La Jolla Playhouse hosts year-long residency for San Diego’s Common Ground Theatre

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

Common Ground, one of the nation’s oldest Black theater companies, kicks off its 59th season Saturday, July 9, with ‘Still We Rise’ in La Jolla.


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

The troupe was launched in southeast San Diego in 1963 and is celebrating its 59th season this year. Led by Executive Artistic Director Yolanda Franklin, the company will begin its residency on Saturday, July 9, 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.

La Jolla Playhouse’s theater-in-residence program, now in its 12th year, was created to help small theater companies without their own permanent performance space. Besides offering venues to rehearse and present plays, the residency includes lighting and sound support as well as marketing and development mentorship. Past theaters-in-residence 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 2022-23 season,” La Jolla Playhouse Artistic Director Christopher Ashley said in a statement.

Franklin said she’s excited to bring 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 COVID-19 pandemic and, more recently, a $35 million renovation underway at its longtime home space, the Educational Cultural Complex (ECC) in the Mountain View area of 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 intersect with Blackness.

At the ECC, Hughes’ “Black Nativity” is planned for the winter and George C. Wolfe’s “The Colored Museum” will be presented in February.

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.

“Everything Common Ground does is created and produced by Black artists. 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.”

— Yolanda Franklin, executive artistic director, Common Ground Theatre

Franklin was appointed artistic director of Common Ground in August 2020 after serving for a year as guest artistic chief while longtime leader Charles Patmon Jr. was on a health-related leave of absence. He died in January 2020. Since then, the company also has mourned the deaths of co-founder Robert Matthews and longtime board member Dorothy L.W. Smith, who recruited Franklin to Common Ground as a director in 2019.

“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 took hold 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, plus two Juneteenth celebrations and collaborated with Diversionary Theatre on a co-production of Donja Love’s play “One in Two.”

Over the past year, she also has directed or helped direct for Community Actors Theatre and La Jolla Playhouse’s DNA New Work Series.

‘Still We Rise’

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 9

Where: Shank Theatre, Northpoint Driveway, UC San Diego, La Jolla

Cost: $25