- Terelle Jerricks
Theater is What’s On the Menu
By John Farrell
It’s not like Long Beach doesn’t have theaters.
There are nine regularly producing theaters in what some people call the International City, from the student theaters at California State University Long Beach and Long Beach City College to the International City Theater regularly doing professional shows at the Performing Arts Center downtown.
Take your choice: too much theater for a city or a city that thrives on theater and always wants more. Gary DeWitt Marshall comes down on the side of hunger. He recently opened Dark Blue Mondaze series of plays, concerts and readings at the Homeland Cultural Center’s Manzanar Gamboa Theater on Anaheim Avenue and Gundry Street in Long Beach. From Marshall’s perspective, Long Beach is hungry, looking for more ways to express itself. He just wants to add to the already thriving mix with his new series of play while serving an underserved community. The series, which opened in a brand new theater building, extends through June 2013.
Ntozake Shange’s choreopoem, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf, opened the Dark Blue Mondaze series. It was supposed to have ended in September, but it was such a success that it is being brought back for two additional performances on Oct. 28.
“Ten dollars to experience a transformative experience is a small price to pay,” said Marshal in a recent phone interview. “Long Beach needs this series because those nine theater purveyors in this town seem to miss the 53 percent of people who live in Long Beach and want theater that speaks to them.
“I am passionate about the arts and I think a lot of people (who went to For Colored Girls…) were first-time theater-goers… My approach is a professional one and I think people were surprised at the level of the product. I was baffled by that. I think because they were in a little community theater they expected less.”
In addition to the Oct. 28 performance of Colored Girls, there was a screening of independent films from local directors on Oct. 26 and spoken word artist Cyph3r Supreem3 (CQ) with two all-star bands, the 513 Elevators and Sin City.
On Nov. 26 Dark Blue Mondaze will feature Poets, Prophets and Playwrights at 7 p.m. That show will feature Learning Spanish and other stories by The Story Man Leslie Perry.
December begins with Holidaze Harmony “Soulful Seasons Greetings,” Holiday classics with a touch of soul, Dec. 2 at 2 and 7 p.m. The show features Terron Brooks, Kamilah Marshall and Broadway friends. Cell Block Seven, a journey through the lives of America’s most dangerous female prisoners, will be December’s play at the Manzanar Gamboa Theater. It opens Dec. 6 at 7 p.m. and continues Dec. 7 at 7 p.m., Dec. 8 at 2 and 7 p.m. and Dec. 9 at 2 and 7 p.m. Future productions include Four Men on a Couch in January, Self Made Man: The Life of Frederick Douglas in February and Tribute to Women of Color: Past, Present and Future in March.
“I am acting as a producer for these shows and we could move to a bigger theater with some,” Marshall said. “But I consider this location in the community way more important than upgrading to a bigger theater. In fact the last show we did, Colored Girls, had three offers to do the same play at other venues, at UC San Bernardino and UC Riverside. That’s pretty big exposure for us. That won’t happen with everything but we are doing well.”
Doing theater at the Homeland center is important for the community and sometimes that community reveals itself one person at a time.
“We were in rehearsal at Homeland Cultural Center, setting the lights, when in wandered this eight-year-old child with Downs Syndrome,” Marshall said. “He had a silver toy gun and he was shooting at everything, I talked to him and got him to sit down while the lighting director brought down the house-lights and brought up the theater lights. He was transformed and transfixed, fascinated by the theater and when he finally left, I knew that it was true because he left his gun behind. That’s why I do theater: to transform and transfix people. Theater can take guns away from people.”
Marshall is an actor with a brilliant resume. He has done feature films and television since graduating from State University of New York, Albany. He moved to Long Beach in 2000 and has continued acting, teaching and community involvement in the theater he loves.