Impact Theatre, a small basement venue in Berkeley for up-and-comers in the Bay Area theater scene, will be shutting down after 20 years, according to its directors.
Once their 20th season concludes in June of 2016, artistic director Melissa Hillman and managing director Cheshire Isaacs plan to vacate their theater space, which is located in the basement of La Val's Pizza, on the northside of Cal's campus.
Lagging ticket sales, a lack of available grants, and the consequences of losing a license for a play they planned to run last November and December led to the decision to leave the space that, for so long, was a springboard into theater, for artists and audience members alike.
"We're stuck in a weird financial place because most grants require you to have an annual budget of $100,000 or more," Hillman told the San Jose Mercury News. "And we can't make enough in ticket sales to grow. All that money to grow comes from grants and donations, and when we're doing new plays by emerging playwrights in a basement with pizza and beer, our audience always skews really young, and those people just don't have a lot of money. That was the audience we wanted, that was the audience we went for, and that was part of the whole point of keeping ticket prices accessible."
Started in 1996, the theater would go on to produce a wide variety of plays and performance art, much of it youth-oriented (works about role-playing games and pop idols, for example) and experimental. Impact was also a launchpad for many who would make name for themselves in theater world, including its co-founding artistic director Josh Costello, who has gone on to become an in-demand director in the Bay Area and beyond.
"This makes me so very sad to hear," director Evren Odckin wrote on his Facebook page when sharing the Mercury article. "Impact was an essential point of entry for many emerging artists in the Bay Area. I am so thankful to this company, and specifically to Melissa Hillman and Cheshire Isaacs for working endlessly (and for no money) supporting the careers of so many up-and-coming artists, including mine."
Hillman and Isaacs say they plan on producing more plays in the future -- but less frequently, since they won't have to worry about paying rent any more.