The Hypocrites’ Pirates of Penzance

Pirates of Penzance

The Hypocrites’ Pirates of Penzance

Book by W.S. Gilbert
Music by Arthur Sullivan
Directed and adapted by Sean Graney
Co-adapted by Kevin O’Donnell
Co-directed by Thrisa Hodits
Music direction by Andra Velis Simon
Limited Season · Osher Studio
October 16–December 20, 2015

Running time: 1 hour and 20 minutes, no intermission

Join the party in our new Osher Studio on Center Street with a delightfully immersive, lovingly loopy, and fantastically eccentric 80-minute take—think banjos, beach balls, and guitars—on Gilbert and Sullivan’s preposterous, topsy-turvy world. Frederic was mistakenly apprenticed as a young boy to a band of sentimental pirates. Now 21, he falls head-over-heels for the Major-General’s daughter and forswears the buccaneer’s life forever, or so he thinks. This buoyant, award-winning Pirates of Penzance by Chicago theatre rebels The Hypocrites is “spirited, affectionate, and nearly irresistible,” says the Boston Globe.

Creative team

Sean Graney · Director
Thrisa Hodits · Co-Director
Andra Velis Simon · Music Director
Katie Spelman · Choreographer
Tom Burch · Set Design
Alison Siple · Costume Design
Heather Gilbert · Lighting Design
Kevin O’Donnell · Co-Adaptor / Sound Design
Maria DeFabo · Properties Design
Miranda Anderson · Stage Manager


Mario Aivazian · Pirate / Pirate King US
Delia Baseman · Pirate / Ruth/Mabel US
Jenni M. Hadley · Daughter
Matt Kahler · Major-General / Samuel
Royen Kent · Pirate / Frederick US
Kristen Magee · Daughter
Shawn Pfaustch · Pirate King
Becky Poole · Daughter
Christine Stulik · Ruth / Mabel
Zeke Sulkes · Frederick

“Fun-fun-fun…Acoustic guitars and ukuleles blazing, beach balls flying everywhere—the party is in full swing by the time you enter Berkeley Rep’s new Osher Studio performance space…For all its madcap action, with the actors regularly advancing out over the benches—shooing audience members out of the way, temporarily, and occasionally inviting sing-alongs—and hurried pace (the whole show runs 80 minutes, with one one-minute intermission), this is actually a surprisingly faithful Pirates. Or, at least, faithful in its own fashion.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“This is not your great-grandparents’ Gilbert and Sullivan, and what a blessed relief that is…What the Hypocrites (an innovative and highly successful outfit from Chicago) do to G&S is sheer bliss. They honor the rollicking spirit, ensure the cleverness of the lyrics comes through and highlight the beauty of a melody when they need to. But, most importantly, they have fun with the material…It’s exuberant, enthralling and manages to be high-brow and low-brow at the same time—a rich cultural experience and a drunken brawl. There’s not a lot of theater you can say that about.”—Theater Dogs

“You might say this is a very spunky model of a postmodern musical. Berkeley Rep’s presentation of this Hypocrites Theater Company revival is a giddy journey through immersive theater that turns the Gilbert and Sullivan chestnut into an outrageous evening of frisky song and silliness…This is one of the most gleefully subversive musicals to come to town in ages…If you adore the genre, you can’t help falling for this goofy reinvention. But even if you don’t know your Mikado from your HMS Pinafore, you are guaranteed to step off this loopy cruise with a smile plastered on your face…A holiday show for all seasons that actually seems joyous instead of merely entertaining…All you have to do is dive in, maties.”—San Jose Mercury News / Bay Area News Group

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Prologue: from the Artistic Director

Like many immigrants, my mother led a double life. In her first life, she was a fully vested Puerto Rican, dancing the nights away in Spanish Harlem to the music of Tito Puente and Bobby Capó. In her other life, she was trying to master skills she thought were quintessentially American: speaking English, cooking burgers, flirting with white boys…and, oddly enough, listening to Gilbert and Sullivan. It’s still a mystery how the vinyl records of two Victorian British satirists made it into the house and onto our little record player, but, well…at a very young age my siblings and I were taught to sing along to H.M.S. Pinafore, The Mikado, and The Pirates of Penzance. Only my father declined to participate in these songfests, which, given the fact that he was completely tone deaf, was an act of mercy. In fact, the only song I ever heard him sing was Lerner and Loewe’s “Get Me to the Church on Time,” a song of outrageous drunken revelry laced with irony that my father felt summed up the institution of marriage better than any serious writing on the subject.

