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Frederick Douglass Now

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He was a bestselling author, a lecturer, a proponent of the women’s suffrage movement, and a candidate for vice president of the United States on the ticket of the Equal Rights Party. Along with Abraham Lincoln, Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Brown,  and Edwin Booth (the acclaimed actor and older sibling to Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth) he was among the best known people of the American Civil War era. What's more, he escaped while enslaved and became, along with William Lloyd Garrison and Harriet Tubman, one of the most influential abolitionists in the country. Who is he, you wonder? The name is Frederick Douglass, and his is a story of intrepidness and inspiration that is a tale for all times and every mind.


The Obie-winning actor, monologist, and playwright – Roger Guenveur Smith – has created and is delivering an exquisite verbal and ironic visual portrait of Douglass in a non-linear, often anachronistic rendering of this champion of the human spirit. Moreover, Smith sees to it that Douglass’ words and commitment to human rights remains relevant to those who live today, as well as for future generations. Perhaps that’s why he has titled his impactful performance piece, Frederick Douglass Now.


On the stage of Los Angeles’ Bootleg Theater, we encounter a scenic and lighting design (both by Kirk Wilson) that accentuates the American flag. Stage right is a huge red, white, and blue banner. Stage left Old Glory is also on prominent display. Center stage, however, the U.S. flag hangs over what appears to be a gallows; a thick lynching rope is attached.

With no wig, or enhancements with which to imitate the 19th century firebrand Smith appears, microphone in hand. He begins to utter the words of Frederick Douglass; soon though those words morph into “I am a movie star. Gun at the ready. My image plastered on plantation walls next to the malt liquor ads.” It’s a provocative juxtaposition, as he continues with “I know how to do the Black Panther stomp and the Charleston.”Back and forth Smith goes blazing with rapid-fire words that evoke images not only historic but also contemporaneous.

Everyone from Olympian Jesse Owens to O.J. Simpson is mentioned in Smith’s 55 minute (with no intermission) tour de force. Further, the show is laced with rap and slam poetry and loaded with emotion, which seems to grow incrementally but hits an affective zenith that becomes nearly overwhelming. By the end of this swiftly moving monodrama there is a catharsis but also a palpable appreciation, not only for the articulate bravery of Frederick Douglass, but also for the dedicated performance of Roger Guenveur Smith. Bravo!

Frederick Douglass Now continues at the Bootleg Theater through August 24. Evening performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Matinees are Sundays at 3 p.m. The Bootleg Theater is located at 2220 Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles. For reservations, call (213) 389-3856. For online ticketing and further information, visit



Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”


Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.