Hopefully, if all continues on a positive path with the pandemic, each week ahead will come with small announcements about the Bay Area arts and culture scenes slowly coming back to life. This week, we learn that Berkeley's Shotgun Players is alive and well, and they're planning an ambitious 30th anniversary season that kicks off with four shows meant to bridge the transition between streaming-only and in-person theater.

Shotgun had the good fortune to be able to complete a long-planned renovation of its Ashby Stage headquarters over the past year. And as Berkeleyside reports, the pandemic shutdown enabled them to finish it faster and with less disruption to its production schedule than it otherwise would have caused.

Yes, the theater has been dark for ten months, but it likely would have had to be for some period of time anyway. And the scrappy theater group can now launch into its 30th anniversary season with an expanded lobby, renovated concession area, new lighting and sound systems, a new HVAC system, new box office and wardrobe areas, a new garage, and a new backstage restroom.

The plan is to begin what they're calling the Bridge Series in March or April, starting with a play that was written for Zoom. It's called Every Time I Feel the Spirit, by playwright Noelle Viñas, and it's the story of a young gay pastor trying to hold a congregation together while conducting online-only worship services. This is a world premiere and was commissioned by the company as a streaming-only piece.

That will be followed by two productions that will be offered for streaming but will also have limited in-person audiences as soon as Alameda County permits. Those will be The Claim, by Tim Cowbury, directed by Rebecca Novick — a runaway hit of the last Edinburgh Fringe Festival that centers on the stories of people seeking refuge in the UK — and The Cassandra Sessions: Recording This World, conceived and performed by Beth Wilmurt with Jake Rodriguez, and featuring the songs of Malvina Reynolds.

Dates for these productions have not yet been announced, and remain in flux. And a fourth play in the Bridge Series will be for limited in-person audiences. It's a finalist for the 2020 Bay Area Playwright’s Festival titled Babes in Ho-lland, and it's about two Black students at a largely white college in the winter of 1996 in Pittsburgh, bonding over their shared love for R&B girl groups. That's written by Deneen Reynolds-Knott, and directed by Leigh Rondon-Davis.

Shotgun's mainstage season will launch once the theater is permitted to welcome patrons back at full capacity, at some point later this year. The centerpiece production will be the West Coast premiere of the 2017 Tony Award-winning musical Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 — based on a 70-page section of Tolstoy's War & Peace, and written by Dave Malloy.

As Shotgun's founding artistic director Patrick Dooley (who will also be directing the musical) tells Berkeleyside, they were able to land the West Coast premiere of this high-profile show because Malloy is an alum of sorts — Shotgun commissioned him in 2008 to write music for Beowulf – A Thousand Years of Baggage.

"So nice of Dave to remember his old friends," Dooley says to Berkeleyside.

The remainder of the season includes Dream Hou$e by Eliana Pipes (a story of two Latinx sisters who land the opportunity to remodel and sell their historic family home on a popular reality television show); Man of God by Anna Moench (a feminist kung fu thriller inspired by a real life incident at a Christian mission in Cambodia); the Tony-winning musical Passing Strange by singer-songwriter Stew, which premiered at Berkeley Rep in 2006 before heading to Broadway; and A Small Fire by Adam Bock, which debuted to positive reviews off-Broadway in 2010.

Shotgun is offering 11 different subscription packages and passes for this 30th anniversary season, with mainstage subscription packages starting at $100. (People under the age of 25 can subscribe for just $40.) Passes for the Bridge Series are $60 for three shows. Also, you can donate here to help them see their way through this most unusual year.

"The Shotgun Players weren't a group of people who came together in 1992 with any idea of starting a theatre company," says Dooley. "It was always just about falling in love with a story and realizing we would love it even more if we could figure out how to bring it to life with an audience. That's still true today. None of us can be certain what the future holds, but I can promise the creatively ambitious, fearless theatre makers of the Shotgun Players will be making something you'll never forget."

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