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Never Givin' Up- A Second View

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"Actor" and "activist" are linguistically related terms; in the person of MacArthur Genius Award-recipient and Tony Award-nominated actress and playwright – Anna Deavere Smith – the two concepts become integrated. Known for her innovative approach to theater, Professor Smith (she's on the faculty at New York University in the Tisch School of the Arts) is accurately described as a docu-dramatist. That is, she documents current events and issues through the process of interviewing witnesses and stakeholders who are the subjects of such events and issues. After that rigorous but enlightening process, she reenacts the interviews as a series of topical monologues.

Smith’s latest project is a slight departure from her earlier dramatic compositions, however. In Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, Smith’s monodrama concerning the Los Angeles riots of late last century, for instance, Smith conducted, compiled, and then performed a multitude of interviews, which after hearing the various perspectives reenacted by Smith, left audiences with a word-made portraiture of the event and the multitude of occurrences and attitudes which may have built to that point of social explosion.

In Never Givin’ Up Smith instead performs an incisive oral interpretation of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Along with this homage to one of modern-day America’s epistolary masterworks, Smith, under the lucid direction of Stephen Wadsworth, adds the musical accompaniment of a single violin (Played enchantingly by Grammy-nominee Robert McDuffie) and a single piano (Anne Epperson, touching the ivories with much melancholy). What’s more, Smith has interjected some previously gleaned interviews from her past docudramas, including words from Charlayne Hunter-Gault, the first African American woman to enroll in the University of Georgia, way back in 1961, and a moving monologue from famed Freedom Rider and current Georgia congressman, John Lewis.

But the star of the occasion is Dr. King’s monumental letter. King’s cause is herein made palpable, his thoughts are straight forward, but his references to the likes of philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr (who asserts that “groups tend to be more immoral than individuals”) and Saint Augustine (who held that “an unjust law is no law at all”) are fortifying and ennobling in the support they lend to the justice that King calls for from that Birmingham jail cell.

The letter is in response to a Call for Unity, which was a statement published in an Alabama newspaper. It was written by eight white clergymen who took issue with Dr. King’s methods of social protest. In his missive, King takes issue with the status quo view of time. Indicating that time is of itself neutral, but that change stems from the actions of human beings working in time for social betterment.

Further, King details the psychology of oppression, enumerating the humiliations that the oppressed experienced on a daily basis – “no motel will accept you,” “nagging signs reading ‘white’ and ‘colored,’” “when you are harried by day and haunted by night  by the fact that you are a Negro.”

Not only is "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" a towering literary artifact of the Civil Rights movement in America, it also contains a currency and relevance in today’s world. When black men appear to be more endangered than protected by our police, where income disparity between white people and black people continues to be significant, and where jails are overwhelmingly populated by minority men, the words of Dr. King’s 1962 letter demand review, discussion, and action.  Thank heaven for Ann Deavere Smith for both her artistry and her activism. May she continue to spread the words.

Never Givin’ Up continues at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica through April 26. For reservations, call (310)434-3200. For online ticketing and further information, visit www.thebroadstage.com.

 

Spotlight

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.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

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.