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Theater: April 18 symposium to commemorate August Wilson’s seminal speech on race and diversity in theater

 

 

Princeton’s McCarter Theatre  and Princeton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts will host a symposium on April 18 commemorating the 20th anniversary of the late August Wilson’s seminal speech, “The Ground on Which I Stand.” That speech was delivered in 1996 from the stage of the McCarter’s Matthew’s Theatre addressing questions of race, diversity, and cultural identity in the American Theater.

The symposium, scheduled from 1-5 p.m. at McCarter Theatre, 91 University Place, Princeton, is free and open to the public but space is limited and reservations are required. Call (609) 258-2787 to reserve a seat.

“The Ground on Which I Stand” triggered an industry-wide debate after Wilson forcefully and eloquently presented a manifesto as a black man and playwright in America’s cultural landscape.

Wilson (1945-2005) was a Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning playwright whose body of work is considered as one of the most important and searing portrayals of African American life in the 20th century. His work included a set of 10 plays, known as the Pittsburgh Cycle, each of which was set in a different decade. Those plays included “Fences,” “The Piano Lesson,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.”

The April 18 symposium will not only include a reading of Wilson’s original speech, but will explore how things have and have not changed in the 20 years since the speech was originally presented. In addition to panel discussions, the symposium will also include an open town hall discussion.

 

Wilson originally presented “The Ground on Which I Stand” as the keynote speech during the 1996 Theatre Communications Group (TCG) annual conference held at McCarter Theatre Center. The speech was a searing oratory on everything from appropriation and white privilege to funding inequities.

Here is a preliminary schedule for the symposium:

MONDAY, APRIL 18 – McCARTER THEATRE 

1pm: Welcome and Reading of “The Ground on Which I Stand”

2pm: As The Ground Shifts: Tracking Seismic Changes in Race and Gender Representation
Princeton’s Dean of the College and Professor of English and Theater Jill Dolan moderates a conversation with theater professionals, reflecting on the context of Wilson’s speech and subsequent debates, examining the contemporary history of representation in American theater, and discussing what has and has not shifted in the past twenty years.

Jill Dolan is the Dean of the College and the Annan Professor in English and Professor of Theater at Princeton University, where she also directed the Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies from 2009-15. She is the author of The Feminist Spectator as Critic (1989, reissued in a 2012 anniversary edition with a new introduction and extended bibliography); Utopia in Performance: Finding Hope at the Theatre (2005); Theatre & Sexuality (2010); The Feminist Spectator in Action: Feminist Criticism for Stage and Screen (2013); and many other books and essays. In 2013, she received Distinguished Scholar Award for Outstanding Career Achievement in Scholarship in the Field of Theatre Studies from the American Society for Theatre Research. In 2011, she won the Outstanding Teacher Award from the Association for Theatre in Higher Education and a lifetime achievement award from the Women and Theatre Program. She writes The Feminist Spectator blog at http://feministspectator.princeton.edu, for which she won the 2010-2011 George Jean Nathan Award for dramatic criticism.

3pm: The Ground from Which We Step: Wilson’s Legacy and Our Contemporary Conversations
Princeton University Assistant Professor of Theater, Brian Herrera, moderates a discussion with artists and theater professionals, exploring how the legacy of Wilson’s speech has impacted their own careers, considering today’s conversation around diversity, and expressing their hopes for the future of inclusion and parity in the theater.

Brian Eugenio Herrera is, by turns, a writer, teacher and scholar presently based in New Jersey, but forever rooted in New Mexico. He is Assistant Professor of Theater at Princeton University. His work, both academic and artistic, examines the history of gender, sexuality and race within and through U.S. popular performance. He is the author of The Latina/o Theatre Commons 2013 National Convening: A Narrative Report (HowlRound, 2015) and his book Latin Numbers: Playing Latino in Twentieth-Century U.S. Popular Performance (Michigan, 2015) was recently awarded the George Jean Nathan Prize for Dramatic Criticism. Also a performer, his autobiographical solo show I Was the Voice of Democracy has been seen in more than a dozen states, as well as Beirut and Abu Dhabi, since 2010; he is currently developing two new storywork shows, Boy Like That and Touch Tones. Brian is also presently at work on two new book projects: Starring Miss Virginia Calhoun and Casting – A History, a historical study of the material practices of casting in US popular performance.

4pm: Town Hall Discussion

A moderated town hall discussion will follow both panels, providing attendees an opportunity to join the conversation as they reflect on and discuss the themes and stories shared earlier in the day.

 

 

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This entry was posted on February 22, 2016 by in Black Arts News, Black Theater and tagged , , , , , , , .
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