August Wilson’s Legacy (Working In The Theatre #354)

August Wilson’s Legacy (Working In The Theatre #354)


TED CHAPIN: With Radio Golf (PH), the final
work in August Wilson’s ten play cycle on African-American life now on Broadway, we
wanna mark that milestone achievement by looking at the work of this singular voice in the
American theater, which was silenced all too soon. I’m Ted Chapin (PH) for the American Theatre
Wing. Later in the program we’ll be joined by actors
discussing the complex characters created by Wilson. But we’ll start with a group of artists and
producers who have played key roles in bringing August Wilson’s work to the stage. We are joined by Jim Houghton, artistic director
of the Signature Theater Company (PH), which produced three of Wilson’s plays this season. Todd Kreidler, August Wilson’s longtime dramaturg
(PH). Kenny Leon, director of the Broadway productions
of Radio Golf and Gem of the Ocean. Ruben Santiago Hudson, a Tony winner for his
role in Seven Guitars, and director of that play’s revival this year at the Signature
Theater. And Jack Viertel of Jujamcyn Theaters (PH),
the lead producer of Radio Golf. Welcome gentlemen. JACK VIERTEL: Thank you. TODD KREIDLER: Thank you. TED CHAPIN:
I never met August Wilson, but I thought we’d start the conversation by asking–
I think Jack, you knew him longer– than anybody here. What was he like? JACK VIERTEL:
I– if I did (NOISE) know him You know, I– I– my relationship with August
began with me writing him a letter. And it continued (NOISE) with my writing him
letters for many years as we produced– Jujamcyn produced the last six of– of the plays in
the cycle. He rarely– actually answered
the letters. What would happen is I would– (LAUGHTER)
I would meet him for coffee at the– at The Polish Tearoom (PH), the– the coffee shop
at the Edison Hotel (PH). And somehow he would answer the letters without
answering the letters. The great thing about August,
who was a wonderful raconteur and storyteller is– he would lead you a dance and do with–
apparently complete innocence. And tell you the story of his new play, that
wasn’t written yet, which might or might not turn out to be the story of his new play that
wasn’t written yet. (LAUGHTER) And respond to the different things
that I had said to him in a letter or personally without ever directly answering a question. He was a wonderfully entertaining– coffee
companion, but it’s also true that– he was completely committed and passionate about
what he was doing, and could be– you know, fiercely independent about what– how he wanted
to do it, which might or might not be the way that Broadway would typically do something. So, there was this interesting– and in the
end– kind of slightly unknowable combination of a wonderfully entertaining friend and raconteur,
and a deeply private, I think passionate man, who– was on– was on a mission. He was on a mission like a heavy weight boxer
is on a mission to– you know, go all 15 rounds. It was a fascinating experience. TED CHAPIN: Ruben, is that– is that the man
you knew? RUBEN SANTIAGO HUDSON:
Exa– well– you know, I– I think he had so many sides to him. Y– but of– of course, he was extremely passionate. But– when I first August, it felt like it–
w– I met him when I saw– Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (PH)– I think it was ’84. When I walked in that theater,
I felt I had met him, because he w– he was– he spoke directly to my heart. And those words leaped outta those actor’s
mouths, off the stage, into my heart. And I just said, “Who– whoever’s creatin
this, I need some of it. I need to be a part of it.” And– and I– and I pursued him–
as Jack’s– Jack was sayin– I wro– I left a letter. He didn’t– return it, but I– (LAUGHTER)
I ran into him at an audition. And– immediately he wrote a note down, which
he showed me– several years later– it was an audition for Two Trains Runnin. And– I didn’t get the role. And Lawrence Fishburn (PH) went on to win
a Tony. (LAUGHTER) But August wrote a note– August
wrote a note– you know, same music that I have– same– sam– he pl– playin the same
song. And then when Seven Guitars came up, I went
and– (NOISE) played that song again for him. And– and that was my Tony. [onstage dialogue for Seven Guitars] TED CHAPIN: Todd, you– you worked for
him for a number of years, yeah? TODD KREDILER:We met in 1999 in Pittsburgh, when we were doing the– world premier of King Hedley, The Second. And– I got invited into one of those conversations,
and it– carried for– you know, until the end– for seven years. And– that’s how it started, it was just conversations. We were outside of rehearsal break,
and the cast went up into the room, unbeknownst to us. And then they came back, and then they said,
“Are you guys comin back up to rehearsal?” And we found out two and a half hours had
passed. And– in that two and a half hours, we were
somehow beginning a relationship that– (NOISE) you know, worked it’s way through– you know–
“Yeah, Todd, I need ta put this speech in the play. You find a place for it.” You know? And so, we began this back and forth. And– as Jack was shared, he was
always alive with these stories, and was always working. And– if he would see us together– as it
came back to him– and he said, “You have the best job in the world. You hang out with August Wilson.” I thought, “Well, it is the best job in the
world. But– you see we’re hanging out, in the meanwhile
we’re like– working on– you know– you know, a film idea. And then we have this over here. And then there’s– you know, there’s politics. There’s– you know, Paul Hamm (PH) in the
Olympics, and– you know, that issue.” I mean, there’s all these things happening
at the same time, and he was always working. Every waking minute he was working– and training,
and preparing for– (NOISE) you know, what culminates with Radio Golf. TED CHAPIN:
There’s a wonderful line in the second act of– Radio Golf about– rules changing,
and having to change with the rules. And I– I g– is that– does that kind of
go for– for the way August wrote? That he would– because he was not a trained
r– playwright, and sort of prided himself, I believe, on being– on– on sort of coming
in it just– you know, from– from nothing. Did– Kenny, as– as– as a director of–
of his works– d– do you find– are there rules that he made and then broke or did he
just write ’em– as he went along? KENNY LEON:
I don’t know. I think that he was always– (NOISE) in search
of the truth. I mean– I think these guys probably knew
August better than I did. But I feel like I only really
got to (NOISE) meet him– truly after he passed away. I mean, of course, I– I– I knew him. And– so– met him in 1987– at a production
of Fences. And– he’s always been a man of–
(NOISE) of loyalty, and– principle, and– in many ways, that’s what Radio Golf is about. It’s like– what’s right and what’s wrong? And– even if you didn’t agree with him, he
had his right and wrong. And in– 1988, when I became Associate
Artistic Director of the Alliance Theater in Atlanta, he gave me the rights to do Joe
Turner’s Come and Gone. And every year after that, he gave me the
rights to whatever play he had finished writing– even if it was running on Broadway. And he would always come down and spend time
