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Artists discuss Wilson's legacy

Feb. 16, 2012

By Victoria Davis

Persons associated with August Wilson productions in the Greater Cleveland community united on Feb. 8 at the Umoja Round Table discussion in Cleveland State's Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs atrium.

Students, professors and local artists gathered for an intimate discussion of Wilson’s work. Pulitzer-prize winner African-American playwright, Wilson, is celebrated for interpreting the African-American experience in his plays. He has won two Pulitzer prizes for his Pittsburgh cycle plays.

The community of artists gathered to celebrate the works of Wilson and discuss their upcoming productions.

The dramaturgists present at the round table included Freddie Fox of East Cleveland Theater, Jimmie Woody of Cuyahoga Community College, Michael Oatman of Karamu House and TrueNorth Theatre, and Michael Bloom of Cleveland Play House.

Wilson, who passed in 2005, left a legacy to be remembered. The theater community in Cleveland has not failed to keep his legacy alive and has embraced opportunities to stage his works.

“Cleveland’s got a great theater city,” Woody said. “Having lived in New York, having experienced all the different types of theaters of New York, Cleveland has as much as New York, so this is a great opportunity.”

The panelists discussed Wilson's contributions to theater and his insight to the American experience from the minorities’ perspective. Wilson’s work is respected by some for its relevance.

“Its meaning, its emphasis changes according to the times," Bloom said. "I was so struck by how unbelievably relevant this play is."

Wilson’s body of work has inspired many artists of the present generation.

“He fills a void that was left behind by Lorraine Hansberry, when she wrote ‘Raisin in the Sun,’” said Woody. “Just like how you can take ‘Raisin in the Sun’ and do it today and it’s still relevant, it’s just like how you can take any one of August Wilson’s plays, even 100 to200 years from now; it’s still gonna give you a slice of life of African American culture, but it’s still gonna be relevant to those times.”

The void in which he fills with his work does more than exist within the time – it stands alone in its authenticity.

“There are some artists who are great, but in their greatness they are replicated,” Oatman said. “A lot of what August Wilson does, I don’t know if it can be replicated.”

“There’s something spiritually romantic about his productions,” Fox said.

The new generation has their own shoes to fill, while standing on a foundation of artists like Wilson who came before them. However, there are views that this generation of young people is not embracing mentorship.

“Sometimes I wonder if there’s enough interest from young people in the whole mentorship approach,” Bloom said. “In the old days nobody took acting classes. In those days you learned from your elders.”

It is hoped that young people will find their own voice while also learning from other respected artists.

“It’s up to the artist to define what makes them original,” Woody said. “For every generation you have someone who sets the standard. Hopefully those writers, those artists coming into the next generation, they’re trying to find their own voice.”

One of the most important goals of the directors is to encourage the Greater Cleveland community to support these productions.

A Cleveland Play House production of Wilson’s “Radio Golf” will be a benefit performance that will fund scholarships for Theater and Dance department students. The play will be at the Allen Theatre Complex at Playhouse Square on Feb. 16 at 7:30 p.m.

Cleveland’s love for the arts will be proven by attendance and remind others of why Cleveland is a center for the arts.

“I came to Cleveland because it was an opportunity to be an artistic director at a major theater in a city that really values the arts,” Bloom said.