COMMON GROUND THEATRE HISTORY
COMMON GROUND THEATRE WAS FOUNDED IN 1963 BY MR. RUFUS DEWITT AND DR. ROBERT MATTHEWS. In 1963, the late Rufus DeWitt and his friend, Dr. Robert Matthews, founded the Southeast Community Theatre (SECT), with the assistance of several other committed and civic-minded individuals, including charter members Peggy Anzer, Gloria Knight, Milton Knight, James and Bernice Reed, John Johnson, Dr. Jack Kimbrough, Laura Smith, and Luther Goodwin. The Theatre began to produce plays and was chartered as a non-profit arts and cultural organization in 1964. It filled the need to develop the artistic talents of young African Americans and soon became San Diego’s premier African American theatre, with many productions directed by Ms. Gloria Knight.
DR. FLOYD GAFFNEY BEGAN A LONG RELATIONSHIP WITH COMMON GROUND THEATRE IN 1971. In 1971, Mr. DeWitt and Dr. Matthews heard of Dr. Floyd Gaffney, a new professor at UCSD and co-founder of the Department of Drama and Dance at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). They approached the chancellor of UCSD and requested his assistance in getting Dr. Gaffney involved in the direction and the development of the Southeastern Community Theatre. Dr. Gaffney enthusiastically accepted the invitation and thus began his 36-year tenure as an associate and eventually as artistic director of Southeastern Community Theatre, which he renamed Common Ground Theatre in 2003.
SEVERAL NATIONALLY KNOWN ACTORS AND LOCAL ACTORS AND DIRECTORS WERE TAUGHT AND MENTORED BY DR. GAFFNEY. Under Dr. Gaffney’s tutelage, a number of now nationally recognized actors emerged from Southeastern Community theatre, including James Avery, star of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air; Cleavon Little, film star; and John Wesley, film actor and director.. He also taught and mentored a many local San Diego actors, several of whom have become directors of local community theaters. Among these are Antonio “TJ” Johnson, artistic director of Black Ensemble Theater; Charles Patmon, Jr., artistic director of Common Ground Theatre; and Calvin Manson, artistic director of Ira Aldridge Repertory Players, and his own daughter, Monique Gaffney, executive director of Common Ground theatre. Among other actors tutored by Dr. Gaffney are Hassan El-Amin, Anasa Briggs Graves, Anthony Drummond, and Candace Ludlow-Trotter.
COMMON GROUND THEATRE BECAME THE NEW NAME OF SOUTHEASTERN COMMUNITY THEATRE IN 2003; THE THEATRE WAS ORIGINALLY CHARTERED AS A NON-PROFIT ARTS AND CULTURAL ORGANIZATION ON MAY 5, 1964. It was Dr. Gaffney who recommended changing the name of the theater from Southeastern Community Theatre to Common Ground Theatre (CGT) in 2003. Common Ground Theatre will soon celebrate its 50th Anniversary during the 2013-14 season as one of the longest surviving African American theatre companies in the United States.
COMMON GROUND THEATRE MISSION: Common Ground Theatre’s mission is “to produce classics and new works by and about people of African descent that entertain, educate, and connect with audiences of all ages, cultures, and backgrounds.” Our aim is to produce high quality theatrical productions that provide a “common ground” for people of all ages, cultures, and backgrounds to participate, interact, connect and share their love of theatre. CGT envisions a culturally diverse, socially relevant, and politically aware theatre organization that combines the expertise of amateur and professional artists and that improves community relations among diverse cultures and underrepresented groups. We pride ourselves in involving diverse casts and crew members for all of our productions.
“STARS” THEATRE ARTS TRAINING: One of Common Ground Theatre’s chief roles is to provide youth training as well as educational outreach activities for persons of all ages that help participants gain a deeper understanding of theatre as an art form, acquire theatre skills as a vocation or avocation, and engage in dialogue around the themes and issues raised by the playwrights in the productions on the CGT stage.
Common Ground Theatre’s arts program has recently been re-named the San Diego Theatre Artist Repertory Students (STARS) program. The STARS program is a new initiative created by Common Ground Theatre to build community through the arts by providing students of all ages and abilities with professional, affordable instruction in the performing, fine, and visual arts.
The Common Ground Theatre Arts program was designed for the purpose of educating children and youth in all aspects of theatre performance, as well as creating a pool of talent for Common Ground Theatre and the theatrical community at large. CGT seeks to engage young people’s participation in positive educational and cultural activities that will prevent their involvement with the negative forces that are often a part of their environment. The Common Ground Theatre Arts Academy offers several modules of instruction in theatre arts during the spring and summer, including the national African American Read-In, the Shakespeare Festival and Shakespeare Poetry celebration, and Readers Theatre works focusing on African American writers.