Business

Berkeley's UC Theatre Works to Diversify the Next Gen of Live Music Executives

UC Theatre’s Concert Career Pathways program
Rebekah Gonzales

Bykofsky (back row, third from right) surrounded by former and present members of UC Theatre’s Concert Career Pathways program.

David Mayeri began his career in the music industry the same way many of his contemporaries did: He started young and knew the right people. It was 1970, and the legendary San Francisco-based promoter Bill Graham was starting to produce shows at an old theater inside Berkeley (Calif.) High School, which Mayeri attended. Mayeri worked as Graham’s unpaid intern until he was offered a gig that paid $10 for 16 hours of work unloading, staging and repacking touring shows.   

Mayeri worked for Bill Graham Presents for 35 years, eventually rising to COO before he left in 2004. He then founded the nonprofit Berkeley Music Group to operate the UC Theatre, a 101-year-old movie theater, in November 2012 and spent three years restoring it as a music venue called UC Theatre Taub Family Music Hall. Mayeri was ready to staff the building in 2016 when he noticed a lack of diversity in the applications he received.   

"There’s a number of socioeconomic issues that can create barriers for individuals in live music," says Mayeri, including reliance on unpaid interns and low-paying entry-level jobs that make it impossible for candidates from low-income families to break in. "Many people in executive positions today came up through professional networks that are still very homogeneous and only reinforce the cultural barriers that young people face."

Hoping to create opportunities for women and people of color, Mayeri brought on educator-activist Robyn Bykofsky to serve as education director. In 2016, they launched Concert Career Pathways, a free, nine-month program for students ages 17-25 that offers workshops and paid internships in the live sector. Applications for the 2019 edition open in March. "We wanted to help young people better understand what has been a very opaque industry," says Bykofsky. "We were looking beyond typical employment issues to understand how imbalances in access to opportunity were created."

In the program, students study production management and event planning by working with stagehands, floor staff and sound engineers. They also learn about lighting, visual design, budgeting, marketing and social media promotion as well as how to book talent.

"Our graduates come from diverse backgrounds," says Mayeri, adding that half the students in each program are female and 70 percent are people of color. Once the program’s six workshops are complete, graduates participate in paid internships, working eight to 12 hours per week or 20-show cycles. "Several" graduates now work at the theater.

"We work to be a true collaborator with the diverse communities we serve," says Bykofsky. "I want to make sure we are providing them with the support they need to thrive."

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 16 issue of Billboard.