in the previews and opening, and help me with the plays. And– I felt him to be extremely– a complex
man– determined to say something that meant something, determined to really carry the load
for– Americans, and African-Americans specifically. And I think that– we, as Americans, owe a
great deal– to him for that– for that weight that he– he carried. And he’s– certainly left a lot a work for
all of us directors– and actors to do, and we thank him for that. But– I find out that after working with Radio
Golf (NOISE) on the last four months of his life– I find that I really only sorta– j–
had just begun to really understand him. And I think I understand him better now than
I did when he was alive. And certainly we had a– lotta good times
together. And– but– I don’t even know what you asked
me, but– (LAUGHTER) (OVERTALK) RUBEN SANTIAGO HUDSON:
You actually mentioned rules. When you talk about rules– I think August
made rules. KENNY LEON: Yes. RUBEN SANTIAGO HUDSON:
He made his rules. His– I think the one rule that he adhered
more than anything was the integrity of his people– the humanity of his people, which
is the hardest thing– of black people in this country in Arts. Very rarely do you get to see the humanity
of us. The– the– this is the thing
that August was impeccable at. I mean, he– everybody– no matter what level
they were on that– on that– on that– on– on– in life, their humanity, their integrity
was– and that’s what drew me so muc– I said, “Why I don’t get to see this?” I don’t– as an actor, I don’t get to– get
to play those roles. 00:09:25:00 It– on the– on the paper– it’s
not on the paper. I have to bring that to it. But with August, it’s on the paper, because
he loves these people. And when I see productions and
I don’t see the love in the production, and I– I– s– wanna stop and say– I wanna knock
on somebody’s door and say– “You guys love each other. You might not like each other right now. You might not like each other all the time,
but you do love each other, and this is a community.” And I think that’s very important– when you
see and witness his work– that you feel the love of these people. JACK VIERTEL:
It’s interesting that you say that, because– I think one of the way great
things about that fact of the way August wrote is that he writes the most fantastic villains
of the piece. You know, the villain of the piece is never
just a villain. And you play– maybe the greatest of all the
villains– RUBEN SANTIAGO HUDSON: Caesar– JACK VIERTEL:
Caesar Wilks (PH) in– in Gem of the Ocean. But– James Williams (PH), who is playing
Roosevelt Hicks (PH), who is kind of the villain of the piece in Radio Golf– it’s a fascinating
character. It’s not just a bad guy. You know, there is no thing as just a bad
guy in August’s works– RUBEN SANTIAGO HUDSON:
Because of the humanity of the character. JACK VIERTEL: Because you see where they came from, and how they got to be who they got to be. And the failings, and the inability to get
over the top to actually be a better person is a tragedy for them too. RUBEN SANTIAGO HUDSON:
Because they’re all redeemable. August said that to me when he said– “Everybody in this play is redeemable. They’re capable of being anything that you
want– want ’em to be.” So– and– and when I did Caesar– August
and I– you know, we discussed it a lot. And I said, “August,” I said,
“I don’t care if people like me. I want them to understand me.” And so, that was the way I set out to be understood–
not necessarily be liked. I didn’t need people to like me. Caesar didn’t need people to like him. But he needed to be understood. So, that’s what I sought in the clarity of–
of– of– of the characterization of– of– of Caesar. TED CHAPIN:
But actors tend to– wanna be liked on stage. RUBEN SANTIAGO-HUDSON:
No, that doesn’t phase me at all. Be understood– RUBEN SANTIAGO HUDSON:
You know? Truth. Kenny mentioned that. Lemme be the trut– truth of this character. Forget about what Ruben wants. What does Caesar want, and why? And if you– if you know August, you know
that he had some integrity. I’m talking about that character– and each
character (NOISE) has some integrity. TED CHAPIN:
What– what– what– was he an angry man? RUBEN SANTIAGO HUDSON:
Every black man in America should be angry about somethin. (LAUGHTER) I mean, yesterday I was walkin
down the village, dressed up as I could be, and a lady– walked straight up to me and
said– looked at a car that was sittin there and said– “Where’s this car going?” And I said, “Ma’am, I don’t know.” She said, “You’re not the chauffer?” I’m dressed up– why– why did she– (LAUGHTER)
every black man that’s comin here has somethin to be angry about at some time. You know? So– far as I know– you know– I– I don’t
think he was bitter by any means. But I thought he had some anger. I think we all do. TODD KREIDLER:
Well, August also had an expectation for justice, which is throughout all of the
plays. And I think that the world and America constantly
disappointed him– but in sped– instead of turning that disappointment to cynicism, he
used it as fuel (NOISE) to– address it in his work, and– and put these issues on stage. And– and– and again, as Ruben said, put
a full culture that– is not somehow insufficient or– it’s somehow less than– you know, the
dominant– you know, white– you know– largely western European culture. So, you wanna say, “No, everything you need
to live is in my culture, too. And in– you know, we play it different and–
you know, we have a different song, but everything you need is within this culture.” And he raised it and put it on stage. [onstage dialogue from Fences] TED CHAPIN: Jim, did you work
with him– when he was alive? Or did you– JIM HOUGHTON: Oh, yes. We met– (NOISE) I had just taken over the
O’Neil– Playwright’s Conference– after Lloyd Richards (PH). And I followed Lloyd to last year, and then–
that was in ’99, and in 2000, I too wrote a– letter to August. (LAUGHTER)
RUBEN SANTIAGO HUDSON: He’s got a lotta letters somewhere. JIM HOUGHTON: Yes he does. TED CHAPIN:
Did you get an answer? JIM HOUGHTON:
I did actually get an answer. RUBEN SANTIAGO HUDSON:
Oh, man. JIM HOUGHTON: But I didn’t get the answer. The O’Neill got the answer, I think. I– I wrote him a letter saying–
’cause it had been years since he had been there– that this was a home for him, and
if he ever wanted to return– the invitation was an open one. And in fact, we– he actually didn’t– write
me back, but he called me. And he said, (NOISE) “I’m coming. I’ll be there.” And– literally– you know, a few days later,
and– and suddenly he was at the O’Neill. And– it was a wonderful time there. He– he wanted to go back to the O’Neill,
because he was really struggling to finish Gem of the Ocean. And he– I think on some level thought, “If
I go back to the place where all those other places– plays were born– maybe– you know,
the– the magic will happen, and I’ll be able to write.” Which in fact– (NOISE) the–
sort of a fun story. We would gather– I– I think it was once
or twice a week at the O’Neill, and we’d share– (NOISE) various material or we’d have a community
meeting or something. And so, once in a while, when there was a
