By most metrics, Oakland is undergoing an artistic renaissance. The Bay Area’s third-largest city has long housed artists who can’t afford to live in other urban parts of the Bay Area, and even more so in recent years as rents have skyrocketed in San Francisco. With flourishing music and visual art scenes, including uber-popular events like Art Murmur, the city has also become a draw for those who live elsewhere but seek the Bay Area’s most cutting-edge and affordable art.
Curiously, though, the theatre world hasn’t been a part of Oakland’s arts boom. Though many theatre artists live in Oakland, they often commute to work in San Francisco and Berkeley. Ragged Wing Ensemble executive director Anna Shneiderman, in looking for a permanent home for her company, is particularly attuned to how stark the numbers are. By her count, there is just one theatre company currently in residence within Oakland city limits: the Lower Bottom Playaz. And looking back over recent decades, at any given time, there has never been more than one or two theatre companies in residence in Oakland. The Oakland Ensemble Theatre, which was founded in the early 1970s by artists of color, finally closed in the 1990s after struggling for many years. The Oakland Box Theater was open (in the Uptown Nightclub’s current space) from 2001 to 2004; TheatreFirst has had many Oakland homes in its search for a permanent space, including a storefront, as well as spaces at Mills College and the Oakland School for the Arts. (The company is now in the Live Oak Theatre, in Berkeley.) Shneiderman, a longtime East Bay resident, is not aware of any other companies.
But now, after being nomadic since its founding in 2004, Ragged Wing is about to move into a permanent home, and one that will give a major bump to dismal numbers of Oakland-based theatre companies. In spring 2014, the company will move into the Flight Deck, located at 1540 Broadway in downtown Oakland (convenient to two BART stations), with the restaurant Township, which serves New American cuisine, next door in the same building. The Flight Deck comprises, on the ground floor, a gallery; a 1750-square foot, 99-seat black box theatre; an 810-square foot rehearsal space; and a lounge with a kitchenette. The mezzanine level will be structured as a shared office space, housing, in addition to Ragged Wing, Gritty City Repertory Youth Theatre and Aluminous Collective.
The Flight Deck has capacity for one more full resident company or two or three partial-resident companies. Ragged Wing, which is creating and managing the space, has an open call for the remaining slot(s); inquiries are due by November 15 and full applications by November 21. The application and more information about the benefits of residency (which includes first dibs on rehearsal and performance spaces, before they’re made available for rental to the community at large) are available here.
Ragged Wing found out about the space, which had previously been a warehouse, simply by walking by and seeing a for-rent sign. Ragged Wing had been actively searching for a permanent home for two years, but other leases had fallen through when building owners balked at making structural changes necessary to accommodate a theatre company and its audiences. By contrast, Shneiderman says, Ben and Richard Weinstein, Flight Deck’s owners, “were totally up for doing all the upgrades. They seem to be really invested in downtown Oakland in particular” and “committed to developing that neighborhood in a responsible way.”
Shneiderman says the project has also benefitted from tremendous help from the City of Oakland, which supplied matching funds for improvements to the building, and from fortuitous timing. Jerry Brown’s 2011 shutdown of Oakland’s redevelopment agency (and all other California redevelopment agencies) shelved many similar building projects. “Luckily,” Shneiderman says, “with this particular building, funds were allocated before the agency was dissolved.”
Now, funding for the new building is over 80 percent complete; the Flight Deck is accepting donations at theflightdeck.org, with a major fundraising campaign to begin soon.
Shneiderman sees the Flight Deck as a major civic contribution to her hometown. “As we started talking with folks about two years ago, it seemed like there were a lot of groups who didn’t have anywhere to be in the East Bay, and in Oakland in particular. It seemed like a need that was larger than us.”
And now, it’s starting to be filled.
Lisa Drostova, Public Engagement Manager
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Ragged Wing Ensemble to open The Flight Deck, a shared multidisciplinary performance space, in Downtown Oakland in Spring 2014
October 30, 2013, Oakland, CA --After nine years of successfully producing professional shows and educational programs nomadically in the East Bay, in Spring 2014 Ragged Wing Ensemble is opening The Flight Deck at 1540 Broadway, a shared multidisciplinary performance and art space where artists of all kinds and ages will work, play, learn and thrive in the heart of Downtown Oakland. The opening coincides with the Ensemble's 2013-2014 season, and speaks to the season's theme "Just Ripe" as something delicious and nourishing coming to fruition.
