‘Giving Voice’ Keeps Wilson’s Memory Alive

By Michael Downing

August Wilson Monologue Competition, Los Angeles, USA - 11 Mar 2019
Daniel Velez, Mylah Eaton, and Dejean Deterville, winners, Los Angeles August Wilson Monologue Competition

Ryan Miller/Shutterstock

An article written by Tambay Obenson of IndieWire covers the upcoming release of the Giving Voice documentary, which follows the lives of six students who participate in the annual August Wilson Monologue Competition.

“Participating students perform a two- to three-minute monologue from any of the plays in August Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle, in front of a panel of judges, comprised of local theater professionals.”

The link to the article is here.

‘Giving Voice’ Focuses on August Wilson Monologue Competition

By Michael Downing

According to an article written by Dominic Patten of Deadline.com,

2018 August Wilson Monologue Competition | Huntington Theatre

Giving Voice, a film that “focuses on six young actors as they aim to beat thousands of high school students from across the nation to win the annual August Wilson Monologue Competition in New York City, makes its debut on January 26, 2020 at Park City’s Egyptian Theater (Utah).

Patten: “Wilson was the author of the Tony Award and Pulitzer winning Fences and nine other works in what is known as his Pittsburgh Cycle.”

Link to article

August Wilson Journal Seeking New Editor

August Wilson Journal

Request for Proposals: Editor-in-Chief and Host Institution for August Wilson Journal

The August Wilson Journal is soliciting proposals for the editorship of the August Wilson Journal for a three-year renewable commitment.  The first issue for the new editor will be June 2021, but the appointed editor should be available to work with the current editor in 2020.

The new editor should have thorough knowledge of August Wilson and (preferably) be a tenured faculty member who is conversant with the world of academic publishing.  A successful proposal must demonstrate both the prospective editor’s credentials and the host institution’s support for publishing the journal.  Contact current editor Dr. Michael Downing (downing@kutztown.edu) for more information.



August Wilson Society 2018 Colloquium a Great Success

cropped-dsc058861.jpgBy Michael Downing

My attention has been so focused on developing the August Wilson Journal and working on my book project that I haven’t been able to keep up with blog posts. But I still would like to do them from time to time, so I’m going to try to get this one published as there is important information to cover.

Go Back and Pick up the Ball Logo 2018August Wilson Society Social Media Coordinator Melonnie Walker has written a piece on the recent release of August Wilson’s How I Learned What I Learned, so you can look for her post within the next few days.  She’s got some good quotes in there.

Mark Whitaker

Beyond that, the colloquium:  The August Wilson Society’s official colloquium, held the last weekend in April of 2018, was an amazing success. Mark Whitaker, author of Smoketown, was present to discuss his book, the Hill District, and August Wilson, who is covered in the book in some detail.

ConstanzaAugust’s widow, Constanza Romero, attended, updating the group on her activities. She is very busy managing the Estate.  She also talked about her efforts to place August’s primary documents with a university which would be charged with maintaining the material in archival fashion.

Stanford’s Harry Elam was in the house, talking about his interactions with August, as Harry Elamwell as drawing upon material from his book, The Past as Present in the Drama of August Wilson. It was nice to meet Harry and spend some time talking with him at the Hill District Block Party that was held on Saturday, April 28.

Long-time Post-Gazette theater critic and Pitt professor Christopher Rawson was in attendance and actually led  a group of conference goers on a tour of The Hill.  Chris is a fountain of knowledge and is also a member of the August Wilson House committee, which is working to renovate August’s childhood home and make it—with support from Duquesne University—into a place where artists can take up residence.

Sandra Shannon, August Wilson Society president and coordinator of the event, led the charge. Much praise should be delivered to her for her tireless work on all things August Wilson and the conference was no exception.  I think it was successful beyond our wildest dreams.

Perhaps the high point for Sandra was interviewing two “Wilsonian Warriors” via Skype in front of the conference audience (it was a musical director for August’s plays and an actress; I can’t recall their names right now.  I checked the conference program but the names were not listed.  I’ll see if I can track them down).

We were supposed to go up to August Wilson’s birthplace and watch Mark Clayton Southers’ production of King Hedley II, but thunderstorms moved through the area and the event was canceled.

There was much, much more, but I can’t cover it all in a single blog post.  If you want to see the program, click here: 2018 Colloquium Program.

If you want to support the August Wilson Society, click here.

To sum up, the colloquium was well attended and there were connections being made all across the spectrum. It was really amazing. Many thanks to the August Wilson Center for all of their help and support. They were truly awesome.

The next August Wilson Colloquium is tentatively scheduled for April of 2020, most likely at the August Wilson Center.

August Wilson Journal: Summary

AWJournalBanner Feb 2018

By Mike Downing

Background: The August Wilson Journal is a collaboration between the August Wilson Society and Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, who serve as sponsors, along with the University of Pittsburgh, the official publisher of the journal.

