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August Wilson’s American Century Cycle Project begins at WNYC!

In his twenties, Ruben Santiago-Hudson saw “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” the first play by August Wilson that appeared on Broadway, and “I was smitten, captured, put in a spell,” he says. “Nobody had represented me with such integrity; nobody seemed to have the love for me and the people I knew like August did.”
Three decades later, having performed in such August Wilson plays as “The Piano Lesson,” “Gem of the Ocean,” and “Seven Guitars,” for which he won a 1996 Tony Award, Santiago-Hudson returned last night to “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” directing the first of an ambitious project to record for radio broadcast all 10 of August Wilson’s American Century Cycle plays within the next month.
Santiago-Hudson, who will perform in “Fences” and “Seven Guitars” and direct three of the plays, is the artistic director of the project. It is the first given permission by the Wilson estate since Wilson’s death in 2005 to record all 10 plays, each set in one of the ten decades of the twentieth century. Each recording session will feature many performers who were in the original casts — the nearly 60 actors include Jesse L. Martin, Phylicia Rashad, and Leslie Uggams — and be presented in front of a live audience at WNYC’s The Greene Space. The video will be livestreamed on The Greene Space website, but only the audio will be preserved, in effect turning Wilson’s plays into radio dramas.
In the video, Santiago-Hudson explains his choices, and several of the performers for the first play, including Clarke Peters and Larry Gilliard Jr. (both from the TV series “The Wire”), as well as associate artistic producer Stephen McKinley Henderson, a consummate interpreter of the playwright who has performed in eight of his 10 plays, describe their love for his work.
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Clarke Peters, Larry Gilliard, Jr. musicians and other cast of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, the first of the recorded shows.

Clarke Peters, Larry Gilliard, Jr. musicians and other cast of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, the first of the recorded shows.

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August Wilson's plays. The left column is organized by when he wrote them. The right column goes chronologically by the year in which the play is set.

August Wilson’s plays.
The left column is organized by when he wrote them. The right column goes chronologically by the year in which the play is set.

 

Schedule at The Greene Space

The shows are sold out, but each will be presented live online at 7 p.m. at The Greene Space website

Monday, August 26
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Wednesday, August 28
Fences

Thursday, August 29
Talk: The Lloyd Richards Effect

Wednesday, September 4
Joe Turner’s Come and Gone

Thursday, September 5
Talk: August Wilson’s Women

Friday, September 6
Talk: Music and Dance

Monday, September 9
The Piano Lesson

Wednesday, September 11
Two Trains Running

Friday, September 13
Seven Guitars

Monday, September 16
Jitney

Tuesday, September 17
Talk: Bringing Black Works to Broadway

Thursday, September 19
Talk: Religion, Spirituality and Africa

Saturday, September 21
King Hedley II (Matinee Presentation)

Saturday, September 21
King Hedley II

Tuesday, September 24
Gem of the Ocean

Wednesday, September 25
Talk: Reminiscences

Saturday, September 28
Radio Golf (Matinee Presentation)

Saturday, September 28
Radio Golf

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About New York Theater
Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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