writer in residence, I would ask if they wanna read something. So, August said he would read– from Gem. And we– I think we had a couple hours put
aside to do this– and so, of course, it was wonderful. He sat down, and he’s reading the play, and–
and he gets to a certain point– which was the end of act one, as it turned out– and
he– (NOISE) turns the– the binder over. And he says, “I think that’s enough.” And– and the place goes wild. They loved it. (LAUGHTER) And– and then he whispers to me,
“That’s all I had.” (LAUGHTER) So– you know– he– milked it
for all he could get. He was so– generous at the O’Neill. And in– in fact, as it turned out, I don’t
think he was able to write a– a single word while he was there. But I think what it did do was– reengage
him with that sort of spirit that was alive at the O’Neill and– is still at the l– alive
at the O’Neill. But he was so generous with the entire community
there. And– reflecting on all the things that have
been said about him– the faith in humanity, the faith in the human condition, and the
sensitivity to all people– his generosity with the young– in– interns to– to the
senior artists who were present– just– very giving. And it was there when we started talking about
A Season– together. And the initial thought was there was no reason
to do A Season, because– all of his work had presented– you know, in the stages of
New– York, on a Broadway stage. And– within about an hour, it
had become clear that we were gonna do A Season. So– because we both said, “No, it doesn’t
make any sense.” And– as the people have eluded to– you know,
with August, you sat down with him, and– you pushed the wor– you know, pushed go,
and it was three hours later– you had been through a whole myriad of– of– of topics
and generally about three or four plays that he had in his head, and ideas. And– so, we had gone in that–
initial meeting together, from not having A Season to having A Season of all new work
that was gonna be post the 20th cycle. And– that was about– six years ago now. So– we worked together on and off, trying
to discover what that season would be. (NOISE) And through his struggles to get Gem
of the Ocean finished– and then ultimately Radio Golf– we delayed slightly then– to–
finish those. And then obviously, he fell ill, and the season
changed. TED CHAPIN: Am I right in saying that
he didn’t– necessarily start out to write the ten play cycle? But he wrote Jitney (PH) first, I think, and
then Ma Rainey. And– it was Ma Rainey the one that– that–
then– then he started ta– ta– sort of plug in the pieces. ‘Cause they were not written in chronological
order, correct? KENNY LEON:
Todd knows the answer to that. TODD KREIDLER: Yeah. He discovered it. I mean, he discovered it en route. So, he had written Jitney, and he had a play,
Fullerton Street (PH). And then Ma Rainey, and then Fences, and then
when he hit Joe Turner is when he said, “Wait a minute. I have each of these plays that sit in a different–
decade. Why don’t I create a larger– project for
myself, and larger cloth– where I can always know what the next play is?” (LAUGHTER) So, it– in a way,
it gave him– not only an ambition, but it also helped keep him going. So, for instance– you know, as soon as he
finished King Hedley, The Second– fact, the morning after the Broadway opening, we met
at what was once the Java Shop (PH) on– I think 42nd and Broadway or 46th, and that
was the spot. We always met at the spot. Hey, man, meet me at the spot. And– so, that was our spot. And that morning I remember he had a notecard. And he put it down and it said– you know,
Sully Two Kings (PH)– you know, Caesar Wilks and Black Mary (PH)– all the characters for
Gem of the Ocean, which he was already– working on the next play. So, it was like– he just had
his Broadway opening. And– you know, we had great notices, and
his mind is already on to the next play. So, it– it– it again– it– was something
that– it– it would– it would– it came out of his exploration. But he purposefully held out doing the 1904
play and the 1997 play. So, there is– you know, there’s
a genealogical connection to the plays. And I think now– as we’re even beginning
to discover– when you have these final two plays, you can look at all the rest of them
in a different way. I mean, they shed different– –values in life– on– on each of the– each of the plays. JACK VIERTEL:
I had an interesting conversation with him right after Two Trains Running opened,
which I guess was the fifth written– something like that. KENNY LEON:
I think so– yeah. JACK VIERTEL:
At the Edison– our coffee shop. (NOISE) And– he said to me, “I’ve been thinking
a lot about Tennessee Williams (PH).” And I could not picture him as someone who
would read Tennessee Williams– necessarily. And I said, “Really? Why?” And he said, “Well– you know, he got into
this– (NOISE) place– sort of in his late plays, where they didn’t really succeed. And I’ve got these five plays I’ve still gotta
write. (LAUGHTER) I’m trying to figure out– how
not to do what Tennessee Williams did.” He said, “Because he’s a great artist– a
great, great artist who somehow– went off the rails at a certain point in terms of a–
connecting with his audience.” And he said, “And I can’t do that. I’ve gotta figure out how to write five more
of these plays without that happening to me.” He said, “I don’t know how I’m gonna do it.” (NOISE) But he kinda did it. RUBEN SANTIAGO HUDSON:
I– I have a– I have a question. How– how– how do the folks here on this
panel feel about– (NOISE) what August has– has done and how it will affect the– the–
the playwrights that are coming behind him. Will it affect ’em? Will it open the door for these other young
playwrights? Is it that– now that August is–
is– is not here with us physically– now– now what happens to those coming behind? Did he open that door? Is that door down on Broadway for us now? Is it open? You know– what do you think? What do– what do you guys think about that? JACK VIERTEL:
I think the Broadway door is what it has been for a long time– and I’m not–
I can’t say I’m proud of it or happy about it– which is– by and large, things come
to Broadway, because there’s a commercial reason to bring them here. And Broadway’s– RUBEN SANTIAGO HUDSON: Yeah. JACK VIERTEL: –Broadway’s become a showcase
rather than a generator of productions. And the great thing that happened to August
might not happen again so easily, which is that– in a slightly earlier time, he became
famous in a way. And the fame of who he was, and what he was
doing, and what he was trying to accomplish made things like producing Gem of the Ocean
and Radio Golf on Broadway inevitable. I think for someone writing a play like Ma
Rainey’s Black Bottom today– a first play by a young playwright– it’s gonna be hard
to get that play on Broadway, because we’re not doing a very good job on Broadway of–
finding an economic– a business model that will allow that to happen– RUBEN SANTIAGO HUDSON: But there’s
a tremendous life off-Broadway and in the regions– JACK VIERTEL: Tremendous. And that I think we– he– I think he’s done a huge amount. And among other things– a tremendous acting
pool has been created, and directing pool will be created around African-American theater,
