Actors Ensemble History
A Short History of Actors Ensemble
Actors Ensemble of Berkeley is now celebrating 60 years of service to the Berkeley theatre community.
1955 to 1965
AE, as it is nicknamed, began in a casual conversation about theatre between Bill Matheson and George Marchi 1955. This conversation lead to meetings that included Ernest Landauer, Joseph Landisman, George Marchi, Edward Markmann, Al Stern, and Arnold Wolf.
The group met regularly and forged the flexible and cooperative artistic foundation that lead to the incorporation in 1957. Love for Love was the first public performance by AE. For the first nine years, AE produced dramatic works in schools, churches, private houses, gardens, and at John Hinkle Park.
The founding philosophy of AE is attributed to the principals taught by UC Berkeley Professor Fred Harris and his wife Mary. They taught that Dramatic Action is created by the actor through his imagination and awareness of the interaction in the ensemble relationship with all the other characters in a play. This became the basis of AE’s creative inspiration and the origin of its name.
The founders established that AE would be governed by a volunteer administrative board. This body would determine the production repertoire and then select the directors, technical staff, and business personnel to produce each play. The director would hold open auditions, as it was considered important that AE provide access to anyone with a serious interest in theatre.
Box office work was of prime concern, and Bill Martinelli has managed this function since 1957. And by the way, Bill is the current Treasurer of the board.
The play repertoire developed from staged concert readings and expanded into full productions when actors and audiences requested them and as soon as earned money became available. Experiments with original plays and workshop productions were also undertaken.
Around 1961 AE found a temporary home in a basement of a patron’s home. Marjorie Glicksman remembers hosting "The Side Door" theatre in her basement.
1965 to 1978
In 1965 AE began producing plays at Live Oak Theatre. However, the space was shared by many other groups.
In 1965 the Board consisted of Marjorie Glicksman, Wolfgang Heinritz, June Levin, Bill Martinelli, Benbow Ritchie, and Gilbert Black. Since 1970,
Ralph Miller was the theatre information point man, taking care of all participant and audience inquiries.
Donna Davis directed AE’s first musical, Brigadoon, during the 1974-1975 season. Distinguished Ensemble members during this period were Donna Davis, Ralph and Virginia Miller, Tom Reilly, and Robert Sicular.
1978 to 1990
1978 brought Proposition 13 to California. For some in the arts community, this was a disaster. For AE, it was an opportunity. AE made a successful offer to the Berkeley City Council to manage Live Oak Theatre for the public. Thus AE found a home.
Distinguished Ensemble members during this time were Kris Bell, Mary Rae Thewllis, and Mikel Clifford. The Board in 1978 consisted of Kris Bell, Ralph Miller, Bill Martinelli, Donna Davis, Tom Reilly, Ed Markmann, and Cyd Nepon.
Margaret Gudmundsson became involved in 1979. She and her son, Bob Gudmundsson, active since 1998, now run the physical operations of the theatre.
1990 to 2007
The 90s were characterized by successful productions, improvements in the physical plant, which led in 2003 to a seismic upgrade to the theatre itself.
The 2008 Board is comprised of Stanley Spenger, Margaret Gudmundsson, Jerome Solberg, Wendy Welch, Eric Carlson, Bill Martinelli, David Cohen, Bob Gudmundsson, Jodi Maxwell, and Maureen Coyne.
AE is the longest producing company in Berkeley.
60-Year Archive Project
Bill Martinelli and George Marchi started the 60-Year Archive Project in order to collect and preserve the five decades of play programs, photographs, posters, audio tapes, and memorabilia. All of these documents and items are now being housed at the Berkeley Historical Society.
We are working to fill in missing pieces. To that end, we ask members and production personnel to consider donating any items of interest that they may have.
Welcomed also are the assistance and materials from theatre-loving patrons whose continued support helps ensure that AE remains a permanent part of the ever-changing cultural landscape.