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THEATRE

BLM Theatre Company

An Enduring Theatrical Contribution to Black Lives Matter

Me?

It was while attending a workshop in Chicago at Steppenwolf in 2000 that I took pot luck with a show at the Goodman theatre. It was August Wilson’s ‘King Hedley II’. To my shame, I had never heard of August Wilson until that evening, but I was so impressed by the show that I looked out for his work whenever performed thereafter; and have had the immense privilege of seeing most of his cycle of ten plays which describe the experience of African Americans across ten decades:

  • Gem of the Ocean (set in the 1900s) at the Tricycle theatre, London 2006
  • Joe Turner's Come and Gone (set in the 1910s) at the Young Vic theatre, London 2010
  • Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (set in the 1920s) at the Royale theatre, New York 2003, and at the National theatre, London (3 times!) 2016
  • The Piano Lesson (set in the 1930s) not yet seen
  • Seven Guitars (set in the 1940s) not yet seen
  • Fences (set in the 1950s) at the Duchess theatre, London 2013 and movie 2017
  • Two Trains Running (set in the 1960s) not yet seen
  • Jitney (set in the 1970s) at the National theatre, London 2001
  • King Hedley II (set in the 1980s) at the Goodman theatre, Chicago 2000, and at Stratford East, London 2018
  • Radio Golf (set in the 1990s) at the Tricycle theatre, London 2008

I found each play I saw to be on a par with Eugene O’Neil (my summit of praise!) but with the added quality of the entire cycle being more than the sum of its parts. It is a unique cultural contribution unmatched by any other playwright of the 20th or 21st century and, to my mind, of momentous historic importance.

To my astonishment, my ignorance of August Wilson in 2000 is matched today in the UK by that of virtually everybody I know outside the theatre community despite the fact he has had two Pulitzers and a theatre on Broadway named in his honour. My personal ambition was one day (when I had the funds!) to produce the entire cycle (a bit like Wagner’s ring cycle) so that the world could properly appreciate the immensity of August Wilson’s achievement.

The Black Lives Matter movement has made me re-think my personal ambition and realise now is the time for a social and cultural mission on a much larger scale, which recognises and promotes an extraordinary black playwright, employs black actors on a permanent basis and contributes an enduring theatrical contribution to Black Lives Matter (BLM) by acknowledging the genius of black theatre.

Find out more about the BLM Theatre initiative.

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