Big Ideas – The Emancipated Century/August Wilson Readings

Back in March, Barbara Lewis, Director of the Trotter Institute on campus, came to me with an idea.  This idea was the Emancipated Century/August Wilson Readings.  We discussed producing readings of all ten plays in the August Wilson cycle in five different theaters across Boston.  I felt we had come across the coolest idea ever!  Dr Lewis told me that the deadline was approaching for a Creative Economy grant given to members of the UMass community through the UMass President’s office.  Now, since I am but a lowly (hard-working and underpaid) adjunct professor, I knew I would need the backing of my department to make this a reality.  So, I ran the idea past Dr. Robert Lublin who is the chair of the Performing Arts Department.  Dr Lublin is a noted scholar in classical theatre, particularly Elizabethan.  He oversees a rapidly growing department that consists of not just theatre, but music and dance as well.  He is also something of a cautious person, so I figured my chances were 50/50 in convincing him to move forward on this.  I forgot how much he loves August Wilson.  His eyes lit up at the thought of actually getting the chance to see the entire ten play arc performed.

In the early phase of putting this project together, Barbara Lewis and I also met executives and board representatives at Central Square.  They were excited about the idea and agreed to help.  After getting their support, we knew we could make things happen.   With Central Square on board, it was easy to get buy-in from the Strand, Hibernian Hall, and Boston Playwrights.

We got the grant!

But the timing of getting the notice about the grant left us little time to dally.  We hit the ground running.  Our first reading was Monday Aug 5th in the McCormack Theatre at UMass Boston.  Although we had a small crowd, we had a very powerful show.  We expect audiences to pick up with each successive show.

We want the readings and corresponding public forum series to inspire an appreciation of August Wilson’s work, but more importantly, we want audiences to engage in a dialogue about their community and Boston in general.   Although the issues brought up in Wilson’s plays are at the center of the concerns for African Americans, those concerns are many of the same ones that face Americans in general.  Poverty, vanishing economic opportunities, a growing gap between the haves and have not’s, crime, racial tensions, and the dissolution of the “American Dream” are topics that touch all of us.  They are community problems in need of community solutions.  However, solutions are collective.  They must come through the dialogue.  Our larger aim is sparking and helping to shape that dialogue.

Tickets are free for the readings as well as the public forums, which are supported by a grant that the Trotter received from the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities.  Our next reading will be at The Strand Theatre, 543 Columbia Rd in Dorchester.  Our first forum, on the topic of “Citizenship and Jim Crow Today” will be held on August 29, 6-8 p.m.  You can contact us on theemancipatedcentury website or through Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/EmancipatedCenturyAugustWilsonReadings?ref=hl or you can contact me at Clifford.odle@umb.edu.

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