During Common Ground Theatre’s 2019-2020 Theatre Season, Common Ground Theatre was honored by two renowned organizations—Epsilon Xi Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and the African American Museum of Fine Arts.
Common Ground Theatre received the Excellence in Theatre Award from Epsilon Xi Omega (EXO) Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority (AKA) at EXO’S 70th Anniversary Celebration on October 27, 2019. The award was presented by Deborah Davis Gillespie, president of San Diego’s Epsilon Xi Omega Chapter. The award was given in tribute to the 56 years of service to the San Diego community by Southeast Community Theatre, which was founded in 1963 and renamed Common Ground Theatre by Dr. Floyd Gaffney on its 40th Anniversary in 2003. Common Ground Theatre is the oldest African American theatre company in San Diego and one of the three oldest African American theatre companies in the United States. A beautifully decorated and engraved award plate was presented to Charles W. Patmon, Jr., Executive Artistic Director of Common Ground Theatre and Dr. Robert Matthews, co-founder of Southeast/Common Ground Theatre 57 years ago. Francine DeWitt-Haynes, daughter of co-founder Rufus B. DeWitt and current president of Common Ground Theatre, was also present, along with members of the Board of Directors-Dorothy L. W. Smith and Tonette Salter. Loren Sharice Lott, an alumna of Common Ground Theatre was the featured soloist, singing “I Know Where I’ve Been” from the stage and film drama, “Rent” and Sandra Foster King, former Common Ground Theatre choreographer were also present.

Epsilon Xi Omega Chapter has supported Common Ground Theatre for many years with financial donations and attendance at productions. Several past presidents of Common Ground Theatre are members of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, including Barbara Geiger, Carol Rainey, Donna Lynn Cook, and Dorothy L. W. Smith.

On February 8, 2020, during Black History Month, African American Museum of Fine Arts CEO Gaidi Finnie and former CGT board member, Carolyn Y. Smith, presented the “Keepers of the Culture” Award to Common Ground Theatre’s Board of Directors president Mrs. Francine DeWitt-Haynes, stating the following:

In February 2018, the San Diego African American Museum of Fine Art (SDAAMFA) hosted its first annual recognition of individuals whose contributions have resulted in retaining and expanding the cultural expressions that are uniquely African American. This recognition has become increasingly more important as we see our rich African American culture continually limited or all together omitted by major institutions.

I am writing you because the SDAAMFA Board of Directors has selected Common Ground Theatre to receive the 2020 Keepers of the Culture award in recognition of your extraordinary commitment to African American Theatre. The vision your father, the late Rufus Dewitt and Dr. Robert Matthews had to start a theater in 1963, has allowed San Diego to experience the stories and voices of the Black community for over 50 years. The importance of the efforts by you and the Board of Directors to produce works by and about people of African descent cannot be underscored and we would like to thank you publicly.


The Theatre of Educational Cultural Complex

Common Ground Theatre’s performance home, the Educational Cultural Complex (ECC) Theatre, is a featured part of an effort to have ECC declared as a historical Civil Rights site. Dr. Carlos Turner-Cortez, president of the Continuing Education Division of the San Diego Community College District, has launched an effort to have the Educational Cultural Complex (ECC) at 4343 Ocean View Boulevard, San Diego 92113, designated as a National Civil Rights Historical Site. The site will feature an interactive museum and a refurbished regional theater. The first fundraising event to refurbish the Theatre was held on March 7, 2020, and $80,000 was raised to begin refurbishment of the ECC Theater, Seminal activities occurred at ECC in its first decade of existence, including an in-person meeting with Mrs. Coretta Scott King, who came to ECC to express her appreciation for efforts there in helping to establish the United States Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday. In addition, several nationally known actors received their start in Southeast Community Theatre/Common Ground Theatre, which has been the resident theatre at ECC from 1976-1991 and from 2010 to the present. These actors have included Broadway stars, the late Cleavon Little, Chondra Profit, and Loren Lott; television star the late James Avery; and the late movie actor and director John Wesley. Whoopi Goldberg also performed at the ECC Theater.


The deadly pandamic Covid-19

Because of COVID-19, the deadly pandemic that has swept the world since January 2020, the final two performances of “Little Rock-The True Story of the Little Rock Nine” were abruptly postponed. All San Diego Community College District campuses, including the Educational Cultural Complex, the performance home of Common Ground Theatre, were indefinitely closed on March 13, 2020, one day before the scheduled performances of March 14th and March 15th. All tickets that were purchased for March 14th and 15th will be refunded or honored when the new performances are scheduled. Little Rock,” written by Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj, was first produced Off Broadway in the fall of 2018. The Common Ground Theatre production is the premier Southern California production, directed by Yolanda Marie Franklin, Common Ground Theatre’s guest artistic director for 2019-2020. Common Ground Theatre’s 2019-2020 Season is produced in collaboration with San Diego Continuing Education Division (SDCE) of the San Diego Community College District (SDCCD) and is supported by the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation’s Ensemble Sponsorship and the San Diego County Board of Supervisors’ Community Enhancement Program. The highly diverse cast of talented community actors include the following creative team and crew members: Jay Chavis, stage manager; Carlton Jones, sound and projections; Rene Ocampo, set design and construction; and Earl Vaults, musician. Actors include Alyssa Jones, Anita Gibbs, Carter Piggie, Charity Dent, Dino Gruilli, Eddie Yaroch, Eric Trigg, Jamal Watkins, Ke’Aun Dent, Kary Lynn Vail, Kim Sellers, Leon Matthews, Raven Grulledge, Rebecca Celeste, and Sara King.