Saturday, 1 August 2009

Open Theater, 2976 College, Berkeley, CA

The Open Theater, at 2976 College, was a venue for “Happenings” that would now be called Performance Art. The directors were a Berkeley Drama School dropout named Ben Jacopetti and his wife Rain. Among their innovations were a light show that featured significant (if arty) nudity. When the performers auditioned for Tom “Big Daddy” Donahue’s psychedelic nightclub Mother’s on Broadway (home of Carol Doda and numerous topless clubs), Donahue rejected the show for having too much nudity.

The Open Theater seemed to be only open for a year or 18 months, but it was an important part of the scene, as the Open Theater was a big part of the Bay Area underground prior to the Fillmore.
Berkeley comedy duo The Congress of Wonders got their start as part of the Happenings and Gary “Chicken” Hirsch (later in Country Joe and The Fish) sometimes played in the house jazz group. George Hunter and Alton Kelly artwork graced the lobbies. Thus the fact that Big Brother’s first public show (on January 15, 1966) was a benefit for the Open Theater seems only fitting. Charles Perry in his book Haight Ashbury - A History (Vantage 1985) has a brief but excellent history of the Open Theater.

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