Formerly a warehouse, the timber-and-exposed brick building that will house The Flight Deck stood empty and unused for decades before the current owners, Ben and Richard Weinstein, purchased and retrofitted it. Now Ragged Wing is working with Thomas Dolan Architecture (California Cotton Mill Studios, the Temescal Lofts) and Denise Hall Montgomery Architecture (the Berkeley Rep's Roda Stage) to build a professionally-equipped, 1,750-square foot theater with flexible seating and staging; a 810-square foot rehearsal studio with high ceilings and a semi-sprung floor; a gallery; a co-working office with high-speed wireless internet, conference room, common area and kitchenette; and basement storage. The 4,000-square foot main floor will be completely ADA-compliant, allowing all visitors to enjoy events in the theater and gallery and use the rehearsal space. Additionally, Township, a restaurant featuring a full bar and seasonally-inspired interpretations of contemporary American cuisine, is opening next door in the same building, with the potential for various collaborations. The location, across the street from the new Latham Square plaza, is easily accessible by foot and public transit including BART, AC Transit, ferries, and the Free B shuttle.
The Flight Deck will host performances, gallery shows, rehearsals, classes for youth and adults, and offer a membership program. The theater, rehearsal studio, conference room, and co-working space will be available for rental at reasonable rates. In addition to Ragged Wing, The Flight Deck will be home to resident companies Gritty City Repertory Youth Theatre (www.grittycityrep.org) and Aluminous Collective (www.aluminous.org) as well as visual and performing art members, co-working members and renters. There is space for up to three more resident companies and The Flight Deck is holding an open application process to fill those slots; interested companies can state their interest by filling out an inquiry form at www.theflightdeck.org/resident-company-inquiry-form.html by 11/21/13 and The Flight Deck will respond with a full application.
Downtown Oakland is growing as a cultural and business hub. In 2012, the New York Times listed the city as one of its top five travel destinations, and in March 2013 the Toronto Star touted Oakland as a place with “great theaters and a beautiful lake.” Over the next year, approximately twenty new businesses are slated to move into downtown Oakland within a five-block radius of The Flight Deck, including two brewpubs, a tea company, and extensions of several popular San Francisco restaurants. With the energy of Art Murmur and a vibrant and growing food, art, music and dance scene, as well as a rich history of arts and culture, Oakland is is ripe for an affordable, theatrical performance space that will contribute to the creative and local economy. The Flight Deck will build partnerships with local businesses, organizations, schools and city government to become a fixture in the community, providing a home for the arts in the East Bay and helping make Oakland a destination for artists and audiences from all over the region.
Funding for The Flight Deck was made possible through the generosity of individuals who have donated over half of the project's $235K budget. Oakland's Redevelopment Agency was invaluable in navigating the search and development process and has provided Ragged Wing Ensemble with matching funds for tenant improvements and facade improvements. With 80% of The Flight Deck's startup budget secured, Ragged Wing has now launched a capital campaign to raise the remaining $50K needed to open its doors in Spring, 2014. According to Ragged Wing's Development Manager Vicki Victoria, the opportunity to name The Flight Deck's various spaces will inspire large donations of $1,000 to $15,000 from its supporters. Numerous smaller donations averaging $25 to $50 will be solicited via an online crowdsourcing campaign early next year. Prospective donors are encouraged to contact Ms. Victoria at Vicki@raggedwing.org. Ragged Wing is also accepting in-kind donations and volunteer help.
Founded in 2004 by Amy Sass, Anna Shneiderman, and Keith Davis, Ragged Wing Ensemble’s mission is to catalyze a deep cultural shift where artistic action is at the center of vital social change. We aim to connect artists and audiences through the ritual of live performance, exploring universal questions that span the ancient and contemporary. We engage in the study and practice of Ensemble, collaboratively creating new, interdisciplinary works and activating the next generation of artistically engaged citizens.
Building upon the Ensemble ethic that Ragged Wing has developed, The Flight Deck will operate on a share model that holds collaboration as a core value. We believe that the practice of true ensemble (collaborative creation) is a radical act, having positive social repercussions beyond the rehearsal room, and we aim to bring this ethic into the launching of The Flight Deck. By uniting like-minded emerging and established arts groups and individuals, students, audiences and supporters under one roof, we create a sense of place, grow ever-widening circles of collaboration, and catalyze a more connected community.
For more information about The Flight Deck (www.theflightdeck.org) or Ragged Wing Ensemble (www.raggedwing.org), please contact Lisa Drostova: firstname.lastname@example.org, (510) 384-2721.