Do you remember the Los Angeles riots of 1992? Many college-age students don’t, director Anna Budd says — and that’s one reason she is bringing “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992” to Cañada College’s stage this month.
Playwright Anna Deveare Smith interviewed more than 300 people in Los Angeles in the months following the riots and wrote “Twilight” — named for an L.A. gang member — from those interviews.
Fifteen years after racial tensions exploded in Southern California, the play is staged regularly, especially at college campuses, said Smith, a professor at New York’s Tisch School of the Arts.
“Colleges are a good opportunity to work with kids — they stay in their own groups, but that’s where we should be urging them to do otherwise,” Smith said.
Smith worked at College of San Mateo in 1972, and said the breadth of ethnic diversity there helped catalyze her interest in writing about race relations.
Ethnic diversity — and divisions — remain in the San Mateo Community College District system, Budd said. Roughly 42 percent of the students at Cañada College are Spanish-speaking, but when it came time to audition students for “Twilight,” only white people came forward.
“I had to go into places where there were people of color and ask them to audition,” Budd said. “On the first day of rehearsal, I asked ‘Who here remembers the L.A. riots?’ and only one person raised their hand.”
Those two facts reveal why staging a show such as “Twilight” is so important, Budd said.
“This play deals with, in a very direct way, racial tension — things we don’t talk about,” Budd said. “It’s a case study of what happens when communities cut off communication. They get so angry and resentful, and it’s only a matter of time before you start hurting each other.”
Race relations are a frequent topic in Cañada’s courses on race and ethnicity taught by Robert Lee, an associate professor of sociology.
“I ask, ‘Does race still matter?’ and there are all different kinds of responses,” Lee said. “Most of our students, a lot of whom come from working-class backgrounds, say it does still matter — and they see racial tensions at amore personal level.”
“Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992” plays at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and Nov. 2 and 3, and at 2 p.m. Nov. 4 in the Flex Theater at Cañada College, 4200 Farm Hill Blvd., Redwood City.