The Noodle Factory is Dead, Long Live the Noodle Factory

By Kitty Luce


Right now all you can see is beams and plywood walls, but by early 2008 the Oakland Noodle Factory should be a pipe dream made real. Imagine this: eleven live-work units, nine of them permanently affordable, with a 90-100 seat theater, a rehearsal space and a café. Then imagine that artists have input into the design of the theater as well as the programming. Oh, and the building’s being constructed as green as green can be. It’s enough to stretch your brain out of shape for good.

The Noodle Factory’s transformation into a permanent refuge where artists can live, work and show is courtesy of the Northern California Land Trust (NCLT), which has been doing similar good works since 1973. This is their first arts project. The deadline for applications for the live/work units has passed, though there will probably be periodic opportunities to apply for the waiting list, so I’m going to talk about the theater and the plans for its programming.

The Noodle Factory is in a part of West Oakland that caters to warehouses and long-haul truckers. It has been a seat-of-the-pants arts space for a few years, though it was a home for more arts installations and punk bands than dance or theater performances. It should be a very special place.

The Noodle Factory’s arts advisory committee is thinking long and hard about how best to program the theater and make the various elements of the project work together for the benefit of artists and the community. NCLT’s Director, Ian Winters, is a filmmaker and photographer himself; he often works with dancers, and knows first-hand about the challenges dance artists face in presenting their work. All of this is going into the plans for the theater.

There is a real lack of small, affordable theaters in the East Bay, especially dedicated theaters as opposed to studios, stores, bars and other creatively and temporarily converted spaces. The Noodle Factory will definitely fill a need here. Also, imagine: it’s being built from the ground up as a theater instead of being converted from another use. Apparently the engineer’s jaw often drops during construction meetings at the strange requirements of performing artists.

The East Bay artists’ community is growing. Jessica Robinson, who is on the arts advisory committee for the Noodle Factory and is executive director of CounterPULSE, points out that the movement of artists to the East Bay which started during the first dot-com bubble continues. There are subtle but unmistakable signs of gentrification in the area near the Noodle Factory. Jessica believes that “the moment to insert an arts space in that community is now,” before the area gets more developed (and expensive).

One very clear goal for the Noodle Factory’s theater is for it to be an incubator space, where artists can develop and perform work in the same space. Jessica says that such spaces “are incredibly valuable.” She hopes to expand the influence of CounterPULSE’s success with this community-based, incubator model. Ian would like to secure funds so that artists can have two, three, or even four-week runs, plus at least two weeks of rehearsal in the theater; he says this kind of time makes for “such better work.” It’s pretty luxurious compared to the conditions dance artists usually face, developing work in a small studio and moving it to the theater for a one- or two-night run. By the time the dancers hit their stride, the run is over. When the theater is not being used, it (as well as the dedicated rehearsal space) should be available for classes and rehearsals.

Another plan for the programming at the Noodle Factory is to expand audiences by encouraging them to get acquainted with different genres. Ian says, “one of the things we envision is to break down divisions between Bay Area audiences. My experience is that there’s very little audience crossover.” Perhaps season subscribers to local theaters will come see Keith Hennessey, and butoh audiences will show up for some contemporary music. Ian even hopes to encourage artists to think about how different potential audiences might see their work as they create it.

The theater won’t be ready to open until the spring of 2008, if all goes well (funding is not yet in place), though the live/work spaces are scheduled to be ready for occupancy this fall. The plan is for the first year to be fully programmed when the theater opens. If you would like your voice to be heard, Ian is generous enough to put his e-mail address where his mouth is; contact him at ian.winters@NCLT.ORG.

This article appeared in the June 2007 issue of In Dance.

Kitty Luce is a local dance writer who writes weekly previews for and occasional pieces for other publications. She is near the end of her second year on the committee. Thanks go to Paul Parish and Jenefer Johnson for historical perspective.