The Ground Floor

Berkeley Repertory Theatre

Funding Received: 2011
Berkeley, CA
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
September 11, 2011

Get in on The Ground Floor

Thirty years ago, Berkeley Rep moved from the Elmwood district on the Oakland border to downtown Berkeley, where we built our Thrust stage. Ten years ago we added a large new theatre to that campus.  Not only did these changes affect the neighborhood around us, but they also initiated major transformations in the structure of our organization. When we acquired our West Berkeley campus last year, we knew that this, too, would change our destiny.  With this expansion into a large new space, we have significant possibilities that weren’t there before. This prompted a series of conversations and plans that will ultimately enhance and expand the process by which we create new work.

But how to go about changing what we do?

Our artistic staff, administration and members of the board took a step back to analyze what we currently do. Tony Taccone, Berkeley Rep’s artistic director, reflects: “In recent years, we’ve been increasingly drawn to work that stretches the traditional literary form. As we’ve explored new ways to develop plays and expanded our use of other artistic mediums, we’ve discovered that our familiar rehearsal and performance model is well-suited to work that is rooted in language and narrative – but it’s not as effective for work that draws on other media, such as music and dance, or which evolves through collaborative creation. No two projects require the same things, and the system we have now tries to shoehorn every process into the same structure.”

So what would be a better structure to foster more dynamic new work?

Taking the lead from the innovative spirit pervasive in the Bay Area, we realized that what we need is our own research and development facility – an experimental lab – where we can work on projects without the pressure of time and the need to present a finished product. We also recognize the great value that comes from bringing together a diverse group of artists working on multiple projects at one time; allowing their ideas to influence each other and cross-pollinate. After spending some time at Berkeley Rep, not only will new ideas have time and resources to percolate, but hopefully the artists will be forever a little bit different after their experience.

So we have created The Ground Floor, which will not only a year-long series of commissions, workshops, but also an intensive summer residency lab. We hope to incorporate a level of flexibility rarely allowed in an institutional theatre setting. Our hope is that the result will be a dynamic home for play creation – an organic and energetic environment for artists where they can live, develop work in a flexible setting, challenge each other to expand the boundaries of theatre, and intersect with the public to create community.

We believe that this focus on process over product and the increase of resources for artists will not only increase our ability to respond to the modern and changing world and enhance the work on our stages, but that this will also effect a much wider range of artists, influence the artists and entrepreneurs in our community and hopefully even serve as a model for other regional theatres as a way to develop work in the 21st century.