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The Director's Corner: Kandace Crystal talks vision, challenges while directing "The Mountaintop"

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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