Granville Burgess, the author behind the new musical COMMON GROUND about a meeting between Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass has created a by-invitation-only industry event, Monday, January 21 at 7;00 p.m. at Ripley Greer Studios, opening the possibility of this new look at history, in time when we really need it, might go on to a commercial run.
Before the first member of the audience has arrived, the feedback is already powerful. The reading has since given way to new thoughts and understanding by the actors on thew world we will in and what our part of it is.
GRANVILLE WYCHE BURGESS: I’ve learned the excitement of giving young actors who are not yet in the Union an opportunity to share their talent with the professional community. This workshop will be a launching pad for several of these actors and I am proud to have provided the material and the opportunity for them. I am also grateful that the themes of this musical resonate so deeply with the company, as they have expressed to me personally and to all of us in our sharing time at the end of each day’s rehearsal. I know that through the years having done this COMMON GROUND workshop will be an important moment in their lives both personally and professionally and that is very gratifying.
As a writer, I have continued to develop a keener sense of how to make the necessary cuts in exposition and repetition that lead us into the heart of a scene more quickly. I have definitely grown in my ability to quickly decide what needs to go without unduly hanging on to those words which I have spent so many hours crafting. I have seldom argued over proposed cuts but have focused on them and then made my decision without ego, without focusing on me, but focusing solely on what is best for the show. When writing about history, my tendency is to try to get as much history in the material as possible, but I have learned to not worry about the history but instead to focus on the emotional storyline.
Ali Coopersmith – Abraham Lincoln
The workshop process has been interesting in the amount of input we have in the process. I’ve really learned to question everything and take an active role in the material which I hope to bring to future projects. In terms of activism, Common Ground has reminded me of the power that lies in telling uncomfortable truths. We get to be a part of the change that we want to see in the world, as Rajendra always says.
Mario Claudio – Frederick Douglass
I have learned that the core demands of black people during the time of the civil war took a while to fully operate. That the struggle is still going on, from unjust killing of unarmed black men to illegal child trafficking from poor African countries under the guise of adoption. I’ve learned so much about the struggle of my ancestors, and how most American schools don’t fully go into the injustices of how slavery and the struggle to abolish it. I feel I have grown, not only in my craft but understanding the interconnectivity that if one person in this country is struggling we are all struggling. If one person is unjustly murdered, than we can all be unjustly murdered based solely on their color of skin. We need true works that don’t sugarcoat or fetishize true struggle just for the sake of entertainment.
Victoria Sasso – Mary Todd Lincoln
One of the great gifts we are given as actors is the ability to inspire social change through our work. I have learned that, often times, the most difficult stories to tell are the most important for people to hear. My hope is that audiences who see this piece will be able to celebrate the strides we have made because of individuals like Frederick Douglass, while also recognizing how far we still have to go.
Teisha Duncan – Anna Douglass
“From this process, I have learned that…
An actor is twice defeated when they show up knowing more about what they don’t have to offer than what they do have to offer. Therefore showing up with an open spirit and the knowledge of both makes you doubly prepared to bear witness to your own growth and potential for greatness! ”
Maurio Brown – Reverend Grimes
This workshop has been an amazing experience not only for me as an actor but as a person of African decent. Rajendra our director has challenged us to be truthful and tell our ancestors stories. I have learned so much history from this experience and I am so excited about how this show will change people’s perception of this era in history.
Ethan Ness – Seward + Ensemble
Common Ground has been such a challenging but rewarding process. I would say that I’ve learned that in history–as in the present day–there are no easy answers, and there are no flawless human beings. But we always have the choice to focus on that which unites us, rather than the things that separate us. To me, that’s the whole idea behind ‘Common Ground.’
Sam Oz Stone – Stanton + Ensemble
Laughter, Love and Music are the universal language. Walls can and will be broken down when people of all color and creed can accept this as their truth.
Tommy T. Walker – Chase + Ensemble
This entire experience has been completely eye opening. I’ve learned about the processes the others take in order to allow themselves to be ready for a performance. Rajendra was brilliant when working with the different actors and putting them into the real life situations that these characters had to endure in history. For myself, thanks to my cast mates, Rajendra, Caren, Stan and Granville I have a growing confidence in myself, and as long as I keep working towards the theater as a goal, anything is possible.
Akeil Davis – Lewis, Young Douglass + Ensemble
This workshop taught me the impact of Fredrick Douglass’ life and gave me a new found appreciation for his legacy. Personally, I learned to allow myself a new level of vulnerability which I’d steered away from prior to this experience. Common Ground taught me that Broadway is a mindset not the locations between 34th street and Lincoln center.