State of the Orinda Theatre – Locals Rally to Keep Iconic Landmark

(Jeff Heyman, Photographer)
Preserving the iconic Orinda Theatre marquee is a priority for a group of community members who met last month to discuss ways to support the Theatre.

    A “State of the Theatre” meeting, chaired by co-owner Derek Zemrak, was held May 7 to discuss recent changes to the Orinda Theatre and plans to keep it up and running smoothly.
    Key topics included upgrades made over recent years and the need for the community to continue supporting the Orinda Theatre, beyond the generosity expressed during the pandemic. Hundreds of people donated to the theatre’s GoFundMe campaign in 2020 and 2021, but high operating costs continue to pose a challenge even though it is now open to the public.
    Maintaining the iconic marquee was emphasized as a priority. According to Zemrak, the upkeep costs are upwards of $10,000 a year and would benefit with a dedicated subcommittee for fundraising and further supervision.
    “The marquee is an Orinda landmark,” said Kathy Kerr-Schochet. “We need to maintain it, no questions asked.”
    Various aspects of the Orinda Theatre have helped it remain open, even as others in surrounding areas have closed. Among these are its successful concert series, special events for clubs and activist groups and low ticket prices.
    “Independent theatres like us have the creativity and flexibility to keep the industry going,” said Zemrak. “But the community needs to own it.”
    In addition to theatre programming, Zemrak gave a rundown of repairs and upgrades made during the pandemic, including cleaning the glass panels of the marquee, restoring neon lights which had been sealed off since the 1980s and redoing the bathroom tiles and 
    Much of the work was done by volunteers, demonstrating the profound need for this kind of involvement to keep the Orinda Theatre operating at a high standard.
    Attendees agreed that community participation is paramount going forward, both in terms of attendance and involvement.
    “The theatre needs participation as much as it needs cash,” said Harvey Schochet. “And it should be a central meeting point. This is a place where we should all come and feel community pride.”
    Attendees advocated for more substantial fundraising efforts and awareness campaigns for the theatre’s many offerings.
    “The Orinda Theatre is a best-kept secret,” said Schochet. “That’s its downfall. How do we get this to be a better-known spot?”
    The throughline of the meeting is community participation and getting personally involved is the best way to help secure its future.
    “Orinda needs volunteers to get this thing going. We need all hands on deck helping out,” said Dave Graeven.
    “People would miss this place enormously if it closed,” said Schochet. “The initiative has to start here.”

Savannah Cordova can be reached at

(Savannah Cordova, Photographer)
Derek Zemrak, co-owner of The Orinda Theatre, chaired a “State of the Theatre” meeting on May 7 to report on recent changes and discuss future plans. Attendees included (L-R) Harvey Schochet, Kathy Kerr-Schochet, Dave Graeven, Derek Zemrak, Marty Lewis, Leonard Pirkle and Rich Lewis.

    Want to get involved with the Orinda Theatre? Call 925.254.9060 to inquire about volunteering.
    For more information, subscribe to the Orinda Theatre newsletter at

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