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In just a few days The American History Theater will present its first play of the 2022 Season. The play hits some of the organization’s usual buttons, addressing mental health, suicide and other tough topics. But, what makes this play so very special is that it is AHT’s first original, copyrighted play. CHOICE, written by

Alli Mayville and directed by Hal Berry, will debut April 8th at the Light Box Theater and explores the very serious epidemic of bullying in our society.


The idea for the play was conceptualized by AHT founder and CEO, Hal Berry. For years he hoped to write a show about bullying. The original inspiration came shortly after the Columbine High School shooting in the Spring of 1999.


“After the Columbine shootings, I began to read and research bullying in general,” said Berry. “ I think the motivation was a personal recall to my own life.”


Berry was bullied by a neighbor, cousin and in school, but nowhere near as bad as the bullying he hears of now, he says. What Berry wanted was a talent to write a play raising awareness around how bullying can tear a person down and push them into dangerous mental health states.


Berry found that talent in Alli Mayville. At the time, Mayville was a returning college student in her senior year at SDSU working the bar at a restaurant Berry frequented.


“Like a Hollywood movie, I walked in by myself and decided to sit at the bar and a beautiful blond lady, attending the bar, asked me what I wanted,” said Berry.


Thus began a 7-year friendship that has culminated with our upcoming show. As luck would have it, the beautiful blond bartender was a creative writing student. Berry and she arranged an internship for her with AHT and she began to come up with a storyline from ideas Hal gave her. Mayville began by researching bullying and the trauma that can arise from it. She says she asked her bar patrons about bullying and was surprised when they just “rolled their eyes, as if bullying is something that we all just deal with.”


Mayville says the writing process was “very Johnny Depp in ‘The Secret Window”. She wrote her first draft of the show in a week and a half holed up in a cabin in the woods. From there she and Berry met in a Starbucks weekly as Mayville shared her work, then developed and tweaked characters and scenes with his feedback. Mayville says she deeply valued Berry’s feedback


“Hal, being the forever teacher he is, would play devil’s advocate when I needed it, challenge my ideas, and make me defend my words through careful thought and dissection of what I was really trying to say,” said Mayville.


She says finding a creative partner in Hal has, by far, been her favorite part of learning to write and produce a play. Mayville also credits her family with their help along the way.


“I hit a snag in the writing process and my amazing family offered to help by projecting the script on a screen in their living room and doing a read through so I could take notes and edit as I was hearing the words spoken,” said Mayville.


Mayville also says she is grateful for the support of her mother, whom she turned to when the subject matter of the play got to her.

“I will admit, there was a point during the writing process where I had to go to my mom and tell her I was not okay,” said Mayville. “Writing about other people’s trauma is devastating and I really struggled to separate myself.”


Finally, in the Fall of 2019, the play was seemingly ready for production. Scheduled to debut in early 2020, the show has since been postponed for two years due to COVID19. In that time, Berry and Mayville have had time to re-read and do some rewrites.


“What happened next, which is not unusual, we reread our play, looked at each other and decided to rewrite most of it,” said Berry. “That process took a year and a half of meetings over lunch, great conversation, laughs and a bonding that has been incredible.”


Now, with the show just a few days away, both Mayville and Berry have been spending most of their weeknights in rehearsals. Mayville says she is most proud of their cast.


“Our cast is filled with so much passion, talent, heart, and beauty.,” said Mayville. “I have been so humbled watching them bring this play to life.”


What Mayville and Berry both hope audiences take from the show is a better understanding of the problem, but also of themselves and the world they live in. Although the play is not about bullying in the traditional sense, Mayville says, “it asks the audience to hold a mirror up to different aspects of our world, our self-esteem, our choices, and how we view and treat each other.”


“This play by Alli is exactly what I was looking for,” said Berry. “ It raises awareness about bullying and abstractly explores the forces at work in deciding their and our fate.”


Mayville does wish to convey a trigger warning to audiences. There is a gunshot, suicide and harsh language. But, the characters were inspired by true life events and “the harsh realism people have faced due to bullying,” she said.


