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San Diego weekend arts events: Bilingual theater, a North County book fair and more

 June 1, 2023 at 2:25 PM PDT

S1: You're listening to Kpbs Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. Tennis , anyone ? Or how about a book fair or a little music ? We've got it all on this edition of the Weekend Preview. I'm joined by Kpbs arts editor and producer Julia Dixon Evans. Julia , Hi.

S2: Hi , Maureen. Thanks for having me.

S1: So let's start with a world premiere at La Jolla Playhouse called Love All. It's a play about tennis legend Billie Jean King. Now , you interviewed director and Broadway veteran Marc Bruni about the production this week. But first , maybe fill us in. Remind us a little bit about Billie Jean King and who she is. I think that she's probably the first female tennis player who became an actual media sensation , a celebrity.

S2: And , you know , she's won 39 major titles in tennis. She's in the International Tennis Hall of Fame and was the founder of the Women's Tennis Association and the Women's Sports Foundation. So much more than just her titles. But despite all of this , like you said , that media sensation thing , Billie Jean King is probably most famous for a single game of tennis. It was in 1973 against former men's champ Bobby Riggs. And this was broadcast on prime time TV. It was broadcast around the world and billed as the Battle of the Sexes. Riggs was this arrogant kind of he was self described as a male chauvinist , if that tells you anything. And he challenged women's tennis players to a match to prove that men were superior.

S3: I say it's a thrill. I'm ready to play and I'm going to try to win for all the guys around the world who feel as I do that the male is king , the male is supreme. I've said it over and over again. I still feel that way. Girls play a nice game of tennis for girls , but when they get out there on a court with a man , even a tired old man of 55 , they're going to be in big trouble.

S2: Billie Jean King won that match.

S1: Yeah , that's that's her legacy game.

S4: Billie Jean King and the crowd loves it.

S2: So she beat him in three straight sets. It was six four , 6363. And of course , it was all more than just about beating this one man. This was right around the time of Title nine era. And women in tennis were fighting. They were fighting to be taken seriously as they were in all sports. And Billie Jean King went on to be as much an activist as she is an athlete.

S1: So that's the story , or at least part of the story of Billie Jean King.

S2: It starts from a couple of significant instigating moments in her childhood , so long before this match in 1973. And it's an ensemble cast , so you can expect appearances from other tennis greats and big players in activism of the time. The creative team is also super interesting to me. The playwright is Anna Deavere Smith. She's probably more famous as an actress. She was in The West Wing and Nurse Jackie , but she's also an award winning playwright. And the director is Marc Bruni. He is a longtime Broadway director , most recently for the musical Beautiful. The Carole King Story. So that's cool that he is known for this musical. And then here we have this play about tennis. And when I talked to him , I found it interesting that , like me , he didn't really grow up knowing much about Billie Jean King , but was drawn to her story nonetheless.

S5: Billie Jean King is a tennis icon , and she was someone that I was not as familiar with going into this process , I have to say I was I was aware of her achievements , but not the details of the fight for equality that she was a part of. I was very privileged to be able to examine this period that we're examining in the play of her life from the late 50s to the early 70s through the lens of a different icon , Carole King. And so this has been a really incredible experience to be able to re-examine this this same period through a much more intersectional lens and looking at the overlapping battles of the 60s that Billie Jean was very much a part of.

S2: And you could build an entire play around that moment. In 1973 , she accepted a challenge from former tennis champ Bobby Riggs , who had notoriously been outspoken about how inferior women were as athletes. Can you tell us about that moment in history that the so-called battle of the sexes match and what that meant ? Absolutely.

S5: I think I think that there was a movie about the battle of the sexes. That event is largely what people remember about Billie Jean King. And I think one of the things that's very interesting about this play is that it examines all of the events that lead up to the Bobby Riggs match. And so we're trying to take away the male lens and to examine all the accomplishments that led to that moment , which included the founding of the WTA.

S2: Tell me more about the WTA and kind of what happened with Billie. Sure.

S5: Sure. Well , Billie and the other women tennis players at the time had identified the issue of pay disparity in women's tennis. At that point , the purses for the men were almost ten times what were offered to the women. And in their fight for equality and towards parity in prize money. They formed their own tour , Virginia Slims tour , and in retaliation , the US LTA formed another tour that rivaled them. And one of the accomplishments of the WTA was to bring both of those tours together and to have all the women playing on under one roof and to be able to collectively bargain for their their future.

S2: So this is a world premiere play. Indeed.

S5: Indeed. This is a world premiere play by the great and David Smith , who has done a lot of work in solo work and working with for herself , and she's done incredible masterworks such as Twilight , Los Angeles and Fires in the Mirror. And and here she's working with a bigger canvas of 12 actors who play over 35 or 40 characters and tell the story of this very expansive time from the late 50s to the early 70s.

S2: And how do you tell Billie Jean King's story on the stage ? Can you tell us a little bit about this production ? Sure.

S5: I mean , this this production is a series of scenes. It moves very quickly. There's a lot of snapshots of moments in her life we're seeing , like not it's not only her , but she's surrounded by other tennis players of the period Rosie Casals , Frankie Durr. And we're watching them come together and we're seeing the power of collective action. And we're seeing the way that they are able to to find their voice , to be able to affect real change.


