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Friday, December 8, 2023

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Best of the BayBAM House: Best of the Bay 2023 Editors' Pick

BAM House: Best of the Bay 2023 Editors’ Pick

Oakland Poet Laureate and cultural architect Ayodele Nzinga opens a rare space for Black arts in the Town

Thousands of readers voted in our Best of the Bay 2023 Readers Poll, honoring dozens of wonderful local businesses and cultural forces. Now it’s our editors’ and writers’ turn to highlight specific people and places we’ve been loving about the Bay Area. Join us to celebrate Best of the Bay and more at our 10th Annual 48 Hills Gala at Bissap Baobab on 10/26, and help keep this 49-year-old tradition alive.

It doesn’t take much for good news to turn bad. Granted, the news started bad with the announcement that The Flight Deck—the Oakland performance space, art gallery, and headquarters of Ragged Wing Ensemble—would be closing its doors in 2020 after six years as the Town’s only remaining black box venue. Fortunately, this early-pandemic news was countered by the subsequent announcement that PianoFight would be expanding from their crucial SF venue to take over Flight Deck operations from Ragged Wing. But then, well, we know what happened next.

What no one saw coming (though we probably should have) was that the next chapter of the venue’s story would be written by the self-proclaimed “WordSlanger,” Oakland’s very own Ayodele Nzinga. Oakland’s first-ever poet laureate has been creating theatre in The Town for decades with the Lower Bottom Playaz, who were an in-residence company at The Flight Deck. After both Ragged Wing and PianoFight gave up the space, Nzinga stepped in to secure the lease and make Lower Bottom Playaz the chief resident.

She re-christened the building BAM House (1540 Broadway, Oakland), after the Oakland-based Black Arts Movement organization she co-founded in 2016. The company started off by staging their annual BAMFest in the venue, as well as continuing Nzinga’s multi-year project of producing August Wilson’s entire Pittsburgh Cycle on stage.

Doing so reflects the fact that this isn’t merely a transition of ownership from one proprietor to another, it’s recognition of the vital role Oakland—particularly downtown—has played in distinguishing independent theatre outside of San Francisco.

The 1540 Broadway address sits right between the 12th Street and 19th Street BART stations, making for a smooth transition for travelers from either side of the Bridge. Its large front windows give a clear view of the lobby, which is frequently decorated in ways directly suited to the show currently playing, piquing the interests of passersby. Even their updated restrooms often hold a high standard for public cleanliness, enticing visitors to return. (Full disclosure: I served as house manager from late-2014-15 and cleaned those restrooms myself, so I know what they look like when they’re spotless.)

Finding a venue that checks off so many specific boxes (intimate; Black-owned and operated; near public transit; outside of SF) is a tall order, which is part of what makes the re-christening of BAM House so encouraging. It maintains a venue that’s served countless artists in the past and is providing space for artists yet to come. It isn’t really a miracle so much as it’s “the most Oakland thing you could think of”.

Although the venue has no proper website, more information about BAM can be found at BAMBDFest.com 

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Charles Lewis III
Charles Lewis III
Charles Lewis III is a San Francisco-born journalist, theatre artist, and arts critic. You can find dodgy evidence of this at thethinkingmansidiot.wordpress.com

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