My irreverent exposure to Gilbert and Sullivan turned out to be perfect preparation for The Hypocrites, a theatre troupe out of Chicago that’s been garnering lots of attention for their unique approach to these operettas. Armed with only a rousing attitude and a few spare materials, the company nimbly restores the absurdity of the original storylines and the cleverness of the lyrics. Feeding the conceit of a slightly deranged party, Sean Graney stages these plays as if you’re lounging in a friend’s backyard with a beer and some chicken wings. You can either join the action on the dance floor or happily watch the proceedings, but the overall effect is pretty irresistible.

What better show to break in the Osher Studio, part of a complex that offers us the opportunity to present plays in a very different setting. With the Thrust Stage under renovation until January, the Osher demands that we think about reaching the audience in a more intimate way. Enter Mr. Graney, The Hypocrites, and The Pirates of Penzance. Taken in tandem with the ravenous spectacle of Amélie, the two productions provide a fantastically stark contrast in their approach to musical theatre. We are, of course, excited by this aesthetic difference. Such creative disparity fits our tastes at Berkeley Rep to a T, and we’re forever grateful that we have an audience that supports the idea that theatre should surprise us and challenge us. And sometimes make us even want to sing.


Tony Taccone

Prologue: from the Managing Director

I went to school when arts programs were fully integrated in the schools. Even in middle school we had a band, an orchestra, and at least two choirs so that any student had the opportunity to participate. We also had field trips that stretched each student’s aspirational understanding of what artistic accomplishment looked and sounded like. It was possible to have your child enrolled in the band, orchestra, school play, or dance program without additional charge and with the additional benefit that the “late bus” would bring them home by dinnertime.

Due to competing priorities in today’s public school classrooms, many children have fewer opportunities to explore their creative potential, to experience art, or to be given the tools, through field trips and training, to ask the “why” behind any work of art. And overscheduled families are hard-pressed to find the time for excursions that replace the experiences that arts programs provided.

Berkeley Rep can’t solve those systemic challenges, but our School of Theatre and its programs are our contribution to a patchwork of stop-gap measures. In recent years, the Bay Area has seen an upswing in the number of arts programs available for young people: concerts for young audiences, interactive museum programs, arts classes, and some wonderful children’s theatre. Berkeley Rep’s School of Theatre offers student matinees, classroom programs, and affordable classes for five year olds on up, with a generous scholarship program that ensures easy access.

Help us make sure that this next generation has the creative education we did by enrolling your children in arts programs available throughout the bay. Bring them to concerts and performances early and often. We have seen that cultural experiences have a bigger impact on children when they attend those events with their parents and grandparents and talk about the experience on their way home. Those experiences become a common point of reference when they attend future events together. The experiences linger in the mind.

The one obvious but also profound truism about the arts is that to turn someone into an audience member, they have to become an audience member. In other words, there has to be a first time…and then a second and then a third. The conversation that follows the experience is as important as the experience itself.

If you are here without your kids and grandchildren, I hope you will heed the call. Come back later in the run with your whole gang in tow. Enjoy a multigenerational experience and spend time on the way home talking about it. Then read up on Mary Zimmerman’s unique take on Treasure Island (which begins April 22) and do it all over again.


Susan Medak

A collaboration for the ages

The extraordinary legacy of Gilbert & Sullivan

By Madeleine Oldham

By the mid-1850s, English theatre had fallen out of favor and earned an unsavory reputation, largely due to the predominance of burlesque and sloppily constructed productions of bawdy European work. The late 1860s and 1870s saw a push to reclaim the musical stage with respectable performance that had more intellectual rigor, but was still entertaining and appropriate for parents to attend with their children. Enter Gilbert and Sullivan.

