Kehinde Koyejo directs one-woman play, “Brain Like Berkeley”

kehinde-, Kehinde Koyejo directs one-woman play, “Brain Like Berkeley”, Culture Currents Local News & Views
Kehinde Koyejo is the director of the one-woman show “Brains Like Berkeley” at the Brava Theater on Feb. 18th. 

Coming to the Brava Theater on Feb. 18th

by The Minister of Information JR Valrey, Oakland Bureau Chief

The uber-talented Oakland native Kehinde Koyejo is directing a one-woman show called “Brain Like Berkeley”, which is written by her longtime friend Kulwa Apara, which premieres on Saturday Feb. 18th at the Brava Theater in San Francisco from 3-5pm. 

She is talking about directing the one woman piece, her relationship with the writer, and her relationship with the historic Brava Theater. For some Black Women’s history, tune into what Kehinde Koyejo has to say. 

JR Valrey: Where does the name come from? Can you talk about how the event “Brain Like Berkeley” was conceived?

Kehinde Koyejo: Kulwa came up with the name “Brain Like Berkeley” and is writing the content for the show. She has a lot of material for her show already that she wrote over time. 

I’m here to assist Kulwa in realizing her vision and share this extraordinary journey with her as a co-creator and friend. Kulwa will talk more about how this piece was conceived in her upcoming interview with you. So, make sure you, the readers, read her interview as well.

JR Valrey: Why did you agree to work with Kulwa on her stage show? How far back does your relationship with Kulwa Apara’s family go?

Kehinde Koyejo: I’ve known Kulwa and her family for over 20 years. I’m pretty sure we met in the Pan-African circles in Oakland. Kulwa and I are Ibeji (twins). 

Her twin, Kehinde Apara, and my twin, Taiwo Koyejo, all grew up together in Oakland, and became grown women together. Now we are friends as adults, which is a special gift. To say we go back way back when…

Honestly, I’ve been waiting for Kulwa to be ready to do a one-woman show. She’s a great storyteller and a phenomenal dancer and artist. One of the things I value about Kulwa is that she is a fearless intellectual. 

One day Kulwa and I hooked up for some sister time at the start of 2023, and she said, “I’m ready to tell my story and I want you to direct it.” I was like “yes queen, I’ve been waiting.” I am extremely excited and honored to co-create this experience with her.

JR Valrey: As the director, what exactly are you responsible for in the “Brain Like Berkeley” production?

Kehinde Koyejo: As the director, I am responsible for helping Kulwa execute her vision. I listen, listen, and listen some more to get an understanding of her why? Why does she want to share this piece of herself with the community? What does this mean to her and for her? What mediums does she want to use to tell her story? Is there something she wants to leave with the participating audience? What does she want to say? I ask a bunch of questions and the magic naturally happens. I create a fluid space where an infinite number of possibilities can exist. 

We throw ideas out and we hold on to the ones that work and move those forward. Kulwa is a natural performer. She is a real Oakland goddess, and she knows how to capture people’s attention with just her presence.

I’m also mapping out the blocking for the show. Blocking is where the artist enters, exits, stands, moves, etc., as well as mapping out the light and sound design. I am taking Kulwa’s vision and all her ideas and skillfully crafting a theatrical production for a live audience. I get to be a visual seamstress with the privilege of putting together all the beautiful pieces of Kulwa’s story into a one-night-only, one-woman show.

JR Valrey: How long have y’all been working on this piece? And what does y’alls creative process look like?

Kehinde Koyejo: Kulwa and I have been working on this piece since the beginning of the year. We get together once a week and talk through her ideas. Our creative process looks like girl time. We get comfortable. We laugh, cry, eat, and I do a ton of listening. 

I’m very familiar with the world of theater. I know the artist’s perspective as well as the director’s perspective which helps me better shape the life Kulwa wants to create on stage. Our process is going with the flow. It’s what I’ve learned as a company member of the Black Artist Contemporary Cultural Experience (BACCE). 

We are the B.A.D. kids on the theater block (Brilliant AND Daring).

We don’t overkill a piece. We map out the important parts of the show, you know, like the bone structure and then we layer as we go. We are adding value to our process and the process becomes the final performance. That’s my approach as a director and how I live my life.

JR Valrey: You do a lot of events at the Brava Theater, what is your relationship with them, and why do you support them?

Kehinde Koyejo: I’ve been a company member with BACCE ( for 10 years now and some of our past productions include Sweet Maladies by Zakiyyah Alexander, Booty Candy and American Ma(u)l by Robert Ohara, and our monthly salon, So Soul San Francisco. I was invited to join the company in 2012 by artist, director, founding company member, Edris Cooper-Anifowoshe. I am always honored to share the stage with my fellow brilliant company members Aejay Mitchell, Rotimi Agbabiaka, Aaron Wilton, India Wilmott, Shirley Smallwood, and Jennie Brick. We have been rocking together breaking all the rules in theater and in life for some time now. I support Brava because it’s been a consistent theater home for me and has allowed me and other artists a space to grow and expand our artistry. I love that Brava has a focus on women in the arts. And the executive director, Anastasia Powers, is one of our biggest supporters as well as our friend. Currently, I am an artist in residence at Brava.

