Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Back from the Edge Playwright Mark Clayton Southers Returns to the Theater

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Back from the Edge Playwright Mark Clayton Southers Returns to the Theater

Article excerpt

Pain and depression have been Mark Clayton Southers' constant companions as the producer, writer and artistic director of Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company navigates life in the world of "after." The strapping former steelworker barely survived a car crash in May 2015 that left him with metal rods supporting his fractured spine and two large pins in his left leg, which was pieced back together in multiple surgeries.

His doctor called it "a miracle" that he lived. The only permanent loss of motion has been from the arch to the toes of his left foot.

In the world of after, there also has been joy and progress. In early December, he proudly displayed the slight movement that had returned to his foot, a second miracle he credits to acupuncture treatments.

There are dark days to be sure. Medication helps, but it also can leave him zapped of energy or prone to release a torrent of unbidden thoughts. He has been using a wheelchair since 2017 began because he broke his ankle while crossing Liberty Avenue near his Downtown theater.

Through it all, Mr. Southers has fought back with the help of his family and community and the thing that can snap him into talking like his old self - work.

"I keep busy," he said. "What brings me joy is doing theater, and I realized that when I just shut the TV off after the election. My motto now is, just to be the best citizen I can be and the best example for my children I can be."

He has stopped chronicling the often nightmarish details of his physical and mental struggles on Facebook. His focus now is health, family and theater, including his own work, the work of fellow Pittsburgh theater artists and the continued advancement of his mentor and playwriting hero, August Wilson.

Mr. Southers was so busy in those pursuits last year, it was hard to keep track of his whereabouts.

In August, he left the Downtown confines of his theater to lead a historic production of "Seven Guitars," staged at August Wilson's childhood home in the Hill District. His own work also shined last year. In March, he debuted his adaptation of Strindberg's 1888 "Miss Julie," titled "Miss Julie, Clarissa and John," at PPTC. In September, his play opened the 40th season of The Black Rep in St. Louis, and he is hoping to take it to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August.

In November 2016, he spent time in Newark, N.J., to direct the Anthony Davis opera "Five," about the young black and Latino men who were wrongly accused of raping a white jogger in Central Park in 1989.

Directing an opera might seem out of bounds for his experience, but he said it was no different from any other stage project because of the collaborators who make it work. "It's a team effort," he said. "There's a music director, a choreographer .. It's not all on my shoulders."

He spent several weeks in 2016 going back and forth to Short North Stage in Columbus, Ohio, where he directed two August Wilson plays, "Gem of the Ocean" in January and "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" in June. …

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