeare Companies and Festivals An International Guide. Greenwood Press. p. 23. ISBN 978-0-313-27434-3.: the founders included Peter Fisher, Mikel Clifford, Myron Schreck, Robert Eldred Schneider, Rolf Saxon, Jerry Landis, and Vince Tolman
  4. ^ "Shakespeare in the Park". Archived from the original on 7 July 2011. Retrieved 1 May 2010.
  5. ^ "Susie Falk Named California Shakespeare Theater New Managing Director". Broadway World.
  6. ^ "California Shakespeare Theater's Jonathan Moscone wins first Fichandler Award". Los Angeles Times. December 4, 2009.
  7. ^ Editors, American Theatre (2015-01-16). "Jonathan Moscone to Leave Cal Shakes Artistic Director Post". AMERICAN THEATRE. Retrieved 2016-07-31.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  8. ^ "Cal Shakes Chooses New Artistic Director". Retrieved 2016-07-31.
  9. ^ D'Souza, Karen (17 December 2012). "James Carpenter: The Bay Area's master actor". San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved 24 May 2014.
  10. ^ "Spotlight on a New Generation: 2007-2008 Season". Shakespeare in American Communities.
  11. ^ "California Shakespeare Theater Arts Education Listing". Theater Communications Group. Archived from the original on 2011-09-28. Retrieved 2009-11-10.
  12. ^ "Page to Stage: California Shakespeare Theater". KQED Education Curriculum Bank. Archived from the original on 2011-07-27. Retrieved 2009-11-10.
  13. ^ "Cal Shakes Artistic Learning programs". California Shakespeare Theater. Archived from the original on 2009-11-06. Retrieved 2009-10-30.
  14. ^ "A Hamlet of One's Own" (PDF). American Theater Magazine. Nov 2006.
  15. ^ "The Marquez Factor". American Theater Magazine. Sep 2007. Archived from the original on 2010-06-19. Retrieved 2009-10-30.
  16. ^ Hurwitt, Robert (25 October 2010). "Cal Shakes to break ground on major renovation". San Francisco Chronicle.
  17. ^ "Curtain Calls: Cal Shakes' dream soon to be reality". Oakland Tribune.
  18. ^ "Building for the Future: The Cal Shakes Campaign". California Shakespeare Theater.

External linksEdit