S5: And you'll see there's there's a lot of what happens in the play that is happening off the court. So there is some tennis , but you're not going to come and see any tennis matches reenacted. There are moments of victory , moments of defeat. But it's really a lot about what happens in the intersectional battle off the court.

S2: You mentioned earlier that you directed Beautiful , the Carole King musical that was on Broadway. That musical won basically all of the awards. Tony , Grammy , Olivier and Love All is not a musical. Can you talk a little bit about that departure from musical and where where your role as director has found an overlap there ? Sure.

S5: I think it's not a musical , although in a way it sort of moves like a musical in the sense that it has so many scenes that transitions are such a key element of the piece. I think there's there's a good deal of music in the play , even though the actors are not singing. But there there's a good deal of diegetic music that is of the period that is that is woven through the play as well.

S2: So Selena Kennedy plays the lead role of Billie Jean King. Can you tell us about Kennedy and what she is bringing to this character ? Sure.

S5: I became aware of Selena. She is a Canadian , and she worked up at the Stratford Festival for many years. I saw her in many , many shows up there. And and as a result of that , I was aware of her when Beautiful came around and she played Carole King on Broadway for over two years. I love working with her because she has such an emotional transparency and an honesty about her , and she's able to immerse herself in whatever character she plays. And she , in the course of this process is is finding the right balance with coming up with the essence of Billie Jean and bringing in emotional transparency that hopefully allows for an audience to to feel for the journey that Billie goes on. And also , like I said , this play is is an ensemble piece. It is not necessarily all about Billie. And although Billie is at the center of it , she's surrounded by these sort of first followers in a sense of being the early people to buy in on this , this idea of being able to buck the patriarchy and to have this very effective quest to achieve equality in women's tennis.


S5: She has been a wonderful part of the process from the beginning. We've done a couple of readings and a workshop , and she has been with us in the room several times and offered details from her memory. And and it's got to be the most crazy thing to watch your life be depicted on stage. She's been a wonderful resource for the cast. The last time she came to the Playhouse last week , she ended with an impromptu tennis lesson , which was just unforgettable for everybody involved. And what she brings into the room is an inquisitiveness and a an interest in everyone around her. And that's that's really fascinating to have someone who is so iconic and yet so humble at the same time.

S2: Mark , thank you so much.

S5: That was my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

S1: That was director Marc Bruni of La Jolla , Playhouse's world premiere production of Love All. The play opens in previews on Saturday. You're listening to Kpbs Midday Edition. I'm wearing Cavanaugh And I'm here with Kpbs arts producer and editor Julia Dixon Evans to talk about a few more weekend arts and culture options. Now , North County has its own book , Fair taking place at the California Center for the Arts Escondido.

S2: Yeah , this one's hosted by local authors. They're also retired teachers. So once you retire from teaching , you probably never actually give up wanting to share literature with the world. They have a bunch of featured authors , three of them T , Jefferson , Parker , Linda Thomas Sundstrom and Matt Coyle will be doing readings and authors spotlights , but dozens and dozens of other authors will be there with their books from all genres , including children's books. So this is something to bring the whole family to. It's 10 to 4 in the art and education studios at Center for the Arts , Escondido , and it's free.

S1: All right , then how about some music ? Are there any bands coming to town that are on your radar ? Yes.

S2: So there's an alt rock band there coming to Soda bar Friday night. They're called Arts Fishing Club , which is a great name. They're based in Nashville and touring and they have a new album on the way later this month is called Rothko Sky , and this is one of the latest singles called Doug Song.

UU: And I'm sorry to my. Because I know that.

S2: The band Homes at Night and singer songwriter Dori Valentine are opening and both are really chill indie. So this is going to be a really nice show. It's Friday. The doors open at 730 at the soda bar.

S1: And then at the Old Globe. They're hosting performances of Frontera Project in partnership with some cross-border theater companies. What do you know about that ? Yeah.

S2: So this is from the bilingual theater company Tijuana's Teatro and New Feat Productions. They're partnering with the Old Globe Arts Engagement this weekend. It's kind of an interactive bilingual experience. And if you're only an English speaker , you'll definitely still be able to experience everything. The show is a collection of stories about the US-Mexico border performed using theater , music and movement and what they call play. There's participation , but it's not entirely participatory. It's going to feel more organic than just sitting back and watching a play in the dark , though. And these are such vital and beautiful stories. The shows are Thursday , Friday and Saturday nights at 7:00 and then Sunday at two at the Old Globe and a park.

S1: That's great. So you can find a tales on these and more arts events on our website or sign up for Julia's weekly Kpbs arts newsletter at Slash Arts , I've been speaking with Kpbs arts editor and producer Julia Dixon Evans. And , Julia , thank you.

S2: Thank you , Maureen. Have a good weekend.

A scene from Tijuana Hace Teatro and New Feet Productions' "The Frontera Project" is shown in an undated photo.
Owens Daniels Photography
A scene from Tijuana Hace Teatro and New Feet Productions' "The Frontera Project" is shown in an undated photo.

There are a few arts and culture offerings this weekend, including a book fair hosted by the California Center for the Arts Escondido, performances by cross-border theater company Tijuana Hace Teatro at The Old Globe, and an alt rock concert at the Soda Bar.

KPBS/Arts producer and editor Julia Dixon Evans joined Midday Edition to talk more about how to catch these events.


Julia Dixon Evans, KPBS/Arts producer and editor