The sheer talent of these two gentlemen proved an unstoppable force. Both had keen ears for rhythm, and the marriage of W.S. Gilbert’s words with Arthur Sullivan’s music created a harmoniously detailed palette. They took the form of comic opera by storm, developing a signature style that their producer, Richard D’Oyly Carte, called “light opera of a legitimate kind.” A frivolous diversion transformed into a serious art form under their careful craftsmanship. It is interesting to note that while other artists were of course creating work during this period, very few other English light operas seem to have sustained any kind of continued life. Just as Elizabethan drama became pretty much synonymous with Shakespeare, Gilbert and Sullivan defined their genre.

Their work was a fascinating blend of reverence and irreverence: reverent in style, irreverent in content. Their subject matter appeared benign on the surface—a romp about pirates, a love story on a naval ship. But beyond face value lay some very daring satire, some of which is as relevant today as it was back then. Gilbert’s words observed with a wink that people in power and authority often did nothing to earn it. He liked to lampoon the rigid English class system, poking at its arbitrary nature. He offered sly commentary on an early law that allowed corporations to be treated like people, as well as bankruptcy laws that absolved corporations of any debt obligations.

Stylistically, however, irreverence had no place in the rehearsal room. Both Gilbert and Sullivan were extremely exacting in how they wanted their work to be performed. They demanded that their cast and musicians meet their incredibly high standards, and worked people to the bone to achieve their collective vision. But because of this micromanaging, their productions displayed a professionalism and a polish that made them shine.

In fact, a strict obedience to Gilbert’s original staging is probably what killed the D’Oyly Carte Company, which exclusively staged their operas starting in the 1870s. After Gilbert and Sullivan’s deaths, many productions were void of new ideas and left audiences feeling uninspired. The company folded in 1982, but has flickered back to life a number of times since then. A positive noteworthy ripple effect of this detailed performance style, and the fact that it was well-documented, can be seen in the abundance of community organizations devoted to this work. Gilbert and Sullivan Societies abound, and today hundreds of them still thrive.

Interestingly, the United States became a bit of a sore thumb for Gilbert, Sullivan, and their producer D’Oyly Carte, with regard to amateur productions. They suffered when their first big hit, H.M.S. Pinafore, debuted in an unofficial version in the U.S.: unauthorized productions proliferated, bearing little resemblance to what the duo had written, and gave them no royalty payments. As they were not able to secure copyrights here for all their works, America represented something of the Wild West. Some interpretations chose to adopt the preferred performance style, but others did not because they did not have to. Sullivan’s copyright expired in the 1950s and Gilbert’s in the 1960s, so the Wild West has been gleefully getting creative with the operettas for quite some time now.

Copyrights were not the only thing that did not go according to plan. The strong personalities involved in this historic partnership began to clash as artistic differences emerged. Sullivan grew to feel that his music took a backseat to Gilbert’s storytelling, and this made him restless and resentful. He longed to challenge himself artistically, and believed that his work with Gilbert was holding him back. Gilbert took issue with Sullivan’s desire for the music to be more prominent, as he felt the same way about the words. He had little patience for Sullivan’s yearning to create more realistic work, as he was quite happy continuing on with the absurdist premises that had served him so well.

The famous “carpet quarrel” marked the beginning of the end. D’Oyly Carte charged a new carpet for the theatre’s lobby to Gilbert and Sullivan, and an argument ensued about whether it was proper to do so. Sullivan sided with D’Oyly Carte, and cemented the wedge that had been growing between him and Gilbert. A number of years later, the two reconciled, but the damage had been done. They managed to grind out two last operas, but their best work was behind them.

