Emmy Award-winning actress and Oakland native Zendaya has just given a $100,000 gift to Cal Shakes, a.k.a. the California Shakespeare Theater, where she first got her start taking acting classes.

Cal Shakes announced the gift Thursday, saying that the $100,000 will be put toward upgrading sound and lighting systems, enhancing the café, and funding September's 50th anniversary production of As You Like It — which is the only production on this year's calendar following a four-year hiatus.

The gift was made through the Women Donors Network (WDN), and goes to Cal Shakes' North Star Fund — a rebuilding initiative that the organization launched last year.

“We are deeply grateful to Zendaya and the WDN for their partnership, and their generous grant of $100,000 to the North Star Fund," says Cal Shakes executive director Clive Worsley in a statement. "This gift helps keep Cal Shakes going strong as we prepare for our 50th Anniversary season!"

Zendaya grew up in and around Cal Shakes' Bruns Amphitheater in Orinda, where her mother, Claire Stoermer, was employed as house manager for 12 years. As a child, Zendaya played usher and passed out programs to patrons, and she later took part in the kids' acting camp that is regularly offered there.

In 2006, at age 10, Zendaya played Celia in a kids production of As You Like It at Cal Shakes Conservatory Camp.

Zendaya in 'As You Like It,' 2006. Photo by Jay Yamata for Cal Shakes

"Cal Shakes had — has — an incredible education program," Stoermer told the Chronicle in 2020. "They really focus on the process, not the product. … [Teachers] would break everything down. They would have [students] relate it to themselves, like, 'What would you do if you were in this situation?'"

Stoermer says that after being a very quiet, shy child, Zendaya came "out of her shell" in these summer camp classes. "I do remember seeing her up there on that stage, and just the few little moments that she had her spotlight, it was like, 'whoa,'" Stoermer told the Chronicle.

Other early roles for Zendaya included Little Ti Moune in Once on This Island at Berkeley Playhouse, and Joe in Caroline, or Change at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley.

Zendaya in 'Once on This Island,' 2009. Photo by Ralph Granich for Berkeley Playhouse

Zendaya would, of course, go on become a pop star by age 15, and then have breakout roles in Spiderman: Homecoming and The Greatest Showman, before taking her Emmy-winning turn on HBO's Euphoria.

Cal Shakes has been among the harder hit regional theaters around the country that share many of the same struggles — some of which began before the pandemic shut them down completely for two years.

As SFNews reported in August, both Cal Shakes and TheatreWorks have been in existential crises due to both the drying up of grant money and declines in subscriber bases that were their lifeblood.

Since then, the news has been brighter, as Cal Shakes says it brought in three times as much in donations at the end of 2023 as in typical year, and TheatreWorks announced it had exceeded its emergency $3 million fundraising goal, taking in $4 million in the second of half of last year.

CalShakes only mounted one production in 2022, and did not announce any summer season at all in 2023. (Their typical season, from the 1990s through 2019, would include four productions from June to October, including at least two Shakespeare plays.) This year, they hope to attract new subscribers, but will only be putting on the one production for their 50th anniversary, As You Like It, from September 12 to September 29.

Previously: As One Local Theater Faces Possible Closure, Bay Area's Regional Theaters Seek Stability — and New Subscribers

Top image: Actress Zendaya attends the "Dune: Part Two" press conference on February 21, 2024 in Seoul, South Korea. (Photo by Han Myung-Gu/WireImage)