JR Valrey:  How long have you been directing plays? And what is the difference for you personally between being on stage and being in the background, besides the obvious?

Kehinde Koyejo: Directing is a craft I got into while living in Bedstuy, Brooklyn. I received my BFA in acting from Pace University and my master’s in performance studies from New York University. I have worked as a professional actor for over 15 years in the Bay Area and abroad. Directing became an interest for me after I graduated from grad school. The Performance Studies program at NYU introduced me to the many ways I could be an artist and the importance of being an artist that can create opportunities as well. I connected with Aaron Ingram, founder of Act Now and he became my mentor and dear friend. Aaron took me under his wing and generously taught me everything he knew about producing, casting, and directing. He took a chance on me and gave me the task of reviving their theater department.

The evening will be riddled with humor, dance, short stories, and a lovely Q&A with wine, cookies, and of course free-trade tea!

Because I was an actor, I was connected to many of the black emerging and established actors and playwrights in New York during this time. The first project I took on was curating Act Now’s yearly New Voices in Theater Festival where I brought together some of New York’s on-the-rise Black actors, directors, and playwrights and curated a week of brilliant theater as well as our annual Taste of Forte Green Fundraiser. Sadly, after two good years with Act Now, Aaron passed away from cancer in 2012. After I laid to rest my dear friend and mentor, I knew it was time for me to move on. I moved back to California and began acting again. When I became a single mother, I needed to refocus and heal. The acting was very laborious on my body-mind and the time commitment was too much for me to hold. Honestly, I prefer the background, so directing and producing feels aligned with who I am and my lifestyle. I still love to perform, which is why I exclusively work with BACCE. There is nothing traditional or conventional about what we do. We are the B.A.D. kids on the theater block (Brilliant AND Daring). We always have a lot of fun together.

JR Valrey: What is “Brain Like Berkeley” about? And how will it be presented?

Kehinde Koyejo: “Brain Like Berkeley” is a series of excerpts from Kulwa’s soon-to-be-released memoir of short stories entitled “Brain Like Berkeley.” A third-generation UC Berkeley alum, Kulwa dishes the tea on the chaotic pressures of being raised in a radical Pan-African family, coming of age at the precipice of food stamps and EBT, and the nuances of being grown in the Bay Area. The evening will be riddled with humor, dance, short stories, and a lovely Q&A with wine, cookies, and of course free-trade tea! Come out and support black womyn staying sane through the arts, and fellowship with community members looking to build belonging despite these crazy and isolated times.

JR Valrey: You are a woman of many talents, what else are you working on?

Kehinde Koyejo: As an entrepreneur, I am building two brands: Kalm Korner (, a luxury aromatherapy-centered gift line and e-commerce marketplace prioritizing black woman-owned brands and Choc’late Mama Cookie Co. (@chocolatemamacookies), specializing in vegan, gluten-free, and grain-free classic cookie treats. Check out my next cookie popup at the Black History Month Media Mixer, on February 16th, 6:30-8 PM at Rose Mary Jane, Oakland. 

I am a collective member with The Goddess Commune (, founded by Dr. Francine “Olivia” Shakir and our mission is to address the inequities in healthcare and health outcomes for Black womyn and women of color by providing loving and holistic healing experiences. We are planning our 2023 community offerings, including our next Black Womyn Healing Retreat, which is scheduled for March 18th at Redwood and Oak, a Black-owned venue in the Oakland Hills. The retreat will include a communal foot-soaking ceremony with sound bowl therapy by Queen Zingha (A Sound Soul) and some powerful wellness workshops and services, as well as a beautiful marketplace.

As an Artist in Residence at Brava, I am working on a series of curated experiences that will include more one-woman shows (maybe my own), panel performances, and interviews with artists, healers, and entrepreneurs who are making major moves in the Black Bay Area.

As a member of BACCE, we are currently working on our newest creation, Black to the Future, where we are exploring the makings of a New Black Nation. Black to the Future will be performed in June. We are also planning our 2023 So Soul San Francisco Salons.

JR Valrey: How could people get more information and buy tickets to “Brain Like Berkeley”?

Kehinde Koyejo: Check out Brava’s Event Calendar on their website for ticket links and show details. The studio seats 50 people so we are encouraging folks who want to have this one-night-only experience to reserve their seats as soon as possible.

JR Valrey: How could people keep up with you online?

Kehinde Koyejo: Definitely let’s stay connected! Follow me on IG @kehinde.thebrand, @chcocolatemamacookies, @kalmkorner.

JR Valrey, journalist, author, filmmaker and founder of Black New World Media, heads the SF Bay View’s Oakland Bureau and is founder of his latest project, the Ministry of Information Podcast. He can be reached at and on Instagram.