51Oakland Presents Don Reed's "East 14th" to Benefit Oakland Schools

Posted by Billyjam, July 28, 2012 02:21am | Post a Comment
Oakland born-and-raised comedian Don Reed, whose built a rep for his work on HBO, the Cosby Show, and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, will be doing a special one-off performance of his renowned one man show East 14th: True Tales of a Reluctant Player at Yoshi's in Oakland on Monday July 30th. The critically acclaimed, funny but poignant show, that has the distinction of being the longest running one man show in Bay Area history, will benefit Oakland Public Schools Music & Arts Education thanks to the 51Oakland organization.

East 14th
's storyline is described by its producers as chronicling the true tale of a young man raised in Oakland by his mother and ultra-strict stepfather as a middle class, straight A, God-fearing church boy. The boy, however, wanted to be just like his dear old dad. Too bad he didn't know dear old dad was a pimp. And yet we find even the outlaws in our community have a moral compass that leads our most promising to higher ground and higher education. This week I caught up with writer, director, performer Reed to ask his long-running popular play, his stand-up work, East Oakland, and the state of the East Bay school system today.

You have said that you were at first reluctant to do a show like East 14th: True Tales of a Reluctant Player because it is so close to you & your personal life. But once you did it on stage was it a cathartic rewarding (or other) experience?

Don Reed:  Yes.  It was very super rewarding.  But at first it was painful as well; many of the folks I speak of when sharing this life journey have passed, too early indeed.   But now, they live on via the show.  I used to tell these stories in the backyard or at parties, but never shared any of this stuff onstage as a comedian - too personal, too unbelievable.  But friends and family pushed me, saying "C'mon, your stepdad was a Jehovah's Witness and your real dad was pimp?!  You gotta put that onstage!"  Sharing the stories now, where I ended up on the other side of all the insanity, ending up attending UCLA and now working for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno after The Cosby Show, The Flintstones, being an ad-executive at NBC, kind of, now, displays the circuitous route as the exact way my life was supposed to unfold.

Amoeblog; What do you think is the biggest misconception of East Oakland folks have, especially those outside the area?
Don Reed: I believe the biggest misconception is it is limited to being a crime center.  Yes, there is an undue amount of crime in East Oakland. But the part that is being left out is it's national, might I say even global, impact from early beginnings on music, dance, import/export and the civil rights movement.  Oakland was the harbinger of much fashion, urban cool (lifestyle) and art on an extremely high scale; far more than many, many cities in the entire country.  And I absolutely know Oakland has far more left to offer in all those areas and more.  Locking into these young minds via 51Oakland and giving them a clear outlet will aid the recognition of those many excellent attributes that Oakland still possesses.

Amoeblog: Why do you think did your show stuck a nerve with people and ended up running for so long?
Don Reed: The show started out as a show sharing my extremely unique experience of how I grew up in Oakland.  It began in Los Angeles in 2006, then went Off Broadway in New York in 2008, and then ran for two and a half years in the Bay Area - San Francisco/Oakland/Berkeley.  It drew people in initially as "our Bay" tale but the universality of the story allowed it to go on and on.  I didn't design it to strike that nerve, it just did.  To be clear I wanted it to strike a nerve but you can only create the work then hope the audience allows it to connect with them.  Even though I'm the only one onstage, I'm not the star of this show. The story is the star! 

Amoeblog: When you do your performances (stand-up or one man show) do you tailor them according to who your audience is?
Don Reed: Tailoring a show has a lot more to do with stand up as opposed to a one man play like this.  In stand up you can flip things up at the drop of a hat, adjust if you choose.  But with a one man show, at least in the way I perform them, they are plays.  They are what they are. There is no shifting to adapt to a specific audience. There are mature themes and language in this show. It is organic to the street factors in my upbringing and I'd be lying by cleaning it up.  Occasionally, one or two blue words may be flipped but almost 95% of the time you're getting what you're getting!  The great thing about this show is [that] it is urban at its core. It's about a black family; an extreme black family but still a family.  That's the universal impact that allowed it to cross over back and over again.  People reflect on whatever their family dynamic is once they see the show. Jewish, Latino, Anglo, Asian whatever, it makes people think 'What is my family dynamic like? -with my father, mother, brothers, sisters etc.'

The 51Oakland presentation at Yoshi's Oakland on July 30th will benefit Oakland Public Schools Music & Arts Education. Why, in your opinion, are such programs so important?
Don Reed: The music and arts in Oakland Public Schools is being severely challenged.  When those outlets to release art are suffocated or cut off the end result can flow out in undesirable behavior.  It's been true for centuries and many civilizations that when arts are removed those energies take on other forms.  They can take on some positive forms as well; mathematics, the sciences etc. But in our inner cities  it often leads in the other direction.  By having a program, 51Oakland that is set on asking the teachers what the students need we are working from a root angle that gets right to the uplifting, the enlightening and the awakening of these young powerfully creative young people of Oakland.

Don Reed's East 14th, which is Benefit for 51Oakland, plays at 8pm on Monday,
July 30th at Yoshi's at Jack London Sq in Oakland. Tix are $25.
Advance tickets and further event & club information

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