founding artistic director Patrick Dooley, photo by Kimberly Dooley
Shotgun Players founding artistic director Patrick Dooley outside the newly renovated Ashby Stage. Photo: Kimberly Dooley Credit: Kimberly Dooley

Talk about making effective use of the lockdown to accomplish great things! Not only has the Shotgun Players renovated its Ashby Stage theater (at 1901 Ashby Ave. at MLK), but it also has used the time to plan an exciting 30th anniversary season. Yes, Shotgun, Berkeley’s scrappy theater company is now all grown up, while still retaining its youthful spirit.

In fact, for Shotgun, its long-planned renovation nicely coincided with the forced closure of its theater, thus allowing the facelift to be accomplished more quickly and with less disruption than initially anticipated. The makeover includes brand new HVAC, lighting and sound systems, additional construction, box office and wardrobe areas, an overhauled concession area  and an expanded lobby. Alas, there was no room for additional bathrooms.

The new season will begin with the Bridge Series in March/April with four productions that are designed to bridge the chasm between streaming and live theater.

The first presentation — a world premiere, Every Time I Feel the Spirit, by Noelle Viñas, directed by Elizabeth Carter — was designed explicitly for Zoom. It follows a young gay pastor trying to hold the congregation together during online worship.

The remaining three Bridge Series offerings may include limited in-person audiences, to the extent legally permitted.

The five Mainstage productions were chosen by a diverse group of artistic company members and staff that included founding artistic director Patrick Dooley, the Theatre Bay Area director-in-residence, and Make a Difference Program Coordinator, Leigh Rondon-Davis, Patrick Dooley told Berkeleyside,

“We will only do the Mainstage shows when we can do them in the theater — live. We’re also seeking permission to stream them since we are starting to cultivate audiences in other parts of the country and for our local folks who have small kids or who aren’t able to attend the theater comfortably,” Dooley said.

Particularly exciting and close to Shotgun’s heart is its West Coast premiere of the Broadway sung-through musical Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, by Dave Malloy, co-directed by Patrick Dooley and Erin Mei-Ling Stuart. It was nominated for 12 Tony awards in 2017 and is based on a 70-page section of Tolstoy’s War and Peace that focuses on Natasha’s affair with Anatole and Pierre’s search for meaning in his life.

How did Shotgun manage to score such a hit show? In 2008, Shotgun commissioned the then-unknown Malloy to compose the music for Beowulf – A Thousand Years of Baggage. Beowulf received the 2008 Glickman Award and a 2011 Edinburgh Herald Angel and played successfully in various venues in the U.S. and abroad.

“So nice of Dave to remember his old friends,” said Dooley.

Adam Bock, also an old friend and an artistic associate of Shotgun’s, is the author of another Mainstage choice, the off-Broadway play, A Small Fire.  Directed by Mary Ann Rodgers, this moving and enlightening one-act piece is about a long-married couple whose happy, middle-class lives are upended when one of them falls victim to a mysterious disease.

Rounding out the season are three Champagne Staged Readings, which will be interspersed with the Mainstage season. The script readings have minor staging and technical support.

Shotgun is offering 11 subscription packages and passes for the 30th anniversary season. Mainstage subscription packages start at $100. A Bridge Series pass is $60. For patrons aged 25 and younger, Shotgun is offering a $40 subscription to Mainstage shows. More information can be found by visiting Shotgun Players online.

Emily S. Mendel reviews Berkeley’s vibrant theater scene for Berkeleyside. As a native New Yorker (although an East Bay resident for most of her life), Emily grew up loving and studying theater, from...