February 27, 2014 Shonassee ShaverLAWT Contributing Writer
As we celebrate Black History month, theater veteran Lynn Manning presented a free reading of his latest production "Absence of Light" directed by Alex Levy on February 22 at the Watts/Willowbrook Boys and Girls Club.
'Love is blind' in more ways than one. In the wake of his two failed marriages to sighted women, Otis believes the third time is sure to be charmed because his new love, Cynthia, is blind like him. But what happens when their lives are turned upside down by a new medical procedure? When Otis and Cynthia see each other in a new light, can love still conquer all?Manning who is a theater playwright has been telling stories in his productions for over 18 years at Watts Village Theatre Company. In 1996, he co-¬founded Watts Village Theater Company (WVTC) with friend, actor and community activist Quentin Drew. It was then they began to explore the possibility of creating a theater company in efforts to keep producing and creating in the community. Manning accounts it was Drew who was the visionary while he was the resident playwright and financial advisor.
“I had some success with and money from television and we were able to establish some legitimacy with the California Arts Council and LA Cultural Affairs Department over the next few years," he said. On how he found himself at the forefront of WVTC, it was the Cornerstone Theater Company that involved Manning in community theatre in Watts. "I was a playwright on the rise locally getting recognition for my work, they came to me to as a writer for their play in Watts in 1995," he said. His first production was inspired by Bertolt Brecht's "The Caucasian Chalk Circle" which he adapted and connected with the issues and interests of the people in community in Watts called the “Central Avenue Chalk Circle.” On the rise of WVTC, Manning used Watts’ Health center for meetings and rehearsal space, earlier that year, he launched his first production and partnered with Watts Towers Center presenting their theatrical production in June of 1996. Manning uses the theatre to exceed the socioeconomic issues in the community by providing artistic endeavor for the community. "We can’t depend on community box office to provide us with what it takes to produce quality work,” Manning stated.
His efforts to pursue theatre and in Watts is met with the lack of arts in the neighboring communities and schools.
“The first thing to go in the education system is the arts due to recession, cutbacks and budgets in the school system. The arts are gutted particularly in underserved communities such as Watts, someone needs to step up and feel those gaps,” he said.
Following his motto, WVTC provides entertainment for residents and contributes theater to local schools. Manning looks to provide legitimate theater to the community where it is being produced and at the same time using theatre arts education to promote literacy in schools.
As he engages students with the alternative career possibility in theatre, Manning has established theater educational workshops, partnering with schools like Locke middle.
“We have an ongoing relationship with Animo Watts College Preparatory Academy where we engage in our third year of producing and developing after school productions where students are proud to contribute,” said Manning. A nonprofit organization that raises funds and qualifies for grants to support and expand their reach in the community serves as a place for theatre goers to commune. Regarding WVTC, Manning feels it’s a way of bringing people from outside the community who are regular theater goers to an area they may have not visited before.
He looks to present a different face and re-brand Watts as something different than being a gang infested community. Having spent most of his life blind, Manning continues to persevere and use his craft.
Losing his site at 23 to violence did not derail his passion for theater, he wrote his first play at 35.
"I credit mentors helping me develop my craft, skill and I didn't settle for the easy solution and lower expectation as a Black male growing up in South Central.
To donate or get involved with Watts Village Theater Company, visit wattsvillagetheatercompany.org.