A brief introduction to the Berkeley arts scene

bampfa_michaelwan_file-copy
Michael Wan/File

Although San Francisco and Oakland typically get noticed more for their thriving arts scenes, Berkeley too has a vibrant world of of art to explore, ranging from its larger, more recognized concerts to smaller, more intimate music and theater venues. So before you get too absorbed in midterms and classes, check out some of Berkeley’s culture hubs.

Film

Much of the arts scene in Berkeley is essentially conglomerated in Downtown Berkeley, where you’ll find three movie theaters within a couple blocks of each other. Most of the blockbusters will be split between Shattuck Cinemas and UA Berkeley 7, both of which have pretty uniquely designed interiors, as well as super comfy seats. California Theatres, also near the downtown area, often features smaller independent films, or local films, many times playing great lower-budget films before they go on wide release. And of course, these theaters all give a student discount, so definitely don’t forget to bring your student ID!

Theater

If you’re a theater fan, or if you simply fancy seeing the occasional play or musical, Berkeley Repertory Theatre is definitely a place to check out. Recognized all over the country as a leading regional theater, Berkeley Rep features many new contemporary plays each season. Several of the theater’s productions have gone on to open on Broadway — most notably, the musicals “American Idiot” and “Amelie.” Also not to be overlooked, though, is the Aurora Theatre Company. The theater is much smaller, but it provides a more intimate setting — the audience is situated around three edges of the stage. Aurora’s season typically will feature a mix of new plays, as well as productions of classics. Berkeley Playhouse, at the Julia Morgan Theater located a little down College Avenue, typically puts on about five popular musicals, which are always fun experiences.

Music

If you see an abnormally large number of people flocking toward Northside on random evenings, it’s definitely because there’s a concert at the Greek Theatre. The Greek Theatre hosts such a range of different types of performances, from huge pop artists to smaller indie bands and sometimes classical music as well. It’s a beautiful outdoor theater, taking advantage of the nice Bay Area weather between spring and fall. Located right next to the Foothill res halls, you can often even hear bands practicing and performing from the the res halls.

But for some smaller venues, Freight & Salvage in Downtown Berkeley focuses more on local talent, featuring lots of folk music and other music from all around the world in a smaller setting with pretty affordable prices. The UC Theatre downtown, which reopened last year, is also worth checking out, hosting various types of live music.

For classical music, apart from occasional performances at the Greek Theatre, UC Berkeley’s own department of music often offers free concerts at noon, as well as other performances at the beautiful concert hall on the campus’s Hertz Hall. The student UCB Symphony Orchestra also puts on multiple shows each semester, ranging from various classical to modern compositions.

Visual Arts

The Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) is of course the center of visual arts in Berkeley. It recently moved to the beautifully designed modern building in Downtown Berkeley and often has different rotating exhibitions, occasionally featuring local artists and UC Berkeley students’ work at times. With a UC Berkeley ID, students can get in for free and peruse the contemporary art or eat at the café. The museum has a large emphasis on film as well, putting on multiple screenings and film series throughout the year, making it definitely worth multiple visits.

Miscellaneous

Although not really within a specific category of arts, Cal Performances often uses the huge Zellerbach Hall on campus to host a variety of different shows including, classical music performances, operas, ballets, talks, etc.

Contact Lynn Zhou at [email protected].