The UC Theatre celebrates its fifth anniversary

The UC Theatre is gearing up to reopen with 40+ live concerts this fall. Until then, it continues to depend solely on community and government support to sustain its operations.

Out Front at The UC Theatre.
Out Front at The UC Theatre. Photo: Yoni Mayeri

UC Theatre logoThis story is brought to you by The UC Theatre.

In 2017, Mayor Jesse Arreguín declared April 1 to be The UC Theatre Day in honor of the first anniversary of the community-centered non profit music venue in the heart of downtown Berkeley. Since that historic day, The UC Theatre has hosted hundreds of concerts and special events, with a mission to welcome and appeal to the interests of the diverse community that it serves — from hip hop and folk to jazz and metal, serving toddlers, teenagers and adults of all ages.

The UC Theatre has spent the past five years promoting equity and inclusion on stage, backstage and in the audience, to produce a community space where local emerging artists can share their talents at free events on the same stage that sold-out touring acts like Green Day or Mulatu Astatke perform.

Concert Career Pathways participants
Concert Career Pathways participants. Photo: Marissa Gutierrez

Integral to The UC Theatre’s community-minded mission as an independent music venue is the venue’s Concert Career Pathways (CCP) youth education program, which seeks to develop a more equitable industry by providing 20-30 underrepresented and underserved Bay Area youth every year with free hands-on training workshops, guest speakers, networking opportunities, industry tours, paid professional work, and job application support. Upon graduating, 80% of CCP participants find employment in relevant careers at establishments such as CalShakes, Bandcamp, Toneden, Another Planet Entertainment, Stern Grove Festival, East Bay Center for Performing Arts and iHeart Media.

When COVID-19 hit Berkeley, The UC Theatre feared for its life, along with many other music venues and nonprofits in the entertainment industry who were abruptly stripped of their primary sources of revenue. The UC Theatre was forced to rapidly transform a 1,400-capacity live music venue into a pandemic-safe digital hybrid operation — not only for the venue’s own survival but also to support the many people who work in the music industry ecosystem, including artists, agents, managers, event staff, interns, friends, family and the community at large.

Thanks to the enormous outpouring of community and government financial support throughout the pandemic, The UC Theatre has survived for over a year without earning revenues from live concerts. They continue to employ non-event staff by pivoting to live-streamed events and an outdoor concert series, while mentoring a cohort of 26 youth (Cohort 5) in a hybrid-model adaptation of the Concert Career Pathways education program.

Throughout the pandemic, The UC Theatre has offered Out Front, a socially distanced outdoor community gathering space in front of the venue where beverages are served to patrons who order food from local restaurants and listen to live music. The Out Front Street Bar with Casual Dining allows The UC Theatre to stay connected to friends, family and community and continue bringing music to Berkeley while supporting local artists and businesses in a safe and distanced way. People from all across the East Bay line up to dine and drink beneath the stars and heat lamps at tables for four and six people, while enjoying the local jazz, cumbia, funk, and soul artists who play for tips.

Thanks to a very generous donation from a local Berkeley family last summer, The UC Theatre was able to purchase equipment for producing virtual live-streamed concerts, including several shows with the world-renowned blues musician Taj Mahal — thousands of people from around the world have been able to tune in.

The UC Theatre has used live-streams and Out Front Street Bar as invaluable platforms for continuing to connect with friends, family, and community as well as to create revenue opportunities with and for artists, managers, agents, and event staff  while also providing the public with a much-needed dose of music and community connection during a time of isolation and struggle. During this time, The UC Theatre feels that it is more critical than ever to pool our resources and work together to make it through the dark pandemic cloud.

Taj Mahal in concert
Taj Mahal in a live-streamed concert. Photo: Dave Weiland

The UC Theatre also adapted CCP’s hands-on, work-based educational curriculum into a hybridized learning model which features distance learning in conjunction with in-person workshops that follow strict safety regulations. Cohort 5 has had the opportunity to work behind the scenes at live-streamed concerts, train for operating video and audio equipment, set up the stage, create promotional materials and more. Thanks to a generous in-kind donation in 2020, The UC Theatre expanded CCP’s multimedia program, increasing opportunities for participants just in time for the pandemic-induced reliance on digital tools. Cohort 5 is now spearheading their own live-stream concert series in which they are responsible for all aspects of the production, including filming, editing, promoting, managing artists, set design, lighting design, audio engineering and more. CCP hosts a virtual speaker series where participants have the opportunity to network and interface directly with established industry professionals. In addition, they offer virtual and in-person workshops on topics such as Talent Buying, Google Ads, Bar Operations, Marketing, Promotion, Major Gift Fundraising, and Production.

Thanks to the strong community network of generous support in 2020, The UC Theatre now celebrates five years of diverse and inclusive musical programming and transformative youth education. With so much at stake this year for underserved youth and for the music industry as a whole, the venue’s priorities have only been strengthened towards accessibility, equity and innovation.

The future of the music industry is finally looking bright, but the dark cloud has not yet passed. Although The UC Theatre plans to reopen their doors as soon as conditions permit for 100% occupancy –– with 40 plus live concerts already lined up for the fall of 2021 –– they still continue to struggle financially every single day so that they can continue serving the community. Every donation (and every vaccine) brings The UC Theatre one step closer to putting tickets on sale. With continued community support, we’ll all be together again, dancing to our favorite artists at The UC Theatre this fall!

UC Theatre logoThe UC Theatre strives to strengthen the Bay Area’s vibrant fabric of nonprofit arts and service organizations. We are building a collaborative network of community partnerships with existing education, performing arts, health, and youth development nonprofits to assist them with their fundraising and outreach through events at The UC Theatre. The UC Theatre is a multi-tiered, all-ages 1,400 capacity live music venue that presents a diverse range of local, national, and international artists and bands including indie, alternative, jazz, R&B, electronica, hip-hop, EDM, world, pop, comedy, and much more.