Zendaya's $100,000 donation helps Cal Shakes make its summer return

Martha Ross, The Mercury News on

Published in Entertainment News

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Zendaya is remembering her East Bay theater kid roots by donating $100,000 to the California Shakespeare Theater company, where the Oakland native received early training to become an actor and to pursue her career as a film and TV star, singer and model.

The donation from the Emmy-winning “Euphoria” star comes as she and Timothée Chalamet have been promoting the March 1 release of the second part of the “Dune” film franchise. Cal Shakes, meanwhile, has been in the midst of a fundraising campaign to help it return to producing its heralded versions of Shakespeare plays and other works at its outdoor amphitheater in Orinda after struggling in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement, Cal Shakes executive director Clive Worsley said that Zendaya’s $100,000 donation “moves us forward in a big way toward upgrading sound and lighting systems, enhancing the cafe, and of course funding our 50th Anniversary production of ‘As You Like It,'” set to run Sept. 12-29.

For a half-century, Cal Shakes has been known for its outdoor summer season of plays by Shakespeare and other artists. Plays are performed under the night sky in the Bruns Amphitheater, in a picturesque valley surrounded by the Orinda hills.

Like many other Bay Area theater companies, Cal Shakes has been struggling since the pandemic. Some companies have folded, while others have launched emergency fundraisers to pay for upcoming seasons. Cal Shakes opted to become a multidisciplinary space, renting out its stage to other performing arts and community groups. It also has became a venue for weddings.


Last year, Cal Shakes didn’t produce any productions of its own. This summer, the company is mounting a homegrown version of “As You Like It,” as part of its plan, going forward, to produce one or two works each season.

Zendaya gravitated towards Cal Shakes as a child because her mother, an Oakland elementary school teacher, worked there for 12 summers as a house manager. Zendaya helped seat patrons, sold fundraising tickets and watched plays from the back of the theater. A future student at the Oakland School for the Arts, Zendaya also began taking acting classes at Cal Shakes as she learned to overcome her shyness and to develop confidence as a performer.

Zendaya made her donation to Cal Shakes through a grant provided by the Women Donors Network. “We are deeply grateful to Zendaya and the WDN for their partnership, and their generous grant of $100,000,” Worsley said in a statement.

Zendaya has a busy few months ahead. In addition to promoting “Dune: Part Two,” she also stars in “Challengers,” Luca Guadagnino’s love triangle set in the world of professional tennis. The film hits theaters April 24. Several weeks later, she’ll be walking the red carpet in some spectacular designer gown at the 2024 Met Gala, for which she is a co-chair alongside Jennifer Lopez, Bad Bunny and Chris Hemsworth.

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