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City’s three largest and oldest theaters team up on Black voices series

Ahmed K. Dents, left, Jacole Kitchen and Freedome Bradley-Ballentine
Ahmed K. Dents, left, Jacole Kitchen and Freedome Bradley-Ballentine will co-curate “We Are Listening,” a Black voices video series produced by San Diego Repertory Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse and The Old Globe.
(Courtesy photo)

The Old Globe and La Jolla Playhouse will co-sponsor San Diego Rep’s ongoing ‘We Are Listening’ project

When San Diego Repertory Theatre launched its honest, enlightening and edgy Black voices interview series “We Are Listening” on YouTube on June 23, two viewers in the online audience liked what they saw.

Barry Edelstein and Christopher Ashley, the artistic directors of The Old Globe and La Jolla Playhouse, respectively, watched the show and both felt the unfiltered interviews with Black actors and theater leaders in San Diego deserved a wider audience. So in collaboration with Sam Woodhouse, the Rep’s founding artistic director, the Globe and Playhouse have signed on this week as co-producers and co-curators of “We Are Listening.”

The Zoom-based series, with a new episode released every other Thursday at 7 p.m., was originally scheduled to run through September, but now it is booking guests through November and its focus is expanding to Black artists in multiple disciplines, Woodhouse said.

The next episode, airing live at 7 p.m. Aug. 27, will feature author Bil Wright and actor Eboni Muse, who will be interviewed by series host Ahmed K. Dents, the Rep’s development coordinator.

Woodhouse co-founded the Rep in 1976, and based on his recollection, this may be the first time San Diego’s three largest and oldest theaters have collaborated on programming. He said it shows how seriously the theaters are taking the call for change that has echoed from Black theater artists since the Black Lives Matter movement began in late May.

“It’s a way of saying to our community that these three theaters think it is very important that these voices be heard, and by joining together we can expand the reach of the program in marketing and social media so more people can tune in,” Woodhouse said.

Ashley said the Playhouse is honored to partner with the Rep and Globe on such an “extraordinary” program.

“Amplifying voices of color on our stages is vital to becoming a more compassionate and inclusive community,” Ashley said. “One of our tasks as a society, and specifically as theater artists, is to figure out how to re-emerge from this moment in a more equitable way, and we can only accomplish this by engaging in these invaluable conversations.”

And Edelstein said the Old Globe’s commitment to “making theater as a public good” obliges the company to serve every part of the community.

“In this moment of racial reckoning across American society, this means paying special attention to the experience of Black San Diego. ‘We Are Listening’ is a great way to do that,” Edelstein said.

Jacole Kitchen, artistic programs manager at the Playhouse, and Freedome Bradley-Ballentine, the associate artistic director at The Old Globe, will join Dents as co-curators of future “We Are Listening” episodes. Both have been interviewees on past episodes of the series.

San Diego Rep has a long-established record of producing new plays and programs by and featuring artists of color. In 2005, the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle recognized Woodhouse, and his Rep co-founder D.W. Jacobs, with a special Craig Noel Award for 30 years of artistic dedication to downtown and diversity.

Woodhouse said it was in 1988, when he walked to a neighborhood 7-Eleven to buy some milk, that he looked around at his fellow customers and realized they reflected more diversity than he’d ever seen in the Rep’s audience, and that needed to change: “I thought if we’re going to be San Diego’s repertory theater and a regional theater, we need to have represented on our stages the voices that exist in our community.”

That led to the launch of the Rep’s Teatro sin Fronteras (theater without borders) program, which has since produced 54 plays by Latinx playwrights. In 1993, the Rep launched the annual Kuumba Fest of African-American arts and began producing more work by Black playwrights. And in 1994, Rep associate artistic director Todd Salovey launched the annual Lipinsky Family San Diego Jewish Arts Festival. Both festivals continue at the Rep to this day, though Kuumba Fest co-founder Dajahn Blevins now produces Kuumba Fest through his own company, Urban Warriors. Four years ago, the Rep launched the annual Latinx New Play Festival, which returns Sept. 4 through 6 in a streaming form.

Woodhouse said that in many seasons, more than 50 percent of the performers on its two stages are actors of color.

‘We made a really conscious choice to say the community looks one way and the American theater looks different. The theater should represent the community that it lives in, so we make theater for the people of San Diego,” he said.

For details on future episodes of “We Are Listening,” visit sdrep.org/show-detail.php?id=631.


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