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Renowned LA theater artist Lynn Manning dies at 60

Poet Lynn Manning performs during the dedication of the Kirk Douglas Theater on Sept. 30, 2004 in Culver City, California.
Poet Lynn Manning performs during the dedication of the Kirk Douglas Theater on Sept. 30, 2004 in Culver City, California.
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

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Los Angeles poet, actor and playwright Lynn Manning died Aug. 3 at the age of 60. He had quietly been battling liver cancer.

Manning was a 23-year-old budding visual artist when he was blinded in a Hollywood barroom shooting. He re-channeled his creative energy and discovered he had a gift for the written word and performing. Manning went on to co-found the Watts Village Theater Company, and he performed his one-man show, “Weights,” on stages around the world.

Manning was much-admired in L.A.’s theater scene, and the news that he had died suddenly was met with sadness.

The Frame’s John Horn spoke with Oliver Mayer, Associate Professor of Dramatic Writing at the USC School of Theatre, and  a longtime friend and colleague of Manning’s.

Interview Highlights

Who was Lynn Manning and what was his role in the L.A. theater community?

Lynn was a poet first, a playwright and performer, and then just someone that we all gravitated to — primarily I think just because of his soul. People use that term, but boy did he have one... I got to meet him in the very late 1980s and was very proud to be his friend and comrade in drama.

He had an unbelievably hard life. His mother nearly killed his stepfather. He lived in six foster homes and went to nine different schools. Then when he’s only 23, in a bar fight, a stranger shoots him in the head and blinds him. How did he move from being a visual artist to a playwright after that accident?

I think you have to credit judo. He found a physical outlet in that incredible sport in which you actually don’t need eyes. And he indeed became a world champion. And at the Braille Institute he began working on poetry and spoken word. And from that point, I’m very proud to say that I was able to get him working at the Mark Taper Forum, where I worked at one time, in something called the Mentors Playwrights Project. Lynn was an original member and he really sort of found his drama roots and he wrote some really, really fine plays. People can actually read his plays in a collection that’s just come out. It’s called “Private Battle and Other Plays.” I recommend people read them and produce them.

It would be easy for us to remember Manning as L.A.’s blind playwright and think of his work only in terms of his disability. But Manning would probably have a different opinion of that legacy, wouldn’t he?

I think he would. I think he would like to be known as a writer from Los Angeles in the manner that [Raymond] Chandler and John Fante were writers of L.A. And I think he wanted to be someone who could bridge the gap. Someone brought up something about community last night. And I just wanted to say, Which community? Because he spanned more than one way that I think we all should aspire to.

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