The goal is to “promote the study, teaching and performance of Mr. Wilson’s work.”  The journal  features double-blind peer review and is online, open-access.  The initial Call for Papers was released on April 2, 2018.  Currently, the editorial team looks like this:

Editor: Dr. Michael J. Downing, Kutztown University of Pennsylvania

Managing Editor: Dr. David L. Anderson, Butler County Community College, Professor Emeritus

Reviewers: Dr. Chris Bell, University of North Georgia; Dr. Mary L. Bogumil, Southern Illinois University; Dr. Ellen Bonds, Villanova University; Dr. Artisia Green, William & Mary; Dr. Patrick Maley, Centenary University; Dr. J. Ken Stuckey, Bentley University; Dr. Steven C. Tracy, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Research Assistant: Mr. Thom Addington, Howard University

Editorial Advisory Board: Ms. Kamili Anderson, Howard University, Retired; Dr. Jackson Robert Bryer, University of Maryland, Professor Emeritus; Dr. Laurence A. Glasco, University of Pittsburgh; Dr. Ladrica C. Menson-Furr, The University of Memphis; Dr. Shondrika Moss-Bouldin, Georgia State University; Dr. Alan Nadel, University of Kentucky; Dr. Christopher Rawson, University of Pittsburgh; Dr. Sandra G. Shannon, Howard University, Professor Emeritus; Dr. Kimmika L. H. Williams-Witherspoon, Temple University

Involvement: We ask everyone who might be interested in following the journal to create an account.  This will allow us to notify you when articles are published and other announcements are made.  Your information will not be shared.

If you are in interested in playing a larger role in the journal, please create an account and then send an email to: augustwilson(at)pitt.edu, notifying the journal team of your particular interest.  Credentials will be requested.

To Register for the Journal:
Go to the site http://augustwilson.pitt.edu
There is a REGISTER tab at the top.  Click it.
Fill in the basic fields and press REGISTER at the bottom.

If you have questions, contact the journal at augustwilson(at)pitt.edu.

“Smoketown” Author Mark Whitaker to Speak at Upcoming August Wilson Colloquium

Mark Whitaker
Mark Whitaker

By Mike Downing

The August Wilson Society, in conjunction with the city of Pittsburgh’s August Wilson Center for African American Culture, is hosting a three-day event, April 26-28, 2018, entitled “Go Back and Pick Up the Ball: An August Wilson Society Colloquium.”  The gathering will feature actors, directors, historians, educators, scholars, politicians, poets, members of the local Pittsburgh community, and others “who have been inspired to art and action by Wilson’s charge.”

In attendance will be Smoketown author Mark Whitaker, who is scheduled to address the gathering.

I don’t have specific information as to the nature of Mr. Whitaker’s presentation at this time, but I can provide biographical information that was provided to me:

From Pittsburgh Lectures.org

Mark Whitaker’s Smoketown is a captivating portrait of Pittsburgh’s renaissance of black culture, influence, and glamour from the 1920s through the 1950s.

Today black Pittsburgh is known as the setting for August Wilson’s famed plays about working-class strivers. But this community once had an impact on American history that rivaled the far larger black worlds of Harlem and Chicago. It published the most widely read black newspaper in the country, urging black voters to switch from the Republican to the Democratic Party and then rallying black support for World War II. It fielded two of the greatest baseball teams of the Negro Leagues and introduced Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Pittsburgh was the childhood home of jazz pioneers Billy Strayhorn, Billy Eckstine, Earl Hines, Mary Lou Williams, and Erroll Garner; Hall of Fame slugger Josh Gibson—and August Wilson himself. Some of the most glittering figures of the era were changed forever by the time they spent in the city, from Joe Louis and Satchel Paige to Duke Ellington and Lena Horne.

Smoketown depicts how ambitious Southern migrants were drawn to a steel-making city on a strategic river junction; how they were shaped by its schools and a spirit of commerce with roots in the Gilded Age; and how their world was eventually destroyed by industrial decline and urban renewal. Whitaker takes readers on a rousing, revelatory journey—and offers a timely reminder that Black History is not all bleak.

Original bio source here.

Colloquium information here.

Constanza Romero to Attend Upcoming Wilson Colloquium at August Wilson Center

Constanza Romero

By Mike Downing

The August Wilson Society, in conjunction with the city of Pittsburgh’s August Wilson Center for African American Culture, is hosting a three-day event, April 26-28, 2018, entitled “Go Back and Pick Up the Ball: An August Wilson Society Colloquium.”  The gathering will feature actors, directors, historians, educators, scholars, politicians, poets, members of the local Pittsburgh community, and others “who have been inspired to art and action by Wilson’s charge.”

In attendance at the conference will be Wilson’s widow and literary executor of the August Wilson Estate, Constanza Romero.  At this time, I believe time has been set aside by conference coordinators for discussion with Ms. Romero, tentatively entitled “A Conversation with Constanza Romero.”

