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UC Berkeley Web Feature

Zellerbach hall sans seats
Zellerbach Hall looks like a barren shell after all its 2,000+ seats were removed as part of a summer renovation project. (Steve McConnell photos)

It's standing room only this summer at Zellerbach Hall

– Right now Zellerbach Hall looks as ungainly as a mouth without its dentures. The home of Cal Performances is undergoing a massive seat replacement, for the third time since the venue opened in 1968, and there is something unsettling about seeing its concrete tiers laid bare.

Every summer, technicians at Zellerbach perform a seat check-up: a crew member sits in every single seat and notes what needs to be repaired, from stitching a rip to replacing a bolt. The life span of theater seats tends to be about 20 years, which is also when replacement parts get hard to find.

Prototype seats in Zellerbach
As the only seats in the house, these prototypes of Zellerbach's new chairs were brought in to allow house electricians and carpenters to prepare for installing the full complement of seats.

"Ours have been squeaky and uncomfortable for a while," says Christina Kellogg, Cal Performances' director of public relations. "Not only do we want our patrons to enjoy sitting in them, but during the quiet moment of some beautiful aria, or when Yo-Yo Ma is holding an impossibly lovely cello note, you really don't want to hear a chair going screeeeeeeeek."

Approximately 2,035 new seats will be installed by the end of August, in time for the opening of Cal Performances' centennial season. (A few more may be added or subtracted during the process.) The project is being financed by a combination of the Zellerbach Family Fund, university monies, and private gifts.