Backstage Pass with Lia Chang

Tony Award-nominee John Earl Jelks, Tony Award-winner Cleavant Derricks, Owiso Odera, David Pegram and more set for August Wilson’s THE PIANO LESSON at McCarter Theatre Center, Jan. 8 – Feb. 7

The Piano Lesson

Jade King Carroll is at the helm of McCarter Theatre’s production of August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson, at McCarter Theatre Center, 91 University Place, Princeton, NJ., which has performances January 8 – February 7, 2015. Opening night is set for January 15th at 8:00pm.

The cast of August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson includes Tony Award-winner Cleavant Derricks (Dreamgirls) as Wining Boy; Tony Award-nominee John Earl Jelks (August Wilson’s Radio Golf) as Doaker; Marcus Callender (Straight Outta Compton) as Boy Willie; David Pegram (Broadway’s War Horse) as Lymon; Shannon Janee Antalan (Broadway’s Caroline, Or Change) as Grace; Owiso Odera (The Roundabout’s Overwhelming) as Avery; and Miriam A. Hyman as Berniece. Rounding out the cast as Maretha is Frances Brown, an eleven year-old Plainsboro native making her McCarter debut.

A struggle between a family’s enduring legacy and its chance for a brighter future takes center stage in The Piano Lesson: one of the most critically-acclaimed productions in August Wilson’s landmark ten-play American Century Cycle.

Winner of the 1990 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Play, August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson is set in 1930s Pittsburgh, revolving around the Charles family and the fate of an ancient piano covered in carvings telling the story of their ancestors. To reclaim his family’s legacy, Boy Willie (Marcus Callender) wishes to sell their priceless heirloom, but will his sister Berniece (Miriam A. Hyman) and the ghosts of their past stand in his way? An intense tale of a family at a crossroads, August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson speaks deeply to the themes of memory, hope, and perserverance.

About Jade King Carroll’s directorial debut, McCarter Theatre Center Artistic Director Emily Mann said: “Jade is an extraordinary talent who assisted Ruben Santiago Hudson on August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean at McCarter over 10 years ago. During her time here, Jade distinguished herself as a remarkable artist, and she went on to launch a vibrant career. One of her early triumphs, a production of Raisin in the Sun at Julliard, made a lasting impression on me, and is the best production of that play I have ever seen. She is known as an astute and sensitive director who elicits extraordinary performances from her actors. It is with great pride and excitement that I introduce you to her work.”

The design team for August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson includes Helen Hayes and Obie award-winning scenic designer Neil Patel, costume design by Paul Tazewell (creator of the stunning looks of NBC’s The Wiz LIVE!), lighting design by Edward Pierce, (McCarter’s production ofTennessee Williams’ Baby Doll), and sound design by William Kirby (Sound Design). The production will also include original music by acclaimed jazz composer Baikida Carroll (father to director Jade King Carroll), with musical direction by Richard Harper.

August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson marks the fourth McCarter Theatre Center production of Wilson’s American Century Cycle plays, following Gem of the Ocean (2005), Radio Golf (2007) and Fences (2014).

Jade King Carroll- Director
Past Credits include: Sunset Baby ( City Theater) Autumn’s Harvest (Lincoln Center Institute); Trouble in Mind (Two River Theater & Playmaker’s Rep); Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Portland Stage); A Raisin In The Sun (Juilliard & Perseverance); The Tempest (Chatauqua Theater Company); Black Girl, You’ve Been Gentrified (Joe’s Pub); Seven Guitars (People’s Light and Theatre & Point Park University); King Hedley (Portland Playhouse); Mr Chickee’s Funny Money (Atlantic Theater); The Whipping Man (Portland Stage); Janice Underwater (Premiere Stages); The Etymology of Bird (CitiParks Summer Stages); The Piano Lesson (Cape Fear Regional Theater) Alondra Was Here (The Wild Project); Cherry Smoke (Theatre Row); Sex on Sunday (Urban Stages); The History of Light, Samuel J&K, The Summer House (Passage Theatre); The Persians, Splittin’ the Raft (People’s Light & Theatre); Spit (Intar); A Member of the Wedding (Tennessee Williams’ Theater Festival in Provincetown); Associate Director for The Gin Game (Broadway-2015) and Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire (Broadway-2012). Jade was a TCG New Generations Future Leader Award recipient, through which she was the Artistic Associate at Second Stage Theatre. Jade was awarded The Paul Green Award for Outstanding Emerging Theatre Professional from the National Theatre Conference and The Estate of August Wilson. Past Fellowships & Awards: New York Theatre Workshop, Van Lier, Second Stage Theatre, Women’s Project, McCarter Theatre, NYC council for the arts and Gates Millennium Scholar. Jade served as the dramaturge for the seminal recording of the entire August Wilson Twentieth Century Cycle for National Public Radio. Upcoming: Emily Mann’s Having Our Say (Long Wharf Theatre and Hartford Stage).

