Skip to main content

St. Clair stages 'August in April' at Last Frontier Theatre Conference


May 23, 2007

“Don’t you worry ‘bout whether someone like you; worry ‘bout whether they’re doin’ right by you.”

                        August Wilson, “Fences,” 1985

 

Charles St. Clair, an academic professional in the Interdisciplinary Arts and Performance department at Arizona State University’s West campus, is trying to do his hero, legendary African-American playwright August Wilson, right.

Invited to present at the prestigious Last Frontier Theatre Conference in June in Valdez, Alaska, St. Clair is taking with him his tribute to the late Wilson, August in April.

The 15th annual conference is scheduled June 22-30 at the Valdez Convention and Civic Center.

“August loved this conference, but said he couldn’t come back to it because there were not enough Black actors to do his work,” said St. Clair, who boasts more than 300 major productions to his credit in theatre and film, including three Emmy Awards for the PBS production of Beauty and the Beast and another for NBC’s With These Hands.

“This is an opportunity to give a different voice to the conference and, through this tribute to August, say, ‘We’ve come back,’” said St Clair who will bring a cast of 10 to Valdez, including nine African-American performers who are among the best in their craft.

Wilson’s remarkable career spanned four decades, from his first effort in 1976 through the final installment of his 10-play Pittsburgh Cycle, the 2005 scripting of Radio Golf.

Born in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, Penn., April 27, 1945, Wilson succumbed to liver cancer on October 2, 2005.  During his lifetime of writing and chronicling the African-American culture, Wilson earned countless prestigious awards, including two Pulitzers Prizes for Drama (1987, Fences, and 1990, The Piano Lesson), a Tony Award for Best Play (1987, Fences), and six New York Drama Critics Circle Awards.  He earned Tony Award nominations seven times.

His most popular plays are Fences, The Piano Lesson, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.  Each represents a single decade in his epic Pittsburgh Cycle, which chronicles the Black experience in the 20th century through 10 different plays, nine of which are set in Pittsburgh’s Hill District.  In decade order, the plays are (production dates are in parentheses):  1900s – Gem of the Ocean (2003), 1910s – Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (1984), 1920s – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (1982, set in Chicago), 1930s – The Piano Lesson (1989), 1940s – Seven Guitars (1995), 1950s – Fences (1985), 1960s – Two Trains Running (1990), 1970s – Jitney (1983), 1980s – King Hedley II (2001), 1990s – Radio Golf (2005).

“The first time I read an August Wilson play, I wondered where I had been all of those years,” said St. Clair, a native of Cleveland, Ohio.  “He spoke to me.  His was a true voice in theatre.

“Now, I want to spread the word about August’s brilliance, his impact, and the barriers he crossed in his writings.  As an educator, it is my deepest desire that the legacy of August Wilson doesn’t get lost in the shuffle, and that it finds its way into the chronicles of theatre’s greatest.”

St. Clair’s efforts to recognize Wilson’s genius center on his scripting of August in April, co-written by Dale Byam of the Brooklyn College Theater Initiative.  The live performance also features video interviews interspersed between scenes from noted African-American actors, directors, scholars and writers, each discussing their thoughts and memories of Wilson and the impact of his work.  The impressive list of those participating includes; Suzan-Lori Parks, Charles S. Dutton, Phylicia Rashad, Lloyd Richards, Amiri Baraka, Stephen Henderson, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Kenny Leon and many others.

“This is a great fit for the conference,” said Dawson Moore, who has been a conference participant for 12 years, the last four in the role of conferencecoordinator.  “It is good education and good entertainment.

“August was very popular with the conference participants because he felt like one of them.”

August in April will be co-produced by iTheatre Collaborative, ASU’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, and the Brooklyn College Educational Theatre Initiative.  The play premiered in New York on what would have been Wilson’s 61st birthday, April 27, 2006.

St. Clair’s cast will feature Alaskan Vivian Kinnaird, who has performed in Anchorage since the age of 10 and appeared several years ago at the conference in Wilson’s Fences.  The Black actor served for six years as a board member of the Alaska State Council on the Arts.

“August in April is an exceptional opportunity to examine the entire cycle of Wilson’s plays as a whole, as a chronological history,” said St. Clair, who will direct the play.  “Audiences can really begin to understand how Wilson’s work encapsulates the generational legacy of slavery and the inherent racism and poverty in America after emancipation.”

Support for August in April has been provided in part by Phoenix, Arizona, philanthropists Betty and Jean Fairfax, sisters who have built a national reputation for increasing the participation of women and minorities in grant-making institutions as donors, policymakers and recipients.