“Well, actually, I didn’t start out with a grand idea. I wrote a play called Jitney! set in ’77 and a play called Fullerton Street that I set in ’41. Then I wrote Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, which I set in ’27, and it was after I did that I said, ‘I’ve written three plays in three different decades, so why don’t I just continue to do that?’”
Eastern Michigan University Theatre is gearing up for its next Mainstage production, "The Piano Lesson" by August Wilson. For those of you who don't know, August Wilson is an American playwright most famous for his Pittsburgh Cycle. Wilson was born on April 27, 1945 under the name Frederick August Kittel Jr. in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His Pittsburgh Cycle is a series of ten plays, nine of which are set in Pittsburgh, that chronicle the African American experience throughout each decade of the 20th century. It seems only fitting that he would write a series of plays that majorly focus on life in the city that he grew up in. "The Piano Lesson" fits into the cycle by depicting the African American experience during the 1930s.
Wilson claimed to have been heavily influenced by the 'four B's.' These 'four B's' included: the blues, Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, playwright Amiri Baraka and artist Romare Bearden. In a 1999 interview with The Paris Review Wilson discussed their influence on his work by saying, "From Borges, those wonderful gaucho stories from which I learned that
you can be specific as to a time and place and culture and still have
the work resonate with the universal themes of love, honor, duty,
betrayal, etc. From Amiri Baraka, I learned that all art is political,
although I don’t write political plays. From Romare Bearden I learned
that the fullness and richness of everyday life can be rendered without
compromise or sentimentality." The image to the right is a collage by Romare Bearden entitled The Piano Lesson and it helped inspire Wilson's play of the same name.
"The Piano Lesson" was written in 1986. It premiered at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre in 1987 and appeared on Broadway in 1990 at the Walter Kerr Theatre. In 1990 the play was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play and won a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play, the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. August Wilson has been noted not for writing to a particular audience, but instead writing about the Black experience in America “And contained within that experience, because it is a human experience,” he said, “are all universalities.”
See August Wilson's "The Piano Lesson" come to life at Eastern Michigan University! You can see this powerful show Feb. 10-13 at 7pmand Feb. 13 & 14 at 2pm.