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Comment Archives: stories: Blogs: Culture Spy

Re: “Oakland Playwright Says Berkeley Rep Theatre Discriminated Against Black Audience Members

A friend who is a playwright/director/theater producer wrote in reply to all of this:
"It’s a trip, isn’t it, Judy? We actually were able to diversify our audiences but it took constant work over many years. I think we were one of the few theaters that actually had success, because we believed there were solid markets in the black and Latin communities....Of course, it starts with a diverse staff, advisory councils, openness to feedback. We found, from our visiting actors, that our city was the most racist town they had experienced anywhere in the country, including the deep South. We got great feedback from a black woman on our staff who also handled a local jazz program. She told us she could actually see our white ushers flinch when black people came to the door. In our pre-show speeches, we had to clarify the diversity of our audiences and tell ushers and ticket takers, not to “flinch”. Can you believe it? She also told us that we should put a greeter out in front of theater, as in a black church, to welcome people. That became part of her job. We also found group sales were essential to bringing in people who were uncomfortable trying out theater on their one… it didn’t matter if they were black, white working class or Latino. Another black woman handled group sales and she was terrific, very quiet in her own way, but fearless about approaching any ethnic group to make a sale. Good group sales people also tend to show up to take care of groups. When people come in a group, they might come later on their own.

"And then, racism is so pervasive, you have to retrain your staff every few years because of turn over. It’s really wild, isn’t it? You wouldn’t think this would be a problem in Berkeley, would you? But I grew up in Berkeley during the 50s, and there were vicious wars about real estate restrictions… the original Prop 13 was about that, as I recall. It’s good to hear from you now and then, and I’m glad you’re so active, and vocal, when necessary.

"BTW… my dad grew up in Oakland, and we learned a lot from him about how to break down the walls. We were raised as Berkeley Mormons, but my dad taught us to argue Sunday School teachers that withholding the priesthood from blacks was a false doctrine. That became interesting once we moved to Los Angeles in 1960 and were surrounded by John Birchers."
Judy Juanita

7 likes, 26 dislikes
Posted by Judy Juanita on 07/16/2015 at 12:43 AM

Re: “Oakland Playwright Says Berkeley Rep Theatre Discriminated Against Black Audience Members

I had a similar experience at the Berkeley Rep. June of 1997. At the invitation of Vinnie Burrows, who performed in my play,” Hubba City” at the Nuyorican Cafe, I'd gone to the Berkeley Rep. to see her and Delores Mitchell star in“Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 years.” A young black man, an employee of the Rep., asked me hostile questions, followed me around and even snooped on me as I talked with the two actresses.It was an uncomfortable experience. However, when I produced Wajahat Ali's play,"The Domestic Crusaders" at the Rep. in 2008, the staff cooperated without incident.But Judy Juanita has put her finger on it.Racial profiling is rampant in Berkeley.

8 likes, 23 dislikes
Posted by Ishmael Reed on 07/15/2015 at 8:17 PM

Re: “Oakland Playwright Says Berkeley Rep Theatre Discriminated Against Black Audience Members

Sam Levin's piece, as well as Polly Ikonen's quote, is rhetorically structured to invalidate, or place suspicion, on Juanita's statement. If Ikonen is really interested in "building audiences" that are more diverse, she would not simply try to explain away this incident and the perceptions that others--not "regulars"--have of this institution. Her statement, however, has the effect of closing the door---gently of course--on this important dialogue.

3 likes, 9 dislikes
Posted by louis stroffolino on 07/15/2015 at 7:41 PM

Re: “Oakland Playwright Says Berkeley Rep Theatre Discriminated Against Black Audience Members

I'm a 3rd generation native of California. Despite it's reputation California is one of the most racist states I've lived in. I've lived in Wisconsin, New York and Texas. I came to this conclusion after living in Houston,TX for ten years.

I was treated with respect as a fellow human being there probably because Houston has a large Black professional class. When I encountered people they couldn't assume I didn't belong. I could have been a senator, lawyer, doctor - any profession you can name. Not so in the California Bay Area.

You always get those looks as if you're out of place. There's always an undercurrent of suspicion. Clerks ignore you in the store. White people step in front of you as if their needs are more important. The underlying pattern in interracial encounters is very similar to what one would expect in the very deep south.

When you experience this several times a day, day after day, you become an expert in identifying all the ways people use to make you feel not equal to them. People can claim all they want that racism was not their intention but some behavior is so ingrained it operates subconsciously and the effect is the same - no respect for the dignity of all human life.

16 likes, 7 dislikes
Posted by Penny L. Williams on 07/15/2015 at 7:40 PM

Re: “Oakland Playwright Says Berkeley Rep Theatre Discriminated Against Black Audience Members

I urge those who read this article and the blog post by Judy to ask do you have a clear picture of both sides?

Posted by A.C. Dennis on 07/15/2015 at 7:28 PM

Re: “Oakland Playwright Says Berkeley Rep Theatre Discriminated Against Black Audience Members

This comment was removed because it violates our policy against anonymous comments. It will be reposted if the commenter chooses to use his or her real name.

2 likes, 3 dislikes
Posted by Editor on 07/15/2015 at 7:25 PM

Re: “Oakland Playwright Says Berkeley Rep Theatre Discriminated Against Black Audience Members

This comment was removed because it violates our policy against anonymous comments. It will be reposted if the commenter chooses to use his or her real name.