This play will sadly be Berry’s last directorial journey, but what a journey it has been!


“CHOICE” opens April 8th at the Light Box Theater in Liberty Station. The show will run three shows for two weekends. To grab tickets and learn more about The American History Theater go to our website at www.americanhistorytheater.org.

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Sadly, we are in the last weekend of our four-weekend run of our partnered production of The Mountaintop written by Katori Hall and directed by Kandace Crystal, starring Caiel Noble and Ashely Graham.


Noble plays the enigmatic, but in this circumstance, anxiety ridden and overworked, Martin Luther King Jr. Graham is the beautiful, flirtatious, chain smoking/hard talking “Camae”, a maid at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee. We first meet Camae as she delivers a newspaper, coffee and cigarettes to the iconic King late, the night before his death. Bright eyed and witty, I'd be remiss if I didn’t say Camae’s character steals more than one scene from the grumpy, anxious and possibly philandering character of King.


“Firstly, Kandace made it clear to me that Camae was a representation of the Black American woman,” said Graham, about embodying the role. “She is sensitive, witty, observant, empathetic and persistent.”


Graham also said she drew upon her own experiences as a young Black woman as well as the other Black women she knows and are close to. She also gives a nod to the the production’s Dramaturg team made up of Phil Johnson with The Roustabouts Theatre Co. and Kimberly King with Teenage and Youth Performing Arts Theatre (TYPA).


[They are] perhaps the absolute BEST Dramaturg team I've witnessed,” said Graham. “They each provided so much insight on the culture, cues and tendencies of the 60s. These combinations brought forth Camae for me.”


Noble, conversely, played a less charismatic character in an MLK that may seem a bit different than how our society currently portrays him. As Camae moves about King’s hotel, we note his wandering eyes on her form. We see him dropping to the floor in mortified fear as lightning crashes and smoking Pall Malls one after the other. We see him in a “flawed” light, making him seem more vulnerable, more real.


[He was] a man who carried the weight of the Civil Rights Movement when he was alive,” said Noble. “But a ‘man’ nonetheless.He had the same emotions, the same fears, the same temptations that any other man or woman may experience.”


Noble said he feels the show is able to resonate with so many because we see he was just a man, but did extraordinary things all the same.


“We can all relate, ‘because at the most human level, we are all the same,” he said.


But, Graham’s character is no prim lady, either, as we see her, in one particular scene, take a small bottle of Irish whiskey from her apron, pouring it into King’s coffee to calm his nerves.


“I think that it simply takes a human to play a human,” said Graham. “Both Caiel and I are humans in every way, with goals, challenges, and weaknesses. Therefore, it wasn't too hard for me to come into the project with the understanding that we would both play people with human experiences. I think this show reveals that to be an icon, you have to first be human.”

Both Noble and Graham had to work to get accustomed to rehearsing and executing a play under COVID19 protocol. All rehearsals took place on Zoom until it was time to film the play, which was done in two days.

“I'm going to start off by saying that rehearsals on Zoom were a challenge for myself at first,” said Noble. “I've never had to stretch myself in that way during a rehearsal process.”

Graham also said the process was one of the biggest challenges she ever experienced as a theatre artist.

“The process of blocking, memorizing, and character connection over Zoom was so foreign,” said Graham.

She also felt it was difficult for she and Noble to remain 100% present given the lack of in-person human connection. Which, is the foundation of what theatre is built upon, she says.

But, no matter how difficult the process, she and Noble came together during their two days of filming to create on-stage, filmed, Zoom-rehearsed magic. If you don’t believe me, you can believe the many press reviews which hail the work both for their work. From The San Diego Union-Tribune to entertainment sites like BroadwayWorld San Diego, the two, along with visionary director Kandace Crystal, have San Diego’s critics raving!

“The amount of attention and support this production has gotten is INSANE!!,” said Graham. “It makes me EXTRA grateful for the team(s) that made this production happen.”

