The East Bay has a decent number of small venues. There are multiple bar-adjacent stages for up-and-coming bands to cut their teeth and for national acts with niche audiences to stop while touring the West Coast. There are also some large venues, specifically the Greek Theater and the Oracle Arena (and maybe someday, hopefully, a revived Henry J. Kaiser Center). The mid-sized venues, however, were absent until The Fox and The Paramount theaters were brought back to life in the 2000’s. Artists with more widespread appeal or popularity have had limited options in the East Bay and the Bay Area more generally. In this context, and because the Bay Area has been dealing with venue closures and threats of more, it is especially exciting for the UC Theatre on University Avenue to be breaking ground on a new multi-purpose, mid-sized venue.

UC Theatre 1917small

The original UC Theatre as it stood in 1917.

The UC Theatre has been lying empty for almost 14 years. The costs of seismic retrofitting impeded many potential investors from restoring the property. The nearly century old theater survived destruction only due to is status as a historic building.

Built in 1917, audiences initially watched silent movies, then talkies, and eventually 20 plus years of late-night showings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, often in dress and throwing toast in the air. It has gone through multiple external incarnations, but the theater inside remained largely the same.

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The theatre has remained dormant since 2001.

The new theater, revived by the nonprofit Berkeley Music Group, will occasionally revive the Rocky tradition, alongside a calendar filled with music, as well as other events, such as comedy, fundraisers, and perhaps some rock documentaries. The room will be tiered, much like The Fox, with an exceptional new sound system. The venue will hold 1,470, mostly standing room capacity room, but can also do partial seating for 900, full seating for 700-800 with cabaret style tables and chairs.

Acts at the UC Theatre will include a diverse range of entertainment from rock, to Americana, to zydeco, primarily what you’ll see if acts that have outgrown the Great American Music Hall or Slim’s and would have played at a venue such as The Fillmore.

Beyond the effect a new venue will have on the live music landscape in the East Bay, the theater will also offer training for youths and young adults, ranging in age from 16-27, who want to enter the music industry. Through a workshop program the theatre will offer the opportunity to learn the technical, creative, and business aspects of concert promotion.

The program will run six to eight weeks and teach not just how to run sound and lights at a venue, but also how to budget a show, book a band, market a show, and run a box office. Those who excel will move into a paid internship at the theatre rotating between departments for roughly 20 shows, and ultimately be helped with job placement.

V9 Digital Rendering (UC Theatre)

A rendering of the new UC Theatre as a venue.

“We feel like there are so many programs out there teaching people to be performers. In reality, 99.99 percent of the jobs in the music industry aren’t on the stage,” said Matthew Smith, Operations Manager for the Berkeley Music Group.

In a time when music venues the world over seem under threat of closure, it’s always nice to welcome a new space for artists to perform — especially when it’s a classic venue, neglected for far too long. The fact that the UC Theatre will grant opportunities for job training and a space for community events makes its resuscitation all the more heartening.

 

About The Author

Katie is the Music Editor at OL. She's a music geek, culture junkie, massive A's fan, and Oakland native. When she was six, she stood for five minutes with a felt pennant stuck under Chris Mullin’s armpit. Check out her Oakland music listings at www.oakampd.com, follow on twitter/instagram as @craziesthawk, or contact at katies@oaklandlocal.com

2 Responses

  1. Lisa Martinengo

    Hi Katie,
    Maybe I missed it in the story, but when is the Grand Opening anticipated ?
    You’re right, it will be great to have the space alive and operating again, in its
    new incarnation.
    Lisa

    Reply

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