Veronica Renner (center) was recently seen in 'Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812.' At left is David Boyll and at right, Mary Ann Rodgers, in Marivaux's 'The Triumph of Love.' Credit: Robbie Sweeny

When 10 struggling actors founded Shotgun Players in 1991, one goal was to keep theater affordable.  That hasn’t changed in the 32 years since; pay-what-you-can tickets (with no questions asked) are available for all preview performances.

The Triumph of Love, Mar. 25-April 30. Discounted tickets for previews, Mar. 25-31. Online or by phone at 510-841-6500.

This coming week, March 25-31, patrons can catch one of four preview performances — at whatever prices they can afford — for The Triumph of Love. The play, written by Marivaux, a major 18th-century French playwright, is a romantic comedy, full of disguises and fake identities. American Theatre magazine called it “the greatest play that Shakespeare and Moliere never wrote.”  The Ashby Stage will transform into an 18th century European garden, with on-stage seating, and picnic boxes available for pre-order. 

Shotgun Players takes on projects that other companies might deem too expensive, too unwieldy, or just plain impossible. Its astonishingly successful West Coast premiere this winter of Dave Malloy’s Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 was a prime example: an ambitious Broadway musical with a live orchestra that seemed too big for the Ashby Stage. The Bay Area press gave it sparkling reviews.

Shotgun Players was founded by Patrick Dooley with the aforementioned actors and a big bucket of black paint.  The theater group performed in 44 locations in the Bay Area (using that black paint to freshen stages between productions), until it found a permanent home in 2004 at the corner of Ashby and Martin Luther King Jr. Since then, the group has endeavored to be a good neighbor. 

That commitment includes affordable ticket initiatives. In addition to the pay-what-you-can previews, some shows have tickets for young people (25 and under) for just $10, while working artists get seats for $20. 

 “If we price our tickets above what we can afford as neighbors, artists, and employees of the theater, who are we making it for?” asks Managing Director Liz Lisle. Shotgun is the only Bay Area theater company that includes the word “affordable” in its mission statement.

Whether someone can spend $2 or $40, the pay-what-you-can policy for previews makes high-quality, thought-provoking theater available to everyone, regardless of their financial standing.

Veronica Renner (left) and Edward Im (right, a UC Berkeley alum) are featured in Shotgun Players’ upcoming production of “The Triumph of Love.’ Credit: Robbie Sweeny

Another commitment is to employ local artists and pay them decently. Unlike some Bay Area theaters, Shotgun Players hires only Bay Area performers, many of whom live within a few miles of the theater.  And Shotgun pays their performers, designers, and stage crew a living wage (currently $17 per hour), something that’s unheard of at many local theater companies. 

The company also offers treats from their neighboring businesses, such as Sweet Adeline Bake Shop and Hugh Groman Catering.  

To serve wider audiences, Shotgun Players partners with Gravity Access of San Francisco for services for blind and low-vision patrons, and with Berkeley Community Media for live streaming shows into people’s homes. The board of directors has formed a neighborhood outreach committee to further local partnerships and advocacy work, including active participation in the Lorin Business Association.

On stage next

Patrick Dooley, founding artistic director, Shotgun Players. Credit: Shotgun Players

The upcoming 2023 Season at the Ashby State includes stories that speak to the incredible diversity of experience and identity that Berkeley contains.

“The unifying theme of our 2023 Season is LOVE,” says Dooley, who is directing The Triumph of Love. “After this era of isolation, aren’t we ready for that? We live in one of the most spectacularly diverse and eclectic communities on the planet, and this most primal desire — the yearning for human connection — unites us. Let’s celebrate that!”

Tickets for both this play and subscriptions to the 2023 Season are available now