While painters and contractors were busily preparing the UC Theatre Taube Family Music Hall for its grand revitalization three years ago, the venue had already bloomed into a makeshift classroom for a diverse new generation of music industry leaders.
The 100-year-old former movie theater at 2036 University Ave. has hosted big names like Green Day, The Zombies and Kehlani since its opening, but behind the scenes is a team of fledgling professionals learning the ropes of the industry through the Concert Career Pathways program, led by Robyn Bykofsky.
Now grown to nine months long, the program begins with a series of four- to six- hour workshops to train each cohort on every aspect of the industry, including “marketing and front-of-the-house sales, production management, event coordination, stagehand, floor staff, live sound engineering, lighting design, event budgeting, box office operations, marketing, social media promotion, and booking,” according to its website. They learn tasks like “Pin the Job to the Description” for concert production roles. Then they settle into paid internships.
The program has trained about 50 people since it began and accepts applicants between the age of 17 and 25 from throughout the Bay Area. This year’s cohort is 55% women, 45% men, 75% people of color and 20% are LGBTQ.
“Diversity is literally in the fabric of the organization, it’s not slapped on,” said Bykofsky, who has 20 years of experience engaging people from underrepresented communities through music, theater and art. Much of the theater’s full-time staff is now comprised of students who built and passed through the program, run by the Berkeley Music Group, the non-profit that operates the theater.
Maleik Carter, a 24-year-old hip-hop artist and Midwestern transplant, was part of Bykofsky’s 3-month pilot group when the theater barely had furniture.
He said the program gave him a crucial opportunity to work in concert production when many Bay Area music venues are managed by a handful of large companies, like Golden Voice and Another Planet Entertainment. UC Theatre is one of the few independent music venues to break into the East Bay’s limited batch of newcomers over the last decade, he said.
“Getting in anywhere is challenging, but getting in on the ground is almost impossible,” said Carter. “The information is actually valuable, even if you don’t stay here,” Carter said. “We learned a lot in that three months, man.”
Carter got his security guard license early on during his time at the theater and then became a floor manager, and says he’s in awe that he’s now trained and hired a closing manager to do part of his job.
Carter believes the program avoids token diversity by teaching “real skills,” like working with artists, communicating with drunk concert patrons or navigating a band tour bus that’s two hours late.
Briana Pike, a 21-year-old who lives with her family in Clayton, was studying music industry at Diablo Valley College when she said her dad “aggressively tagged” her on social media posts advertising Concert Career Pathways.
“I was feeling very discouraged before the program came around, I didn’t know where I fit in the music industry,” said Pike, who had hoped the community college program would be her entryway, but found it to be too theoretical and geared toward studio recording.
Pike took off a semester from school when she was accepted into the program in the spring. She wakes up between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. most days to work at World Market, then drives 45 minutes to Berkeley to attend the program.
“Honestly I’m shocked at how together I can keep it at the moment, but being at the theater is worth it, it doesn’t feel like a task or a job or something,” Pike said. “It still feels like a day off because I love what I’m doing here, it’s a very positive fun environment.”
She now works theater internships in promotions coordination and backstage hospitality, handling everything from posters to communicating with artists.
Bykofsky said the program is mindful of the student’s needs, and she always makes sure interns aren’t hungry and have a way of getting home. The program is “very big on snacks,” she said, and is conscientious of little things — like having a conversation if a student is late and one-on-one meetings to check in on progress.
Another member of Pike’s cohort, 22-year-old Jade Aguigui, describes herself as from “that side of the bridge,” in Vallejo. She said she could hum before she could talk, and has been a singer as long as she can remember. The internship compliments her full-time music industry education at Diablo Valley College, but she often faces pushback from family suggesting she pursue a “serious” career.
Aguigui had to sell her guitar to afford public transportation that brought her to Berkeley and to participate in the program while in school. But said her sacrifices have been worth it, she said.
“It’s isolating being the only girl in my classes…there’s a negative stigma of “you’re just the girl on the couch [in the studio],” but people here are always willing to help out and teach you something new,” she said.
The internships currently pay $13.25 an hour, which is below Berkeley’s minimum wage of $15, but which is allowed for non-profits. The pay is technically a “job training” rate for workers under the age of 25. According to the UC Theatre, it costs about $12,000 to train each student.
David Mayeri, founder and CEO of the theater’s nonprofit, went to Berkeley High School and worked as an intern at Bill Graham Presents concerts at the Berkeley Community Theater. He left the organization 35 years later after serving as its CEO and restored the venue in 2016 with the hope of giving back to his community.
Several students in the program, like Carter and 22-year-old Sofia Duarte, have been able to find full-time employment and job prospects through the career pathway, but the students maintain that the benefits are much larger than a job network.
Duarte was a first-generation student at UC Berkeley when she joined the program. She’s always been a concert nut and remembers attending her first concert (Bruce Springsteen) as a five-year-old in Southern California.
Duarte hated the idea of being in the spotlight, however, and said a break-through moment during her internship was seeing the general manager’s perspective backstage during a live concert. She found an in-between place that she didn’t know existed.
For Carter, his breakthrough moment came while singing along to a thrash show at UC Theatre with an awestruck pre-teen who didn’t realize the two could share the same taste. Concerts have become significantly less fun for Cartner after realizing all the work that goes into it, he said, but he has a newfound respect for bands with good behavior.
Pike and Aguigui attended the same school before the program and didn’t meet each other until they arrived in Berkeley. The two remarked on the perfect mishmash of personalities in the program, seconded by Carter, and said they’re still working out their futures, but are happy to be where they are right now.
“This theater was able to bring all these wonderful humans into the same space,” Aguigui said. “It’s overwhelming. I think about it every day.”