Lynn Manning, co-founder of Watts Village Theater Company, dies at 60

Kurt Streeter

NOTE: The article that follows is from last November. It’s a great profile piece about who he was, his art (play writing and poetry, etc.) and the activism he did, like bringing the theater to an area of L.A. lacking arts education, Watts.

Lynn-Manning

The bullet screamed out of the barrel of a silver-plated handgun, tearing through his left eye, his nasal canal, the optic nerve in his right eye. He fell to the barroom floor.

Everything was dark and he waited for death. So did the paramedics; he heard them say he probably wasn’t going to make it.

Four days later, lying in a hospital bed, he still couldn’t see. He was afraid he was going crazy, that the trauma of being shot made him imagine he was blind. Then a doctor sat at his side and explained: Surgeons had been forced to remove his left eye. The optic nerve in his right eye was severed.

“It will no longer work,” the doctor said. “You’ll never see anything again.”

Lynn Manning, tall, black, strikingly handsome and 23 at the time, had been raised amid relentless chaos in South Los Angeles. He’d dreamed he could alter the course of his life by devoting it to art and becoming a painter.

“Growing up, I had developed a habit of always preparing for the worst,” he says, his measured, resonant voice evoking a bluesy disc jockey whose words come wrapped with a professorial air. “Even before the shooting I’d thought, ‘Since you love painting so much, how would you survive if it was taken from you? If you couldn’t see?’

“It was hard for everyone around me to believe, but I looked at it like this wasn’t the worst thing that ever happened.”

He’d been blinded, but soon he discovered that there was more than one kind of art. Much more. Over time, the stage would become his canvas, and the city where he was nearly killed his muse.

Thirty-six years after the shooting, Manning is a vital part of Los Angeles’ cultural landscape: a poet, actor and playwright whose work leans on sharp perception and unflinching social commentary.

He says he comes up with some of his material during regular rounds at the darkened H.M.S. Bounty, an old-school, mid-Wilshire jukebox bar full of white, black, Latino and Asian regulars. “Hey big Lynn! … Welcome back, my man!” they call out when he walks in.

He perches on a stool at the long counter and orders grilled pork chops and a house Pinot Noir. He flirts with the waitresses and talks hoops and politics with Andy, Shin, Lawyer Bill or others from his wide cast of barfly friends.

The Bounty was the recent location of his annual “Rebirth Day,” which celebrates the shooting’s anniversary and the good and bad that came after it, from the poetry to the plays to the pair of failed marriages.

“At heart, I’m a homebody,” says Manning, who lives alone and walks with a carbon fiber cane five blocks from his small apartment to the bar. “Los Angeles is the central character in my work: all that tension, all those issues being worked out.”

And he has given back to the city, as the co-founder and artistic director of the Watts Village Theater Company, the only professional acting group in one of L.A.’s most impoverished corners.

He knows the area well. When he was 7, growing up in a tough South L.A. neighborhood near USC, his life was upended by a vicious argument. With a butcher knife, his mother stabbed and nearly killed his stepfather, sending Manning and his handful of siblings into the clutches of foster care.

What followed was about a decade of nonstop uncertainty. He ended up living in six foster homes — several near Watts — and attending nine schools. He suffered vicious treatment.

What saved him was art. He could spend hours playing with color, painting faces and geodesic shapes. As early as grade school he was selling pencil drawings of Batman and the Beatles for a few dimes. Read Rest of Article Here

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