Woodminster Theater: Cathedral in the Woods
Ok kids… it’s time for our summer musical kickoff!!!
Uh oh, I can hear a few of you groaning already…
I’ll admit it… I have a few friends (not to be named) who’d rather have splinters driven under their fingernails than be forced to sit through hours of song & dance. But I feel bad for them. I really do, because for me (someone who saw Grease at least 14 times and, decades later, still knows every song word for word), this is pure summertime bliss…
Imagine yourself perched above the fray of the city, nestled into a 1940′s amphitheater tucked into the redwood forest of Oakland’s hills, the sun is sinking low, and you see the first twinkling star pierce the indigo sky as the actors take the stage… this is the scene every summer at the Woodminster Amphitheater (dubbed Oakland’s Cathedral in the Woods) located in Joaquin Miller Park.
“The Woodminster Amphitheater is a classic open-air performance facility that seats 1500. In its early years, it was host to a variety of performances, pageants, and events. Then, in the summer of 1967, a fledgling Oakland arts organization called Producers Associates began to produce Broadway musicals at the Woodminster Amphitheater. A beloved Oakland tradition was born. “
For those who haven’t been to this hidden spot, the venue is quite similar to the Greek Theater in Berkeley, though smaller, more comfortable (real seats rather than concrete), and quite a bit more picturesque.
Built in 1941 as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project (I’ve been covering a lot of these lately, eh?), the art-deco amphitheater and its associated “Cascades” (a stunning series of waterfalls, fountains, and reflecting pools built into the hillside) were dedicated as a memorial to California’s writers. In fact, “the trees and other vegetation along the Cascades… are designated Writers Memorial Grove, and individual plantings are dedicated to California’s great authors, including Joaquin Miller as well as Bret Harte, Jack London, Mark Twain, Dashiell Hammet, Ina Coolbrith, and many others.”
A portion of the park was originally land owned by “Poet of the Sierras” Joaquin Miller, who “settled on 70 acres of grassy hillside, which he purchased parcel-by-parcel in the hills above the ‘City of the Oaks.’” He built numerous structures and monuments on the land (still present today) and coordinated the planting of over 75,000 trees (many also still standing today, though we now know these to be non-native and not necessarily ideal… eucalyptus, monterey pine, etc) all in an effort to create an inspirational artists’ retreat.
After his death, the Oakland Parks Department purchased the land from his estate, later adding adjacent redwood groves. “Today, Joaquin Miller Park covers more than 500 acres. Many of its trails lead to adjacent Roberts and Redwood Regional Parks, which are part of the East Bay Regional Park System. “ But I digress.
Back to our summer musicals…
The opening show of the season is going to be fantastic… John Waters’ classic Hairspray. Waters has been touring the PR circuit recently (NPR, Colbert Report, etc.) touting his new book Role Models so he’s been on my mind a bit, and I’m excited to see this revival.
Tonight is the final dress rehearsal at 8pm… get your sneak preview on for just $10. Otherwise show officially opens this Friday, July 9th and will run through July 18th. Adult tickets run from $25 to $40 (depending on seats), but group discounts are available, and all kids 16 and younger are admitted FREE (with paying adult). Ticket info here. Don’t forget to dress warmly… bring layers and blankets; it can be quite chilly at night.
See you at the show!
Woodminster Theater on Yelp
Burns and Byron
In men whom men condemn as ill
I find so much of goodness still.
In men whom men pronounce divine
I find so much of sin and blot
I do not dare to draw a line
Between the two, where God has not.
~ Joaquin Miller