Unprecedented access to Wilson’s theatrical archives, rarely seen interviews and new dramatic readings bring to life his seminal 10-play cycle chronicling each decade of the 20th-century African-American experience, including the Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning Fences and Pulitzer Prize-winning The Piano Lesson.
Film and theater luminaries including Viola Davis, Charles Dutton, Laurence Fishburne, James Earl Jones, Suzan-Lori Parks and Phylicia Rashad share their stories of the career- and life-changing experience of bringing Wilson’s rich theatrical voice to the stage. Wilson’s sister Freda Ellis, his widow and costume designer Constanza Romero, as well as friends, colleagues and scholars trace Wilson’s influences, creative evolution, triumphs, struggles and quest for cultural determinism before his untimely death from liver cancer.
“Having the opportunity to explore Wilson’s creative process and his tenacity in looking at the African-American experience in the 20th century was one of the most exciting endeavors I have ever had in my film career,” said filmmaker Sam Pollard (Slavery by Another Name, American Masters – Marvin Gaye: What’s Going On), who has earned multiple Emmy and Peabody Awards as producer-editor of documentaries including When the Levees Broke and Spike Lee Presents Mike Tyson.
Filmed in the cities where Wilson made his mark, the documentary begins in Pittsburgh’s Hill District where the future playwright was a brainy, bi-racial child raised in poverty, who dropped out of high school because of bullying and prejudice. Self-educated in the city’s public library and streets, Wilson was influenced by the rising black consciousness of the 1960s and became a young, activist poet. The film follows his transition to a successful playwriting career, from the founding of the Black Horizon Theater (Pittsburgh) and his early work at the Penumbra Theater (St. Paul, Minn.) to his big break at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center’s National Playwrights Conference (Waterford, Conn.). There he began his life-changing collaboration with mentor-director Lloyd Richards, which led to nine original Broadway productions.
Launched in 1986, American Masters has earned 28 Emmy Awards — including 10 for Outstanding Non-Fiction Series since 1999 and five for Outstanding Non-Fiction Special — 12 Peabodys, an Oscar, three Grammys, two Producers Guild Awards and many other honors. Now in its 29th season on PBS, the series is a production of THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC for WNET and also seen on the WORLD channel.
To take American Masters beyond the television broadcast and further explore the themes, stories and personalities of masters past and present, the series’ companion website (http://pbs.org/americanmasters) offers streaming video of select films, interviews, photos, outtakes, essays and more. For August Wilson: The Ground on Which I Stand, educational resources include a teaching guide, interactive map and biographical timeline with additional materials available via PBS LearningMedia. The goal is to equip high school educators with tools to explore Wilson’s cultural impact with students through the themes prevalent in his work: community, identity, diversity, activism, self-reliance and resilience. In Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Chicago and Washington, D.C., WQED’s The August Wilson Education Project will conduct additional outreach in partnership with local PBS stations, schools, libraries, theaters and other community organizations. This national education outreach effort is supported by The PNC Foundation.
American Masters — August Wilson: The Ground on Which I Stand is a co-production of WQED and THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC’S American Masters for WNET. Sam Pollard is director and producer. Stephen Stept is writer. Frank Caloiero is director of photography. Steve Wechsler is editor. Darryl Ford Williams and Susan Lacy are executive producers. Michael Kantor is executive producer forAmerican Masters.
Major funding for August Wilson: The Ground on Which I Stand is provided by PNC Bank, National Endowment for the Humanities and The Heinz Endowments.American Masters is made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Rosalind P. Walter, The Blanche & Irving Laurie Foundation, Rolf and Elizabeth Rosenthal, Vital Projects Fund, Rhoda Herrick, Jack Rudin; The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation, the Michael & Helen Schaffer Foundation and public television viewers.
As New York’s flagship public media provider and the parent company of THIRTEEN and WLIW21 and operator of NJTV, WNET brings quality arts, education and public affairs programming to more than 5 million viewers each week. WNET produces and presents such acclaimed PBS series as Nature, Great Performances,American Masters, PBS NewsHour Weekend, Charlie Rose and a range of documentaries, children’s programs, and local news and cultural offerings available on air and online. Pioneers in educational programming, WNET has created such groundbreaking series as Get the Math, Oh Noah! and Cyberchaseand provides tools for educators that bring compelling content to life in the classroom and at home. WNET highlights the tri-state’s unique culture and diverse communities through NYC-ARTS, Reel 13, NJTV News with Mary Alice Williams and MetroFocus, the multi-platform news magazine focusing on the New York region. WNET is also a leader in connecting with viewers on emerging platforms, including the THIRTEEN Explore App where users can stream PBS content for free.
WQED changes lives by creating and sharing outstanding public media that educates, entertains, and inspires. It is the parent company of WQED-TV (PBS); WQED: The Create Channel; WORLD Channel; WQED Showcase; Classical WQED-FM 89.3/Pittsburgh; Classical WQEJ-FM 89.7/Johnstown; the Pittsburgh Concert Channel at WQED-HD2 (89.3-2FM) and online at www.wqedfm.org; local and national television and radio productions; WQED Interactive (www.wqed.org) and iQ: smartmedia, WQED’s Educational initiative (www.wqed.org/edu).
American Masters-August Wilson: The Ground on Which I Stand Premieres on February 20 on PBS
Production Photos: André De Shields, Bowman Wright, E. Faye Butler, KenYatta Rogers, Jessica Frances Dukes and Michael Anthony Williams in Arena Stage’s King Hedley II through March 8
Photos: Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Phylicia Rashad, John Earl Jelks, Leslie Uggams, Anthony Chisholm, S. Epatha Merkerson, Taraji P. Henson, Jesse L. Martin, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Kenny Leon and More Set for August Wilson American Century Cycle Recording Series at The Greene Space in NY, Aug. 26-Sept. 28, 2013
Photos: All-Access Pass to August Wilson’s Two Trains Running with John Earl Jelks, Harvy Blanks,Chuck Cooper, Anthony Chisholm, Owiso Odera, Roslyn Ruff and James A. Williams
Lia Chang is an actor, a performance and fine art botanical photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist. Lia starred as Carole Barbara in Lorey Hayes’ Power Play at the 2013 National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, N.C., with Pauletta Pearson Washington, Roscoe Orman, and made her jazz vocalist debut in Rome Neal’s Banana Puddin’ Jazz “LADY” at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in New York. She is profiled in Jade Magazine.
Other Articles by Lia Chang:
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