Week One: Home, Fear & Urgency
Jitney (1982) – 1970s
Jitneys are unlicensed cab drivers operating in Pittsburgh’s Hill District when legal cabs won’t cover that area, the play follows the hustle and bustle of their lives.
Radio Golf (2005) – 1990s
Aunt Ester returns in this modern story of city politics and the quest from two monied Pittsburgh men to try and redevelop an area of Pittsburgh.
Transition into Week 2: What did it mean for Black folks to have to assimilate to white culture?
What’s the difference between assimilation and acculturation? What are some of the origins of
Black theater and storytelling outside of a Western lense?
Week Two: Call, Response & Perfectionism
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (1984) – 1920s
Ma Rainey’s ambitions of recording an album of songs are jeopardized by the ambitions and decisions of her band.
Seven Guitars (1995) – 1940s
Starting with the funeral of one of the seven characters, the play tracks the events that lead to the death.
Week Three Culture & Individualism
Fences (1987) – 1950s
Race relations are explored again in this tale which starts with a couple of garbage men who wonder why they can’t become garbage truck drivers.
The Piano Lesson (1990) – 1930s
Brother and sister Boy Willie and Berniece clash over whether they should sell an ancestral piano that was exchanged for their great grandfather’s wife and son in the days of slavery.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom by August Wilson
Passing Strange book and lyrics by Stew, music by Stew and
Transition to Week 4: Why is investing in self-care and mental health vital for Black people? In
what ways must the Black community work together to promote racial equity? What is
performative allyship, and why is it so detrimental to the Black Lives Matter Movement?
Week Four: Ritual, Ancestors & Duality
Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (1988) – 1910s
The themes of racism and discrimination come to the fore in this play about a few freed African American slaves.
Gem of the Ocean (2003) – 1900s
Citizen Barlow enters the home of the 285-year-old Aunt Ester who guides him on a spiritual journey to the City of Bones.
Week Five: Sankofa, Revolution & Progress
Two Trains Running (1991) – 1960s
Looking at the Civil Rights movement of the sixties, this play details the uncertain future promised to African Americans at the time.
King Hedley II (1999) – 1980s
One of Wilson’s darkest plays, an ex-con tries to start afresh by selling refrigerators with the intent of buying a video store. Characters from Seven Guitars reappear throughout.
Week Six: The Black Perspective
How I Learned What I Learned (2003) Theatrical Memoir
Originally performed by August Wilson himself, How I Learned What I Learned is a heartfelt theatrical memoir charting one man’s journey of self-discovery through adversity, and what it means to be a Black artist in America.
Class Description: The Black Theatrical Voice in Western, American theater is often drowned out. Though misunderstood, appropriated, or altogether abandoned, the notion that Black theater is inherently different than Western theater is still true. Many may not be aware of Wilson’s work.
This class is for those inside and out of the theater community who seek to educate themselves by diving deep into the themes of August Wilson, including acting approach, play history and performance, and – perhaps most importantly – understanding the integration that occurs between Wilson’s theatrical world and Black life and the importance of the integrity of Black culture within theatrical spaces. It will also explore the ways in which white supremacy and its antecedents have and still do shape the Black perspective and therefore the Black aesthetic.
Course Reading Material
“The Devil Finds Work” by James Baldwin
“Sexism: An American Disease in Blackface” by Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider
“Love as a Practice of Freedom” by Bell Hooks
The Plays to Read
Gem of the Ocean
Joe Turner’s Come and Gone
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
The Piano Lesson
Two Trains Running
King Hedley II
Class Description: Over the course of six weeks students will learn the fundamentals of writing for the stage. For ages 13 and up.
The class will culminate in a staged reading of the 10 minute piece they have developed in class.