Downtown Berkeley Spotlight
Celebrating Our Community
David M. Mayeri
Founder & CEO at Berkeley Music Group – The UC Theatre
"The success of The UC Theatre is a tribute to the many people in the community with great philanthropic heart who invested in the idea of a reborn theatre’s second life as a music venue...."
Thank you for agreeing to answer a few questions for us! Let’s start with an introduction. Could you introduce yourself and tell us a little about what brought you to this point in your career?
In 1970, I had the good fortune of being at the right place at the right time. I was a 16-year-old Berkeley High School Student (BHS Class of ‘72) hired as intern to work Bill Graham Presents shows at the Berkeley Community Theatre. I was paid $10.00 cash for 16 hours of work (not per hour, per shift)… unloading trucks, setting up the stage, ushering the show, tearing down the stage equipment, and repacking the truck. I left BGP 35 years later as the COO of Clear Channel Entertainment (what is now the San Francisco Live Nation office) running all the music venues the company leased, owned, and operated. Bill Graham was a great teacher, mentor, and role model for how to run a business as well as how to give back to the community. My experience of running music venues and getting my start as an intern paved the way for what is now The UC Theatre.
The UC Theatre is operated by the Berkeley Music Group (BMG), a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Our mission is to present a vibrant and diverse range of live performances to advance the understanding and appreciation of music, culture and education in the East Bay.
You and your team have done such an incredible job on the renovation of the UC Theatre. What inspired you to want to open a venue in Berkeley and what made you chose the historic UC Theatre?
By accident, I was out of the music business at the time for 3 years (2017). I was introduced to The UC Theatre by the then Economic Director for the City of Berkeley – Michael Caplan. I walked into a vacant, vandalized old theatre that had been closed for 7 years at the time, and immediately saw its potential. We formed a non-profit, established a working board of directors, and hired a small team where each person held at least 3 jobs, including myself: Matthew “Smitty” Smith (GM & Talent Buyer), Robyn Bykofsky (Education Director), Tessa Morris (Marketing Director), and a few super volunteers like my wife, Yoni. We raised $6.8M from passionate community-minded donors who invested in the idea of the rebirth of an old movie house into an independent non-profit music venue with youth education programs. Thanks to amazing and ongoing community support, the education program is completely free to students, and our ability to do this work is due in large to our status as a nonprofit organization and our ability to raise funding to support these efforts. At The UC Theatre, 2/3 of our operating budget comes from earned revenue (ticket sales) and 1/3 comes from contributed revenue/donations. It’s a unique model for a top-tier concert venue.
"At The UC Theatre, 2/3 of our operating budget comes from earned revenue (ticket sales) and 1/3 comes from contributed revenue/donations. It’s a unique model for a top-tier concert venue."
How did the idea of including the Educational Non-profit ‘Concert Career Pathways’ into the project come about?
The Education Program for me was a way to give back to the same community that offered a 16-year-old young man in 1970 a transformative internship that turned into a career in the music business. My vision was to create a comprehensive music industry education program that offered youth an opportunity for hands-on learning and training for music industry jobs. The Concert Career Pathways education program was developed and built by our Education Director Robyn Bykofsky, members of our Youth Advisory Board, and our Education committee made up of a number of non-profits who work with underserved youth including RYSE in Richmond, East Bay Center for the Arts in Richmond, Berkeley Youth Alternatives in Berkeley, Youth Uprising in Oakland, Y-Teen Center in Berkeley, and the Center for Independent Living in Berkeley.
Our Concert Career Pathways education program teaches young people - ages 17 to 25 - the technical, creative and business aspects of concert and event promotion. This nine-month program develops critical and creative thinking skills necessary to become successful in the 21st century workplace. Our hands-on work-based learning model is a combination of free workshops and paid internships where young people learn the best practices in essential jobs such as: production manager, event coordinator, stage manager, floor manager, stagehand, floor staff, sound and lighting mix and support, event budgeting, ticketing and box office operations, bar operations, general marketing and promotions, social media promotions, booking, and more.
Tell us a little bit about the ‘Concert Career Pathways’ and how can interested people can find out more about the program?
Go to our website and check out the Education pages. We offer these programs to youth attending local schools, underserved youth through partnerships with established non-profit community organizations, and to the general public. Our cohort's graduate in May each year from a 9-month program. Our Grads come from diverse backgrounds, including over half the students are young women, 70% are people of color, and over 50% are from underserved households.
Now that the UC Theatre has become a major entertainment venue in the Bay Area has your mission changed or evolved?
We are working hard to expand the diversity and number of concerts we produce each year. But our most ambitious push is to increase our fundraising efforts to expand the CCP Education program by 50% to include more students per cohort and to expand and further develop hands-on management and leadership training across all departments.
Owning a venue like the UC Theatre must be exciting! What about it do you like the most and how many UC Theatre shows do you attend a month?
I am the Founder and CEO of the Berkeley Music Group, we are the non-profit running The UC Theatre. As with all non-profits, we are a community benefit organization. What excites me the most about shows and what we do at the theatre… are the people I meet along this journey: the performances, the connection that happens between artist and audience, our staff who work hard to deliver the best customer and artist experience possible, the amazing PA sound system - thanks to Meyer Sound (Helen & John & staff). We enjoy one of the best sound systems in the world, in one of the best rooms for sound (also thanks to the advice from Meyer sound engineers on proper acoustic treatment). Also, our interns and the excitement I feel when the light goes off in their head at a show and an intern starts asking great questions that come from their hands-on experience and personal growth, and… last but not least, our donors - hanging at shows with people who love and support music and community. The success of The UC Theatre is a tribute to the many people in the community with great philanthropic heart who invested in the idea of a reborn theatre’s second life as a music venue creating community benefit through concerts, youth education programs, and community partnerships.
The UC Theatre has quickly become an integral part of the Downtown Berkeley experience. What do you like the most about being in Downtown Berkeley?
The last 10 years have brought a massive transformation in the quality of life to Downtown Berkeley. The streets are buzzing with nightlife, entertainment, arts & culture, music, restaurants, theatre, and much more… Thanks to the vision and hard work of many like John Caner, Suzie Medak, Jesse Arreguin, Susan Wengraf, and many more… we have more people living, working, hanging, and thriving in Downtown Berkeley!