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Common Ground Theatre Celebrates Late Playwright Douglas Turner Ward

 February 25, 2021 at 10:17 AM PST

Speaker 1: 00:00 San Diego is common. Ground theater has a mission to produce classics and new works by and about people of African descent. This weekend. It showcases day of absence by Douglas Turner ward who died last Saturday, came PBS arts reporter Beth DACA. Amando speaks with actor, Leon Alexander Matthews about the virtual production. Speaker 2: 00:22 Leon, you are part of a production of day of absence. Uh, talk a little bit about what this play by Douglas Turner ward is about. Speaker 3: 00:30 This play is about a small town in deep, in the deep South. And one day the town, uh, wakes up the white wake up and all the black folks have gone away for 24 hours and to their despair, they don't know what to do. And so it it's, uh, we go through 24 hours of the whole town talking about where the white folk or where the black folks have gone and why they've gone. They don't know where they've gone. Uh, what are we going to do if they're not here? How are we going to live? How are we going to do our day to day without them? So that's basically what the play is about. And then also you get a, uh, insight on what this town thought about the, about the Negroes in the town Speaker 2: 01:13 And this play in terms of performance involves a version of white face. And what does that entail for the performance? Speaker 3: 01:22 Uh, actually reversal of the menstruals that happened back, uh, when it started to begin of the 19th century, where you had the white males, uh, dressing in black space or charcoal face and doing comedy skips, buffoonery skits, if you will, about African-Americans about blacks in the, in the towns or in the blacks and growing up back then. And so this play is a reversal of that, where we're all in white space and we're portraying the, our white counterparts. Speaker 2: 01:50 And is this something that was actually written into the text of the play or is this a choice by the company? Speaker 3: 01:57 Uh, no. This was actually written into the text of the play. This is, uh, in its original form. Uh, we haven't changed it. Uh, it was written back in 1965. And, um, so everything that you will see is exactly how it was Speaker 2: 02:11 Adding a note of sadness to this particular production is the fact that the playwright just recently passed away. And how does it feel to be, or to have this being performed at this particular moment, then, Speaker 3: 02:27 You know, it's like you said, it's with sadness, but you know, it's a, it's a great honor to be able to perform a play like this, and actually at a time that we're experiencing in America, because even though this was written back in 1965, it is so relevant to what is going on in 2021. And, you know, by then we thought, you know, racism and, and, uh, just the way that America thinks and the way that America processes things we thought by now, it should be men and women of any color or race or background or religion should be on equal ground, but they're not. Speaker 2: 03:06 And how was this performance done? Is this something that was filmed specifically to go online? Or was this something that was a performance that had been filmed a while ago? Speaker 3: 03:17 Originally? Of course this was done onstage pre COVID. And so when the play came across the table and we thought about this play, it's like, wow, you know, hopefully the restrictions will have, uh, gone away and we can get back to the theater. But of course it's strict restrictions have not gone back to normal. Nothing is normal yet. So Yolanda put her head together and said, you know what, we can do this online. We can do this be as zone. So our rehearsals, all of our rehearsals grounds in the mall. So none of the actors have actually been acting together really. And so we were able to do that through the technology. And so, um, I think we'll have a pretty good production Speaker 2: 03:56 People, a little bit about this theater company, common ground. It's been here in San Diego for quite a while, but, um, some people may not be familiar with it. So give us a little background. Speaker 3: 04:06 Yeah. So common ground it's been around for over 50 years and it's stayed in the community. And what they do is, uh, not only do they get actors from this community, but they also get actress from other communities. And regardless of your background, uh, your experience, they audition you and give you a chance to, to perform. Uh, so like myself. And of course, when I first started, I didn't have any acting experience. If I first started off as a musician and then a role came about called mute, uh, before it goes home, before it comes home, I was able to act as a sax player and actually got the lead role, surprisingly enough. And so, but they groom you and, uh, and some of the actors have gone on to be a major performers. Speaker 2: 04:51 It's not too much of an imposition. Could I ask you to read a couple of lines from the play in your character? Speaker 3: 04:57 Because this part is where, um, John and Mary, actually, they woken up. They, they, uh, John's already gone to work and he's actually gone through the neighborhood and there they have a maid and her name is Lula and they can't find Lula. So let me just give a little bit of this. Walked up to the shack, knocked on the door. Didn't get no answer. Holler, Lula, Lola, not a thing. Went around the side, picked in the window. Nobody stirred next door. Nobody thought her crossed over side of the street, bang on five, six other doors. Not a colored person could be filed on a man. Neither one, one, a child, not even a black dog could be seen, smelled on her for blocks around there. Go Mary, go. Speaker 2: 05:54 I don't want to, I want to thank you very much for talking about this production Speaker 4: 05:59 Will. Thank you very much. Speaker 1: 06:00 It was Beth Armando speaking with actor, Leon Alexander Matthews. About day of absence. The play is being performed online tomorrow through Sunday. Information is available@commongroundtheater.com. Speaker 4: 06:16 [inaudible].

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Common Ground Theatre's mission is “to produce classics and new works by and about people of African descent.” This weekend it showcases "Day of Absence" by Douglas Turner Ward, who died last Saturday.
KPBS Midday Edition Segments