Noble expressed similar views, honored that the show resonated with critics as well as audiences.

I knew that there would be eyes on the show, but I didn't know that it was going to resonate as it has,” said Noble.

“Everything just fell into place,” he continued. “From the amazing director Kandace Crystal and her vision, to the chemistry of Ashley and I on stage, to the super talented crew. I feel that every once in a while when you're a part of something special, you just know. This production of The Mountaintop is a testament to that.”

You can still purchase your tickets for Saturday or Sunday at www.themountaintopsd.com.






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On April 24 the pre-recorded play The Mountaintop, written by Katori Hall, will stream for the first time. This show is the product of an unique partnership within the San Diego Theatre Alliance, made up of The American History Theater (AHT), Teenage and Youth Performing Arts Theatre (TYPA) and The Roustabouts Theatre Co.


A main goal of the partnership was mentorship, an idea that members of the Theatre Alliance have talked about often. Therefore, when AHT Artistic Director and Theatre Alliance member, Kandace Crystal, saw that opportunity for The Mountaintop, she initiated a meeting. All companies came on board the project immediately, eager to put their respective talents into this meaningful project.


For Kandace, who has emerged as a strong voice for people of color within San Diego’s theatre community, the project was especially meaningful.


“There's a saying that history repeats itself,” said Crystal. “As an artist, I have battled with where I fall onto the spectrum regarding social justice issues and combating the repetition of the most disgusting acts in history. In the last couple of years, I have decided, this is where I want to center my work.”


As Kimberly King, director and dramaturg for TYPA, discusses in the recent article she wrote for The San Diego Union Tribune, the San Diego theatre community has been in need of real change in the name of equality and equity for a long time (see Kimberly’s article on our Facebook page). Part of the local industry’s problem is its lack of all or mostly-black led shows that truly reflect the voice of this generation’s people of color. For Crystal, The Mountaintop was an opportunity to strengthen that voice.


“The Mountaintop discusses themes that we, as Black people, are still dealing with to this day,” said Crystal. “The violence against Black people for simply wanting equity, the deification of our leaders, the assassination of those most vocal in our fight. Thus, it is necessary to put these stories on the stage as we reflect on the world around us.”


For Crystal, the script was refreshing in that it cast MLK Jr in a very human light, taking him off the pedestals of history and dropping him into the Lorraine Hotel with a woman that is not his wife.


“Seeing the man who was integral in the Civil Rights Movement having a pillow fight, smelly shoes, and a wandering eye, truly humanizes him,” says Crystal.


Crystal feels erasing the perceived blemishes on MLK’s story, such as his infidelity, is an injustice.


“If we only acknowledge the clean, positive moments, then we are not being true to the struggles of the most marginalized folks in our community,” she said.


As a woman the script resonates with her as well. The perspective of the story is filtered through the eyes of Camae, a hotel maid.


“The importance of the play is centering the voice of a Black Woman,” said Crystal.”The conversation between Camae and Dr. King resonates with me most of all as we wonder what our heroes were like behind closed doors. Who is Dr. King in this context? We see it through the eyes of a Black Woman not so far removed from myself or any other Black Women I know.”


The Mountaintop is a pre-recorded show, which will stream on selected dates from April 24 until May 16. Both cast members were required to take a COVID19 test and all rehearsals were virtual through Zoom up until filming. A far cry from the usual ramp up to a show, Crystal has learned to adapt.


“If there is anything I have learned directing during COVID, it's that you have to have a strong team,” said Crystal. “Virtual rehearsals don't always translate to the stage and having actors and designers who can be flexible and are rooted in the work will make the experience that much more enjoyable.”


The show, although it takes place in a hotel room long ago, still touches upon issues that are relevant now and will continue to be relevant.


“Through the Black Lives Matter movement, a huge lens has been cast on the struggles the Black community faces,” said Crystal, “particularly in regards to police brutality. “


When that lens focuses on what the theatre community is doing to inspire positive change, you can count on Crystal being at the forefront.



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