Fighting for the Cultural Soul of the City
The San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Company (SFBATCO) is rooted by the bonds of childhood friendship. Rodney Jackson, Jr. and Marcelo Javier first met as adolescents while studying performing arts through the San Francisco Arts Education Project, a local organization that has served as an entry point to the arts for some 300,000 local youth.
Jackson and Javier immediately meshed over their shared passion for theatre, and their different, but not unfamiliar, backgrounds and interests. Their collaborative relationship continued to blossom in high school at the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts.
“He’s Guatemalan, I’m Black, we’re both Queer. And we became fast friends singing along to musical soundtracks by everyone from the Gershwins to Sondheim to Jonathan Larson,” says SFBATCO’s Artistic Director Rodney Jackson, Jr.
The pair knew they wanted to transform San Francisco’s cultural scene. Today, just ten years later, Jackson and Javier co-direct a theatre company that, according to its mission statement, is “a Black, Latine, and Asian led nonprofit organization, which produces compelling theater that builds community, fosters cross-cultural dialogue, promotes social justice, and authentically reflects the experiences of communities of color and LGBTQ people.”
After high school, Javier continued his theater studies at Syracuse University. Jackson, meanwhile, attended Carnegie Mellon University. The two reunited shortly thereafter in New York where Javier produced an Off-Broadway play and Jackson produced a play at the New York Fringe Fest.
“We were both making art in New York City at 21 years old and thought, ‘Why aren’t we making art in our hometown?’” Jackson says. “New York City attracts artists from all over the country, but we wanted to bring what we learned back home, to the SF Bay Area, and cultivate it. We wanted to be active participants in changing the culture of our community while uplifting other artists like us.”
In the theatre milieu, diversity has been authentically embraced, but stark disparities in the upper echelons persist.
“Marcelo and I had very few mentors or theatre directors who looked like us,” Jackson says. “The majority of the people who make decisions in the arts are white. We knew that we needed to carve out our own space, and to promote more diversity in every facet of the industry. We saw that as the only way to create the work that we wanted to create.”
The theatre company’s New Roots Theatre Festival is a clear example, where SFBATCO and five other “Legacy” companies tell cutting-edge stories that represent the Bay Area’s global identity, while celebrating stories of its historically marginalized communities.
“We are about telling the stories of those most vulnerable – the stories of our world, our people, and our communities. These stories are universally relatable, but wildly underproduced,” Jackson says. “We have to tackle societal problems headfirst or else they fester, and the same destructive cycles continue. As cultural trailblazers, we must disrupt those cycles.”
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Artistic Director/Co-founder: Rodney Earl Jackson, Jr.
SFBATCO, a Black, Latine, & Asian led non-profit organization, produces compelling theater that builds community, fosters cross-cultural dialogue, promotes social justice and authentically reflects the experiences of communities of color and LGBTQ people. Our theatrical productions address social justice issues from an intersectional perspective and present affirmative non-stereotypical representations of individuals and communities who are feared or ostracized for their gender, race, religion, sexual preference, socio-economic or immigration status.
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Marcelo and I had very few mentors or theatre directors who looked like us. The majority of the people who make decisions in the arts are white. We knew that we needed to carve out our own space, and to promote more diversity in every facet of the industry. We saw that as the only way to create the work that we wanted to create.
“I, Too, Sing America”
The San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Company (SFBATCO) creates great art, supports communities, and tells stories using a multiplicity of minds, bodies, and voices.
In 2022, the company will reprise its signature production, I, Too, Sing America, which references Langston Hughes’s famed poem “I, Too.” The production is a joyous and reflective celebration of the human experience that uniquely interprets poetry by Black and Brown artists from the 19th century to the present in a musical format.
The company is seeking to raise $150,000 to underwrite this production, which was last presented during a two-week sold-out run in San Francisco in 2019 and begins its next run in early 2022.