Contemporary British and American musicals are direct descendants of Gilbert and Sullivan’s catalog. They showed that the genre can go deeper than mere razzle-dazzle. Musicals can say something of substance while at the same time being thoroughly enjoyable. Their partnership gave us one of the most recognizable canons of theatrical material we have, and their legacy lives on in ubiquitous revivals of their work all over the world. Their collaborations may present as light entertainment, but these comic operas challenged authority, undermined assumptions, and skewered hypocrisy. Both populist and political, their work held broad appeal that seems to defy passing fashion and endures to this day.

Immersive theatre: From Artaud to The Hypocrites

By Sarah Rose Leonard

Immersive theatre creates no boundary between you and the art; it surrounds you with a story and compels your senses to engage with the present theatrical moment. An immersive show may be a site-specific piece you walk through, or one shaped by your dialogue with the performers, or, as in the case of The Hypocrites’ Pirates of Penzance, one that encourages you to grab a drink at the bar during the operetta and even (gently, please!) toss a beach ball or two.

Immersive theatre is perhaps a new name for environmental theatre, a category coined by theatre director and scholar Richard Schechner in the 1960s. Environmental theatre was born of a desire to dissolve the barrier between spectator and performer. People felt a collective need to break down social barriers in the ‘60s; the theatre embraced this impulse by experimenting with ways to bring audiences closer to the art. Antonin Artaud’s “Theatre of Cruelty,” a 1938 essay that urges theatremakers to show humanity at its most primal, influenced many of these experiments. Artaud called for a communion between actor and audience incited by epic spectacles using heightened theatrical language to shock the spectator into viewing the world at its most raw.

The Performance Group, a company led by Schechner, wholly embraced Artaud’s ideas. Their play Dionysus in ‘69 featured a moment in which actors and willing participants from the audience kissed and groped each other in a large clump on the ground. Schechner writes that environmental theatre aims to transform “an aesthetic event into a social event—or shift the focus from art-and-illusion to the formation of a potential or actual solidarity among everyone in the theater, performers and spectators alike.” The Performance Group’s pieces created new physical performance spaces for the artists and audience to explore. Often, their sets used multilevel platforms and encroached on the audience’s territory, providing opportunities for moments of connection between audience and performer.

Visual and performance artist Allan Kaprow precipitated another breakthrough in the performance world with his concept “happenings,” performances that involve a viewer’s participation, therefore adding an element of chance to each piece. Kaprow stated, “The line between art and life should be kept as fluid, and perhaps indistinct, as possible.” In 1964, Yoko Ono created a happening called “Cut Piece” in which she walked onstage dressed in fabric, showed the audience a pair of scissors she held in her hands, and invited them to cut away the fabric. Modern day examples of happenings include participatory art at the Burning Man festival and flash mobs that pop up on street corners. Artaud’s ideas influenced countless artists who challenged our conception of theatrical form, including Spalding Gray, Karen Finley, Sam Shepard, Joseph Chaikin, Richard Foreman, and the Wooster Group.

Today, these once-revolutionary ideas about exploding the fourth wall have seeped into the mainstream. Perhaps one of the most talked-about immersive theatre experiences is Sleep No More by the British company Punchdrunk. This long-running extravaganza is a riff on Macbeth installed in 93 rooms of a transformed hotel in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood. You are invited to explore multiple floors of the hotel, where you can riffle through scribblings about Lady Macduff’s psychology, peer into a baby’s cradle, travel through a maze in the forest, and follow actors and dancers as they hurl through the space, only stopping to perform a scene that you (and the 10 others who followed) witness. Sleep No More is a choose-your-own-adventure show—you can spend its entire length reading letters in a closet, or follow one character relentlessly, or simply let your nose lead you with no predetermined purpose.

Some believe the immersive theatre trend is on the rise because it offers a reprieve from our daily, possibly obsessive, contact with the internet. Tom Pearson—a co-creator of Then She Fell, a site-specific dance theatre piece that explores Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and the real-life relationship between Lewis Carroll and Alice Liddell—posits, “Our craving for intimacy, connection and real experience when we go out to an event is a direct result of the fact that our lives revolve around virtual stimulation all the time…When we go out and pay for an experience, we want it to be real, authentic.”

