BERKREP_JUNE

Berkeley Rep is just weeks away from its first annual Summer Residency Lab – the cornerstone of The Ground Floor: Berkeley Rep’s Center for the Creation and Development of New Work. ArtPlace is supporting The Ground Floor in its ambitious initiative to transform vacant buildings in West Berkeley into a vibrant campus where local and international artists from diverse disciplines can collaborate. This year the Summer Residency Lab will host 13 projects and over 90 artists including playwrights, composers, directors, designers and actors. Each project will be in development from 4-14 days and will range between immersive research opportunities, writing retreats and full workshops of work that is ready to be launched into production.

Kyle Sircus, the marketing manager of the Theatre, talks about what will be different in the Berkeley Rep community as a result of The Ground Floor and the Summer Residency Lab in particular:

SIRCUS: There’s nothing quite like seeing a new play on stage for the first time. It’s the ultimate mystique of the theatre – who knows how the script has changed since that first read through? What inspired the playwright to dramatize this? Every audience member comes to the theatre with their own questions, eager to have them challenged, confounded, sometimes even answered throughout the hour or two that passes in a darkened room with dozens or hundreds of strangers. People will taste different notes, glean different things, and, most importantly, they’ll respond to it in their own way. But this most crucial element of theatrical performance, that final collaboration with the audience, is just a thin slice. Only a select few are privy to what actually happens behind the closed doors of the rehearsal room; the rest of us get mostly milestone glimpses -a read through, maybe a run through in the rehearsal room, and then we see it alongside our audiences at a preview or opening night.

The Ground Floor aims to crack open this often opaque process and enhance the relationship that exists between a play and its audience, as between an arts organization and its surrounding community which includes our employees. The Theatre’s staff will benefit greatly from the inaugural summer residency lab. Beyond intermingling with and welcoming the 85 artists to our new home in West Berkeley, the residency provides our employees with an opportunity to maintain a longer, more close-knit relationship with the shows that we produce. Take Troublemaker, our commissioned play by Dan LeFranc. Instead of more limited windows into the process, we’ll be able to see the play in a developmental state before it premieres on our stage in January. That critical relationship between a theatre’s staff and the creative team can begin months earlier than it might otherwise. All of these ingredients contribute to a new, more solid approach to a partnership that, we hope, will result in a strengthened production.

But it doesn’t stop there. Our hope, of course, is that this deepened relationship between our work and those who interact with it will extend to the most important constituency — our audience.  The Ground Floor is an invitation to our patrons to witness the steps involved in creating the plays that they see on stage. Beyond that, we want to use it as an opportunity to engage with our audiences in a deeper, more meaningful way. The aim of every play we do is to have the audience leave a little different – The Ground Floor provides us with a chance to bolster and expand that. While some of the artists involved are familiar to them, others are brand new. Just as they’ll see Berkeley Rep in a new light through these new partnerships and opportunities, we hope to build off of the incredible spirit of innovation and collaboration so deeply engrained in the Bay Area psyche.

We may not look like your typical start-up, but as leaders both in the field and our local community, we hope that The Ground Floor makes a significant splash in ramping up the development of our West Berkeley neighborhood, too. We want our research and development facility to become a new home for the creative lives and minds of Berkeley residents and beyond. Hopefully our new creative home is just the first of many on the block.

PHOTO: With Berkeley Rep’s world premiere of Emotional Creature, Tony Award-winner Eve Ensler (center) and Obie Award-winner Jo Bonney (second from right) team up with an ensemble of six talented young women: Joaquina Kalukango and Molly Carden (front row, l to r) and Olivia Oguma, Emily S. Grosland, Ashley Bryant and Sade Namei (back row, l to r).

Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com

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