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 Theater, 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.
San Diego Continuing Education President Raises Funds to Refurbish Educational Cultural Complex Theatre
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.
Final Performances of "Little Rock" Postponed Because of Coronavirus
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.
Two Community Organizations Present Awards to Common Ground Theatre
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."