Here at Berkeley Rep, many of our Ground Floor Summer Residency Lab artists create immersive pieces that transform spaces we thought we knew well. (The Ground Floor: Berkeley Rep’s Center for the Creation and Development of New Work is a series of workshops and commissions that allows us to cultivate new projects; the Summer Residency Lab is the cornerstone of this program, in which artists develop over 13 new pieces throughout the month of June.) In 2015, Sean Christopher Lewis and Jennifer Fawcett turned our Harrison Street campus into a story about a missing sister that spectators explored in small groups. After they made their way through the building (listening, touching, smelling, always moving), they sat down around Sean as he performed a monologue. In 2014, commissioned artist Dave Malloy developed a song cycle about love, death, and whiskey. A chamber piece, Ghost Quartet conjures the feeling of telling a ghost story around a campfire. Ghost Quartet is Malloy’s second immersive piece; his first, Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, was staged in a large tent on 42nd Street where performers danced and sang around audience members who were eating a full dinner (complete with vodka shots) on a white tablecloth. More and more, Berkeley Rep wants to include this kind of work in our programming. The Hypocrites’ Pirates of Penzance marks the first time Berkeley Rep is presenting work in the Osher Studio, a space with flexible seating that blends the playing space and the audience’s own personal space. Experiments from the ‘30s to today have taught us that dissolving the fourth wall broadens our understanding of what theatre is capable of, opening new possibilities for the nature of our relationship to performance.

A generous performance: An interview with director Sean Graney

By Sarah Rose Leonard

Sean Graney is the founding artistic director of The Hypocrites, a Chicago-based theatre company established in 1997. As a director and adapter, he has helmed more than 30 productions for The Hypocrites, including All Our Tragic, an epic 12-hour adaptation comprising all 32 surviving Greek tragedies, and the Gilbert and Sullivan classic The Mikado. His version of The Pirates of Penzance debuted in Chicago in 2010 and traveled to the Actors Theatre of Louisville and American Repertory Theater before arriving at Berkeley Rep. Literary Manager Sarah Rose Leonard chatted with Sean about the perils and pleasures of adapting the beloved operetta.

Sarah Rose Leonard: When did you first encounter Gilbert and Sullivan?

Sean Graney: I was in college studying acting (I was a terrible actor so we don’t need to talk about that) and there was a big divide between musical theatre and the more “straight” theatre. I was a serious actor, so Gilbert and Sullivan shows were something I would never consider being a part of. And I can’t sing. So years and years passed and I started this silly theatre company out in Chicago. We produced our first musical The Threepenny Opera, and I was not that happy with the production but it sold really well and our audience was like, “You guys should do more musicals.”

I thought about the problems I had with Threepenny. One was that it was way too long—over three hours. The other was that we weren’t allowed to develop our own relationship with the material because it’s all copyrighted and you can’t change anything based on the people in the rehearsal room, which was a little frustrating for me as an artist.

The next piece we did was Cabaret (someone else directed it), and the production did really well for us and audiences still wanted us to do more musicals. So I was thinking about what I could direct and if there were any musicals in the public domain. At that time, I came across Gilbert and Sullivan again and thought, “Well, maybe I should take a look at The Pirates of Penzance.” When I listened to the music and read the libretto, I fell in love. The music is so brilliant and the lyrics are so intelligent and respectfully subversive—they point out the faults of society without blaming or being mean-spirited. The piece just says, “Hey society, we have some problems—let’s talk about those. In catchy songs.”

I started thinking about how we could do it. I looked to the work of John Doyle, a great British director, who I had seen do Sweeney Todd on Broadway where the performers play their own instruments, so I thought, “I want to do something like that.” So we eliminated the orchestra and we reduced the cast size to 10 who all play their own instruments and then we just got to work.

This version of Pirates is delightfully fast paced. How did you approach making cuts to this seminal work?

