The Cuesta College Theater Department’s original play pool ’63—a work of devised theater that delves into issues of race and violence in 1960s Birmingham, Ala.—played to sold-out audiences throughout the month of December. Now, the play is heading to Los Angeles, where it has been selected to receive a full production at the 2014 Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival in Los Angeles.
Kennedy Center adjudicator Josh Machamer, a professor of theater at Cal Poly, described pool as “one of the best plays I’ve seen in a long time,” according to press materials.
Directed by bree valle (who doesn’t use capitalization in her name) and created in collaboration with theater department students and playwright Phillip Valle, pool takes its name from a whites-only swimming pool in Birmingham.
The play’s subject matter was initially inspired by the 2012 murder of Trayvon Martin, but the theme of the production was significantly expanded to address issues of race and civil rights in America.
“I was outraged that a child was murdered and the killer was set free,” valle told New Times during rehearsal of the production. “This idea set me into researching the history of racism in the USA. With the 50th anniversary of the Walk on Washington, the pieces begin to fit into place. Racism is a global problem, a U.S. endemic, and a San Luis Obispo reality. Students researched different elements of racism, and together we narrowed our time and place to Birmingham, 1963 as that was the most segregated and toxic location.”
The highly experimental work, which evolved entirely without a script, highlights the difficulties of being black in the South prior to desegregation, and centers on Grace Jackson (Jayde Forzetting), her husband Donald (Meshack Burton), and their daughter Rosa (Rainey Forzetting).
“We are very proud of our student’s achievement and this recognition, particularly because we had not even entered the piece for consideration,” valle explained. “It was only after a buzz was generated by the first adjudicator that the committee chair flew in from Los Angeles to see the show.”
Due to the popularity of the show, pool ’63 will be also staged again locally in February and March. Tickets for those performances will be available soon at cpactickets.edu.