August Wilson – Playwright
Wilson was born Frederick August Kittel Jr. in 1945 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In the mid1960s, Kittel, who took his mother’s maiden name (Wilson) as a way to honor her, decided to become a writer. Soaking up the atmosphere from time spent working, reading in the Carnegie Library, listening to the blues, and writing in bars and cafes, Wilson became one of the leading chroniclers of the African-American experience. His plays Fences and The Piano Lesson both won Pulitzer Prizes. According to the New York Times, Wilson’s plays logged over 1,800 performances on Broadway, and there were over 2,000 professional and amateur productions staged of his work. He died in 2005. “In bringing to the popular American stage the gritty specifics of the lives of his poor, trouble-plagued and sometimes powerfully embittered black characters, Mr. Wilson also described universal truths about the struggle for dignity, love, security and happiness in the face of often overwhelming obstacles, ” wrote Charles Isherwood in the New York Times in 2005.

About McCarter Theatre Center
Under the leadership of Artistic Director Emily Mann and Managing Director Timothy J. Shields, McCarter Theatre Center is recognized as one of the nation’s premier theater companies. Renowned for major contributions to the theatrical canon, McCarter premieres include Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (winner of the 2013 Tony Award for Best Play) and Miss Witherspoon (both commissions); Tarell Alvin McCraney’s The Brother/Sister Plays; Will Power’s Fetch Clay, Make Man (commission); Edward Albee’s Me, Myself & I (commission); Emily Mann’s Having Our Say; Danai Gurira’s The Convert; Beth Henley’s Ridiculous Fraud (commission); Regina Taylor’s Crowns (commission); Dael Orlandersmith’s Yellowman (commission); Athol Fugard’s Valley Song; and Stephen Wadsworth’s Marivaux trilogy. McCarter has also produced major new productions of Brian Friel’s Translations, directed by Garry Hynes; Nilo Cruz’s Anna in the Tropics and Edward Albee’s All Over, directed by Emily Mann; and Electra, directed by David Leveaux. McCarter is supported by Princeton University, the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, and over 3,000 individuals, corporations, and foundations. McCarter Theatre is located at 91 University Place in Princeton, NJ. For more information,
Ticket Information

Single tickets for August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson start as low as $25 and are on sale now online at, by phone at (609) 258-2787, or in person at the McCarter Theatre Ticket Office, located at 91 University Place in Princeton. August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson will be performed on the Berlind Stage. The production runs 2 hours and 45 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.

Dialogue on Drama
Join us for a special post show discussion with director Jade King Carroll after the Sunday, January 17th matinee performance. This is a free event, no RSVP req.

Post-Show Discussions
Post-show discussions at McCarter are highly interactive audience-based conversations facilitated by a member of McCarter’s artistic staff, often featuring cast members. These discussions focus on a range of topics including how artistic choices were made for the production, the actors’ process, and reflections and questions from audience members.

Inside Story
Join us 45 minutes before any performance of August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson for a talk led by a member of McCarter’s artistic staff. Hear about what inspired the play, its unique creation and style, and much more. The location for all Inside Story talks will be noted in the Berlind Theater lobby upon arrival.

McCarter Theatre/Not In Our Town Princeton Community Partnership Event
McCarter Theatre, Berlind Rehearsal Room – Saturday, February 6, 2016
Immediately following the 3pm matinee of The Piano Lesson
This post-performance event is intended to provide an opportunity for interested audience members to engage with one another in a conversation that focuses specifically on the story of The Piano Lesson as an articulation of black American experience through which issues and themes pertaining to race, racism, and racial oppression and injustice can be shared and explored for meaning and understanding. The conversation will be highly interactive and facilitated in small groups by members of Not In Our Town Princeton. Refreshments will be served. Seating is limited and must be reserved; please RSVP here.

Click here for the Lia Chang Articles Archive and here for the Lia Chang Photography Website.

Lia Chang. Photo by Garth Kravits

Lia Chang. Photo by Garth Kravits

Lia Chang is an award-winning filmmaker, a Best Actress nominee, a photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman and Hide and Seek. She is profiled in Examiner.comJade Magazine and

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