because these plays exist. There’s ten– ten plays is a lot a plays. RUBEN SANTIAGO HUDSON: Yeah. KENNY LEON: And I think that– one thing that August has already done is open the doors
for playwrights all over the country. You know– were it not for August Wilson–
you know, Cheryl West (PH), Regina Taylor (PH)– all the– Akeea Cothrin (PH)– they
would have opportunities to write for the regional theaters. And August always said– “You know, we’re–
we’re owed the work. We’re not owed anything else.” You know? And– sometimes we get caught
up in understanding what the rewards are. You know? It’s like– people are all over the country. You know? And– there are many millions to get the work
out there, and– we just got to continue to work on Broadway. I mean, I look at what’s happening
on Broadway this year. And not only– the– the– nonexistence of
African-American writers, but– you know, American writers. (LAUGHTER) And more British than– before
the black– RUBEN SANTIAGO HUDSON:
Right. But– you can bring an unknown play with– without one visible star from London, and put it on Broadway. But yet we fight and struggle to put August
Wilson up. And for me– you know, now that I’ve– I’ve
put myself in the– in– in– in– as a writer and a director– so I can hopefully make a
change somehow– it’s like– it’s– some time it’s baffling to me. I’m sayin– you know, they say,
“We don’t have a star in that August Wilson play. We can’t bring ’em life.” It’s August Wilson. The star is August Wilson. And people– sometime– they get
mixed up about who is the star? Even when we did Gem of the Ocean– and I
didn’t care anything about my name above the title. I thought August’s should be, and all of us
should be under. But when one person goes, the other says,
“Well, put me too.” (LAUGHTER) But August is the star. People come, because of that name. Because a– because– the– the beauty, in
the music, and the lyrical sweep of that work– the history there– that is the star– the work. But they are bringing somethin that nobody–
you know, play– I never heard a the play, never heard a the guy, but I don’t know it–all the plays. But they’ll put it up and let it run. When we closed Seven Guitars,
Ideal Husband ran beyond us. And I know our numbers were much stronger
than them, and they ran three or four months past us. TED CHAPIN:
What– why was it important for August (NOISE) to be on Broadway? I know Jitney was the only one of the cycle
that was not on– done– it was on New York on the– s– Second Stage. But– the– and part of the reason that–
I asked the question is ’cause– is– clearly, he was minding the African-American world
in this country, and in this– in this cycle– but I wondered– w– it– did he wanna play
those for a mixed audience, a white audience, a black audience? Did he wanna find new audiences for the theater? Or did he just wanna– wanna– JACK VIERTEL: I (NOISE) think all of the above. But I also think for August, (NOISE) it was–
o– we– we– we talked about this a little bit. For better or worse, Broadway was the power
center of the American theater, and he felt that it was important– not just for him personally–
for his personal gratification– but that it was important in a larger sense for an
African-American writer who had been recognized as a playwright– to be on Broadway, to be
where other recognized playwrights were– American playwrights were. If Arthur Miller was there, and
Tennessee Williams was there, and David Manna (PH) was there, then August Wilson should
be there. And I think that he drove to that center–
very hard. He wanted those plays done on Broadway, and
he was very clear about that. I think it had to do with– there’s
a great speech in– in– in Radio Golf about– you know, you try to get the center, and you
find out you’re back out on the edge. (NOISE) It had to do with being in the center,
not the edge. The center may not be the healthiest place
economically for a play to be, but it is the center. TODD KREIDLER: Right. And– and– for
the record, his audience was one. I mean, he wrote for himself first and foremost. I mean– that’s what drove him. When nobody cared what he was writing when
he was– you know, at Esteban’s (PH) in Saint Paul (PH), and he was scribbling– however. I mean, that’s who he always wrote for. So, he never– that an– that
question was baffling to him. I mean– but I think Jack answered it well
that it’s– as you said, Broadway is the national theater. So, that’s– that’s our guide star. RUBEN SANTIAGO HUDSON: But e– even though he wrote forhim– the– you– the light in his eyes when he start tellin it to you– (LAUGHTER) You know, we let– oh, you– you know, but
he wrote for him, but he shared wit all. TODD KREIDLER: Absolutely. RUBEN SANTIAGO HUDSON:
And– and it’s funny, because– somebody else asked me about why was August–
you know, he’s– was a hard man. He was a– I said, “August brought more people
of different colors together (LAUGHTER) than anybody I’ve seen.” You know, it’s like– if you look at the people
that surrounded him and foundation of– of– of his work– I mean, it’s– it’s– it’s an
incredible mosaic. You know? And– and– and that’s all you have to do
is look around– at the people involved in his work, and you’ll see the impact of August Wilson. TED CHAPIN:
Anybody wanna venture a guess as to which one of the cycles– which one
of the plays (NOISE) in the cycle might end up being– the– the– best single play? TED CHAPIN: It’s– well, the reason that I– part of the reason I asked is ’cause somebody
mentioned Joe Turner as being the– the– the play that wasn’t appreciated– or that
August may have felt the production didn’t– didn’t– reach his expectations. Sort of– that’s the one to keep an eye. And I don’t know if that’s a figment
of somebody’s imagination. TODD KREIDLER: Well–it– it wasn’t– it wasn’t the pr– I– he never said anything about (NOISE)
the production. He said that Joe Turner was his favorite–
play at the time. And then Gem of the Ocean started to compare
with that– RUBEN SANTIAGO HUDSON:
I– I think Gem of the Ocean opened up a whole– direct Africa connection and
spirituality that people really were afraid of at Joe Turner. It’s the same– it’s that goin back– it’s
that Africaness in us. And now that Gem has been here, I think people
are op– I– I just– I just feel that they’re open more that now– now they can– relate
more to Joe Turner. I think people didn’t know what
to do with Joe Turner. He was (NOISE) so spiritual and he was so
African. And– and– and not until Gem did they really–
ah– there we are. So, I think it’s– it’s real fertile
right now. And– and I think– there’s a need and a hunger
for August’s work. And– and we have to somehow fulfill that–
not only as artists, but as producers, and as audience members. It’s a need and– and– and (NOISE) it’s a
hunger for it. TED CHAPIN:
And Jim, you found audiences this year, did you not– for the Signature season? JIM HOUGHTON:
Oh, yeah. I– I think what Ruben was just alluding to
is really context. You know? The more plays, the more context we have to
understand and accept– and relate to Joe Turner. I mean, it’s a– I– I– I find every play
to be just a rich, rich experience for– different reasons. KENNY LEON: That’s the thing.
