Berkeley Repertory Theater has been undergoing a major renovation project in their original, three-quarter round Thrust Stage space, which is set to be unveiled to the public with a grand opening celebration on January 9. And as the theater announced in a release this week, the Thrust Stage will heretofore be known as The Peet’s Theatre, marking a new "major partnership" with longtime sponsor and benefactor Peet's Coffee & Tea.
The story of the two organizations actually goes pretty far back. Founded in Berkeley just a few blocks away, Peet's will mark its 50th anniversary in 2016, having opened in 1966. Berkeley Rep produced its first show in 1968, and Peet's put its first advertisement in a Berkeley Rep program the following year, in 1969.
And the opening of the Peet's Theatre marks the close of the first phase of a 2013-launched $50 million fundraising drive by Berkeley Rep, the first priority of which was to upgrade the original 1980-built Thrust Stage. The space retains its intimacy and general layout, with 400 seats in 11 steeply tiered rows, but they've substantially upgraded the sound system with a new Meyer Sound Constellation Acoustic system, and added more wheelchair seating, and new ADA-accessible and gender neutral restroom facilities.
As managing director Susan Medak says, with the new theater, "We're going to be able to bring to [our audiences] a level of aesthetic excitement that we haven't been able to bring to this theater in a number of years because of the way technology has out-paced us."
The first production in the Peet's Theatre will be a world premiere of Aubergine, a Berkeley Rep commission written by Julia Cho and directed by Taccone, which begins previews on February 5. The play was developed as part of The Ground Floor, Berkeley Rep's center for new work that was established as part of this same capital campaign.
The new theater follows on the huge project of building the larger Roda Theatre a decade and a half ago, with its traditional proscenium stage and mezzanine and box seating. And it comes alongside a $12.5 million project to build the company's Harrison Street complex, which is an incubating space for new work that includes rehearsal space and live-work spaces for resident artists.
As a second phase of their Create Campaign, the theater will be weather-proofing the courtyard that connects its two main theater spaces with a soaring glass atrium.