On Friday night, we mounted what I affectionately call our “8th production.” The Narsai Toast, our gourmet gala fundraiser, might not be a play or have an extended rehearsal period, but it is certainly a production. Everyone in the theatre is involved in some way, and instead of emanating from the Artistic Department, this production is rooted in Development.
This was the 17th year of The Narsai Toast and a bit bittersweet as our host, Narsai David, decided this was the year to retire from all the toasting. Narsai was one of the founding board members of the Theatre and is an elder statesman of sorts. For the past 17 years, he has corralled teams of celebrity chefs to create one spectacular dinner, and our fundraising gala has become known as one of the finest in town--no rubber chickens served here!
This year, we introduced something new. Inspired by the rise in popularity of shows on the Food Network (personally, I am a die-hard fan of Top Chef, as is our art director Cheshire), we took video cameras into the kitchen at The Ritz-Carlton to see this year’s team at work. Guests got a backstage view of Michael Chiarello prepping his asparagus, Hiro Sone and Lissa Doumani searing their black cod, Jean-Pierre Dubray trimming artichokes for his barigoule, and Gerald Hirogoyen macerating some strawberries for his dessert.
While the food is what draws many to the event, raising money for Berkeley Rep is what it’s really all about. In this down economy, paying $600 a head is tough to swallow, but we were thrilled that we had nearly 350 guests in attendance. Tony Taccone spoke eloquently about the times we are living in. When the global crisis hit six months ago, many of us were forced to re-evaluate what was important in our lives. Of course, family comes first---but to see that the folks who came to The Narsai Toast placed value on Berkeley Rep, that this theatre is important to them and worth supporting, was deeply meaningful for all of us who work in the theatre.
That sense of value was particularly evident when the live auction got off to a rousing start. First up for bid was a VIP trip to Washington, DC, which included a private tour of the White House and Supreme Court with a DC insider. The bidding was fast and furious, and came to a crescendo when the last paddle was raised for $11,000. The auctioneer’s proclamation of “SOLD!” sent the crowd into cheers. Everyone wanted Berkeley Rep to win.
All told, more than $440,000 was raised to benefit the Theatre. It wasn’t as much as we have raised in other years, but it is demonstrative of the incredible generosity of hundreds of people who believe in the power of theatre. It was a great night.