2021 Grants Challenge

World Premiere Production of “Trouble The Water” written by Ellen Geer and directed by Gerald C. Rivers, adapted from the novel by Rebecca Dwight Bruff

Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum seeks support in order to produce the world premiere of “Trouble the Water,” directed by Gerald Rivers, in our unique 299-seat amphitheatre as part of our 2022 Repertory Season. Producing Artistic Director Ellen Geer's theatrical adaptation of Rebecca Dwight Bruff's novel on the life of Robert Smalls follows the epic life story of this African-American hero and icon. The play will run for 15 Repertory performances for all, including a “pay what you can” performance, and 3 School Days Field Trip student matinees.


In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

County of Los Angeles

City of Los Angeles

LAUSD (select only if you have a district-wide partnership or project)

What is the problem that you are seeking to address?

In the last year, individuals and institutions have been grappling with our roles in American racism and racist institutions in new and long overdue ways. As a Classical Theatre company noted for Shakespeare and other Classical productions, new American plays, and as a nationally recognized provider of arts education, we believe that we must look to and genuinely engage with our history in order to make authentic progress. Through this adaptation of Trouble the Water, we hope to tell the story of Robert Smalls, and through telling that story to engage deeply with the realities of slavery, the Civil War, the Reconstruction era, and the beginnings of Jim Crow, alongside the ways these events continue to reverberate in the present day. We hope to reckon with this legacy and the real attempts to avoid authentically teaching this chapter of American history to young people and adults alike by rightfully placing Robert Smalls' story alongside the great American heroes.

Describe the project, program, or initiative that this grant will support to address the problem identified.

Theatricum Botanicum seeks support to stage the full world premiere production of Trouble the Water by Ellen Geer, adapted from the novel by Rebecca Dwight Bruff and directed by Gerald C. Rivers. This original play will tell the story of Robert Smalls, from his dramatic seafaring escape from slavery right under the Confederate army’s noses, to his election and service in the House of Representatives, and his valiant yet ultimately thwarted attempts to stop the abhorrent rise of Jim Crow laws. Alongside a cast of ~17 multiethnic actors, Theatricum will collaborate with members of a local Gospel choir, Agape International Choir, as part of each performance, forming a total cast of 25-30. In addition to Repertory performances, and student matinees through our School Days Field Trip program, the schedule will include a public Q&A with creative team and actors and a “pay what you can” performance. As we consider and re-consider our relationship to American history, we must also reevaluate what is included in the canon or considered “Classic.” We must present more Black histories - which is to say, American history - and lift these stories up alongside other iconic Americans. This production will powerfully speak to the history and present of race relations in the US and spark necessary conversations about racism. This production will also create ~40 paying jobs and create a pathway for union membership for up and coming actors and stage managers through our internship program.

In what stage of innovation is this project, program, or initiative?

Applying a proven model or solution to a new issue or sector (e.g., using a job recruiting software or strategy to match clients to supportive housing sites, applying demonstrated strategies from advocating for college affordability to advocating for housing affordability and homelessness, etc.)

Approximately how many people will be impacted by this project, program, or initiative?

Direct Impact: 4,000

Indirect Impact: -

Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.

Theatricum’s core values include building community by inviting a diverse populace to the table; brokering conversation and fostering understanding through art; and passing on this responsibility of inclusion to the next generation through robust education programs for all ages. Theatricum is committed to fighting against the silos of culture that threaten to separate the diverse communities of Los Angeles. We work towards these goals by continuing to broaden inclusion of audiences, artists, stories, and histories. We are committed to true diversity in gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and socio-economics being represented on our stages and throughout our educational programs. This production of Trouble the Water will put all of these values into practice, contributing meaningfully to the broader, vital Los Angeles cultural landscape. Success will be measured by audience and student participation numbers, the quality of the production, and by overall critical engagement.

What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?

Theatricum Botanicum has been one of the premier arts providers in Southern California for nearly 50 years, with a sterling reputation for professional theatre as well as private and school-based arts education. Our Repertory has been honored with NAACP, Backstage West, Ovation, LADCC, and other awards and nominations. Theatricum’s School Programs serve over 15,000 K-12 students and teachers yearly, are part of LA County Arts Commission’s arts education database and have been a recipient of the Arts Midwest Shakespeare in American Communities Grant for 15 cycles. We are a dynamic group of artist-educators whose artistic skill is accompanied by a passion for education, for the role of art in spurring social change, and for uplifting conversations that increase our ability to understand and support each other. We must truly reckon with American racism in history and at present to move forward together. We intend to contribute to that honest healing with this world premiere production.

Which of the CREATE metrics will you impact?​

Arts establishments, instillations, and exhibitions

Employment in the creative industries

Minority- and women-owned businesses

Indicate any additional LA2050 goals your project will impact.

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