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Playwright Alleges Racist Treatment at Berkeley Repertory Theatre

Judy Juanita, an Oakland playwright, was invited by a member of the Berkeley Repertory Theatre staff to the final dress rehearsal of Anna Deavere Smith’s “Notes From the Field: Doing Time in Education, the California Chapter.”  Unfortunately, once at the theatre, Juanita and her friends (who are all Black), were told by ushers to leave their reserved seats, according to a Facebook post by Juanita, first reported by the East Bay Express.

According to an apology letter issued by the theatre, an usher believed that Juanita’s seat was reserved for a technical crew member. Juanita posted on Facebook that she was initially refused to be seated and that multiple ushers then told her to leave her seat, even after she explained that her friend, who is white member of the theatre staff, had reserved their seats.

In the theater’s apology letter, Polly Winograd Ikonen, director of marketing, communications and patron engagement for the theater, wrote, ironically, that the play’s message needed to reach an audience that is racially, ethnically and socioeconomically diverse. The theater also expressed in the letter that it has one of the largest and most successful examples of audience diversity among arts organizations nationally.

In an effort to make this play about how Black youth transition from school into crime more accessible to those who have experienced the “school-to-prison pipeline,” the theater gave away 1,000 free tickets and 1,000 half-price tickets. According to Ikonen, the theater has many programs on an ongoing basis to reach “as wide of an audience as possible.”

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