I mean, I agree with Ruben. I mean, it’s there, but all 10 plays are unique
and special in themselves. It’s like your 10 children. And it’s like Radio Golf cannot
be Joe Turner. Joe Turner cannot be Two Trains. They are all different, but they are from
the same heart, the same voice. RUBEN SANTIAGO HUDSON:
And they feed a need to wanna see the next one. Oh, I gotta– now– I gotta go see– (LAUGHTER)
you know, now– for s– some reason, I’ve been wantin to see a– A Piano Lesson recently. I just been wanting to– but I just have all
the scripts always handy. And I’ll grab ’em, I start reading. But one thing feeds something else, and you
want more, and more, more. JACK VIERTEL:
And Radio Golf is the– is– so modern and contemporary and different from
any of the others. It’s an– it’s– it’s like a shock to the
system when you see it. Very funny and right there, and– I– you
know– a– totally different kind of characters than the characters he’s written in the past. KENNY LEON: First one he’s dealing with the
middle class. You know? And– he had Caesar Wilks, and now has– (LAUGHTER)
you know– RUBEN SANTIAGO HUDSON:
Descendants of Caesar– KENNY LEON:
(LAUGHTER) Descendants of Caesar. And that is exciting and great to– look at
that. JACK VIERTEL:
And I think he loved that challenge. He said, “Do you think I write this kind a
play?” Wait a– just wa– you stay here. Wait a minute. I’ll be right back with another one. (LAUGHTER) You know? It’s completely different. TED CHAPIN:
Yeah. And– and in Radio Golf, mining the– the
various aspects of the middle class, and the spectrum (NOISE) of the middle classes– that–
that– is– is– I mean, that’s an extraordinary thing to– to go out on. It’s like– okay, here’s the middle– here’s
the– an African-American middle class, and there’s this and there’s that. So– watch them– you know, watch them play–
play with each other. KENNY LEON:
And what was amazing– you know, I– I– I was blessed to have worked on the
bookends– Gem of the Ocean and Radio Golf. But– in Gem of the Ocean– when we came through
that door– you have a man coming through the door as an– a individual, and he leaves the–
that– that play– part of a full community. Flash forward to 1997– okay, you got economics,
you’ve got money, you can do almost anything you want. But what about the community? What about your tie to the whole? You know? So, you can really look at Gem of the Ocean
and look at Radio Golf and say, “Wow.” I mean, the man was brilliant. TED CHAPIN:
Well, we could go on all– all– all afternoon, but I would like to thank you
all very much for– for being here. We’ll be back in a moment with part two of
our show, after a few words about the work of the American Theatre Wing. TED CHAPIN:
That was playwright August Wilson, at a 1987 American Theatre Wing seminar, describing
how his work changed and grew as it came to life on stage. Now with us are four actors, who made indelible
impressions in work by August Wilson. Stephan McKinley Henderson, who created roles
in Jitney and King Hedley, The Second, and appeared in the revival of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Harry Lenox (PH), of Radio Golf, who also
played the title role in King Hedley, The Second at the Mark Taper Forum (PH). Tonya Pinkins (PH), who’s performed– in numerous
productions of The Piano Lesson, and the current production of Radio Golf on Broadway. Phylicia Rashad, who created the pivotal of
Aunt Esther (PH) in Gem of the Ocean, and recently directed that play at the Seattle
Rep (PH). And we’re joined once again with director
Kenny Leon. Now Stephen, I wanted to start. I heard you say something the we’re doing
this on an– on a rather auspicious day. STEPHEN MCKINLEY HENDERSON:
00:32:15:00 Oh, well, yeah– I– I look for all the synchronicities– you know, of all
the signs. And– because it’s Arbor Day– I was at Bryant
Park (PH) earlier today, and– they were commenting that it was Arbor Day. And I thought because of the trees, and the
roots, and the– you know, blooming and that– and then also because– this week– Monday
began with– Shakespeare’s birthday, and– and– Friday, the work week ends with– August’s
birthday. So, I ju– you know, it is– it is auspicious. But– it’s an auspicious occasion indeed. TED CHAPIN:
00:32:44:00 So, I– I wanted to– I wanted to– to start with Phylicia, ’cause you–
you created a– a– rather pivotal role in– in Gem of the Ocean. What was it like creating a role like that
with August Wilson there for you? PHYLICIA RASHAD:
It– it was– hoo– I don’t know the words to describe this experience. It was unlike anything– I’ve ever known. The role itself is unlike any other role in–
th– theater– that I know of. I don’t know of another role like Aunt Esther. I don’t know of another– person who embodies
everything (NOISE) that she holds– and who lives with such purpose, the way she does. 00:33:32:00 I’ve never heard of such thing. But to be there with him– he was silent most
of the time. And he didn’t say much to me– except once–
he corrected a gesture. (NOISE) 00:33:45:00 There was something I had done
that I thought was– okay to do. It was– l– leaning on a chair like this,
listening to Citizen (PH). And he said, “That’s too modern. She wouldn’t sit like that.” And I thought about it, then I thought about
the way dressed, and the way wh– the women worked, and the way the women were with their
bodies. And– I said, “That’s right. She wouldn’t sit like that.” And that was the one thing that he– that
he– said directly to me. KENNY LEON:
He talked about your singin. PHYLICIA RASHAD:
He didn’t talk about it to me. KENNY LEON:
Oh. (LAUGHTER) PHYLICIA RASHAD: Well, what did he say?
I wanna know– what did he say? KENNY LEON: Well– it was just a– it– it–
we were dealing with 1904, and he didn’t want it to– to sound like a specific religion. PHYLICIA RASHAD:
Right. KENNY LEON:
He wanted it to sound older than– than– than organized American religion. So, he kept wanting to get that kinda older
feel to it. I guess I was the one that kept saying to you
to put that layer on there. And– of course, you did, and he was happy. PHYLICIA RASHAD:
Hmm. (LAUGHTER)
KENNY LEON: But I thought he said to you,
but– you know, August always said– you know, there should be one person that talks to the actor. PHYLICIA RASHAD:
Yeah. KENNY LEON:
And he said– you should be the person to talk to the actor. So, he never would like– run around and give
an actor a note. He would talk to an actor about stories and
stuff like that, but he was always respectful like that. He always wanted a director to
come to the table– with your tools. Come as a director. You know? (NOISE) He always wanted that. If you were a costume designer–
design the clothes. (LAUGHTER) Come to work– work as hard as–
(NOISE) he does on the plays. TED CHAPIN: D– Harry, you’re– and Tonya,
you’re– you’re in– in performance as we speak on– on Broadway in– in– in Radio Golf. And they’re wonderfully, clearly delineated
parts. What was it like– I mean, this is– this
is the last of the 10 play cycles. And it’s the one that takes place in the most
current recent times– 1997. Yeah. This is when you were in the– the Gem of
the Ocean– the penultimate, which was the very first. (LAUGHTER) So– you know, did– did you recognize
these people? Or– or did you have to go searching for ’em? TONYA PINKINS:
No, no, no. I think in all of August Wilson’s– (NOISE)
plays, you know these people. They’re in your family. (LAUGHTER) You know all the people in August’s
plays. And this play– we’ve got some
new voices. We have the voices of the people who didn’t
know Aunt Esther, because she died in King Hedley. So you’re hearing some new voices that you
didn’t hear in the earlier August– Wilson’s plays. And in many ways, it’s about those two songs,
and how can they– play in counter point. [onstage dialogue from Radio Golf] And Harry– so, you’re running for office
in the play– or think you can— HARRY LENOX:
In real life too. (LAUGHTER) C’mon, Ted. No. No– ab– ab– abs– I’m runnin for the mayoralty