Because we didn’t have an orchestra—we just had 10 jerks with guitars—we knew we couldn’t bring the beautiful music aspect to it. So we reduced some of the music: we took the vocal score, figured out guitar chords to support it, and then went back to the original and pulled clarinet or violin parts and layered those in later. If you are looking at songs as events to propel the story along and for getting to know characters, then there are lots of verses that are wonderful writing, but you don’t need them to tell the story.

Have people been upset about that or have they been delighted?

That’s a really interesting question. I had been upsetting purists—like when I do Shakespeare, there is always someone mad at me—so I was expecting a lot of push back with my Gilbert and Sullivan adaptations, but actually, I experienced the opposite. These true Gilbert and Sullivan fans all know the songs because they’ve seen Pirates a hundred times and they’ve mostly seen it the same way, so it’s nice to see a new and relaxed interpretation. It’s like the karaoke version. They can go and sing along with their favorite characters and they really get into it. And then the next month they can go see a more traditional version of Pirates and they’ll enjoy that just¬† as much. It’s just different. We offer up this material in a very loving way and a unique way that they haven’t seen before.

What led you to make whimsical design choices? I’m thinking about the ukuleles, beach balls, short shorts.

The short shorts! My costume designer is a longtime collaborator, and every time we work together we look at past productions and think, “We don’t want to do that.” We knew we didn’t want to do Pirates of the Caribbean puffy shirts and a lot of eye patches and stripes. We didn’t want the vocabulary that people have seen a hundred times. Where we actually landed was this 1982-inspired beach party that is very theatrical. I just want people to know they are in a theatre and they are always themselves. There is no magical transformation. You are 20 feet away from your car. And I want people to know that and still enjoy themselves. And I would like for people to think about their lives in a slightly different way when they leave. Even if it’s just, “Oh my God, I had the best 80 minutes of my week. Why can’t I have more experiences like that?” or anything that makes them question their lives in any way they find helpful.

You double-cast the older Ruth and ingénue Mabel. How does that shift affect how we take in this story?

I decided to do that because Gilbert and Sullivan’s women are terrible. They were progressive for their Victorian era, but some of the stuff makes me cringe and their female characters are horribly underdeveloped. So I thought if we cast the ingénue—which is a problematic character anyway—with the hag that he’ll never marry, that it would make a more interesting exploration of women than it would be necessarily on the page. The person our protagonist rejects is the same person that our protagonist desires.

Why do you think melodrama and vaudeville—so present in Gilbert and Sullivan works—still resonate today?

Well, both vaudeville and melodrama are certainly connected and are important advents of theatre history. Melodrama is super exciting because it’s like, “We as performers are very much invested in the storytelling of the event, and we don’t want to bog it down with the psychology of it. You need to know this woman is sad, and you will buy into the fact that this woman is sad because of her gestures.” It’s a really generous performance style because it puts the audience at the center of the attention, versus the more naturalistic style that we know nowadays, where the actor is focused on their scene partner and their sphere of communication isn’t really necessarily about the audience. And that’s why I think melodrama and vaudeville are still so important: I love performance styles where the audience is at the center of the attention of the performer. That we are there doing a job for a group of people who have paid money and gathered for an exciting experience, and we will work our butts off to deliver that experience for that audience.

One of The Hypocrites’ goals is to re-introduce communal connection into contemporary theatre. How do you aim to make that happen in your work?

When I use the word “community,” I think of the group of people who walk through the door of a theatre. How does a group of strangers become a community over time? How do they come closer to each other? And how do they experience the same thing? How do you take care of that group of people once they walk through the door so that they coalesce once this ends?

With Pirates, people move around—so they think, “Oh, I’m standing in your way, I should move,” or “Oh, you are shorter than me, I can squat.” That’s what I think my job is: to coalesce this group of people into a community.

That explains why Pirates is staged immersively, with the performers in close contact with audiences. What’s the most memorable or unexpected interaction you or a company member has had with a patron?

