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San Diego’s CAT (Community Actors Theater) Production of “Rants” Part 1

June 1, 2016

San Diego is hosting May Grey AND June Gloom this 2016. It is creating for me an atmosphere of contemplation.

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Delores Fisher—-walking, thinking, and blogging during a drizzly San Diego AM

A few days after finishing grading, sleepless nights, and fewer cups of coffee, I remembered my March 30th tweet https://twitter.com/DeloresFisher about posting thoughts on “Rants” at San Diego’s Community Actors Theater by playwright Paul Taylor Sr.

CAT Theater

Community Actors Theater San Diego, CA.

 

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The cast of Paul Taylor  Jr.’s play “Rants”

Grey days and cool AM breezes–and summer break–here are a few San Diego theater reflections

CAT, Community Actors Theater http://www.communityactorstheatre.com/, in San Diego California is a celebrated community space in the Oak Park/South East San Diego area. Jennie Hamilton, its founder, was recently noted by the San Diego Union Tribune http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/photos/galleries/2016/feb/13/faces-san-diego-theater/# .  Jennie’s work and dedication to the arts has won community support and admiration for productions over more than twenty years in the business.

Back in the mid 1960s, African American theater, and arts in general, had a resurgence similar to the Harlem Renaissance http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Black_aesthetic_movement.aspx

In a trail blazing collection of essays about Black theater at that time entitled The Theater of Black Americans: Roots and Ritals: The Search for Identity The Image Makers: Plays and Playwrights, Errol Hill states

The question of how to encourage and protect needed experimentation in the Afro-American theater while retaining and expanding audiences who have been nurtured on standard theatre fare is the knottiest of all problems faced by responsible Black theatre practitioners.1

It was an issue thirty years ago and despite “Gospel plays,” and work by arts as storytelling and community healing vehicle people like Tyler Perry, Black community theater survival remains an issue. However, thanks to the pre  -millenial and current Hip Hop generations’ experimentation with film and theater–it is a less problematic issue than it was fifty years ago.

Personal sidebar: Bravo young people in artistic endeavors. Keep quietly hurdling artistic milestones! Us “artistic OGs” really are proud of you. But, there is much more work to do on so many levels.

Discussing Black theater owners and producers of that era on a local and national scale, Hill further declares,

. . .  Most of them, concerned as much with survival as with aesthetic considerations, tend to adopt a pragmatic approach of using whatever form seems to work best for a particular production and are content to bequeath the search for a recognizable Afro-American theater form to the pens of critics and theorists.2

Survival is a must for shows to be seen. Theater space is NOT cheap. Buildings cost—–ON THE REAL!

I don’t know much about other cities, but San Diego is blessed with established theater companies that graciously host experimental shows and collaborate with new or small production companies. 3

Although CAT is a smaller community based theater space, Jennie Hamilton opens her venue to newcomers as well. She continues to embrace live performances of works by   amateur actors as well card- carrying professionals: she also embraces neophyte and experienced producers, directors, musicians, composers, vocalists, playwrights, comedians, and spoken word artists.

A couple of years ago, I spent a summer internship helping with basic upkeep jobs for Jennie Hamilton and CAT. I vacuumed, swept, dusted, re-arranged publicity pamphlets, cut out letters for the Marquee, talked local theater and people. We shared theater experiences about rewards and challenges of small San Diego community theater.

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My Summer Internship at CAT San Diego

However, in 2015, I took the summer off to rest, read, write; a heavier spring and fall teaching schedule left me academically fulfilled and wanting to be involved in more than theater reviewing, yet just too depleted to volunteer. Jennie and I kept in touch.

This spring, Jennie Hamilton was one of my guests at the Africana Studies 2016 MLK Luncheon at San Diego State University  http://africana.sdsu.edu/news.htm

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Jennie Hamilton

As we sat at dining at our table we talked about the arts with international ballet mistress Kathryn Irey of Stage Seven.

Kathryn

Kathryn Irey

Also joining the conversation was young rising opera vocalist Nicholas Neuman.

Nicholas Newton

Our lively exchanges stirred silent memories of my youth.

During my youth, more than thirty five years ago in seemingly far away edges of time, I worked a “day job” while pursuing a musical theater and film career. Almost everyone I knew at that time who wanted to be in theater or film in San Diego did the same thing. Some made it– fame, fortune, fabulous red carpet lives.

Local San Diego theater buzzed with up and coming talent in the 70s and 80s. Local theater mentors graciously and sometimes sternly shaped aspiring writers, actors, comedians, and directors.We commiserated and partied together!

I worked in various capacities at several theaters including the old Gaslamp Quarter Theater –before its financial issues became problematic  http://articles.latimes.com/1989-06-29/entertainment/ca-3438_1_kit-goldman-gaslamp-quarter-theatre-art-groups-survive-debt   , in the 1980s at the old Lamb’s theater as piano secundo with Vanda Eggington as primary piano http://www.lambsplayers.org/past.php?id=81

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Some of the Dames at Sea cast

At the old San Diego Repertory Theater site, before it moved into its present Lyceum space in Horton Plaza, I also worked as a show pianist. Currently, I do a few show reviews from time to time see https://sonictapestry.wordpress.com/2014/11/12/honky-play-review-san-diego-repertory-theater/. The Rep is currently celebrating its  40th year http://www.sdrep.org        What a reunion of talent.

Of all the theatrical companies I’ve worked for, the old Marquis Public Theater  is still dear to my memories. The Marquis Public Theater on India Street complete with its separate smaller galley venue, holds a special place in my memories.  African American producer/director Ricardo Pitts-Wiley produced shows in the Marquis Galley with his Humani One Theater and at E.C.C. Minerva Marquis and her theater/home for actors helped me become more serious about and appreciative of what it takes to be a performer. Experiences there  changed my life in the arts.(More about Minerva later.)

