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Never Givin' Up

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Anna Deveare Smith has an impressive resume. She is an artist-in-residence at the Center for American Progress, a professor in the Department of Performance Studies at the Tisch School of the Arts in New York, a lecturer at the NYU School of Law, and formerly taught at Stanford and Carnegie Mellon University. In addition, she is a talented actress performing in television, film, and theater.

She is probably best known by theater audiences for her one-woman performances, particularly to Los Angeles audiences for Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 dealing with the Watts riots. She has received numerous awards for her performances and work, including a Pulitzer nomination, a Drama Desk Award, a MacArthur Fellowship, and multiple honorary degrees from over 20 colleges and universities.

This production, Never Givin' Up, is a moving paean to the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. through his  "Letter From a Birmingham Jail" and first-hand interviews from three individuals who represent voices of injustice and discrimination. It is performed with only a desk and chair, and she is accompanied by pianist Anne Epperson and violinist Robert McDuffie.

Deveare Smith's poignant and intelligent rendering of King Jr.'s letter brings to life a text which heretofore has been in print but not orally interpreted in the context of his jail time in April, 1963. It was in response to several clergymen who criticized his protests as counter-productive.

She describes his letter as written on a newspaper, as he had no paper, and it was an articulate and pointed defense of non-violent protest. It cites such authorities as St. Augustine, theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Martin Buber, among others, reinforcing his measured and thoughtful response. That he could do so in a jail cell with no reference sources at hand speaks to the scope of his thinking about how civil rights protestations could be justified.

While she doesn't pretend to be King Jr., with her acting skills she emphasizes the writing process as well as the content. She is forceful, at times, and thoughtful, at others. She hobbles onstage, appearing with a torn tendon and a cane for support. She assures the audience that it is not painful, and she doesn't suffer for her art.

The first person who comes to life is Charlayne Hunter-Gault, the first black woman to attend the University of Georgia. Her account is simple and direct, alluding to a dormitory incident that happened while she attended the school. That simplicity is powerful.

Her second is given by Rudy Salas, a painter, who was a Zoot-suiter in 1942 and described beatings he endured during that time. Deveare Smith takes on his character to great effect.

The third is Congressman John Lewis, an outspoken civil rights advocate, whose career his been distinguished by his advocacy. He tells of his march into Selma, Alabama and how the protestors were beaten by state troopers. He, himself, sustained a skull injury.

The music that accompanies the production is diverse, from Phillip Glass to classical works. The piece at the beginning is concert quality, but it is long and might be better after some context for the evening's message could be introduced. "How Great Thou Art" is a meaningful addition to the tone of the experience. McDuffie is a fine choice for this musical performance as he is accomplished and understands the emotional tone needed.

Deveare Smith is concerned with the "rhetoric of hope" that she evinces in her performances. As she performs, the rapt attention of the audience is seldom seen in audiences, in general, a testament to her ability to bring to life the issues she is passionate about. This should be required viewing for every citizen.

Performed at the Broad Stage at the Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica. April 15-26. $32-55. See Broad Stage Website for dates and times.



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.