10 likes, 5 dislikes
Posted by Editor on 07/15/2015 at 2:28 PM

Re: “Oakland Playwright Says Berkeley Rep Theatre Discriminated Against Black Audience Members

I'm so sad to read this on many levels. In my observation (I was granted a ticket as well that night as part time staff) Several house managers and front of house paid staff were all acting as "ushers" that night to help staff a very full final dress rehearsal. There were also several young Youth Speaks volunteers helping who don't know the theatre as well as staff. I point this out because Judy's assumption that a "black emissary" was sent to her assumes that this black woman was no one's boss. But she very likely was. An African American woman manages the front of house operations and was standing at the entrance helping field problems all night. I know this because I had to have her permission to sit myself. Several women of color are house managers as well. Whom ever this was, she likely heald a ranking higher than the white usher, wether she wore a name tag stating that or not. I hope that no matter what the situation was at its core, that the theater further engages patrons of color more effectively. I hope Judy reaches out to marketing and development staff further, her input would be valued, and real life dialogue would be helpful.

6 likes, 3 dislikes
Posted by Natalie Ashodian on 07/15/2015 at 2:15 PM

Re: “Oakland Playwright Says Berkeley Rep Theatre Discriminated Against Black Audience Members

I don't think there were any racial discrimination going on. I honestly feel that Miss Junita had some sort of entitlement as in "Do you know whom I am". She prolly felt offended that she had to move and had to cry a racial discrimination. Even when the theater apologized over the miscommunication, she had to make a list of demands to the theater for changes before she can accept the apology. Seems really unreasonable in my opinion.

30 likes, 13 dislikes
Posted by Kevin Cheungster on 07/15/2015 at 11:12 AM

Re: “Oakland Playwright Says Berkeley Rep Theatre Discriminated Against Black Audience Members

I am sorry this happened to Juanita and her friends. I hope Berkeley rep reflects on the situation to avoid this in the future, and considers the constructive suggestions for making the theater more welcoming to diverse audiences.

12 likes, 9 dislikes
Posted by Candy Wright on 07/15/2015 at 12:05 AM

Re: “Oakland Playwright Says Berkeley Rep Theatre Discriminated Against Black Audience Members

I have been ushering at Berkeley Rep since 1999 (a volunteer position) and have seen a great variety of performances covering a multitude of races and cultures. I have never seen seats reserved with people's names. All the tickets have seat #s printed on them. If I understand correctly, you were given free tickets that had the words "general admission" printed on them. I think the usher was trying to find good seats for you, but was unable to give you seats reserved for crew members. I doubt anyone considered your race when they found seats double booked. For all I know, the tech crew could have been black.

30 likes, 9 dislikes
Posted by annkatz on 07/14/2015 at 7:04 PM

Re: “Oakland Playwright Says Berkeley Rep Theatre Discriminated Against Black Audience Members

HOGWASH. Any excuse to call something racism. Someone cut in front of me while I was driving. Racism. HOGWASH.

27 likes, 25 dislikes
Posted by Garry Ovalbach on 07/14/2015 at 5:25 PM

Re: “Oakland Playwright Says Berkeley Rep Theatre Discriminated Against Black Audience Members

I don't believe this was racial at all. I think that if the patrons had been whites the same would have happened.

39 likes, 24 dislikes
Posted by Anna Avellar on 07/14/2015 at 2:01 PM

Re: “When The Mind Splits: Processing Dissociative Identity Disorder Through Art

Beautiful Art! My Girlfriend/life partner has DID and we have been through a lot together! At times I was afraid but She and I are still together! I understand a good deal about how DID works.

1 like, 0 dislikes
Posted by Rodney Ford on 07/10/2015 at 6:19 PM

Re: “This Weekend's Top Five Events

And this! http://urbanairmarket.com/urban-air-market-oakland/

Posted by Danielle Cohen on 07/10/2015 at 4:50 PM

Re: “This Weekend's Top Five Events

the Bay area, the rich parts anyway, is all about smug and pretentious

1 like, 1 dislike
Posted by Alan Lopez on 06/13/2015 at 1:26 PM

Re: “This Weekend's Top Five Events

This is the weekend's top five events? This all sounds terrible. Smug, pretentious and not woth anyone's time or money. Un-fun. Uninteresting.

1 Black Panther Party / food as revolution
2 lyrics grappling with colonialism
3 Ideas in Feminist Media / multimedia “kitchen sink”
4 A 'collaboratively promiscuous avant-garde percussionist'
5 A glowing green fog of smugness

So awful. Sorry Game of Thrones has never been better and if anyone hasn't seen this season, check that out instead. Or clean your garage. Or anything but these lame 'events'.

14 likes, 11 dislikes
Posted by brutus Shamon on 06/12/2015 at 12:42 PM

Re: “Cal Grads Fund Selfie Stick Alternative in 16 Hours

This comment was deleted because it violates our website's Terms Of Use. People who repeatedly violate our policies will lose their ability to post comments. You can read our entire Terms Of Use here.

Posted by Editor on 06/08/2015 at 5:05 AM

Re: “Michael "Mike-o the Psycho" Montano of Filth Died Last Monday

I miss you so much hun! RIP

2 likes, 0 dislikes
Posted by Debbie Beech on 06/07/2015 at 12:30 PM

Re: “Shakespeare & Co. Books Abruptly Shutters After 51 Years in Berkeley

Take heart, Powell's will be a good custodian of the Shakespeare and Co. heritage. They are the largest and finest used bookstore in the country and we, in Oregon, are proud that they're here and soon to be there in my much- loved Berkeley.

4 likes, 1 dislike
Posted by Betsy Fielding on 06/05/2015 at 2:09 PM

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