It’s all wonderful, because it’s a live dialogue and you never know what people will do. Luckily, we’ve never had a negative response. It’s always exciting when little kids come because they don’t understand the prescribed pretense of theatre. So they don’t understand that you shouldn’t necessarily talk to the Major-General when he’s doing a scene. And I am so blessed that I get to work with these wonderful performers: when a kid talks to the Major-General, he’ll talk with them, and then get back to the scene. It’s so clear that this moment won’t be relived again. One of them is wearing a silly outfit and is 32, and one is 4, and it’s this amazing moment of connection between two people that everyone else in the audience gets to witness.

You started The Hypocrites in 1997. And here we are in 2015. How has the company changed?

I think we started as a company against a lot of things. We were like, “We’re not going to do that type of theatre.” There was a lot of early 20s angst at the beginning, and that made its way into the programming and how we treated people. Then we went through a cycle where we became known for higher-concept productions, and that was a rough time because there were some tensions that didn’t need to be there. I think we lost sight of our audience for a little bit while we explored what it meant for us to be theatre artists. Now we really think about: What event can we bring to our audiences that will hopefully enrich their lives and be unlike programming they can see in other places? We are trying to expand the scope of our audience beyond Chicago, hence our collaboration with Berkeley Rep and other theatres.

A brief history of Berkeley Rep’s performance spaces

By Sarah Rose Leonard

Founded in 1968, Berkeley Rep was born in a moment when theatre artists were exploring ways to break down barriers between performer and spectator. We started in a small storefront, where the seats were practically on the stage. We grew and grew, and eventually needed to build a theatre of our own, but we wanted it to maintain the same kind of intimacy we had in our original space. When we built the Thrust Stage in 1980, we became part of a movement in regional theatre history that put the audience at the center of the experience, figuratively speaking. At the time, major companies such as the Guthrie Theater, Mark Taper Forum, and Lincoln Center also built thrust theatres to bring the audience closer to the action on stage. The thrust configuration is one of the oldest—Greek amphitheatres and Shakespeare’s Old Globe used a thrust—but it wasn’t until the regional theatre movement took hold that the configuration became popularized again. Thrusts give the audience full transparency about what happens onstage—you often feel as if the drama is happening in your lap. Our Thrust Stage protrudes much deeper into the house than many thrusts, and is designed with the same asymmetrical dimensions of the storefront we started in.

Developed in the 1990s and completed in 2001, the Roda Theatre, a proscenium stage, reflects the evolution of Berkeley Rep’s artistic vision. We craved a way to bring greater variety into our season programming and collaborate more with theatres across the country. Michael Leibert Artistic Director Tony Taccone explains, “We wanted to create the most dramatic contrast possible with the Thrust. We wanted a space that could afford artists varied visual and aural opportunities and one that would give audiences a very different experience.” The Roda presented us with the challenge of how to create a proscenium that still kept the audience close. Prosceniums usually maintain the fourth wall and keep the audience at a distance, causing a more presentational style. One change we made to the traditional proscenium shape was to create two aisles, instead of the traditional single aisle up the middle, so actors could move into the audience’s space if desired (those of you who shook in your boots in the orchestra during One Man, Two Guvnors know what we’re talking about). In addition, the most distance placed between an actor and an audience member is 45 feet in the Roda, compared with 35 in the Thrust. Although the Roda is much larger in scope than the Thrust, it maintains one essential trait of Berkeley Rep in its design: intimacy.

Lately, the theatre world has been experiencing a historic moment in which immersive theatre is on the rise. Immersive theatre demands flexible configurations so that designers and directors can shift the way artists and audiences interact. The Hypocrites’ Pirates of Penzance uses promenade seating, in which there is no distinction between the area some of the audience sits/stands in and the performance space. Increasingly, we are looking for ways to support these kinds of projects. Today you are sitting in the Osher Studio, a black box that offers a very close audience/performer relationship as it is the most flexible of theatre spaces, with no fixed seating. The renovation of the Thrust gave us an opportunity to present work in the Osher, a space that until now we have been using for Berkeley Rep’s School of Theatre activities and special events and renting to local artists. We knew this was a moment to see what opportunities this space opened for our community; The Hypocrites’ massively fun Pirates is a perfect fit.