I don’t have any additional information at this time, but I can provide information that was provided to me:

Constanza Romero has served as the literary executor of the estate of August Wilson since 2005. Countless works by the playwright, her late husband, have been produced nationally and abroad under Romero’s leadership. In 2016, August Wilson was the most produced playwright in the country.

As a producer, Romero helmed the Manhattan Theater Club’s Broadway production of JITNEY, in 2017, and Broadway’s FENCES, in 2010. Both won Tony Awards for Best Revival. With the release of Wilson’s FENCES as a major motion picture in 2017, Romero served as a key participant speaker with the film’s promotional screening tour and facilitated conversations about Mr Wilson with stars Viola Davis and Denzel Washington.

Ms. Romero’s costume for the character Aunt Ester in GEM OF THE OCEAN can be viewed along with other Wilson memorabilia at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. In another important step toward building and protecting August Wilson’s literary legacy, Romero has finished collecting the materials for August Wilson’s archives for future residence in a research library.

As a costume designer, Ms. Romero’s Broadway credits include THE MOUNTAIN TOP, FENCES (Tony Nomination), GEM OF THE OCEAN (Tony Nomination), SEVEN GUITARS, and THE PIANO LESSON.

She resides in Seattle with her daughter Azula Romero Wilson, finding time to practice her other passion, creating poster art for theaters and other nonprofit organizations.

For more information or to register for the conference, click this link.

Stanford’s Harry Elam, Jr. to Speak at Upcoming August Wilson Colloquium

Harry Elam
Harry Elam, Jr.

By Michael Downing

The August Wilson Society, in conjunction with the city of Pittsburgh’s August Wilson Center for African American Culture, is hosting a three-day event, April 26-28, 2018, entitled “Go Back and Pick Up the Ball: An August Wilson Society Colloquium.”  The gathering will feature actors, directors, historians, educators, scholars, politicians, poets, members of the local Pittsburgh community, and others “who have been inspired to art and action by Wilson’s charge.”

One of the scheduled speakers is Harry J. Elam, Jr., who currently serves as Senior Vice Provost for Education at Stanford University, Vice President for the Arts, Freeman-Thornton Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, and Olive H. Palmer Professor in the Humanities.

The tentative title for his presentation is: “August Wilson in the Age of Trump and Tweets”

I don’t have any more information on his presentation, specifically, but I can provide the following background information that was provided to me:

As a scholar of social protest theater, performance and popular culture, and African American drama, Dr. Elam enjoys sharing his fascination with theater as a means of social change with students through his teaching, advising, and directing.

He is the author and editor of seven books including, Taking It to the Streets: The Social Protest Theater of Luis Valdez and Amiri Baraka; The Past as Present in the Drama of August Wilson; and co‑editor of four books, including African American Performance and Theater History: A Critical Reader; Colored Contradictions: An Anthology of Contemporary African American Drama; The Fire This Time: African American Plays for the New Millennium; and Black Cultural Traffic: Crossroads in Performance and Popular Culture.

His articles have appeared in American Drama, Modern Drama, Theatre Journal, Text and Performance Quarterly as well as journals in Israel, Taiwan and Poland.  He has also edited and/or co-edited several critical anthologies.

Elam is also the former editor of Theatre Journal and on the editorial boards of Atlantic Studies, Journal of American Drama and Theatre, and Modern Drama.

He was elected to the College of Fellows of the American Theatre in April 2006. In August 2006 he won the Betty Jean Jones Outstanding Teaching Award from the American Theatre and Drama Society and in November 2006 he won the Distinguished Scholar Award from the American Society of Theatre Research. In July 2014, Elam received the Association of Theatre in Higher education’s highest award for theatre scholars, the Career Achievement Award.

In addition to his scholarly work, he has directed professionally for over twenty years: most notably, he directed Tod, the Boy Tod by Talvin Wilks for the Oakland Ensemble Company, and for TheatreWorks in Palo Alto California.

He directed Jar the Floor by Cheryl West and Blues for an Alabama Sky by Pearl Cleague, which was nominated for nine Bay Area Circle Critics Awards and was the winner of DramaLogue Awards for Best Production, Best Design, Best Ensemble Cast and Best Direction. He has directed several of August Wilson’s plays, including Radio Golf, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, Two Trains Running, and Fences, the latter of which won eight Bay Area “Choice” Awards.

For more information or to register for the conference, click this link.

Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company is staging “King Hedley II” in April, on location, at the August Wilson Home

Russel Hornsby as King Hedley II

By Michael Downing

The Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company is staging August Wilson’s King Hedley II, on location, outdoors, at the August Wilson Home, 1727 Bedford Avenue, in The Hill District.

Tickets are $37.50 in advance, no surcharges. Door price is $42.50.

The performance is directed by Mark Clayton Southers.

For tickets, click this link.

Also: Here’s a review of the play from The Oregonian (2012).