Berkeley Community Theater

Berkeley Community Theatre

The Berkeley Community Theatre is a theatre located in Berkeley, California on the campus of Berkeley High School. The theater has 3,500 seats, including a balcony section. A large stage is extended by an orchestra pit that can be raised or lowered.

While the theater has held performances of musical acts such as the Grateful Dead, Joni Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix, The Clash, Led Zeppelin, Sonic Youth, Metallica and Elvis Costello, the 'backstage' resources are extremely limited, and large acts tend to have trucks and buses lined up along the road immediately behind the stage.

The theater is also the site where Metallica's S&M live album was recorded with the San Francisco Symphony. In recent years it has also held lectures from noted political activists Arundhati Roy, Al Franken, and Amy Goodman.

The theater is also used by Berkeley High School and the Berkeley Unified School District. The theater building also holds the Florence Schwimley Little Theater, a smaller theater that is often used for Berkeley High School music and theater performances.

The theater was dedicated on June 5, 1950 after sitting only partially completed for almost nine years, due to delays caused by World War II. Students attending Berkeley High during the war years often called it the "Bird Cage" since the exposed metal framework was a roost for many seagulls waiting for students to finish their lunches.

The theater was designed to house a Theater organ, but one was not installed at the time of construction. In the 1980s, an organ was moved from the Paramount Theater in Toledo, Ohio and installed in the Berkeley Community Theater by the Nor-Cal Theater Organ Society The organ is maintained solely by the volunteer work of the Society.

Starting in 2004 Berkeley Unified School District has began to use the theater foyers, green rooms, stage shop and dressing rooms as classrooms. The stage shop was in the process of being made a computer lab, however that was moved to the green room due to security. Before every show the classroom desks, chairs, and bookshelves must be moved out; the facility is difficult to use due to the presence of classrooms. In addition the theater lighting and sound systems in both the Berkeley Community Theater, and the attached Florence Shwimley Little Theater have been neglected by the district funds, and are in dire need of upgrades.

However, the citizens of Berkeley have directed funds towards the theater on numerous occasions. Berkeley Voters, allocating around $15 million to the theater for renovation, passed measure AA in 2000. These funds were later taken to build the new administration building at Berkeley High School. A few of the funds came back into the building in renovating the fire alarm system. Yet during this process the grand curtain was damaged and torn by the contractors, and has yet to be repaired or replaced.

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