Patch found Berkeley Councilman Laurie Capitelli and his aides inside a booth in front of the theater with a banner saying, "Help Us Re-open the Oaks Theater."
The plan, Capitelli told Patch, is to form a non-profit group and turn the theater into a cultural center for live performances of various kinds, lectures and films. The working name is "Oaks Live."
"People today have been incredibly enthusiastic," said Capitelli, whose district includes the theater and who played a leading role in restoring the Elmwood Theater.
The Oaks, built in 1925 and designated a Berkeley landmark in 2006, is the oldest building on upper Solano in Berkeley's Thousand Oaks district, according to the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association (BAHA).
When it closed in 2010, it had been converted into a twin theater, and new operators named Merriment Media took out a lease that year to run a combination of Hollywood and Bollywood films. That operation floundered after just a few months.
Capitelli said the "Oaks Live" plan calls for restoring the space to a single venue with one stage and about 500 seats.
A stream of people were stopping by the Solano Stroll booth and filling out a survey form asking what members of the community would like to see in the space.
The survey offers this description of the campaign's "vision": to "develop a plan to re-open the the Oaks Theater as a year-round multi-use venue hosting live theater, music theater, opera, dance, films and special events."
Capitelli's office said earlier this week that about 1,000 survey forms have been turned in so far, including a version that can be filled out online.
A key partner is the Young Musical Theater Company (YMTC), which has been looking for a secure performance venue, Capitelli said. A press release from Capitelli's office quotes YMTC Artistic Director Jennifer Boesing saying,
“YMTC is thrilled to be collaborating on this exciting project. Re-opening the Oaks as a performing arts venue would provide us and other arts groups the chance to have a permanent home, and provide the local community with outstanding arts programming.”
Another key player in the planning is Joanne Backman, an arts and culture consultant who lives in the Thousand Oaks neighborhood and who was also at the Solano Stroll booth. The theater's owner, John Gordon, hired her in January to do a study on the feasibility of reopening the theater.
"We want to create the space in the building for the arts organizations that are community nomads to have a home," Backman said.
"We feel like if we build it, they will come," she said.
Gordon, who is collaborating with the group, told Patch he's very supportive of the effort and hopes to see it succeed.
Backman said the first phase of the renovation would be to replace the existing screens and two-theater set-up with a single space that has a stage. At some point, she said, the venue could host film festivals, but because of the expensive digital equipment needed to show today's films, a professional movie screen would have to wait for the next phase.
Capitelli said a pull-down screen might be installed in the interim.
Backman estimated the construction cost for the first phase would be about $150,000 and that the total cost of the initial phase could be in the neighborhood of $300,000-$500,000.
The group has some seed money for initial costs, such as hiring professionals to help design the facility, but that a fundraising campaign will be needed to go forward, Backman said.
Leading the design efforts has been been local architect Donn Logan, who with his wife Marcy Wong designed the Berkeley Rep Roda Theater and the Freight and Salvage Coffeehouse, according to Capitelli's office.
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