Now defunct, the Bowery theater, a basement show space similar to those in New York with meteoric director Kim McCullum was an experimental space across the street from a wonderful show biz bar that moved downtown before it eventual demise called Playbills. Sonictapestry’s first photo of a very young me at the piano was taken during the Bowery Theater’s production of “The Little Match Girl.”

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Delores Fisher show pianist

And high school theater departments?

They were just “bumpin’ as the kids say today. And if one takes a look at a list of recent productions….San Diego City schools theater departments are still producing creative, innovative theater students who later in life help keep arts alive in college and professional venues.

Some of my best images include playing piano for Serra High School with then drama teacher Susan Shattuck who married and became Susan Jones. I learned so much working with her on “Stop The World I want to Get Off,” “Camelot,” and “Little Shop of Horrors.” I had an opportunity to apply what I’d learned playing piano for choir and shows for Debbie Nevin and talented drama teacher Susan Bayliss  at Hoover High School where we did among other shows, excerpts from “Phantom From the Opera,” “Mulan,” “You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown,” and “A Chorus Line.” When Debbie Nevin moved to the new Lincoln High school in Southeast San Diego, so did I on a part time basis due to my teaching schedule.

At the newly rebuilt Lincoln High School, arts mavin/choral director Sharletta Richardson recruited me as choir accompanist and Debbie Nevin recruited me as show pianist. Sharletta Richardson put together those mellow choral sections of shows such as “The Wiz,” and “Grease.”

Debbie Nevin headed really banging show bands comprised of students and a few pros.  Under the watchful eye of dance instructor choreographer Don Robinson, student dancers matched theater dance professional standards. His choreography was sheer joy to watch.

Working with choreographers, doing  musical theater, staged readings, readers theater, comedy, drama, I balanced being active in the arts with performer’s hours and with functioning as a regular person, with a “normal” day job. I was young and ambitious. Weren’t we all?

One busy year, I even added a poetry performance (the audition preparation  was intense) directed by Patricia Elmore with several other actors at the old D.G. Wills Bookstore. That staged performance was later repackaged, broadcast and recorded live by KPBS. I used to have the tape somewhere in storage. Like my memories . . . .

As I grow older, a few particular years’ vapors steadily solidify into focus. Several actors and I were nurtured by director Minerva Marquis- now deceased-of the then famous Marquis Public Theater  http://legacy.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/metro/20011208-9999_1m8marqu is.html   

What a trooper she was. So gracious, patient and kind to us flaky, egocentric, always hungry, head strong young actors. One summer, Minerva Marquis gathered a few local actors together to propose a daring plan. She wanted us to organize into a repertory group. Consenting meant long hours, little pay, working on acting as well as whatever job Minerva assigned us. She nurtured us, gave us personal and professional advice, cautioned us about recklessness, taught us rehearsal discipline, and from time to time gave us a shoulder to cry on as the show went on despite a broken heart. If several of us had stayed out of the dance clubs and toxic relationships, concentrated on stagecraft more . . . . well.  (LOUD, LONG, SIGH). . .ANYWAY—-

It was an informative and formative rousing year! We were part of the hype around the scandalously popular David Mamet play “Sexual Peversity in Chicago.” Minerva had her hands full, but she knew how to gently corral wild young actors who were more interested in the glamour and glitch side of the biz than the work side.

But thanks to Minerva Marquis, I got to run the box office, manage the house, help with props, do basic clean up, and assist with publicity as well as act. A few years later,  less of a “party, party, party, ya’ll” young adult and somewhat wiser, I served as a musician/music director and composer under the directorship of Jennifer Myers Johnson4 on a pretty popular show called “Vinegar Tom” by Carlie Carlyle http://articles.latimes.com/1987-03-04/entertainment/ca-4580_1_vinegar-tom

I will perhaps blog more fully about my time at the Marquis Public Theater with Minerva Marquis and other moments onstage as a member of the spoken word ensemble member of the group 4nth, a solo spoken word artist, and a stage/show Host.

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A young Delores Fisher at the old Claire de Lune Cafe

And hopefully I will also get an opportunity to compose and serve as a music director for a CAT experimental  theater production like “Vinegar Tom” at the Marquis Public Theater.

Well, this a rather long introduction—-on to my main post about local African American theater  AND  Jennie Hamilton’s Community Theater Production of “Rants.

Musewoman
Delores Fisher

End Notes

1. Hill, Errol. eds. “Introduction. The Theater of Black Americans: Roots and    Rituals:The Search for Identity, The Image Makers:Plays and Playwrights. A Collection of Critical Essays (Prentice-Hall, Inc.: Englewood Cliifs 1980.),8. The collecton includes   essays on dance, by Kimberly W. Benson and Robert Farris Thompson,The show “Shuffle Along” by Helen Armstead Johnson, Black playwrights byC. W. Bigsby, and African American music by a musicologist whose works have influenced my research-Eileen Southern.

2. Ibid., 8-9

3. San Diego’s Lyceum theater, Old Globe Theater, Horton Grand Theater, Community  Actor’s Theater (CAT), and even small venues as diverse San Diego’s “World Beat  Center,” The Queen Bee,” and East Village Community Church hosts experimental  theater productions.

4. See Jennifer Myers Johnson.   “Jennifer Myers Johnson.” in Artists On the Art of Survival: Observations on Frustration, Perspiration, and Inspiration for the Young Artist. Bill Meese Jr. ed (Hamilton Books: New York  2004), 234-237. The book is a collection of various young artists’ interview-reflections on what it takes to “be” in the arts.

 

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