of Pittsburgh. I think– the– August (NOISE) has really
created a meditation or a time. And the three aspects of time are the past,
the present, and the future. How do we go into the future by forgetting
our past? You can’t. And I think that Harmond (PH)–
and the two people he comes into the play with– his wife, Maime (PH), and– his best
friend, Roosevelt represent the present. And Maime and Roosevelt keep going into the
future, but Harmond gets (NOISE) stopped– he gets arrested in his development, and realizes
that he cannot go forward without embracing the past. [onstage dialogue from Radio Golf] TED CHAPIN:
And do you think, “Don’t take any wooden nickels” is the l– is the last–
line for– on which August– (LAUGHTER) I mean, that’s the last line of his last play,
right? STEPHEN MCKINLEY HENDERSON:
Yeah. Of course it is. (LAUGHTER)
(OFF-MIC CONVERSATION) KENNY LEON:
It’s a very interesting moment. We’ve been playing with that moment as a very–
complexed moment. You know, ’cause there’s a lot a pain there
too. You have a– 30 year friendship that you had. And– and that’s– that’s– you know, (NOISE)
dissipating. But I think he– I think the character
has nothing else to say. You know? He must do what he does,
and Roosevelt must walk out the door. But you know what I want is– you know, I’ve
never had this opportunity to sit around a table with like– these great, great actors,
and we’re not in rehearsal. You know? (LAUGHTER) So– what I wanna say is like–
August write this– this– these beautiful plays. And not everyone can do August Wilson plays. Not every black person– or every black actor
can really do these roles. And I think we are lucky and fortunate to
have these talented people. And– but it’s challenging for a director. I’ve talked to Phylicia– she just directed. It’s challenging some time when
you have– actors, and how do you get them all on the same page? But– what’s beautiful to me is like– to
know that actors are capable of getting to the music of August Wilson. As a director, if I don’t think an actor is
capable of getting to the music, then I have to make a change (NOISE) early on and– (NOISE)
replace that actor. But these actors– they are talented
(LAUGHTER) and gifted, and– and they can get there. You know? They may all get there different ways, but
it’s beautiful to– watch actors get there. And it’s also painful to watch an actor who
can’t get there with– August’s work. HARRY LENOX:
It’s– it’s painful too– I’m sure you know– I’m sure that Phylicia knows–
and– and Stephen even more than I– the– particularly (NOISE) with the Aunt Esther
thing, because that– she represents– all of us, for our entire sojourn here in the
United States. It’s painful to be in it. You know what I mean? Like– there– there are times when (NOISE)
you’re doing a po– when you’re doing one of these characters that it hurts. And in order to– to find the safety of being
able to inhabit these characters the way that August Wilson demands– he’s a very challenging man– STEPHEN MCKINLEY HENDERSON:
Oh, yeah. HARRY LENOX:
–in real life. (OFF-MIC CONVERSATION) STEPHEN MCKINLEY HENDERSON:
Well– you know, the– the– the thing is too– it’s wonderful to appreciate the performances of other actors. I mean, what (NOISE) Miss Rashad did with
Aunt Esther’s– I mean, it’s just quite– –it’s good as it gets. And– and I remember the experience,
because I remember thinking about my– Aunt Little (PH) down in Oklahoma. And– well– how she taught how to put a smoke
pot out to keep the mosquitoes away. And to be on the porch and– and– and it
was like sittin at her feet again. You know? And hearin that wisdom. And– and– and that’s what–
August really gave us all. You– you know? Is that– that– to– to see the very best
of yourselves– and of your ancestors. And that’s why I think what Kenny’s talkin
about– I know Ida (PH) was in the first class at the Julliard School (PH)– group one, and–
felt a little culture shock, ’cause come from Kansas City. And– and– and– but I– I loved doing work,
but I didn’t feel at home. You know what I mean? I mean, I loved doin it. And loved being a– (NOISE) exposed to– to–
to the classics. But I didn’t feel as at home. And– time goes on when they come around. You know, and you realize that your journey–
I really feel like my journey as an actor was to lead– to work with August Wilson. Because– if– if you can do what they talk
about in Radio Golf– if you can keep that sense of the anstress– ancestry and the pride–
and have it very little, but there’s a pride there– and also know that you– you are an
inheritor of all that there is that’s here. That you don’t have to take load from nothin. You know, you can– you can– everything that’s
out there is yours to get. But you don’t have to let go or
deny anything to go and be a part of that new world. There was a time culturally– in the theater–
that I find– that that– that was the case– that– you know, you would be so struck by
people who were– being other than themselves in order to work in the American theater. But so– (NOISE) I– I just sit here and know
all these people who are at home in the classics. And they’re at home in August. Well, that’s not theater. As Lorraine Hansbury (PH) would
say, things don’t just happen. Things happen just. (LAUGHTER) You know? And– and– so, it’s wonderful ta– ta have
that– ta– ta– to have your– your journey vindicated. To have gone through whatever you’ve gone
through in this business– to go through all the changes– to get to be in one of August’s
plays. You know? To get to be among the– the family that celebrates
his– to rejoice in him completing those 10 plays. It’s a– I mean, it really is. And– and that’s why I– I– I’m
just so glad to be here with this– you know– you– ’cause you guys are doing some very
important work. And I can’t wait to see it again. I’ve seen it– I saw it in– in California,
and I saw it in Chicago. And I can’t wait to see this one, ’cause–
you know, it– every step of the way– with August– you know, everybody that worked with
him– you know– every s– KENNY LEON:
Always growing. STEPHEN MCKINLEY HENDERSON:
–always growing– it’s growing. It’s– it’s– it’s becoming something. And– so– I– I just rejoice in that he finished
the 10 plays. You know? And then I had a– a– incredible– time with
him– especially workin on Jitney. The one that didn’t go to Broadway, (NOISE)
which– becomes a– a badge of honor now. (LAUGHTER) You know what I mean? There was a time all of us in
that show was like– man, what– what’s goin on here? But now it’s– it’s– it’s really– and we
did get to go ta– ta– London and– and– and August got the Olivier Award (PH) for–
for that show. But it– it’s– to be in the family
of the actors here– especially– we were commenting about– that Roscoe (PH) just left us. You know? (NOISE) And– and ta– ta see that– you know,
the struggle continues, as August would say. the struggle continues. [onstage dialogue from Jitney] TED CHAPIN: why do you think
Jitney didn’t come to Broadway? STEPHEN MCKINLEY HENDERSON:
Oh– TED CHAPIN:
Just– happenstance? STEPHEN MCKINLEY HENDERSON:
–you know– I– I– okay, now I don’t wanna go too– mystic on you here. You know? (LAUGHTER) But– but honestly, when I think
about it now– (NOISE) had it gone, it would a mattered a year. So, you see, as I say, things don’t just happen. It wasn’t supposed to go. TED CHAPIN:
Yeah. STEPHEN MCKINLEY HENDERSON: That’s one answer. Because– because the timetable
was somebody else’s timetable. You know what I’m saying? It wasn’t our timetable. And as a stoolpigeon might say–
you know– God got a plan. You know? So– that’s one answer to why it didn’t go. Because it wasn’t supposed to. Now what is a– you know, the–
the– reasons and the other thing– (NOISE) you know, let’s save that for somebody that
wants to write a book about it. (LAUGHTER) But just– I’d love to be interviewed
for that book. But– (NOISE) but– but– but really– (NOISE)
you know, it’s– it’s– it’s just not as significant as the fact that he– completed the– the
