The Black Theatrical Voice
The Jefferson School African American Heritage Center

Class Description: The Black Theatrical Voice in Western, American theater is often drowned out. Though misunderstood, appropriated, or altogether abandoned, the notion that Black theater is inherently different than Western theater is still true. Many may know the works of August Wilson, but they may not be aware of how his work was influenced by other Black culture and plays that came before him, nor how Wilson’s work has influenced more modern Black theater. This class is for those in the theater community who seek to educate themselves about the wide range of Black theater through the themes and eyes of August Wilson, including acting approach, play history and performance, and–perhaps most importantly–maintaining the integrity of Black culture within white theatrical spaces.

*In collaboration with Live Arts.

Instructors: Ti Ames and Leslie M. Scott-Jones
Time: 2-4 pm
Dates: Saturday, February 1, 2020 – Saturday, April 25, 2020 (6 Classes)
Location: Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, Room 207
Tuition: $125 for all 6 $45 per class


Week 1: Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020
Plays to Read: Jitney by August Wilson | Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom by August Wilson

Themes & Questions to Ponder:

  • A general introduction to August Wilson and his themes
  • Family dynamics
  • Women
  • The “Home”
  • Trauma and Trauma Cycles
  • Not Appealing to the White Establishment
  • The Black Actor’s Approach

Suggested Reading: Crumbs from the Table of Joy by Lynn Nottage
The Bluest Eye by Lydia R. Diamond

Transition into Week 2: What did it mean for Black folks to have to assimilate to white culture? What’s the difference between assimilation and acculturation? What are some of the origins of Black theater and storytelling outside of a Western lense?

Week 2: Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020
Plays to Read: Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali by Djibril Tamsir Niane | Death and the King’s Horseman by Wole Soyinka

Themes & Questions to Ponder

  • Griot Storytelling
  • The Africana Theatrical Perspective
  • The Colonizer vs. The Colonized
  • Music and Dance in Black Theater

Suggested Reading: Joe Turner’s Come and Gone by August Wilson, In Dahomey The Musical- Music‎: ‎Will Marion Cook, Lyrics‎: ‎Paul Laurence Dunbar, Book‎: ‎Jesse A. Shipp

Transition to Week 3: How can one accurately define “Black culture”? What are the unique factors about religious life within the Black community? Is there a different standard of conformity within the Black community, and if so, how does that manifest in how Black people navigate the world?

Week 3: Saturday, March 7, 2020
Plays to Read: The Amen Corner by James Baldwin | The Slave by Amiri Baraka

Themes & Questions to Ponder

  • Black family dynamics
  • Role of religion in Black life
  • Conformity within Black culture
  • Sacrifice for autonomy

Suggested Reading: Raisin In the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
Two Trains Running by August Wilson

Transition to Week 4: How are roles for women different in the Black community? How must that translate into being a Black female playwright? How did Wilson “deal” with female characters?

Week 4: March 14, 2020
Plays to Read: Wedding Band by Alice Childress | for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange

Themes & Questions to Ponder

  • Miscegenation/Jim Crow laws
  • Single motherhood
  • Custom and Tradition: Societal and Colloquial
  • Self-hatred
  • Wilson’s Female Character Development

Suggested Reading: Seven Guitars by August Wilson
A Song for Coretta by Pearl Cleage
Intimate Apparel by Lynn Nottage

Transition to Week 5: How much does the perception of society share self perception? What conflict must that create within? How is the manifestation seen theatrically, daily?

Week 5: April 11, 2020
Plays to Read: The Colored Museum by George C. Wolfe | The African Company Presents Richard III by Carlyle Brown

Themes & Questions to Ponder

  • Self-perception vs. Societal perception
  • Activism: What is revolutionary?
  • Performative nature of Blackness
  • When is Black anger justified?
  • Assimilation and Slave mentality

Suggested Reading: Funnyhouse of A Negro by Adrienne Kennedy
Gem of the Ocean by August Wilson
Passing Strange book and lyrics by Stew, music by Stew and Heidi Rodewald

Transition to Week 6: How does contemporary theater deal with the issues of the Black community? Are the issues the same? How may they have changed? What of Wison do you see in contemporary work?

Week 6: April 25, 2020
Plays to Read: Sunset Baby by Dominique Morisseau | The Brothers Size by Tarrell Alvin McCraney

Themes & Questions to Ponder

  • Intersectional Black identities
  • Socioeconomic stress & influence within Black communities
  • A modern look into African American Vernacular English (AAVE)
  • Black joy and spiritual uplift

Suggested Reading: Ruined by Lynn Nottage
Topdog / Underdog by Suzan-Lori Parks and Fences by August Wilson

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