By Dixie Jordan
Auditions are this weekend for a newly formed semi-professional theater company — Piedmont Avenue Repertory Theatre — which is looking for a home on the avenue.
Robert McMullen, the driving force behind the theater, is searching for a space that will hold about 40 seats.
“Once you get past 49-person capacity, the rules for a conditional use permit change radically, so we want to keep it small and intimate," he said.
"It would be 'theater of the imagination' rather than grand sets. We’d emphasize lights and costume.
"We plan on one classic per year (two-hour Shakespeare, etc.) and the rest contemporary, meaningful, new plays that have been proven successful, and maybe one new one from the wealth of playwriting talent in the Bay Area.”
McMullen said that Piedmont Avenue Rep would fill a gap left when Oakland's only comparable company, TheatreFIRST, moved from downtown to Berkeley.
"I don’t just want to start a theater company, I want to start one here," he said.
"I think the demography would support it. We have three book stores, lots of coffee houses, a terrific cinema, and a few places have music, but there is nothing like live theater.”
McMullen said that 80 Piedmont Avenue merchants have signed a petition supporting the idea of a local live theater, in part because audience members would likely eat at local restaurants and support other Piedmont Avenue businesses.
"When people come from outside the area for theater — even if it’s at night —they will look around and see what a hip and lovely place it is and come back and shop in the daytime,” he said.
He envisions a semi-professional company with paid, experienced actors.
"It’s difficult having to make that time commitment, then have to pay for your own gas,” he said.
The company's first production will be The Dining Room by A. R. Gurney, which they plan to produce at the Piedmont Center for the Arts the weekend before and the weekend of Thanksgiving.
“It’s a perfect play for the holidays when families gather in that special room,” McMullen said.
“It’s a human comedy with each actor playing 10 roles, and this play has garnered excellent reviews.”
McMullen has already assembled a board of directors that includes Piedmont resident Nancy Lehrkind, the moving force behind the Piedmont Center for the Arts; Judith Bloom, a CP and past treasurer of Berkeley Symphony; Don Cate, retired head of City College of San Francisco Theatre Department; and Regina Cate, a recently retired professor who chaired the theater department at CSU-East Bay.
McMullen himself is a professional director with a an MFA from Carnegie Mellon and is a theater critic for the Berkeley Daily Planet.
McMullen has also taught drama at City College of San Francisco, Los Medanos College and Carnegie Mellon. He plans to offer classes at the new theater.
Auditions are scheduled this weekend at the Freelove Music School, 4390 Piedmont Ave. (at Pleasant Valley Avenue) on Saturday, Oct. 12, from 2 to 4 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 13, from 7 to 9 p.m.; and on Monday, Oct. 14, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Piedmont Center for the Arts, 801 Magnolia St. Actors cast in the production will receive a stipend of $200.