Austin’s Small Theatre Has a Huge Heart
Words by Jennifer Simonson Photos by Aaron Rimbey
Nestled in a tiny strip mall near Airport Boulevard in between KOOP offices and a local massage studio, The City Theatre does not look like much from the outside
The front lounge with its Mama Mia and Wicked posters covering the walls looks like little more than a talent agent’s waiting room. But once through the lobby, the ceiling lifts and the low hanging chandeliers, dark blue Victorian-era chaise lounge chairs and deep red walls emulate an Off-Broadway ambiance. Behind the lobby sits the theater, an intimate proscenium stage, and with just 85 seats, there is not a bad seat in the house.
Walking through the never-ending space, artistic director Andy Berkovsky says, “It is a lot bigger than it looks from the outside.”
On a Thursday night in February, the stage is set for Edward Albee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Three Tall Women. Before the 8 pm show, the four-person cast sits behind the stage next to a metal clothing rack full of ensembles for quick wardrobe changes. To prepare for the play, the all-volunteer cast rehearsed three hours a night, four nights a week for almost a month. On this particular night, about 20 people sit in the audience to watch the two-act, thought-provoking play that follows the hardships and hopes of three women in one of the most successful plays in Modern American Theatre.
In a town famous for its artist community, live theatre is often overshadowed by its louder cousin live music. However, The City Theatre, along with several small nonprofit theatres, provides Austin with a healthy theatre community. While some theatres stick to innovative or experimental works, variety is the name of the game at City Theatre. During any given season, theatre-goers can expect a mix of original works, Shakespeare, classic comedies, recent award-winning dramas or musicals. The rest of the 2017 season includes Nunsense, The Taming of the Shrew, August: Osage County, and Chicago.
“I think our variety of theatre that we have to offer each season [makes us unique],” Berkovsky smiles. “Our patrons really appreciate seeing a popular comedy one month, then a serious cutting edge drama the next.”
The City Theatre has been performing and producing for audiences since 2006 when Berkovsky left his job as a high school drama teacher and founded the theatre. In efforts to provide mainstream theatre to all audiences, ticket prices consistently remain low. General seating runs $10 on Thursday nights and $15 on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The non-profit arts organization is also sponsored in part by The Austin Creative Alliance and the Austin Cultural Arts Divisions.
Though it does not look like much from the outside, the theatre holds its own in the local community winning the Austin American-Statesman “Best Theatre Company” twice and has been recognized by the Austin Critics Table Awards, the B. Iden Payne Awards, the Central Texas Excellence in Theatre Awards and Austin Live Theatre.
The stage is in constant use with rehearsals, classes, workshops and live performances. Behind it all, Berkovsky is there almost every day of the week making sure it all runs smoothly. When asked what was the most rewarding part of his job, he said, “bringing actors, directors and designers into our little venue and seeing the great work they do.”
3823 Airport Blvd.