The music and lyrics in the musical Swept Away premiering Jan. 9, 2022, at the Berkeley Rep are by multiple Grammy Award nominee The Avett Brothers. Credit: Berkeley Rep

East Bay theaters are planning live productions starting late this summer after more than a year of valiantly entertaining and enlightening us through Zoom, podcasts, and film. They worked hard, with surprisingly good results, but it isn’t easy to replicate on Zoom the energy enjoyed from being part of an audience.

When the pandemic first took hold, I thought it would be a terribly long time before I would feel comfortable going back to see live theater. However, now that a large majority of Alameda County residents have received the vaccine, and after communicating with our theaters about their safety plans and offerings, I’m absolutely ready to enjoy the thrill of live performances.

It’s been a long, difficult lockdown period for theater companies. They have had many challenges and suffered severe economic and social hardships. At the same time, they took the occasion to explore racial inequities within their community. “We’re not the same theater we were in 2019, but we see that as an opportunity,” said Cal Shakes Artistic Director Eric Ting.

Local theaters have announced re-opening dates starting in September, with plans to accommodate COVID-19 health concerns. While the theaters were dark, several theaters improved their lobby space, bathrooms, and HVAC systems. Although they’ve long planned for the return to producing live theater, it still takes an extraordinary amount of time and effort to “put on a show,” including engaging the casts, designing the sets and costumes, as well as blocking, staging, and rehearsing.

So, to help you with subscriptions and tickets, here is a rundown of the schedules and offerings at four of our best theater companies, subject, of course, to possible adverse health considerations.

Aurora Theatre Company

2081 Addison St., Berkeley

Reopening in person: Sept. 3

Upcoming shows include:

  • The local premiere of Dael Orlandersmith’s Stoop Stories (starting Sept. 3), which explores the diversity of voices of a New York neighborhood;
  • Father/Daughter (starting Nov. 12), by Kait Kerrigan, a contemporary romance in which two actors play two pairs of lovers in this structurally inventive play;
  • A world premiere by Jonathan Spector (author of Eureka Day), This Much I Know (starting Feb. 4, 2022), in which a psychology lecturer/husband attempts to unravel a mystery centering on his wife;
  • That’s What We’re Waiting to Find Out (starting April 15, 2022), a world premiere by Cleavon Smith, about the intellectual thrill of untangling a new idea, in which a public intellectual is brought to the Berkeley campus to help facilitate conversations concerning extrajudicial police violence;
  • Wives by Jacklyn Backhaus (starting June 24, 2022), a West Coast premiere, is an irreverent celebration of female capability and power through the ages.

Aurora’s artistic director, Josh Costello, said Aurora is “… also making plans to continue offering ways to engage with Aurora online. We’ve learned this year that there are meaningful connections we can make online that complement and expand upon our traditional programming.”

Berkeley Rep

2015-2025 Addison St., Berkeley

Reopening in person: Oct. 1

Upcoming shows include:

  • Christina Anderson’s The Ripple, the Wave That Carried Me Home, directed by Miranda Haymon (starting Oct. 1). This world premiere and Berkeley Rep commission explores a family’s response to racial injustice and a daughter’s reckoning with her political inheritance;
  • Wintertime, by Charles L. Mee and directed by Les Waters (starts Nov. 12), the story of an eccentric family who arrives at its summer house in the winter woods for supposedly secret trists;
  • Swept Away (starting Jan. 9, 2022), a world premiere musical (book by Tony Award-winning stage and screenwriter John Logan of Broadway’s Moulin Rouge!, music and lyrics by multiple Grammy Award nominee The Avett Brothers), about the survivors of an 1888 whaling ship sinking;
  • Goddess (starting March 19, 2022), a new African, jazz, and rhythm, and blues musical about a young Kenyan man who finds himself drawn to a mysterious new singer. The book is by award-winning playwright Jocelyn Bioh (School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play);
  • Octet (starting April 20, 2022), by three-time Tony Award nominee David Malloy, where internet addicts gather to share stories through a transcendent score for an acapella chamber choir;
  • Cambodian Rock Band (starting June 3, 2022) a co-production with New York’s Signature Theater, featuring songs by Dengue Fever;
  • West Coast premiere of Sanctuary City (starting July 8, 2022) by Pulitzer Prize winner Martyna Majok, the powerful story of two young DREAMers who fight to establish a place for themselves in America, the only country they know as home;
  • Limited run performances by Mike Birbiglia and Fran Lebowitz.

California Shakespeare Theater

100 California Shakespeare Theater Way, Orinda

Reopening in person: Sept. 1

Upcoming show:

Cal Shakes will produce Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, running Sept. 21-26, in a new adaption by Eric Ting and Philippa Kelly. With elements of both comedy and tragedy, The Winter’s Tale is a perfect vehicle for Cal Shakes’ return. Tickets will go on sale to the public in July. During the summer, various music and other entertainments will be performing on stage at the Bruns Amphitheater.

Shotgun Players

1901 Ashby Ave., Berkeley

Reopening in person: March 5, 2022

Upcoming shows include:

  • Tony award-winning Passing Strange (starting March 5, 2022), a musical (book and lyrics by Stew and Heidi Rodewald) in which a young bohemian charts a course for “the real” through sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll from Black middle-class America to Amsterdam, Berlin and beyond;
  • A Small Fire (starting May 14, 2022), written by Adam Bock, about a woman used to running all things — from her construction business to her family — until she suddenly begins experiencing mysterious changes.
  • Dream Hou$e (starting July 9, 2022), written by Eliana Pipes, a dark comedy about gentrification, family, and the bonds of sisterhood when two Latinx sisters remodel and sell their historic family home on a reality television show.
  • Man of God (starting Sept. 3, 2022), written by Anna Ouyang Moench, and inspired by a real-life incident at a Christian mission in Southeast Asia, is a funny feminist thriller about that moment when girls realize the male gaze has been watching all along, and decide to do something about it.
  • Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 (starting Nov. 5, 2022), Dave Malloy’s sung-through musical extravaganza, was nominated for 12 Tony awards. This West Coast premiere is based upon a section of Tolstoy’s War and Peace and follows the story of Natasha, a young woman who arrives in Moscow longing for her fiancé.

Our local theaters need and deserve our support and we need and deserve their extraordinary entertainment. “We can’t wait to hear the sound of a full house again!” said Susie Medak, Berkeley Rep managing director.

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Emily S. Mendel

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...