Founded in 1974, the Theater began as an artistic collective and has evolved into a fully professional theater known for its innovative productions of classic theater. From 1983 to 1995, it was guided by the leadership of artistic directors Dakin Matthews (1983-1987), and Michael Addison (1987-1995). During its 15 years at Berkeley's John Hinkel Park, such actors as Annette Bening, John Vickery, Douglas Sills, Julian Lopez-Morillas, and Lura Dolas appeared in over 53 productions, primarily of the plays of William Shakespeare. In 1991, the Theater built its current performance venue, the 545-seat Bruns Memorial Amphitheater in the hills between Berkeley and Orinda, following a capital campaign led by East Bay philanthropist Clarence Woodard and supported by foundations and Bay Area community leaders. In 1995, actor Joe Vincent became the Theater's artistic director and served until 1999.
In 2000, following a yearlong national search, Jonathan Moscone was appointed its current artistic director. Under his leadership, California Shakespeare Theater has set out upon an ambitious growth path, intended to deepen the Theater's artistic and educational roles in the communities of the Bay Area. Over the past four years, Cal Shakes has engaged artists of the highest caliber from the Bay Area and around the country, including: directors Lisa Peterson, Mark Rucker, Karin Coonrod, Daniel Fish and Kate Whoriskey; designers Christopher Akerlind, Riccardo Hern·ndez, Stephen Strawbridge, and Christine Jones; composer Gina Leishman and choreographers Joe Goode and K.T. Nelson; and actors L. Peter Callender, Sharon Lockwood, Steven Skybell, Gerald Hiken, Stephanie Roth Haberle, Domenique Lozano, Michael Emerson, Patrick Kerr, Jeffrey DeMunn, Ravi Kapoor and Reg Rogers. These artists come to the work without preconceptions or reverence for the iconic personality of Shakespeare, but with a shared belief in revealing his stories innovatively and with an immediacy that is borne of intellectual rigor and emotional honesty.
Since Moscone's tenure, California Shakespeare Theater has broadened its programming to reflect our mission to create fresh rediscoveries of important works of world theater.
In 2001, with the support of the East Bay Community Foundation, Cal Shakes engaged in a year-long assessment to define the vision for our educational efforts and how to root them in the mission of the Theater. We sought to integrate these with our artistic efforts, and discover how to serve the diverse communities of the Bay Area in meaningful and sustainable ways. With the support of the Board and staff, and in collaboration with area educators and arts education funders, the Theater created the Artistic Learning Initiative, with the vision of creating a culture of lifelong learners, nourishing imaginations of young people and adults in preparation for the work of life. For more information on Artistic Learning, click here.
A hallmark of the Bay Area communities is the broad diversity of the people living here. It is a goal of Cal Shakes to make theater that reflects the rich diversity of our communities. To that end, we have created New Works/New Communities, an initiative that brings diverse communities together around the creation of new works of theater inspired by the classics. In partnership with other arts and community-based organizations, we hope to articulate a larger, more inclusive concept of community that embraces our cultural, ethnic, social and geographic differences.
New Works/New Communities was launched in 2006 with a partnership with San Francisco's Intersection for the Arts/Campo Santo around Hamlet: Blood in the Brain. In 2007, NW/NC partnered with Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, MFA students at American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.), and community organizations working with homeless LGBT youth in San Francisco, to create King of Shadows; and with teens and young adults at San Francisco's Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center (LYRIC) and Oakland's Youth Empowerment School (in partnership with East Side Arts Alliance) to present Love Test. Currently, NW/NC is working with playwright Octavio Solis and the Word for Word Performing Arts Company to adapt John Steinbeck's Pastures of Heaven for a 2010 production on our main stage. For more information on New Works/New Communities, click here.
The official change of the company's name from California Shakespeare Festival to California Shakespeare Theater in 2003 more clearly defines our role as a theater serving the diverse communities of our region beyond our summer programming. We envision becoming a true cultural leader of the Bay Area, providing a home for our community of artists, audiences and learners 365 days a year.