California Shakespeare Theater plans to host an in-person season this summer at its Bruns Amphitheater in the Orinda hills, but with only one show produced by Cal Shakes itself, the company announced Tuesday, Feb. 2. The company is sharing its space with other arts organizations — including Bandaloop, Destiny Arts Center and West Edge Opera — at a time when audiences and arts workers will likely prefer gathering outside.
Dates for all shows will be announced later.
Cal Shakes Artistic Director Eric Ting said the choice to open the venue came after a company-wide period of reflection following the death of George Floyd and the publication of the Living Document and the “We See You, White American Theater” document.
“We have spent all of this time thinking that the art was the way to effect change,” he told The Chronicle. “What if the art itself is no longer enough? What if what we really need to be thinking about is how we as an organization exist in relationship with our community?”
He added, “If we were to be able to open the Bruns again in summer 2021, we wanted to make sure we weren’t the only ones returning.”
Cal Shakes plans to produce Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale,” with a creative team still yet to be announced. In anticipation of a mandate to reduce its seating capacity so that audiences can maintain social distance, the theater will likely perform the show for longer than its standard three weeks, so that its whole subscriber base can get a chance to see the play.
Ting also said that dance company Destiny Arts Center, West Edge Opera and Bandaloop, which specializes in tethered dance performances on vertical stages, are only “the beginning of what I hope will be a long list” of partner organizations for this summer’s performances.
At the Bruns, West Edge Opera is producing what would have been its summer 2020 repertory season: Leoš Janáček’s “Káťa Kabanová”; Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell’s “Elizabeth Cree” and Francesco Cavalli’s “Eliogabalo.” West Edge hasn’t previously performed outside, but its longtime nomadism means it’s hardly a stranger to unusual venues.
“It’s more of a theater than we’ve been in in years,” said General Director Mark Streshinsky. “We’ve been in warehouses and train stations.”
Though outdoor opera performances are relatively rare for acoustic reasons, Streshinsky said the sound at the Bruns is like that of a Greek theater, adding that the West Edge Opera plans to design its set to further direct sound toward the audience.
Rashidi Omari, Director of the Destiny Arts Youth Performance Company at Destiny Arts Center, said the company is using the Bruns to devise its annual show, working with youth ages 13 to 18.
“We’ve always been on each other’s peripheral,” he said of Destiny and Cal Shakes. In looking for outdoor venues, Cal Shakes’ was one of the few where Destiny wouldn’t have to bring its own lighting and sound equipment.
“We knew we couldn’t do the same type of show that we always do,” he said. “We have to create the most we can inside of the boundaries we have.”
One of Destiny Arts Youth Performance Company’s class and performance components is via Bandaloop, whose education manager, Rose Huey, said students are making dance partners out of a ladder on the Bruns’ catwalk, one of its cement walls and even the eucalyptus on its grounds. “We have rigged a tree,” she said.
The first class took place Sunday, Jan. 31.
“It’s orienting your eyes and your whole being to the horizontal, like there’s headlights on your hips,” she explained. “It’s seeing the world sideways.”