Doors open to the Berkeley High School Jazz Ensemble concert and audience members settle in. (Photo: Jimmy Lovrien)

The UC Theatre: Chiming to a brand new beat

by Kelly Luu, Mikaela Luke, Jimmy Lovrien and Lydia Lopez

Bay Area locals of the early 1900s remember the UC Theatre as a movie cinema, where a nickel gained them access to spaghetti westerns and classic cult films. After laying dormant for 15 years, the theater reopened in April 2016 as a nonprofit music venue that retains not only the historical significance of this classic landmark, but also the heart of its community.

Despite setbacks in renovation, the UC Theatre pushed through the eight-year project to bring to the community its many unique features — including chandeliers, handpainted designs and a fully functional restaurant service and bar. Although it takes pride in its beautiful aesthetics, the theater prioritizes the quality of its sound, which according to CEO and founder David Mayeri comes from three distinctive sound systems.

American filmmaker George Lucas presented the first-cut trailer for the original “Star Wars” film at the UC Theatre. In an interview, Bay Area native Tom Hanks also credited the theatre for sparking his interest in the industry. (Courtesy: The UC Theatre; Photo: Jimmy Lovrien)

As the only 1400-seat music venue in the East Bay, the UC Theatre offers an opportunity for emerging musicians who want to experience a bigger venue.

Two audience members learn how to salsa dance before the Berkeley High School Jazz Ensemble and Pacific Mambo Orchestra concert begins. (Photo: Jimmy Lovrien)

Its elaborate sound system and well-designed hall calls out to music groups both touring and local.

“One band who came here and played for three nights said, ‘Gee I think we’ve found a new home in the Bay Area and we want to come back here every year.’”
 — David Mayeri

The theatre is tiered in three levels, creating a unique experience for both the audience and the artist. “The artist is standing on the stage and they get their energy off the dance floor … which is really quite kinetic and then they can make eye contact with the middle tier and with the back tier so they see the room as a whole single unit,” Mayeri said. (Photo: Jimmy Lovrien)

We started as a for profit and our funding came from three people, including Warren Hellman, a venture capitalist who through an endowment continues to fund us. When he passed away, it kind of changed the dynamic of

Audience members line up outside The UC Theatre on June 3 to enter the Berkeley High School Jazz Ensemble and Pacific Mambo Orchestra concert. (Photo: Mikaela Luke)

the project. I was interested in doing more than just having a music venue. I wanted to add the education program and we’ve always been very interested in having a community-minded venue, so most of the investors followed me into the nonprofit and converted their investments into a donation.” 
— David Mayeri

The UC Theatre started its Concert Career Pathways program in early 2016. The program trains 17–25-year old students on technical, creative and business aspects of concert production, according to its education director, Robyn Bykofsky.

The program includes a workshop series and paid internships at the UC Theatre or externships at premier art, concert and theater venues through the organization’s Professional Partner Program.

The education program aims to break down barriers to employment for local youth and promote cultural and ethnic diversity in the field of concert production.

While the newly reopened UC Theatre has held only a handful of musical performances so far, staff members are eyeing to expand operations. Mayeri aims to host 130 to 140 shows per year to solidify the UC Theatre’s place in the community, he said.

“We have a 25-year lease on the building, what I would like to do is put us in a position where we can buy the theater and so that it stays in the public trust indefinitely.” — David Mayeri

Mayeri and Bykofsky also want to see the education program expand to eventually integrate former interns in executive positions of the concert production process.

“One of the goals I have is we become a place where other music venues, performing arts organizations, come to us to choose their employees,” said Bykofsky, adding that she hopes other organizations also adopt their model for developing similar internship programs. “It’s not your regular internship program, it’s more of a mentorship program, and it’s community building within the theater,” she said.