The Ground Floor

Berkeley Repertory Theatre

Funding Received: 2011
Berkeley, CA
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
December 30, 2011

Berkeley Rep has been developing architectural designs that reflect the aspirations of our newly conceived program: The Ground Floor at Berkeley Rep. We have this great big wonderful warehouse that is a blank slate. It can be anything we want it to be. And what we want it to be is a huge, live/work for theatre-making. We want rehearsal halls of varying sizes and shapes. We want convening spaces that will be comfortable and inviting. And we want housing for guest artists so that we can encourage the diverse group of creative people whom we expect to participate in our new play initiative to work and live together, as much as possible, under one roof.

Meghan Pressman, the managing director for The Ground Floor, met with City officials and neighborhood leaders all last summer to ensure that the new West Berkeley Plan included rehearsal as a desired use for underutilized West Berkeley buildings. With those steps behind us, we’ve begun vetting our plans with City commissions. Our first visit, last week, was with the Zoning Adjustments Board.  We brought a plan that that provides for four studios, public commons and fourteen apartments. This would all be adjacent to our technical shops and our offices. City staff had been concerned that our concept of live/work might fall outside the definition of traditional live/work facilities because the ‘work’ portion is not in each studio but rather is composed of all the shared rehearsal, public commons spaces.  We were very nervous about this presentation as the Zoning Adjustments Board can be a very tough group. Patricia Motzkin, AIA, our architect worked closely with Meghan to develop a presentation which would introduce all the City staff members’ concerns about how or if we met the various Zoning conditions.

The meeting simply blew us away! We were received with a kind of enthusiasm that we couldn’t have imagined.  One commissioner cited this as the most exciting project that had come before her since she had joined the commission. Another encouraged her colleagues to use this as a model for the City to think more broadly about how it could conceive of live/work spaces for artists other than theatre artists. And others asked how they could help us move this project forward quickly, avoiding bureaucratic hold ups!  We were ecstatic.  And we felt that already, we are on the right track. Within this community, Berkeley Rep has always been an arts leader. We drove the effort to create a Downtown Arts District. We take great pride in ‘leading the pack’. So to hear the Commission take this kernel of an idea and see how they can expand it to benefit other arts organizations and other artists was terribly exciting.

We’ve got a long way to go. But this was a huge vote of confidence!

- Susan Medak

Managing Director