As the final scene of Berkeley Playhouse’s latest production, Aladdin reached an energetic climax to a lively first act, I marveled at not only the bright sets and colorful costumes, but also the roof lines of the Julia Morgan Center for the Performing Arts.
This was my first time attending a show at Berkeley Playhouse’s new location at the Julia Morgan Theatre which provides a larger capacity compared to the cozy, steep lines of the Ashby Stage theater where I witnessed the spell-binding storytelling of Peter Pan.
If a play is a present, then the theater house is the packaging. It isn’t the focal point of the evening, but it can add to the wonder and excitement of the entire experience. I relish entering the decorative halls of the California Theatre for an evening of Opera San Jose or the airy expansive halls at Davies Symphony Hall to be sweep off by an evening of melody and harmony.
The Julia Morgan Theatre, with its dark wood beams, craftsman style lines and modest scale emanates a charming and nostalgic aura.
There is something so personal about the space that I couldn’t put my finger on. However, with the bubbling excitement of families gathered around before the commencement of the musical, I couldn’t help but appreciate how theater can connect a community in ways beyond what social networks enables. With all the social media technology, it is important to remember that it doesn’t replace physical gathering, it merely helps to make it more coordinated and purposeful.
Whoa, I digress. Or maybe not. Is it not important to talk about how architecture, and in this case the architecture of a theater, makes you feel?
The most memorable element of architecture on this evening of theater is the set of angled windows that frame the top of the stage that stretches to the A-frame ceiling. At dusk, the tall trees create such beautiful silhouettes against the sky. I look up at the swaying shadows of the trees, imagine I am in a forest, shudder with pleasure and delve deeper into the world of Aladdin.
I have no photos of this as recording devices are not allowed in the theater. Yet even if I did, it wouldn’t capture the space. Perhaps it is just me but this element alone heightened my enjoyment of the play.
As with all historic theater houses, continual improvement is needed to ensure the original elements are maintained in good conditions and the technology behind-the-scenes keeps up.
The Julia Morgan Center Theatre Improvement Fund collects $1 from the sale of each ticket to enable them to upgrade the light and sound system. The theater upgrades include:
- all new Meyer Sound speakers and stage monitors
- an audio processor
- a 32-channel Yamaha digital console
- 36-new lighting instruments
- a new follow-spot
- a state-of-the-art dimming system that will allow for almost twice as many channels
- a new white cyclorama
- a mid-stage black curtain on a traveler
In order to make these improvements, the fund needs to raise $120,000 in order to finish the project. Besides the collection of funds from ticket sales, they are also looking for donations which are tax-deductible.