Academic journal article Making Connections

August Wilson: Hometown Son

Academic journal article Making Connections

August Wilson: Hometown Son

Article excerpt

As an August Wilson scholar and a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I am constantly doing research on the rich cultural, historical, and social legacy that is etched in Wilson's plays. I view August Wilson as a hometown son who has made great literary and dramatic contributions, not only to Broadway, but also directly to Pittsburgh, where all of his 10 major plays have been performed by the local theatre community over the last 35 years. For this article, I conducted interviews over a two-year period in which I interviewed a prominent Pittsburgh playwright and director, a prominent Pittsburgh actor and writer, a prominent costume designer, and a very close member of Wilson's family. They shared their insights and observations about the late, great August Wilson and his creative genius. In addition, they discussed the effects that Wilson's legacy has had on the Pittsburgh theatre community.

Interview with Mr. Mark Southers ( June 22, 2007). Mr. Southers is a Pittsburgh playwright, director, and actor who is the Artistic Director and Founder of the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company.

Brian: Hello, Mark. Thank you for taking time in your busy schedule to grant me an interview.

Mark: No problem.

Brian: Mark, when did you first encounter an August Wilson play?

Mark: Back in 1987,1 saw the Kuntu

Repertory Theatre's production of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom.

Brian: What did you think of the play?

Mark: Man, I loved it. It was a great production.

Brian: You also have worked with the Kuntu Repertory Theater.

Mark: I used to work as a photographer for the New Pittsburgh Courier. And then in the early '90s, I was a photographer for the Kuntu. Eventually, I got into acting with the Kuntu.

Brian: How did you end up studying with August Wilson?

Mark: In 1998,1 got the opportunity to go over to South Africa with Derrick Sanders, who also worked with the Kuntu. August was teaching a Master's class over there at a theatre workshop, and Derrick and I attended the class.

Brian: That must have been an awesome experience.

Mark: Yes, I learned a lot from him. And then I had the opportunity to go to a theatre workshop in Alaska shortly after the South Africa trip. August was there. Derrick Sanders and Javon Johnson, who also worked with the Kuntu, and I did stage readings of scenes from some of August's plays. A very cool experience.

Brian: I remember reading somewhere that a number of years back, you started a monthly workshop at your house called " the August Wilson Readings Roundtable" where you read scenes from August Wilson's plays, preparing actors for August Wilson plays. I am guessing you were influenced by the times you spent studying with August in South Africa and Alaska?

Mark: You certainly can say that.

Brian: Mark, how has August Wilson's work influenced you as a director?

Mark: I am still growing as a director. I have a long way to go as a director. His work has a rhythm. I have acted in scenes, not full plays. When you act in his plays, you have to acquire that rhythm that he is placing in the words. Meaning, just say the words that he writes. Say the words and it will come. So as far as how it has influenced me as a director, it has made me want to do my research and know where these things are coming from in the stories. You have got to know the characters. It helps you when you do your casting. To know the depth of these characters that is necessary for certain actors. Then sometimes you got to have actors who can bring certain amounts of experience, not just on stage but in life. They can pull these guttural things out of them. Stuff will come out of them and you get real tears. And when they tell these real stories it was as if it was them. August is a master storyteller, a master storyteller.

Brian: I see.

Mark: He told me one time, "Man, write your best play. Write your best play." I think that applies to anything you do. …

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