It has been over a month since my first diary on the potential loss of city sponsored community theatre in Berkeley. See: Will Berkeley City Council Kill Its Community Theatre? Part 1 In the intervening time many of the details about the situation have now been made public. Jump the fold for an update.
The issue is over the "privatization" of Live Oak Theatre. The City of Berkeley Parks & Recreation department intends to stop using Live Oak Theatre as a recreational facility for producing amateur theatre productions. Up until now Actors Ensemble of Berkeley has managed Live Oak Theatre for the benefit of the public. Before the City Council is a lease that will allow TheatreFIRST to develop Live Oak Theatre as a commercial venue for professional productions.
A simple analogy will put this in perspective. Consider the basketball courts in the adjacent community center. The Parks & Recreation department maintains them for the enjoyment of the public. Ask yourself this question: Would the recreational needs of the Berkeley community be served if a professional basketball team used the courts to host their games?
Update on TheatreFIRST
The news of Actors Ensemble losing their lease at Live Oak Park is being spread by the recent editorial sent last month to the 300+ members of Theatre Bay Area. The editorial Moving, Moving, Moving by Sam Hurwitt broke the story to the public.
... the erstwhile Oakland company TheatreFirst, which has bounced around from one promising new home to another several times over the last decade (most recently a black box in Oakland’s Fox Theater building), has been tentatively been awarded the contract. - Sam Hurwitt-
Hurwitt introduces the metaphor "bounced" to describe TheatreFIRST's inability to settle-down in any one location. As recently May 27th, 2011, while they were producing shows in The Marion E. Greene Black Box Theatre in Oakland, their website was extolling their commitment to Oakland.
Screen shot from TheatreFIRST website - 2011
This author has no dispute with the professional nature of the TheatreFIRST organization, other than it excludes amateurs. What is at issue is the lack of suitableness of this enterprise's business model for managing Live Oak Theatre as a recreational facility. TheatreFIRST's business plan is at direct odds with the recreational enjoyment of Live Oak Theatre by the public.
In a recent Berkeleyside interview with the Artistic Director of TheatreFIRST, Michael Storm, spells out his plans for Live Oak Theatre. See: Live Oak Theatre plan calls for “true community facility” by Lance Knobel.
The lease requires TheatreFIRST to provide no fewer than three shows per year, with public performances running not less than five weeks for each show. Storm said that TheatreFIRST did not intend to use Live Oak for more than that, opening up the theater to other performing groups. Storm said in 2013 there will be productions by Symmetry Theatre, Just Theater, Virago Theatre, Actors Ensemble and TheatreFIRST at Live Oak. - Lance KnobelSymmetry Theatre, Just Theater, Virago Theatre, TheatreFIRST all are professional theatre groups that provide jobs to the professional actors, directors, and technical staff. This is to be contrasted with the previous use of Live Oak Theatre exclusively for amateur theatre by Actors Ensemble of Berkeley and other local Berkeley amateur groups.
Live Oak Theatre plan calls for “true community facility” by Lance Knobel
Update on Actors Ensemble Ensemble of Berkeley
At the October board meeting, when we found out we did not win the lease, Actors Ensemble decided to ask for a sub-contract and to work with TheatreFIRST as outlined in the lease cover letter. So, in good faith we spent October trying to negotiate a sub-lease so we could continue to produce our shows at Live Oak Theatre.
At the November Actors Ensemble of Berkeley board meeting the normal business was discussed in addition to events surrounding the loss of the lease. The meeting started with the reports on the productions of this quarter. The ensemble is just finishing up a main stage run of Ricard III and a staged reading series revolving around the Shakespeare histories. The shows were well attended and had engaged over 100+ community members in their production.
It was during the the discussion of our 2013 season that the committee working things out with TheatreFIRST announced they still had no concrete dates scheduled for 2013.The conversation turned to address this question: How can a TheatreFIRST meet with us for two months and not generate a signed sub-contract?
