Inner City Cultural Center was created by C. Bernard (Jack) Jackson, an Obie-Award-Winning musician and composer, and Dr. J. Alfred Cannon, a Neuropsychiatrist and Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA, after the Watts Riots in 1965. The Watts Riots began as outrage over Los Angeles police brutality, resulting in six days of looting and arson, 34 deaths, 1,032 injuries and 3,438 arrests. Dr. Cannon and Mr. Jackson hoped to use the arts to soothe and promote understanding of the conditions that led to the outrage. Inner City would “transcend cultural, ethnic and racial differences, utilizing the arts as a bridge, casting without regard to skin color, reshaping the human psyche through the arts and countering the effects of the status quo myth regarding separation of the races.”*
I am monumentally grateful for my years at Inner City Cultural Center, where actors and actresses could play all roles, regardless of ethnicity or race. Some shows were critically acclaimed and some puzzled the critics, but all shows were extreme learning and growth experiences for me.
WEST SIDE STORY
My first show was WEST SIDE STORY and, unlike my Dallas experience where I was a singer in the chorus, this time I was Maria! The cast included many who were in the early stages of their professions and who went on to illustrious careers: Cinque Attucks, Susan Batson, Emilio Delgado, Jose DeVega, Tony Geary, Robert Ito, Annette O’Toole, and Adolph Caesar, among others. WEST SIDE STORY was directed by Lonny Chapman, choreographed by Talley Beatty, with Costumes designed by Betye Saar, all outstanding artists in their fields.
A scathing review above in Variety by Edwa. (who didn’t seem to get the point of cross-cultural/racial casting, who hinted that pitting Caucasian or Latino actors against Black actors would have made it easier to tell who was a Shark and who was a Jet) got this reply from Dan Sullivan in his LA Times review: “For those who complain that the Jets and Sharks are hard to tell apart in this all-integrated production, let it be pointed out that so are the Montagues and Capulets.” Ha!
Others in the cast include: Ron Castro, Lee Clark Champion, Tony Colby, Tony De Costa, Jacquelyn Dubois, Eddie Eastman, Murphy James, Jeanne Joe, Bradjose, Candy McCoy, Sheila Marion, Michaela Mattox, Ruby Millsap, Mina E. Mina, Conrad Parham, Arlene Parness, Eileen Ramsey, Linda Sugars, Fred Weiss, and Wendy Wright.
EARTHQUAKE II, a revue, written and directed by C. Bernard Jackson.
(end of article above that got cut) … blessed with an infectious warmth which encourages return visits.”
DEPARTURE, book, lyrics and music by C. Bernard Jackson.
SLEEP NO MORE, 1982 AND 1984
One of my favorite roles of all time was in SLEEP NO MORE, a madcap musical based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth but from the viewpoint of the servants. Book and lyrics were by Felton Perry, Music by Gary Brooks, and I played Lady Macbeth to Felton Perry’s Macbeth. It was originally an Inner City Cultural Center production, directed by Art Evans. It was then presented by Inner City and The Shakespeare Society of America and moved to the Globe Playhouse in Los Angeles, Thad Taylor, Artistic Director, and was directed by Tom Orth. Eugene Bolande and I, from the cast, were assigned co-producing credit for this production, along with Thad Taylor and Jay Ulney.
During the run of the show at the Globe, when one of the chamberlains, Fred Tucker, asked his mother what she thought of the show, she said, “Mmm, mmm, mmm, Black people come all kinda ways, that little girl Virginia, she looks Chinese!” And of course, much teasing went on backstage after that. Two weeks later my friend Sab Shimono called and told me to look on page 12 (Part VI, November 2, 1984) of The Los Angeles Times. To my great surprise, I had been nominated Best Actress for the Hollywood Chapter of the NAACP Image Awards!!! I have never been so honored in my life! And, of course, this was Inner City’s dream, to transcend ethnic and racial lines to achieve understanding through the arts. I rest my case!
I did go to the NAACP office to explain that I was totally honored but that I was Chinese. After much debate in another room that I was not privy to, I was told, “NAACP stands for National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. We have decided you are a ‘colored’ person and the nomination will stand.” A very generous decision on their part and I was, and am, delighted and honored.
*Quote by Ernest Dillihay.
**Pictures From OUT OF THE ASHES, by Sandi Shelley-Stinson, Ph.D., assisted by Ernest D. Dillihay.
In 1975 I became one of the in-house producers of ICCC shows, andin 1978 I produced BACKALLEY TALES, written and directed by George C. Wolfe, with music by Paul Balfour. This was not my favorite experience as this was only my second production and I felt completely inept in light of the brilliance and genius of the very young George C. Wolfe, who went on to fame as a Tony-Award-Winning writer and director (and occasional actor!) on Broadway and film, and served as the artistic Director of the Public Theater in New York City. I’ve watched his rise and have been very proud of him!
MAGGIE D’ MOUSE MEETS DE DIRDY RAT FINK
We had a very exciting opening night, with celebrities like Puff ‘n Stuff, Chris Knight and Barry Williams from the Brady Bunch, Esther Rolle and the “Balloon Man” from Century City, who entertained the children pre-show.
One of my favorite moments during the run of this show was when a large group of bright and attentive children came and seemed to understand the show in a deeper way. “Who ARE those kids?” I asked. “Oh, they’re the Jack and Jills.” I later learned that “Jack and Jill of America, Inc. is a membership organization of mothers with children ages 2-19, dedicated to nurturing future African-American leaders by strengthening children through leadership development, volunteer service, philanthropic giving and civic duty.” Another moment was when my six-year-old daughter, who had spent many hours with me at ICCC, stood up in the middle of her first-grade class in a West Hollywood elementary school, and said, “Why are there no brown faces in this class?” Children and Art indeed!