Watts Village Theater Company founder dies

Lynn Manning 2

Lynn Manning, founder of Watts Village Theater Company, dies at 60. | Photo provided by Watts Village Theater Company

Lynn Manning, co-founder and artistic director of Watts Village Theater Company, died of liver cancer Monday at 60.

Manning had a “radiant passion and talent for theater,” the company’s board of directors said in a statement earlier this week.

“Los Angeles has lost a gem and one of Watts’ finest,” the board wrote.

Manning and fellow actor, Quentin Drew founded the Watts Village Theater Company in 1996, aiming to bring professional quality theater to South Los Angeles.

In an interview with Intersections in 2013, Manning said he always had a passion for the arts. Yet he seriously considered theater after he lost his eyesight from a gunshot wound when he was 23-years-old.

“None of this stuff was a part of my life as a kid growing up,” Manning said in the interview. “My South Central life didn’t involve theater; it didn’t involve poetry beyond greeting card stuff. I didn’t know this stuff could speak to me.”

Born to a single mother in South L.A., Manning and his eight siblings spent much of their childhood in foster homes, but giving back to the community remained important to him. After high school, manning worked as a counselor in the Mid-Wilshire District group home where he spent his teenage years.

In addition to his work with the WVTC Manning had a successful solo career. His autobiographical show “Weights” toured at the Kennedy Center, garnered critical acclaim and earned him an NAACP award.

In 2005, before co-founder Drew passed away from cancer, there was discussion that Manning might succeed him as artistic director. At the time Manning’s Solo Career was taking off, however, and he declined. It wasn’t until Drew’s successor, Guillermo Aviles-Rodriguez, resigned as artistic director at the end of 2012 that Manning assumed the role.

Under Manning’s leadership WVTC expanded its “Meet Me @Metro” yearly production to two stops Watts. The production was unique because it invited playgoers to ride the Metro line, get off and watch performances near the stop. WVTC also produced “Riot/Rebellion” by award-winning playwright Donald Jolly. The story is based on interviews with survivors of the 1965 events.

WVTC said Lynn knew of his terminal cancer diagnosis during this past year and was working to establish a smooth transition.

“We will be sharing more information about the next steps in the near future,” the staff and board of directors said in a statement. “For now, we would like to focus on celebrating the lasting impact and legacy Lynn leaves behind.”

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