ten. It– it– it always fascinates me when actors work with living– playwrights–
that– and– and something is therefore is new. I mean, I– I respect that August didn’t wanna
talk to actors. But were– any circumstances (NOISE) where
there was something that bothered that– you– you, in the words? Maybe they weren’t– you know, and– and–
what– did you engage August in any conversation? Or was he so– extraordinary in w– in– in
his singularity that there really wasn’t anything to be– PHYLICIA RASHAD: There was never a problem in the
words. HARRY LENOX:
Mm-mm (NEGATIVE). PHYLICIA RASHAD:
Never a problem in the words. (NOISE) Yes, the en– the entire journey of–
of my career was leading me to this– exactly. And when I arrived in it, I thought– ahh,
this couldn’t have happened before (NOISE) this moment. I wouldn’t have been ready for
this before now. (NOISE) Being in an August Wilson play– was
a dream that I thought would never be realized for me, because– for so many years, I was
viewed as a television actress. (NOISE) You know, whatever that means. People just don’t pay attention
to the fact that you’ve developed yourself in theater– that your training has been in
theater, that all of your early years and– and performance experience has been in theater. Television actress. (NOISE) So, I just thought that would never
happen for me. And when it did– I felt that– okay, now
I’ve really arrived someplace. (NOISE) I’m really where– I’m really someplace. The language, the words– this is what I’m
getting to. (NOISE) I would sit back stage and listen
to other actors in performance. And all of a sudden– I was hearing drums–
talking drums. Every character was a talking drum, and each
drum had it’s own rhythm. And they played together to create
this symphony of– of– of rhythm, and emotion, and sound. And it was like riding the waves of a great
ocean. It– it– it was exhilarating. It– it– it– the language–
his language– all you have to do is pay attention to the text. (NOISE) Not only will the text show you where
to go, the text will take you (NOISE) there. [onstage dialogue from Gem Of The Ocean] (NOISE) Never a problem with his language. HARRY LENOX: But– but the text demands a certain–
it– it– it– it presupposes a certain amount of capacity to do it. Like– you know, Kenny is always talking about
acting on the (UNINTEL)– he’s a tremendous director, by the way– and– all– and– and
it’s not just my opinion. (LAUGHTER) I think that– (COUGH) that we
all would concur that he is tapped into August’s– game plan. And– and– but to implement the language–
that phyl– the way that Phylicia’s talking– you– can see– (LAUGHTER) I thought she was
great as a– that’s a– but– you– you know– but– it– it– it requires a certain muscularity. The language itself is muscular. (NOISE) You have to develop a certain amount
of physical aptitude to be able to carry this thing off for the two and a half or three
hours long that– that we have to do it. And– and so, there’s a discipline involved
with August Wilson– as everyone was talking about– that it is sometimes painful– it
is sometimes physically, spiritually, emotionally– painful. And you have to– you know, you– but you
have to have this great super structure that supports– the emotional investment that you
have to take– every night. And that it’s– it’s– not– s– it’s not
diminimus (PH) at all. TED CHAPIN:
00:49:14:00 Uh-Hmm (AFFIRM). It– I’m fascinated by his– his description
of the middle class and how– and h– and how he– I mean, he– he clearly– so much
obviously of what he wrote came from his background in– in the– in the Hill District (PH) and
in Pittsburgh, and then his other– ex– experiences. But I’m fascinated by– do you– do you think
he speaks to African-American audiences? And if not– d– d– I mean– d– are there–
is there a way to– to gr– pull them in? Do– do they– are they attracted to August’s
work or do you have to go get ’em? STEPHEN MCKINLEY HENDERSON:
Well– you know– only a certain amount of our population attends theater. Okay? They– they attend other art forms, but–
I mean, a– only a few. So– I guess– what– August speaks to the
human spirit. He speaks to the capacity of the human spirit. HARRY LENOX:
Yep. STEPHEN MCKINLEY HENDERSON: And– and– (NOISE) and that’s that the theater exists to reveal– the capacity of the human spirit. Some things crush us, some things we rise
above, some things– you know. But– I– my favorite quote of August’s is
something he wrote in the– Paris Review (PH). It was an interview, and he said, “I sit down
ta– ta– ta write in the same chair that Sophocles (PH) sat in, the same chair that
Ibsen (PH) sat in, the same chair that Williams sat in. Miller sat in.” And so, he– he clearly was saying–
he joins the fraternity of playwrights. So– you know– I mean, he’s right. And– as– as Todd– pointed out in that other–
interview– he– he wrote from his sense of the world. You know what I mean? Every write– he write from his sense of the
world. He had this beautiful sense of
the world. You know? And it came from the Hill District, and when
you say m– middle class– you know– at different points in a– African-American’s history,
(NOISE) middle class was a– a different– economic figure. You know? And it didn’t have
anything to do with college. (NOISE) Being in the middle class had nothing
to do with college in previous years. But in– in– Radio Golf, it’s
the first play that is occupied by college graduates. You know? And the– so, this– this whole thing about–
you know, how you see the world, and– and– what– how much do you give up for that degree? How much do you give up to be a part of the
intelligencia? And– and so, what’s the trade off? So, when– when you can be a marriage of all
that– when you– you know, when you be– ’cause here’s– August’s experience was–
was quite unique– (LAUGHTER) in– in terms of playwrights. No, the– in terms of the world of letters
and education, and so on, so forth. He got a high school from Carnie Library (PH). You know, the only one that they gave. (LAUGHTER) Which– I mean, there’s not a student
that we have in school today that wouldn’t– you know, be o– maybe three days a week in
the library instead of in– in a dangerous classroom. It might be very good for a lot of ’em. But– so, I– you know, I– I–
to me– you know– I mean, when you say what he wrote– there’s so many people who would
come and see Jitney (NOISE) or come and see Joe Turner’s Come and Gone– (NOISE) immigrants–
you know, first generation in America from other countries. And they see Joe Turner, and say, “Wow. That– I understand. You know?” And get it. So, it’s– it– and it goes and– we– were
in London doin– doin Jitney, and– and– the Asian people (NOISE) came who– who were
cab drivers, who would call and say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah lon– yeah, you know.” (LAUGHTER) Because he tapped the thing so pure that–
you know, it’s– it’s– it’s– it– it– it talks to everybody– but– I think crucially
important is that– the people who didn’t value themselves get to value themselves. You know? And– you can find out that what other people
values you– because they got a lot out of him. 00:52:33:00 But– you know, you didn’t– value
yourself. So, that’s what’s so wonderful. And we did Pittsburgh. When you go to Pittsburgh and do an August
Wilson play in Pittsburgh, that like doing Shakespeare in Stratford (PH). (LAUGHTER) You know what I mean? You gotta know your stuff, man. And– and the– the– I w– never forget playin–
Jitney in Pittsburgh, and– and that– I had some gesture where I made fun of a guy. Said, “Yeah,, you know that– that boy that
used to live down the street, that had that funny shaped head”– something like that. August had written– you know, that– that
he allowed me to– to– to do this with. You know? (NOISE) And after the show, this
guy comes up, he say, “That’s my uncle, man.” (LAUGHTER) You know? And– with pride. You know? And– ’cause there was a time that I’m sure
that that was something that hurt that kid. You know what I mean? And the– and– and– one other