At the time of this meeting I suspected the blame was with the City for not being specific in the the new lease agreement about preserving community theatre and explicitly spelling out how the previous tenant, Actors Ensemble of Berkeley, would be treated by TheatreFIRST.
To address the lack of a agreement with TheatreFIRST the board decided to draft an agreement and submit it to TheatreFIRST and request that it be approved by both parties before the City Council meeting on November 27, 2012. See: Framework Agreement - November 15, 2012.
Update on City of Berkeley
I attended the November 27, 2012 City Council meeting where the lease approval was on the consent calender for its first of two reviews. The City Council noted that 20 letters of concern were sent in by Actors Ensemble of Berkeley supporters. City Councilwoman Linda Maio mentioned the letters and asked to delay action and move it off the consent calender. At the meeting six supporters spoke including myself.
City Council member Laurie Capitelli, as expected, led the discussion about TheatreFIRST and Actors Ensemble of Berkeley working on a contract. There was quite a bit of back and forth about the cost of the improvements needed for the space. I got the feeling that the City Council was just learning that not all the issues had been taken into consideration in the transition plans presented by Park & Recreation department.
The consensus of the City Council was to defer any decision to the December 11, 2012 meeting. The lease Issue was moved off the "consent calender" and put onto the "action calender" for more consideration. (this is a good outcome)
It was my impression that the City Council was willing to re-consider the plan drafted by the Parks & Recreation department. The Council welcomed public input on the issue. Laurie Capitelli stepped up to oversee some compromise on the issue between the principals. So, my initial take on things is that the City of Berkeley is responsive to public input on this issue.
On The Lease
The lease was released for public view on November 16, 2012, and as I suspected it doesn't protect community theatre. There are a number of flaws in the lease that deserve further consideration. See PDF of the lease: 2012-11-27 Item 13 Lease Agreement TheatreFIRST.pdf I will highlight a few of the most egregious flaws I found in the lease document.
1) The lease fails to to define "Professional Theatre" and "Community Theatre" as two distinct categories. This logical flaw of conflating the two ideas confuses the issues and results in the inability to measure the impact of the change of recreational services on the public. The lease accepts at face value the naming of TheatreFIRST as a "professional community theatre company" and blends the two institutions together.
2) The lease doesn't take into consideration the original intent of the faculty. That being the recreational use of Live Oak Theatre for the general public. And the lease fails to define performance metrics for providing these recreational services to the public.
3) The lease doesn’t address the potential conflict with Policy OS-1 Preservation found in Open Space and Recreation Element on the Department of Planning & Development website.
Open Space and Recreation Element
The Theatre was paid for with public funds and located on the grounds of public park. Thus it is considered an "open space" that has been formally dedicated to permanent recreational use by the City of Berkeley as described in the City of Berkeley Open Space and Recreation Element.
Few of Berkeley’s public assets are as highly treasured and as heavily used as the City’s open spaces. Berkeley’s open spaces include public parks and recreational facilities, the Marina, public plazas, sidewalks, public paths and stairways, landscaped medians, the University of California campus, UC Botanical Gardens, Strawberry Canyon Recreation Facilities, the Ecological Study Area, the Berkeley Unified School District grounds, community gardens, creeks and other water features, and some privately owned outdoor spaces, such as plazas.Call To Action
From City of Berkeley Open Space and Recreation Element
Clearly, these are my personal views on the situation and do not represent the views of the Actors Ensemble of Berkely Board.
The call to action is to email mayor Tom Bates, Council member Laurie Capitelli, and the Berkeley City Council and indicate your support for the "recreational" use Live Oak Theatre by amateur theatre. And, that you reject the use of Live Oak Theatre for "professional theatre."
If you send an email please put in the subject line: "Live Oak Theatre - RFP" Please send it to the following email addresses:
Also, if you are in the Bay Area please attend the City Council meeting on 12/11/12 at Berkeley City Hall at 7:00 PM. (For additional information visit: www.saveliveoaktheatre.com)