Ginger Rutland is a veteran journalist. She spent 25 years with The Sacramento Bee Editorial Board before retiring in 2013. Before joining The Bee, Ms. Rutland was a TV reporter, first with KCRA, Channel 3 here in Sacramento and later with KRON TV, San Francisco. She was also a regular commentator for Capitol Public Radio. Her play, “When We Were Colored, A Mother’s Story” opens at The Guild Theater Feb. 14 for a month-long run. It is based on a memoir her mother Eva Rutland wrote about moving from the Jim Crow South to a not quite integrated Sacramento 1952. What is it like to be the first Black family in an all-White neighborhood? It is the story of an ordinary Black family living through extraordinary times in America.
Q: What was the inspiration for “When We Were Colored, A Mother’s Story?.
A: The inspiration was my mother’s memoir. It was originally published in 1963 and was called “The Trouble With Being A Mama.” When my father died in 2005, I read a portion of the book at his funeral. It was out of print by then but so many people wanted it, my mother and I decided to republish it. We changed the title and added family photos to the new book. It is the story of a well educated, middle class Black woman raised in the segregated south before World War II who comes to Sacramento after the war with her husband and four young children and what happens to them.
Q: The play premiered last spring at The Sacramento Theatre Company. Why are you staging it again so soon?
A: The play had a very successful run at STC, more than 60 performances and sold out every night. Because it sold out, many people who wanted to see it were unable to get tickets. Also, the patrons for live theater in Sacramento tend to be white and elderly. For this production I’m targeting a more diverse audience. This is a play about the Black experience so I want to give the African American community a chance to see it.
Q: So is that why have you’ve decided to stage it at The Guild in Oak Park?.
A: That is one big reason. But there are others. The restored Guild Theater is a very beautiful space. It’s much larger than the small theater at STC where the play premiered. The larger space allows for a bigger, more comprehensive and, I hope, richer production. Also, it’s in Oak Park. When my family came to Sacramento, Oak Park is one of the few neighborhoods where Black people could buy homes. It’s where we went to church, socialized and shopped. It went through a sad period of decline over the years but it is at the beginning of a fragile renaissance. I want my play at The Guild to be part of that renaissance.
Q: So what can you tell us about the play?
A: Many Black plays are sad. They center on all the negatives that are so much a part of the usual Black narrative in this country, poverty, violence, discrimination, or family dysfunction. My mother wrote a play about the Black experience she lived, about the Black middle and upper classes. So often their stories are non-existent in the mainstream media. So in my play we see two people meet, fall in love, marry, raise children and grow old and infirm together. Yes, they are Black and this is America, so they face discrimination but despite that, they survive and even triumph.
Q: So where can readers get tickets?
A: Go online to www.whenwewerecolored-theplay.com or call (916)800-595-4849 (4TIX)