Berkeley Playhouse merges professionalism and community

The Berkeley Playhouse’s production of “Tarzan,” the musical with words and lyrics by Phil Collins runs through Aug 13. Photo by Keon Morley.

BERKELEY, Calif. —The Berkeley Playhouse, founded by Elizabeth McKoy 10 years ago, uses art to bring a sense of community, producing shows for all ages.

The wood-paneled walls and red doors of the historic Julia Morgan Theater make the exterior appear barn-like and give the impression of a community theater. But the Playhouse is home to professional productions. The advertisements, equipment and costumes for the current production of the musical “Tarzan” further exemplify the theater’s professionalism.

“I have a spotlight here. I have a crew here. They got a brand new light board… We have LEDs, we have M-Faders… A little bit of everything,” Jeff Bristow, three-time stage manager at the theater, said. The theater boasts youth conservatory and after-school classes in addition to a full slate of productions.

Catherine Manning, the mother of one of the actors, says her daughter, Jaina, found the summer theater experience enticing.

“It was much more intense…An amazing experience for her to be side by side with professional adults,” Manning said. “…within the six-week rehearsal period I heard her voice change.”

After a recent matinee, actors and crew alike commented on how McKoy strives to bring a sense of family to all of her cast and crew members while maintaining a professional environment.

Actor Tiana Paulding said,“Elizabeth…exudes family. She will take everyone under her wing.”

She added that “everyone here is just so supportive and very uplifting…It’s just a very good sense of camaraderie here.”

Bristow said his favorite part of being with the theater is “just working with the people. I’ve met a lot of new people, I’ve met a lot of great people, and I know a lot of them will remain my friends after this is over.”

Actors Aurelia Jordan, left, Adam Niemann, and Tiana Paulding greet the audience after the show. Photo by Rachel Winterhalter

Adam Niemann, another actor, said, “The people here [keep me coming back].”

““The theme of the show ‘Tarzan’ is family,” Nieman said of the show based on the Disney film, with music from pop legend Phil Collins.

“And I think it is quite appropriate that that’d be produced by Berkeley Playhouse because I definitely think that’s … a mission of Berkeley Playhouse.”