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Theater revived through teacher

Published: Friday, December 13, 2013

Updated: Friday, December 13, 2013 15:12


Qing Huang / The Advocate

Los Angeles native and professional actor turned drama professor Tyrone Davis warms up with his students before the debut performance of “Twilight: Los Angeles 1992.” This is his first semester teaching at CCC.

When drama professor Tyrone Davis wakes up in the morning there is one thing on his mind — change the world with the power of the performing arts.

“Tyrone is one of the most influential people I have ever met,” colleague, fellow actor and Davis’ friend for more than 10 years Jozben Barrett said. “His spirit is so passionate, he has so much passion for the arts and their ability to change things for the better.”

Now in the final weeks of his first semester of teaching at Contra Costa College, and after his first CCC drama department production, “Twilight: Los Angeles 1992”, Davis can add two more things to his ever-growing list of achievements.

He has been in more than 17 theatrical productions and independent films throughout his time as a student and professional actor.

But his love for acting was not always as clear and resolute as it is today.

As a young child growing up in the inner-city of Los Angeles, Davis wanted nothing more than to be a basketball player.

“When I was 8 years old I wanted to be a basketball player and that continued all the way through high school,” Davis said.

Both Davis and Barrett went to Grover Cleveland High School in Reseda, near Los Angeles.

Davis spent many hours playing basketball and eventually played for his high school team.

During his senior year he was approached by his basketball coach and was told he would not get a lot of playing time that season, so Davis began to explore other options.

That is when Davis had a conversation with his father that changed his life forever.

Davis asked his father what he should do for his career, and his dad replied, “Do what makes you happy.”

That same year, Davis’ father became ill and died on Christmas Eve. The loss of his father cemented the importance of the conversation the two had in Davis’ mind and greatly affected his post-high school life.

It was after this moment that Davis’ life goal switched and he became fully invested in acting and the performing arts.

“I have always had a desire to make a difference,” Davis said. “I am an activist. I seek to bridge gaps which continue to divide people from one another. Theater is the arena of my activism.”

After becoming the first person in his family to graduate from high school, Davis continued his educational journey at Cal State-Northridge. He graduated with his bachelor of arts degree in theater.

Barrett said, “When we were going to college with each other we were told by our teacher to look to the left and look to the right in our seats. Our teacher then said, those people will not be here this time next year. That was when Tyrone and myself promised each other that we wouldn’t be those people.”

During his time at Northridge, Davis performed in several plays including works by his favorite playwright, August Wilson.

He even created the theater production company Black Genius Theater with his long-time friend Barrett as his partner.

He then went on to attend the California Institute of the Arts where he received his masters of fine arts degree in acting.

Once again, with his friend Barrett at his side, Davis created another production company, this time named The Collective.

“We created and directed plays both for Northridge and CalARTS that are still being produced today,” Barrett said.

Now that his education was complete, Davis saw an opportunity in the vacant drama professor position at CCC.

Davis said, “This is my first semester working at CCC, and I’m glad I can help say, ‘Drama is back.’”

Within weeks of arriving, Davis had a strong idea of what he wanted as the first production of his career at CCC to be, “Twilight: Los Angeles 1992.”

“The play takes a look at the civil unrest in Los Angeles following the April 1992 verdict in the Rodney King trial.

Playwright and actress Anna Deavere Smith tells the story of these riots through a series of monologues based on interviews she conducted with people involved in the riots, Davis said.

“Originally she performed it as a one-woman performance piece, taking on the role of each character that she interviewed. However, we used an ensemble for our production at CCC this fall.”

As the debut evening of the play approached, Davis worked to keep the morale and energy of his cast of students up.

“I’ve only known him so long but he is pretty good and he’s very good at motivating people,” performing arts major Jonathan Gantizo said. “He makes people feel comfortable. He does a very good job at making people feel at home.”

Davis said, “From the students that I have met, I didn’t really have to build an ensemble because it was already here.”

Now that the semester is coming to a close Davis looks forward to spending some time with his 2-year-old daughter and his wife who live in Los Angeles.

“You know it is hard having to travel back and forth between here and Los Angeles,” Davis said.

Outside of the theater Davis is a sports fanatic and spends his time playing basketball, football, baseball and performing poetry.

As an avid basketball fan Davis says his favorite team is the Los Angeles Lakers.

Barrett said, “I couldn’t see this world without him. He is a great guy.” 

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