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Berkeley Goes To Broadway (And Off-Broadway Too)

March 19, 2009

These days, if any city outside of New York has traction inside New York theatre-wise, it's Chicago. But Berkeley has also been holding its own in terms of transplants to both Broadway and Off-Broadway of late.

Berkeley Repertory Theatre's 50th world premiere, Sarah Ruhl's In The Next Room (Or, The Vibrator Play) will open at one of the Shubert houses in Manhattan this fall, The Lincoln Center just announced. The show, which, like the world premiere, will be directed by Berkeley Rep associate director Les Waters, begins previews on October 22 and opens November 19. Read my review of the show here.

While Ruhl and Waters have often worked off Broadway - including bringing Eurydice to Second Stage Theatre after producing it in Berkeley - both celebrate their Broadway debuts with this play. I hear that Waters, who hails from the UK, responded to the news in his usual self-effacing way, saying: "Well, really, if you want to know, I'm utterly chuffed."

The Vibrator Play represents the eighth show in eight years that Berkeley Rep has helped develop and send to New York. In addition to the recent Broadway run of Passing Strange, these plays include Danny Hoch's Taking Over (2008), Ruhl's Eurydice (2007), Sarah Jones' Bridge & Tunnel (2006), Tony Kushner and Maurice Sendak's Brundibar (2006), Naomi Iizuka's 36 Views (2002), and Mary Zimmerman's Metamorphoses (2001). Overall, Berkeley Rep has delivered 17 shows to Manhattan in the last 22 years.

The Rep isn't the only Berkeley-based theatre to send a show to New York this year. In a couple of weeks' time, the Berkeley company Shotgun Players will bring its spellbinding rock musical (or "songplay") Beowulf: A Thousand Years of Baggage (a collaboration with the San Francisco-New York performance Collective Banana, Bag & Bodice) to the Abrons Arts Centre in Manhattan. This show, which runs from March 31 - April 18, is pretty ingenious. Read my review of the show, which had its world premiere at Shotgun Players' Ashby Stage theatre in Berkeley last year before going on to win the Will Glickman Award for Best New Play of 2008, here. Go Berkeley!


  • I'm curious as to how you're defining "development" here. Lookingglass Theatre Company (Zimmerman's home base) developed and presented "Metamorphoses" in 1998 in a production that had an extended run and won several Joseph Jefferson Awards (the Chicago equivalent of the Tony) before it went on tour to Berkeley Rep and other venues prior to going to NYC. My understanding from interviewing Zimmerman and others involved in the piece is that the show was pretty well set before it went west. But if anyone from BR is reading this who can clarify what role the theater played in developing the work, that would be interesting to hear about.

    "Eurydice" had its first presentation at Piven Theatre in Evanston in 2004 (where Ruhl studied as a high schooler), but since that's a very small space, it wouldn't surprise me if it went through some conceptual renovations before it hit Berkeley Rep. (I didn't see the Piven production, but did see the first post-NY presentation in Chicago at Victory Gardens this fall.)

    I'm not trying to be pedantic -- I am really interested in what we mean when we talk about theaters "developing" a show in terms of what resources they are devoting to developmental workshops, as opposed to public performances. I mean, aside from the fact that shows are always "developing" in performance, even if the script itself stays pretty much the same. And I certainly don't mean to take anything away from theaters that do the second or third or fourth production of a new script (or a new script based on old stories, as the case may be), because premiere-itis continues to be a problem for a lot of writers who haven't achieved Ruhl's or Zimmerman's stature.

    At the same time, when I hear
    "development," to me it implies more of a commitment than putting a show that is pretty much a done deal -- in terms of script, staging, etc. -- into the subscription series.

    By Blogger Kerry, At March 24, 2009 at 7:06 PM  

  • Hi Kerry
    All the examples stated in this blog entry received world premieres at Berkeley Rep except for Eurydice, which I believe changed somewhat script-wise in Berkeley Rep's production. So I guess by "development" I'm talking theatres that put a lot of energy at the dramaturgical level into producing a brand new (or nearly new) play; getting it up to snuff so that the creases can be ironed out etc.

    By Blogger Chloe Veltman, At March 24, 2009 at 9:19 PM  

  • Metamorphoses wasn't a world premiere for Berkeley Rep, though. I see your point -- just wanted to clarify that there were a couple examples where other theaters had done the heavy lifting of developing the work before BR presented it.

    By Blogger Kerry, At March 25, 2009 at 6:54 AM  

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