By Christy Scannell
Presented by the Ira Aldridge Repertory Players (IARP), “Looking for an Echo” is a “doo-wop street corner musical,” said the show’s creator and director, Calvin Manson. Music from the Platters, Sam Cooke, the Temptations, the Moonglows and the Drifters will be featured in the a cappella performance.
“There is very little information or literature out there on doo-wop,” Manson said about his motivation for writing the show. “These icons are dying off. We need to remember what that music was and how they impacted rock and roll. I want younger people to walk away from this knowing the music they’re doing now has been done before and how it was influenced.”
Manson, a former computer science and math teacher, founded the IRTA 25 years ago to provide opportunities for African-American actors and singers. The group is named for Ira Aldridge, a Shakespearean actor from the 1800s, who is considered the first African-American to gain fame in the theater.
“In 1984, blacks were only getting minor roles,” he said. “I wanted to have a place where we could develop black artists and black writers.”
Although the IRTA previously performed at Caesar’s Café downtown, Manson decided to move it to North Park, where he also lives, this season. “Downtown got too crowded for me,” he said. “(North Park) is family. I want to see tourism come into North Park. When you live in a community, you want to see the money stay in the community.”
Not only is Manson interested in supporting the neighborhood, he said he is committed to granting a portion of his company’s proceeds to charity. The Sister City of Ghana and the San Diego Public Library are two organizations that have benefited from the $15,000 he has donated since the dinner theater began.
“If you support the community, the community will come back and support you,” Manson said. But he was quick to add, “I give away more than I put in my bank account.”
In fact, Manson admitted the IRTA is nowhere near a cash cow. “Some shows make a little money, some break even and some lose money,” he said. He credited his wife, who works full-time, with keeping the family afloat while he pursues his dream. “I do have the best, most wonderful wife in the world,” he said smiling. “No one wanted to fund this and we thought it was important to do so we’ve done it. And we’ve had a really good following in terms of community support.”
Manson said he always pays his casts, many of whom are professional musicians and actors. “I can never pay them enough for donating their time. Some of them put their careers on hold and turn down things they would have made money on to support my efforts,” he said. “But everyone is really proud of what we do.”
“Looking for an Echo” opens July 10 and runs through Aug. 9 at the Sunset Temple, 3911 Kansas St., in North Park. Performances will be on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. For these shows, dinner will be served at 6:45 p.m. Three Sunday matinees will be July 26 and Aug. 2 and 9 at 4 p.m. with a 2:45 p.m. meal. Claire de Lune Coffee Lounge – next door to the theater – is catering a menu that includes choice of salad, choice of chicken or pasta entrée, rolls, cheesecake and iced tea or water. A cash bar will be available. Tickets are $40 for the dinner and show or $27.50 for the show only. For more information, call (619) 283-4574 or e-mail email@example.com. Group rates are available for 10 or more.
Christy Scannell is a freelance writer and editor who lives in North Park.