Welcome to the Osher Studio.

Watch now

Sneak peek: The Hypocrites’ Pirates of Penzance

Get a peek at the show—then join the fun!

Behind the musical

Charismatic director Sean Graney reveals the origins of The Hypocrites’ zany Pirates of Penzance.

He is the very model of…

Sing along with a bit from your favorite Pirates of Penzance song—Hypocrites style, of course!

Introducing The Hypocrites’ Pirates of Penzance

Tony Taccone, Berkeley Rep’s Michael Leibert Artistic Director, gives us the scoop on this delightfully loopy show.

Pirates on TV

Get a glimpse of The Hypocrites’ Pirates of Penzance in our crazy-short TV spot!

Promenade with the pirates!

Discover the unique staging in Pirates of Penzance, then pick a promenade or fixed theatre seat!

See photos

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Additional resources

Enjoy some pirate gossip, compliments of the literary staff.

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The Hypocrites

The Hypocrites

  • The Hypocrites is a Chicago storefront theatre company founded in 1997. Defined by groundbreaking, expectation-defying work, they’ve produced acclaimed shows across the country. The company’s smash-hit 2008 production of Our Town, directed by David Cromer, transferred to off Broadway, Los Angeles, and Boston. American Theatre Wing (best known as the creator of the Tony Awards) presented The Hypocrites with a 2013 National Theatre Company Award.

“The Very Model of Modern Gilbert and Sullivan”

  • Founding artistic director Sean Graney discusses the slyly subversive lyrics in The Pirates of Penzance and the development of The Hypocrites’ Gilbert and Sullivan repertory.

The Pirates of Penzance 1983 film

In 1980, Joseph Papp and the Public Theater produced a new version of Pirates as part of its Shakespeare in the Park program. It transferred to Broadway and garnered seven Tony Award nominations, winning three. This production was made into a film in 1983 (see clips below) with the original Broadway principal cast, including stars Kevin Kline, Rex Smith, George Rose, and Linda Ronstadt.

Gilbert and Sullivan

D’Oyly Carte Opera Company

  • The partnership of W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan began in 1871. Over the next couple decades, the duo wrote a succession of hit comedic operas performed at the Savoy Theatre under producer Richard D’Oyly Carte. The D’Oyly Carte Opera Company bloomed from the 1870s until 1982; the company was revived in 1988 until it closed again in 2003.

“The magic of Gilbert and Sullivan”

  • An article for The Telegraph explores Gilbert and Sullivan’s global presence and the reasons their particular blend of charm, silliness, and gentle satire has withstood the test of time.

Official Gilbert and Sullivan archive

  • The official Gilbert and Sullivan archive, established in 1993, is a hub for all Gilbert and Sullivan-related activities online.

“Ballads, songs and speeches”

  • Famous for their political satire, Gilbert and Sullivan are known for ridiculing authority and lampooning the rigid English class system; they mocked laws that allowed corporations to be treated like people and bankruptcy laws that absolved banks of any debt obligations. As this BBC piece notes, many contemporary politicians seem to miss that G&S’s lyrics are satirical and earnestly quote characters that G&S are actually deriding.

Gilbert and Sullivan societies

Gilbert and Sullivan’s fan base spans the globe. There are even some local G&S societies in our own backyard in the Bay Area.

Immersive theatre

“In Immersive Theatre, the Audience Members Are the Actors”

  • Immersive theatre asks its audience to take an active role in the performance. The Hypocrites transformed Berkeley Rep’s Osher Studio into a playground for its actors, who encourage audience members to move around, switch seats with each other, and even get up and visit the bar for a mid-performance drink. From Punchdrunk’s renowned Macbeth adaptation Sleep No More to Dave Malloy’s smash-hit Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, immersive theatre is entering the mainstream. Theatre Communications Group investigates the rise and appeal of the genre.



Peet’s Theatre
2025 Addison St, Berkeley CA 94704

Roda Theatre
2015 Addison St, Berkeley CA 94704

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510 647–2949
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Please note: The box office will be closed May 10–17.

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