Pitt Event Displays Previously Hidden Gems to Open August Wilson Archives

March has come in like a lion for Pittsburgh theater-going, and the roar only builds as the month marches on.

March 2nd through 4th, Thursday through Saturday last week, there was so much to choose from that I was behind before I started. 

What I did fit into those three days:

  • Thursday in Braddock: barebones productions’ Is God Is by Aleshea Harris and directed by Javon Johnson.
  • Friday in Oakland: From the Hill to the Stage: Celebrating the August Wilson Archive, a one-night-only public event marking the official opening of the archive in its permanent home, the University of Pittsburgh Library System.
  • Saturday on the North Side: Prime Stage Theatre’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, based on the novel by C.S. Lewis, adapted by Joseph Robinette and directed by Wayne Brinda..

Watch for reviews of the two plays here at OnStage Pittsburgh.

Up first, a week of celebrating the life and work of August Wilson in Pittsburgh, culminating in what the playwright’s widow, Constanza Romero Wilson, called the “jewel in the crown” of the University of Pittsburgh Library System.

On Friday evening, for two-plus hours only, Wilson’s scribbles, notes, artwork and artistry were on display in a starry party to mark the official opening of the August Wilson Archive for public use. 

The treasures exhibited in a section of the Hillman Library lobby were removed after the event – possibly to be seen again, at least in part, in the upstairs display area that includes artifacts from the George Romero Archive and others. But there remains the possibility of an August Wilson Room. 

One particularly striking illustration of Wilson at work was a wall with representations of his self-portraits and drawings, and another with the familiar raggedy rectangle of notes upon notes upon notes.

Wilson kept notes on everything and anything as his ideas flowed. His nephew, attorney Paul Ellis, the driving force in the rehabilitation of Wilson’s childhood home, noted that his uncle always advised him to just keep on writing. 

The archive – along with the August Wilson House community hub in the Hill District and the permanent exhibition A Writer’s Landscape, at the August Wilson African American Cultural Center – combine to make his hometown the center of the universe to study and appreciate the Pulitzer Prize-winning artist.

While the archive was being celebrated in Oakland, the center Downtown was hosting a series of events for the August Wilson Society’s biennial colloquium. 

Back in Oakland, the pieces of the archive on public display Friday represent 450 boxes that were donated by Romero Wilson, including scripts and production materials of the American Century Cycle.

A preview of a documentary about August Wilson’s life in the Hill District, a work in progress by filmmaker/educator Carl Kurlander and Pitt students using archival materials and interviews, was shown on a loop during the event.

Students, scholars, theater-makers and others now can access the archives by following protocols through the Pitt Library System.

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Categories: Arts and Ideas, Feature Stories

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