La Jolla Playhouse to host yearlong residency for San Diego’s Common Ground Theatre

Yolanda Franklin
Yolanda Franklin is the artistic director of Common Ground Theatre.
(Courtesy photo)

One of the nation’s oldest Black theaters, Common Ground kicks off its 59th season Saturday with ‘Still We Rise’ in La Jolla


Common Ground Theatre, the nation’s third-oldest Black theater company, has been named 2022-23 theater in residence at La Jolla Playhouse.

The San Diego-based theater troupe was launched in Southeast San Diego in 1963 and is celebrating its 59th season this year. Now led by executive artistic director Yolanda Franklin, the company will launch its residency this Saturday with “Still We Rise,” an evening of poetry by Black authors, including Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes and Amanda Gorman, and music by the Rob Thorsen Jazz Trio.

Now in its 12th year, the Playhouse’s theater-in-residence program was created to help small theater companies without their own permanent performance space. Besides offering venues to rehearse and present plays, the residency also includes lighting and sound design support as well as marketing and development mentorship. Past resident theaters have included San Diego Asian American Repertory Theater, Moxie Theatre, Teatro Máscara Mágica and Blindspot Collective.

“Common Ground has a long, rich history in San Diego, and we are honored to serve as their home during the 2022/2023 season,” Christopher Ashley, the Playhouse’s artistic director, said in a statement.

Franklin said she’s excited to be bringing the spirit of Common Ground to the Playhouse and its audience.

“Everything Common Ground does is created and produced by Black artists,” she said. “It’s important to bring these stories to an audience that hasn’t heard them before. But I’m also really excited to be bringing our audience in Southeast San Diego up to the Playhouse.”

Over the past two years, Common Ground has been producing most of its work online due to the pandemic and, more recently, a $35 million renovation under way at its longtime home space, the Educational Cultural Complex (ECC) in Southeast San Diego. Franklin said that with the reopening of the ECC, Common Ground will produce shows at both locations.

Still to come in La Jolla will be a workshop production of the new play “Sense of Love” by Sheryl Mallory Johnson, as well as a monthly Uplifting Black Voices Play Reading Series from playwrights who identify as Black or who intersect with Blackness. At the ECC, Langston Hughes’ “Black Nativity” is planned next winter and George C. Wolfe’s “The Colored Museum” will be presented in February 2023.

Franklin said one of the most exciting aspects of the Playhouse residency is the training she’ll receive in marketing and fundraising, which could push Common Ground to a new level of visibility and stability. She also praised Old Globe artistic director Barry Edelstein, who has been helpful with advice on running the company.

In August 2020, Franklin was appointed artistic director of Common Ground, after serving for a year as guest artistic chief while longtime leader Charles Patmon Jr. was on a health-related leave of absence. He passed away in January 2020. Since then, the company has also mourned the deaths of company co-founder Robert Matthews and longtime board member Dorothy L.W. Smith, who recruited her to Common Ground as a director in 2019. Now Franklin said she believes she was meant to be part of future of Common Ground, which had gone dormant for a few years because of Patmon’s health issues.

“I’m driven. It means so much to me to be able to do this,” Franklin said.

Franklin had just opened the musical “Little Rock” at the ECC when the pandemic hit in March 2020. She quickly moved online, first in collaboration with Moxie Theatre for the “Dinner and a Zoom” series, and then with producer Cory Immele for digital play readings that included Douglas Turner Ward’s “Day of Absence.” She also oversaw multiple performances of “Still We Rise” at different venues, two Juneteenth celebrations and collaborated with Diversionary Theatre on a coproduction of Donja Love’s play “One in Two.” Over the past year, she has also directed or assistant directed for Community Actors Theatre and La Jolla Playhouse’s DNA New Work Series.

‘Still We Rise’

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Common Ground Theatre at the Shank Theatre, Northpoint Driveway, UC San Diego, La Jolla

Tickets: $25