thing I’d love to say. Tracy Goldblum (PH)– I don’t know if you know her. But she– she wa– Abram’s Agency (PH)– here
in to– and her grandfather was Doc Goldblum. And August has Doc Goldblum in several of
the plays– he mentions his name– Doc Goldblum. And he was a really– real– a real doctor. And he wa– he was appreciated, because he
would come up and– and– and– and do services for people in the Hill for what they could
pay or a chicken or somethin. And– and Tracy– Goldblum always likes ta–
ta– ta go and see a play to see if– if he’s gonna be in– ’50s or ’40s or ’30s– you know,
it’s around in there. And– that she said that at family
gatherings– you know, that they would sometimes say, “You– you’re not goin back up there, are you? You know? You all come on stage, stay here for this
meal or something. And you don’t get anything out of ’em.” And he said, “Oh, I do it.” Well– see, August honors that contribution. You know? And like the Celic (PH) that’s in both– HARRY LENOX: Joe Turner. STEPHEN MCKINLEY HENDERSON:
00:54:03:00 –Joe– Joe Turner and Gem of the Ocean. You know? He– he– he really does– so– I mean, it’s
a human thing. It’s a human thing. TED CHAPIN:
And he wrote great plays– great parts for both men and women. Tonya, I wanted to ask what it– what’s it
like being the only– woman in– in Radio Golf? TONYA PINKINS:
(LAUGHTER) Well– (LAUGHTER) it’s great havin all these men around me all (LAUGHTER)
the time. I think also she’s the first professional
woman that he– he wrote. (NOISE) She’s the first professional– August
Wilson character. And so, that’s– very special
to me, because I know for me coming to New York in the– in– when I came to New York
in the ’80s– other people were writing black people, And they were writing their version of black people. And their version of black people wasn’t what
I knew, so I always felt fake– playing the black people in white people’s versions. A black– you know like– oh, you gotta sing gospel. I’m like– I’m Catholic. (LAUGHTER) You know, I don’t sing gospel. But no, that’s what black people do, so you
have to do that. So, to come to an August play where the voices
are just– you know, I know these people. It’s my aunt. It’s my uncle. It’s just this incredible gift that he’s given
to African-American actors, that he’s given to the theater. TED CHAPIN:
Are there parts that you’ve played in different– once of his– p– plays? Different parts– I mean, in– in– different
roles and different plays? STEPHEN MCKINLEY HENDERSON:
Yeah. Well– yeah, I– you know– (NOISE) different
parts of the country– in Buffalo (PH), I play– say, Troy (PH) and Bineam (PH). And then in Denver, I play Bono (PH)– you
know, who’s– who’s– you know– depend on what market you’re in. You know? ‘Cause they’re all just wonderful
roles, and you get to work with such wonderful actors when you get to do ’em. ‘Cause I know you played– Bono with my good
friend, John Cotherin, right? Or– KENNY LEON: No, I directed Fences with John Cotherin. STEPHEN MCKINLEY HENDERSON:
Oh, you directed. But now you– but you did some acting. KENNY LEON:
I did Citizen in Gem of the Ocean. STEPHEN MCKINLEY HENDERSON:
All right. KENNY LEON: I– I created the role, but I didn’t know I was gonna end up directing the play and then bringing it to Broadway. STEPHEN MCKINLEY HENDERSON:
But– yeah– you know, it’s wonderful to do the– shows– you know– different places. And– and what’s really wonderful is– like,
I’ve done all the backyard plays. You know, August got backyard plays, (LAUGHTER)
and he’s got the– the workplace plays. You know, like– where you in the Jitney station
or you’re in the restaurant or you’re in the recording studio, Or you’re in the audience– this is– off–
office– this is the last work place play. So, you got four work place plays, right? And then three backyard plays, and– and three
parlor plays or– you know, living room plays. So– you know– it– it’s– it’s
a joy, but at– but it was a point in– the time he was writing– that he always had children in. So– that’s– also fascinating, because it
gives them a chance to play like– Ruben and Zonia (PH). And also to get to play– the daughter in–
in Piano Lesson. Maritha (PH)– what’s her– what’s her– TONYA PINKINS: Maritha. STEPHEN MCKINLEY HENDERSON:
Maritha. And– and– and– you know, and so, you get
to play those– that level of roles that you get to play the Sterling’s, and the Youngblood’s
(PH), and the– the Reina’s (PH), and– and– and– Reese’s (PH). And then– and– and you get to play older
charac– so– you know, you really do get to come (NOISE) all the way through. It’s just a– incredible– thing that he did
with those 10 plays. TED CHAPIN:
And it– it’s fascinating that there are so many characters that are related
or are the same at different times. But it– I– I read somewhere that he tended
to start writing by writing a little dialogue, and then sort of figuring out who was saying
the dialogue, and sort of growing out from there. Which– which is maybe why– even though this
is a 10 play cycle, they’re– each one of them individual plays that have– have their
own story to tell. KENNY LEON:
He sorta let those characters speak. And– you know, he doesn’t take sides. He just let them– talk. And– you know, he has seventy-seven characters
(NOISE) in all of his plays– com– combined. And– but just talk about ho– the universality
of his plays. You know, I talked to some women from Tel-Aviv,
and they’re gonna do like– three of his plays next year. And– you know, at the Kennedy Center, we’re
gonna end up doin all 10. Hopefully all these actors will join me in
working on those 10 plays at the Kennedy Center. But then you look around the country,
you have– culturally specific– African-American theater companies like– Penumbra (PH), who
are doing his plays. You have the larger theaters, like the Goodman
Theater (PH), and Mark Taper Forum doin his plays. Then you have commercial opportunities and
doin ’em on Broadway. You know? August has introduced his plays
to the world, and to many races. I saw Ma Rainey in South Africa. (NOISE) You know? So– he– his plays is much more universal
than we– (NOISE) sorta give him credit for. The man is the– the Godfather of– of theater. HARRY LENOX:
That’s an interesting too, Kenny, at– at– in– then– that– the plays, which
live individually– particularly– they– they– ea– each story is intact in and of
itself, but there is– this intertextuality that happens. And that– you know, I think in a lot of ways,
August– was on an artistic mission that Einstein was on when he died– which was to come up
with the grand unifying theory (NOISE) that would combine– (NOISE) astrophysics and relativity
with– with quantum mechanics. How do you make those two things work? And I think that August was–
(NOISE) you know, was dealing with how do we make all of our history, and all of our presence,
and all of our– you know, how do we make all of those things fit together? Because that’s really where we’re trying to
go as a people. And I think that as we, as a people go– as
an African-American people go– we, as a nation, also go. There is a– a connect– an– connectivity
issue that has happened between– African-America and America as a whole. And America’s a whole with the rest of the world. And we all have to keep trying to find the
center there where we have– this common denominator. TED CHAPIN:
That’s– extremely well spoken. And I think that’s a– a wonderful– way for
us to end this conversation. I have to say that I think it is an indicative
(NOISE) of how extraordinary passionate August Wilson’s work is to have such extraordinarily
passionate people on this panel. I’d like to thank all of you for being here. The– these programs are brought to you from
the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (PH), with our partners CUNY TV
(PH). On behalf of the American Theatre Wing, thank
you for joining us for another addition of Working in the Theater.

3 thoughts on “August Wilson’s Legacy (Working In The Theatre #354)

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