Shotgun Players are transforming the old Serendipity Books on University Avenue into a rehearsal space. Photo: Google Images
Shotgun Players is transforming the old Serendipity Books store on University Avenue into a rehearsal space. Photo: Google Images
Shotgun Players is transforming the old Serendipity Books store on University Avenue into a rehearsal space. Photo: Google Images

Berkeley’s Shotgun Players has purchased the building on University Avenue that once housed Serendipity Books and will turn it into a new rehearsal and shop space.

A large gift from an anonymous donor allowed Shotgun to buy the 5,200-square foot building at 1201 University (at San Pablo) in March 2014. The Board of Directors and other donors have contributed $1.6 million to renovate the space. Shotgun will now look to the broader community to raise an additional $175,000.

“I am humbled and awed by the outpouring of support from the Shotguns community,” Patrick Dooley, the theater’s artistic director, said in a press release. “The generosity of our supporters is truly inspiring. After years of being nomadic, Shotgun realized the secret to longevity is not just in great theatre, but also in long term investments like real estate.”

Shotgun, which puts on performances at the Ashby Stage at the intersection of Ashby and Martin Luther King Jr. Way, had been renting a warehouse space near Home Depot in Oakland for years. But the property changed hands and the new landlord doubled Shotgun’s rent, according to Liz Lisle, the managing director.

“We got priced out,” she said.

The new building is 2,000 square feet bigger than the old space. Shotgun plans to build two rehearsal rooms, a scene shop, a costume shop, and a green room on the premises.

“The additional 2,000 square feet at this new space means Shotgun can easily replicate the stage footprint of The Ashby Stage in rehearsal, an incredible opportunity for actors and designers to practice on a living scale,” according to the press release. “Located within walking distance of BART, and with scenic and costume shops on site, Shotgun Studios marks a huge upgrade in facilities for our entire community of artists on every level.”

Shotgun Players plans to start using the space this month and will hold a reception for donors there on March 2 and one for the general public in June or July, when renovations are complete, said Lisle.

The space used to house Serendipity Books, one of the region’s largest and most eclectic used bookstores. Peter Howard, an expert in manuscripts and archival material, started Serendipity Books and eventually stocked it with one million rare and antique books. He died in 2011.

Sam Jackson in 'Our Town' by the Shotgun Players. Photo: Cheshire Isaacs
Sam Jackson in Our Town, the latest production by the Shotgun Players. Photo: Cheshire Isaacs

Dooley started Shotgun Players in 1992. For years, the company put on performances at the Subterranean in the basement of La Val’s Pizza on Euclid Avenue. Shotgun now plans to repay the favor by offering its new rehearsal space to other theater companies to use. At least five other theater companies are already planning to rehearse there: Just Theater, Mugwumpin, Do It Live Productions, and Radix, along with Fusion Theatre, a student company from Laney College in Oakland. Berkeley High students may also use the space and learn more about how to create their own company by being close to Shotgun.

Shotgun also announced recently that its 2015 season will consist only of plays written by women.

“There a lot of discussion right now in the theater community about gender parity and how women are not getting a fair shake on stage, and basically it’s a lot of talk, people are saying this and that and nobody’s really doing anything about it,” said Lisle. “We thought, okay, little Shotgun Players, leading the way with all these different projects that we have, why don’t we do a season of all female playwrights?”

Lisle said it was easy in the sense that there are a lot of great plays written by women. In fact, there are too many plays. The company spent a year soliciting suggestions from its community and whittled the list down to six performances. But there were still some plays Shotgun wanted to do, so it added six staged readings of plays by women.

Shotgun has also vowed to have gender parity in all of its forthcoming seasons.

“The 24th season will act as a kick-off to gender parity within Shotgun Players from here on out,” according to a press release. “We have committed to strive, every season, for an equal proportion of women writers, directors, and designers.”

Shotgun Players’ 2015 season:

  • Antigonick by Anne Carson, co-directed by Mark Jackson and Hope Mohr. March 19-April 26, 2015. Opening night: Thursday, March 26.
  • Heart Shaped Nebula, by Marisela Treviño Orta, directed by Desdemona Chiang, dramaturgy by Nakissa Etemad. May 21-June 21, 2015. Opening night: Thursday, May 28.
  • Top Girls, by Caryl Churchill, July 2-August 2, 2015. Opening night, Friday, July 10.
  • Eurydice, by Sarah Ruhl, directed by Erika Chong Shuch. August 20-September 20, 2015. Opening night: Thursday, August 27.
  • The Rover, by Aphra Behn, directed by M. Graham Smith. October 15-November 15, 2015. Opening night: Thursday, October 22.
  • The Mousetrap, by Agatha Christie, directed by Patrick Dooley. December 4, 2015-January 11, 2016. Opening night: Friday, December 11.

Shotgun will also put on these six staged readings:

  • The Ohio State Murders, by Adrienne Kennedy. April 27 and April 28.
  • The (Curious Case of The) Watson Intelligence, by Madeline George. June 8 and June 9.
  • Bethany, by Laura Marks. August 8 and August 9.
  • Letters from Cuba, by Maria Irene Fornes. September 21 and September 22.
  • The Children’s Hour, By Lillian Hellman. January 18 and 19.

To find out what is going on in Berkeley and nearby, be sure to check out Berkeleyside’s Events Calendar. And submit your own events: it’s self-serve and free.

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...