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by April Ballesteros

Earlier this year, Tom Edwards came in to the Cal Shakes offices to make his annual donation. In passing he mentioned that he’s been attending with the same group for over 30 years—since “the John Hinkel park days,” and as a member of the Berkeley Historical Society, is an avid collector of our programs and ephemera.

I had the pleasure of catching up with Tom and his wife Rebecca along with their friends Dick, Connie, Stephen and Susan before the performance of House of Joy, where they shared champagne, cake, and their favorite Cal Shakes stories with me.

“So you can see the file there is labeled BSF—Berkeley Shakespeare Festival, 1981-1986. There’s Tony Amendola, Dakin Matthews…” Tom had brought a thick folder of old playbills, clippings, and ticket stubs for us to peruse—our pre-2000 archive has gaps in it, and he is graciously allowing us to borrow his collection to scan digitally for our Archival Project. “A friend once told me, Tom, you should consider moving from time to time. You’d get rid of a lot of things.” 

Tom has collected every program and ticket from Berkeley Shakespeare Festival (later Cal Shakes) since 1981, and collects ephemera from the other theaters they (he and his friends) subscribe to as well. He has an intricate system of filing them, marking extras, and for a while he even rated the plays they’d seen. A longtime member of the Berkeley Historical Society, he plans to pass all of the Berkeley materials to them.

“Ooooh…recognize her?” (Um, yeah…he was pointing at Annette Bening). “We just knew, she’s gonna be something someday.” We marveled at a very young headshot of James Carpenter and found other familiar Bay Area faces: Julian Lopez-Morillas, Howard Swain, Nancy Carlin, Marco Barricelli.

They began coming together at John Hinkel Park in the 1970s as something fun to do as a group, forming a tight-knit little community of theater-goers. They bring fresh fruit and vegetables from Dick’s garden, a memory which gave Tom fond recollections of  when the park allowed open flame grilling and they would boil freshly picked corn on-site before the show. Now they bring a huge spread of garden tomatoes, cheese, charcuterie, and in recent years they began a tradition of picking up a specially-embellished cake for dessert.

Tom and his wife Rebecca subscribe to ten other theater companies throughout the Bay Area, with their friends joining them for some of them and others loyally following other choices of their own. Once the bulk of the group was stranded during a rare indoor winter performance in 1982 when Connie (Dick’s wife) drove away without them during the show (she blamed it on “pregnancy brain”—their child Christopher is now in his thirties!) They’ve seen all ten of the Midsummers and raved about this year’s as one of their all-time favorites. Other favorite shows through the years include Nicholas Nickleby (2005), Pastures of Heaven (2010), Fences (2016) The Glass Menagerie (2017), The Good Person of Szechwan (2019), and black odyssey (2017 & 2018), which some of the group saw twice.

"I misspelled Stephen's name," Rebecca said. "I've never done it again."

Toward the end of our conversation, they surprised me with an origin story: they were there the first night the audience began singing, “Peet’s coffee & tea” along with the announcement thanking our sponsors. Rebecca says that after years of “not very wonderful” coffee, the first time they got to enjoy Peet’s at the show was such a treat that people showed their appreciation loudly!

I asked if they remember which performance that was, and Tom replied, “It’ll be in the next package for you.”

To that I said: “Keep ‘em coming!”

April Helen Ballesteros (Artistic Learning & Development Associate) is enjoying her third season with Cal Shakes, working her way up from a summer intern to a full-time, year-round staff member. Ballesteros works alongside Director of Artistic Learning Clive Worsley to plan and coordinate Cal Shakes’ educational programs. She also works closely with Director of Grants, Strategy, and Evaluations Andrew Page as well as Director of Marketing & Development Rozie Kennedy to assist in grant writing and events planning, respectively. A recent grad of California State University, East Bay, she holds a B.A. in Theatre Arts and is an active Bay Area theater professional. Ballesteros was recently seen in ¡CHEER!: Story of a Dreamer (Portrero Stage) and Shifts in Consciousness (World Premiere) (San Francisco International Arts Festival). She is currently the stage manager for Single Black Female (Lorraine Hansberry Theatre) which opens October 26. She is an avid theater-goer and enjoys going to karaoke with her friends. The L.A. Native wishes to thank her family and friends for loving and supporting her and allowing her to chase her dreams.

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