What started as an artistic collective in 1973 became an official company—Berkeley Shakespeare Festival—at John Hinkel Park in 1974. In 1991, the company (then known as California Shakespeare Festival) built the Bruns Amphitheater in the hills of Orinda. In 2016, California Shakespeare Theater celebrated its 25th anniversary at the Bruns.
Over the past four decades, Cal Shakes has become a cornerstone of Bay Area Theater, producing works from the Shakespeare canon and beyond, including New Classics that expand and reframe the concept and ownership of “classic theater.” Under the leadership of Artistic Director Eric Ting, we have honed three pillars of our work (MAKE, LEARN, and ENGAGE) into a focused approach to create art that represents the best of what we can do, nurture a culture of learning where we are both teacher and student, and forge community by dismantling barriers to participation.
The Emeryville Shakespeare Company performed its first show: Hamlet
After several shows at scattered churches and venues around the East Bay, the company started performing as Berkeley Shakespeare Festival at John Hinkel Park in Berkeley. Under the Artistic Direction of Dakin Matthews (1974-1983) and later Michael Addison (1983-1997), the company performed more than 53 productions at John Hinkel Park until audiences outgrew the space.
The board began searching through more than 40 sites before landing on an idyllic piece of protected land in the Siesta Valley. The East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) granted a 50-year lease in an extraordinary act of support.
Architect Gene Angell began designing the Bruns Amphitheater based on the dimensions of Shakespeare’s Globe with one key difference: no walls.
Our current performance venue, the 545-seat Bruns Memorial Amphitheater, opens with Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. With the new venue the company also unveils a new name: California Shakespeare Festival
After four years as an actor and teacher in the Company, in 1996 Joe Vincent becomes the next Artistic Director. Vincent, beloved actor and notable veteran of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, had a deep love of the classics and music and a belief in the primacy of the actor.
Vincent installs an Elizabethan-style unit set for the stage that would serve as the set design for all four plays every season.
Jonathan Moscone is appointed Artistic Director following a yearlong national search. His return to his hometown Bay Area sparks profound changes at the Bruns including the removal of the Elizabethan unit set in favor of architectural set designs celebrating the natural setting and the expansion of works onstage by authors like Tom Stoppard, Anton Chekhov, and George Bernard Shaw.
We launch the Artistic Learning initiative with the vision of creating a culture of lifelong learners by nourishing the imaginations of young people and adults. Artistic Learning is an ongoing program encompassing in-school residencies, after-school classes, and Student Discovery Matinees.
The company changes names again in our current incarnation as California Shakespeare Theater
With a goal of reflecting and engaging the rich diversity of our communities, we initiate New Works/New Communities to create new works based on classics. Highlights include our first partnership with Intersection for the Arts and Campo Santo for a co-production of Naomi Iizuka’s Hamlet: Blood in the Brain in 2003, and working with playwright Octavio Solis, Word for Word, and community groups in the Salinas area to adapt John Steinbeck’s Pastures of Heaven in 2007.
The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (performed in two parts), becomes one of Cal Shakes’ most ambitious and most successful productions ever. Co-directed by Moscone and Sean Daniels, the entire production ran a combined six-plus hours and featured a cast of 24. After 48 performances and three marathon double features, those actors logged a total of nearly 4,287 man-hours of performance.
Susie Falk was appointed Cal Shakes’ Managing Director after serving for four years as Cal Shakes’ Marketing Director.
The 2010 Season opens with John Steinbeck’s Pastures of Heaven (the first play to ever have its world premiere at the Bruns Amphitheater) and the unveiling of the new Sharon Simpson Center following extensive lobby and grounds improvement and additions of actor’s dressing rooms. The Sharon Simpson Center boasts a living roof with native, drought-resistant planting and rainwater-treating bioswales throughout. New Works/New Communities and our partnership with Intersection for the Arts/Campo Santo officially becomes the Triangle Lab, engaging audiences in the making of theater and increasing audience interaction.
The Bruns goes green: we become one of the largest solar-powered professional theaters in the United States.
Cal Shakes launches its Community Tour with the first non-summer production in nearly 40 years, an all-female Twelfth Night, which toured juvenile detention centers, homeless shelters, senior centers and libraries and completed a short run at Intersection for the Arts. The Community Tour is a continued initiative bringing theater to audiences in non-traditional spaces outside the Bruns.
Cal Shakes celebrates a new Artistic Director, Eric Ting, and the Company’s 25th Anniversary Season of the Bruns Amphitheater. The Triangle Lab evolves into Artistic Engagement, a program continuing to work with Community Partners to engage with theater in different ways. Artistic Engagement includes the Artist-Investigator Program, the Community Tour, and Story Circles.
Marcus Gardley’s black odyssey breaks all previous single ticket sales records. Directed by Artistic Director Eric Ting, black odyssey played 25 performances, selling 5,600 tickets and earning $283,000 in single ticket revenue, surpassing the long-held record from the 2005 production of The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, Part One. Nearly 12,000 patrons in all attended Marcus Gardley’s lyrical and spiritual reimagining of Homer’s epic. black odyssey introduced record numbers of new audiences to the Bruns Amphitheater and became Cal Shakes’ first-ever remounted production in 2018.