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Story by Fred Dodsworth for Berkeley Daily Planet

Shotgun Founder Dooley Aims Play 'In Your Face'

Pinball machines, beer and pizza stand guard while below, in the dungeon of
La Val’s Pizza Parlor on Euclid Avenue, Berkeley’s 10-year-old phenomenon,
The Shotgun Players, launch their latest theatrical offering: Harry
Kondoleon’s “The Vampires.”

Just a few days earlier this repertory troop closed Oedipus Rex at the Julia
Morgan Center for the Arts on College Avenue. Later this summer these same
actors will perform Bertolt Brecht’s “Mother Courage And Her Children” for
free at the John Hinckle Park. Last year more than 3,000 people came to see
the Shotgun Player’s annual free show in the park.

“We go 18 straight weeks without a break. We produce six main stage
productions, plus four experimental pieces every year,” Shotgun Players
founder Pat Dooley said.

Despite the rootless and penurious lifestyle he’s chosen, Dooley, 35, is
charming, quick to laugh and easily engaged. He speaks enthusiastically
about the burden that Shotgun’s 12 members bear in pursuit of their muse.

“Everybody does one thing to help support the structure of the company,”
said Dooley, “and they are either actors or designers or directors in
addition to the other tasks they do, like administrative or technical, to
support the company.”

Dooley drifted into Berkeley more than 10 years ago to visit his brother,
then a student at UC. Shortly after arriving Dooley started the Shotgun
Players company.

“One thing that’s so great about Berkeley is it has such a vibrant theater
community,” he said. “People are doing relevant theater here. The Berkeley
Rep, Aurora, Transparent, they’re all doing new plays and they’re all doing
interesting things with older plays, the classics.

“We do that as well. There’s an audience to support new work and there’s an
audience to support seeing MacBeth. A lot of other towns wouldn’t support
that kind of risk. In this town those things aren’t even risky.”

Dooley earns $12,000 a year as one of only three paid members of The Shotgun
Players. Brought up of modest means on an isolated farm in Pungo, Va., the
price of theater tickets concerns him.

“Being affordable is really important for me,” he said. “I started out
without any money. Most people are not going to spend $40 per ticket to go
see a play. That makes a date $100. They’re not going to do it and I’m not
going to do it. Our tickets are from $10 to $18, and we have several ‘Pay
What You Can’ nights.”

Dooley said the company needs more space, but is making the most of the cozy
confines at La Val’s, which holds 50 seats. “We try to get places where we can seat more people,” Dooley said. “It’s really challenging to find spaces that are legal to perform in.”

When “The Vampires” first premiered in New York some 14 years ago, it was
not well received.

“A lot of good plays get bad reviews,” Dooley said. “The Village Voice loved
it. [Kondoleon] was the darling of the East Village. I think the Berkeley
audience is more akin to that audience. The people who come to see our plays
want to hear that kind of voice.

“For me there’s a lot going on in that play. It’s very bizarre but the
things that happen in those relationships are very real. The Times trashed
it as another family drama, but I feel like there’s hope at the end of the
play. There’s an opportunity for redemption that’s not cornball. There are
some things that are funny and there are some things that are really gut
wrenching. I really love that the play has this really wide arc of emotional

ooley said “The Vampires” is the right kind of play for a company like The
Shotgun Players.

“I really want to do in-your-face theater. At La Val’s we’re literally in
your face,” he said.

“People, especially today, we’re numbed. Entertainment on television is so
stripped away from anything real that we see happening in the world. We want
to do plays that are going to really touch somebody. In the way that the
world is touching them. So when they go to experience art, art is not
separate from the world, it’s a part of the world.”

“The Vampires,” by Harry Kondoleon, directed by Joanie McBrien, runs through
May 10 at La Val’s Subterranean at 1834 Euclid Avenue at Hearst Avenue. Call
704-8210 for ticket information and show times, or visit the web site at 


Review can be seen online here:


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