Theater Cast Travels to Pittsburgh

by Sam Vaught '16

April 5, 2013

Students at Wabash College are busy globetrotters. Wabash men pride themselves on our immersion learning programs and study abroad opportunities. And now, a talented group of actors from the theater department add their names to the list of ­­students who have rolled back the odometer.

Professor of Theater Dwight Watson and the cast of Jitney traveled Mar 29-30 to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to participate in a round table reading of the play at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture. Each spring, actors and directors from across the country come to the center to celebrate the life and works of August Wilson and highlight up-and-coming playwrights.

Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Wilson is known primarily for his Pittsburgh Cycle, 10 plays that follow the African American experience of the twentieth century – one play for each decade. Jitney follows the story of cab drivers in 1970s Pittsburgh as they come and go in a downtown gypsy cab station (Jitney is a term for an unlicensed cab driver). The plot unfolds when Becker, the station’s manager, receives a visit from his estranged son Booster, recently released from prison.

“The play is a moving story about their relationship, and how it takes various turns,” Watson said. “Outside forces spark struggles within the characters and their lives.”

The play builds on the African American experience of the 1950s and 60s as it transitioned into the modern era of the 1980s and beyond. On Monday, the cast read Jitney for the public after weeks of what Watson called “passion and practice.” They met Mark Southers, the artistic director of the August Wilson center, who familiarized the students with downtown Pittsburg and the hill district, where the play is set. They also learned more about the organization’s mission, which seeks to highlight the African American experience in dance, music, and theater, as well as serve the community through outreach programs and interaction with area schools.

AJ Clark ’16, who played Booster, enjoyed the experience. “The trip enriched my appreciation of August Wilson and his literature,” he said. “I better understood his background and style by visiting many of the places he's been to.”

Tyler Griffin ‘13 echoes the sentiment. “Few actors actually get to see their scripts awaken from their performative slumber and become a reality,” Griffin said. “The streets, the voices spoke volumes to not only our character development, but to our personal growth.”

With such inspiration, the cast is sure to work hard over the next week and a half to apply what they have learned to their performance.

The cast  includes: A.J. Akinribade, Lorenze Billups, A.J. Clark, Edward Evans Jr., Tyler Griffin, Michael Hodge, Ryan Lutz, Felicia Santiago, and Devan James Young. Director Dwight Watson is assisted by Greg Huey, while Andrea Bear takes the audience back to the urban 70s with her costume design. Joe Mount ‘15, seen in February’s Take Me Out, serves as stage manager. Jitney opens on April 17 at Ball Theater, and will run for four performances. Free tickets will be available from the Fine Arts Center Box Office.


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