top of page



In 1963, the late Rufus DeWitt and 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 on May 8, 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 several productions directed by Mrs. Gloria Knight.


Actor William Marshall with co-founder Rufus DeWitt and some charter members of Southeast Community Theatre

legacy director
Dr. Floyd gaffney

In 1971, Mr. DeWitt and Dr. Matthews invited Dr. Floyd Gaffney, a new professor at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), where he was co-founder of the Department of Drama and Dance, to become involved with Southeast Community Theatre. Dr. Gaffney thus began his 36-year association with Southeast Community Theatre (SECT), renamed Common Ground Theatre (CGT) in 2003. Dr. Gaffney passed away in 2007. During his tenure, Dr. Gaffney directed over 100 plays for Southeast Community Theatre/Common Ground Theatre. Under Dr. Gaffney’s tutelage, a number of nationally recognized actors emerged from Southeast Community Theatre/Common Ground Theatre, including actors James Avery (television’s “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air), Cleavon Little (Broadway, television, and movie actor), Roland McFarland (Fox executive), John Wesley Houston (television and movie actor and director), and Chondra Profit and Loren Lott (Broadway actors). Several other well-known local actors and directors were also tutored by Dr. Gaffney, including Monique Gaffney, Grandison Phelps III, Antonio “TJ” Johnson, Sylvia M’Lafi Thompson, Anasa Briggs, Calvin Manson, Laurence Brown, Yolanda Franklin, Rhys Green, Hassan El Amin, Candace Ludlow-Trotter, and others.


Common Ground Theatre, the oldest African American Theatre in San Diego and one of the longest serving African American Theatre companies in the United States, celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2013-2014, having been chartered as a non-profit organization on May 8, 1964. Charles Patmon, Jr., a Gaffney protégé, who assisted Dr. Gaffney with his last two productions, was the executive artistic director from 2010 to 2020.

the theatre

Stars Theatre Arts Program

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. STARS (San Diego Theatre Artists Repertory School), Common Ground Theatre’s theatre arts training program, has been taught through the years by Monique Gaffney, Theresa “T” Ford, Yolanda Franklin, Roxanne Kilbourne, and others. It is designed to educate children and youth in all aspects of theatre performance and to create a pool of talent for Common Ground Theatre, as well as for the theatrical community at large. CGT seeks to engage young people’s participation in positive educational and cultural activities. STARS participants have won top awards at the San Diego Student Shakespeare Festival and have performed in Common Ground Theatre plays at ECC and other venues.

Inaugural Southeast Community Theatre Production

The first production presented by Southeast Community Theatre in 1963-64 was “Finian’s Rainbow,” directed by Gloria Knight, with Milton Knight playing the major role. The second production was “Tambourines to Glory” directed by Gloria Harris. These first plays were produced at Lincoln High School.

Productions as Resident Theatre at Educational Cultural Complex

In 1976, the Educational Cultural Complex (ECC) was established, and the ECC Theatre became the performance home of Southeastern Community Theatre from 1976 until 1991, with Dr. Floyd Gaffney as Executive Artistic Director. In 2003, Dr. Gaffney gave Southeast Community Theatre a new name: Common Ground Theatre. The following is a partial list of plays directed by Dr. Gaffney, most of which were performed at the Educational Complex Theatre from 1976-1991:


  • Wedding Band by Alice Childress

  • Storyville by Ed Bullins

  • First Breeze of Summer by Leslie Lee

  • The Amen Corner by James Baldwin

  • Trials and Tribulations of Staggerlee by Don Evans

  • Spell #7 by Ntozake Shange

  • Boesman and Lena by Athol Fugard

  • The Colored Museum by George Wolfe

  • Fences by August Wilson

  • Before It Hits Home by Cheryl West

  • Tambourines to Glory by Langston Hughes

  • A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry (directed by Claudio Raygoza in collaboration with the Fair Housing Council of San Diego)

  • Saturday Night at the Palace (in collaboration with Ion Theatre)

  • Gospel at Colonus adapted by Lee Breuer

  • Handel’s Messiah: A Soulful Celebration adapted by Quincy Jones with script added by Floyd Gaffney and Anthony Drummond; and Black Nativity by Langston Hughes (all three in collaboration with St. Paul’s Cathedral)

  • Purlie Victorious by Ossie Davis

  • Dancing With Demons by Donald T. Evans

  • Four Queens, No Trump by Ted Lange

  • Amahl and the Night Visitors by Gian Carlo Menotti (in collaboration with St. Paul’s Cathedral and Christ United Presbyterian Church)

  • Josephine Tonight by Sherman Yellen and Wally Harper.


Charles W. Patmon, Jr. worked with Dr. Gaffney as the associate director of Josephine Tonight. As his final contribution prior to his death in 2007, Dr. Gaffney selected the cast and directed the production of Awaiting Judgment by Art Cribbs, an insightful production focusing on the lives and ideas of Twentieth Century theologians Martin Luther King, Jr. and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The play was performed at the national conference of the United Church of Christ Congregational Church under the direction of Carol Rainey, member of the Common Ground Theatre Board of Directors. Plays produced in the years immediately after Dr. Gaffney’s death were Christmas Is Comin’ Uptown” (by Garry Sherman and Phillip Udell), Waiting to Be Invited, Black Nativity by Langston Hughes, Jazz Queens Cast Blue Shadows (by Anthony Drummond and Floyd Gaffney), O Come All Ye Faithful: Black Nativity, the Musical (adapted by Hassan El-Amin), and Trane: A Noble Journey, an intimate look at the life of John Coltrane, written by Anthony Smith, a prolific San Diego musician, and directed by Hassan El-Amin.

Educational Cultural Complex Partnership

A long-term partnership existed between Southeast Community Theatre and the Educational Cultural Complex from the establishment of ECC in 1976 until 1991; however, due to an administrative decision to use the ECC Theatre for educational purposes only, the partnership between Southeast Community Theatre and ECC was suspended from 1991 until 2010. In April of 2010, Common Ground Theatre Board members Carolyn Y. Smith and Dorothy L. W. Smith approached Dr. Anthony Beebe, President of the San Diego Community College District Continuing Education Division, regarding the possibility of again using the Educational Cultural Complex Theatre as a “home” for all major performances of Southeast Community Theatre, which had been renamed Common Ground Theatre by Dr. Gaffney in 2003. Dr. Beebe had publicly expressed concern about the missing “cultural” aspect of the Educational Cultural Complex, and his objective was to restore the “Cultural” to the Educational Cultural Complex programming. Working together, Carolyn Smith, Dr. Dorothy Smith, and Dr. Anthony Beebe forged a formal agreement between the Continuing Education Division and Common Ground Theatre. The agreement stated that Common Ground Theatre productions would be produced at the ECC Theatre “in collaboration with the San Diego Continuing Education Division” and Common Ground Theatre would be charged a greatly reduced rate for the use of the ECC facility and the Theatre technicians. Upon the hiring of Dr. Carlos Turner-Cortez a few years later, Chancellor Constance Carroll vowed to continue ECC’s partnership with Common Ground Theatre. Thus, in 2010, the Educational Cultural Complex once again became the resident Theatre for Common Ground Theatre productions. The agreement with San Diego Continuing Education Division, which continues under the administration of SDCE president Dr. Carlos Turner-Cortez, gives priority to Common Ground Theatre in reserving dates for performances.

bottom of page