Passing of Founder Dr. Robert Matthews
Dr. Robert Matthews, the co-founder of Common Ground Theatre, passed away on July 2, 2020. His beloved co-founder Mr. Rufus DeWitt, passed thirteen years earlier, in 2007.
An exemplary Christian, educator, husband and father, community leader, and friend, Dr. Matthews and Mr. DeWitt founded Southeast Community Theatre in 1963 and chartered it in May of 1964 and the two founders even acted in some of the organization’s earliest productions. The two founders recruited Dr. Floyd Gaffney o become the longtime artistic director of the Theatre. The name of the Theatre was changed by Dr. Gaffney to Common Ground Theatre on the occasion of the 40th Anniversary in 2003.
As a religious and secular educator, Dr. Matthews taught several generations of children in Sunday School at Golden Hill/Christ United Presbyterian Church And San Diego Unified School District, respectively. He became an elementary school administrator in San Diego Unified, as well as the president of the San Diego Continuing Education of the San Diego Community College District.
He was a compassionate humanitarian who loved all of humankind and who was also involved in the founding of the Elementary Institute of Science, the Jackie Robinson YMCA, the Association of African American Educators, the Encanto Planning Association, and the Martin Luther King Parade.
Dr. Matthews last attended a Common Ground Theatre performance of “Little Rock: The True Story of the Little Rock Nine” in March 2020. In the post-performance discussion, Dr. Matthews praised the new artistic director Yolanda Franklin for the highly diverse cast of “Little Rock.” He stated that co-founder Rufus DeWitt would have been extremely pleased with the production and the progress of the Theatre.
Common Ground Theatre appreciates the active support and generosity of Dr. Matthews and his wife, Mrs. Ardelle Matthews for the past 57 years since Dr.Matthews and Mr. DeWitt created the Theatre in 1963.
The Board of Directors of Common Ground Theatre extend our deepest sympathy and condolences to Mrs. Matthews and the entire Matthews family. May Dr. Matthews Rest In Peace after a life well lived.
EXECUTIVE ARTISTIC DIRECTOR OF COMMON GROUND THEATRE 2010-2020
Common Ground Theatre regrets to announce the untimely death of 46-year-old Charles Westley Patmon, Jr., the Executive Artistic Director of Common Ground Theatre from 2010 until his death on January 31, 2020. Charles was a highly accomplished and creative actor and director who had many stage and screen credits in his profession, including the film, "In the Heat of the Night." Charles's first experience with Common Ground Theatre was as assistant to Common Ground Theatre's late legacy Artistic Director, Dr. Floyd Gaffney, in several of his final productions, including Dr. Gaffney's last production, "Josephine Tonight," in 2007. As director of Common Ground Theatre for almost a decade, Charles was known to actors under his leadership as one who "could see a diamond in a piece of coal" as he guided actors to reach their highest potential. He was a true theatrical genius.
Charles directed numerous productions in his decade as Common Ground Theatre's Artistic Director, including several popular variations of Langston Hughes' holiday production Black Nativity. He also directed Cheryl West's Before It Hits Home, Ntozake Shange's For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enough, Art Cribbs' Awaiting Judgment, August Wilson's Fences, Charlie Smalls and William F. Brown's The Wiz, Regina Taylor's Crowns, Garry Sherman's Christmas Is Comin' Uptown, Keith Antar Mason's For Black Boys Who Have Considered Homicide When the Streets Were Too Much, S. M. Shephard-Massat's Waiting to Be Invited.
Charles Patmon Jr. created the San Diego Theatre Artists Repertory School (STARS) at Common Ground Theatre in order to train young actors, ages 12 to 18, in all aspects of theatre arts, both onstage as actors offstage as crew members. The students participate in major productions either during or immediately after training.
Charles grew up in a highly religious home with six siblings and their father and mother, Pastors Charles Westley Patmon, Sr. and Joyce Patmon. He sang, prayed, and recited in church from a very young age and was such an enthusiastic Christian that he earned the nickname "Church" in College. He received the Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree from Alabama State University under the mentorship of Dr. Stewart who herself was mentored by Charles' other mentor, Dr. Floyd Gaffney. He had completed all requirements for the Doctorate of Education at the University of Southern California and was scheduled to graduate in June 2020.
Charles will be sorely missed by members of the Board of Directors and by all of the actors and students he directed and educated through the years. Our sincere condolences are expressed to his parents, siblings, and nieces and nephews. May he Rest in Peace until we meet him again.