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August Wilson Center - Front & Center » Guest Posts - “Amplifying African American Voices”

Guest Posts

REVIEW: In My Father’s House

Posted in Exhibitions, General, Guest Posts, Review on September 12th, 2010 by Shaunda – Be the first to comment
This past weekend, we opened the first exhibit we ever commissioned,  In My Father’s House. It’s been years in the making–but well worth the wait. Underwritten by UPMC, with additional support from FedEx, it is a mixed-media exhibition designed as five rooms in a house. Each room highlights a distinct approach to preserving and displaying the visual art and material culture of people of African descent.  The rooms tell the story of a fictional Pittsburgh family, their hopes, dreams, struggles and triumphs. Guest blogger Ada Gay Griffin, director of annual giving at The Center, took what she thought would be a few moments to check out the new exhibit. Ada sings praises of the entire exhibit, but in this blog pays homage to the exhibit’s last room, titled “From Drums to Zeros and Ones.”

Inside "In My Father's House"

Inside "In My Father's House"

“From Drums to Zeros and Ones” is a multichannel video installation commissioned by the August Wilson Center for African American Culture for its newest exhibit, In My Father’s House, which opened September 11, 2010. The 8-minute anthem, created by award-winning documentary filmmaker Demetria Royals, is projected in a modern, dimly lit media room decorated with comfy seats and subtle electronic media references.The room and video have the same name.  Here, Royals (Mama’s Push Cart, Conjure Woman) invokes America’s complex heritage of repression, pitted against the intellectual muscle, political action, and sublime creativity wielded by intrepid African Americans resisting the horrors of Middle Passage and its lasting impact.

Culturally-literate, historically-informed and pop-afflicted, this is an emotionally riveting video poem, connecting multiple themes and powerful messages of culture consciousness and social change through media clips, a James Baldwin interview, and a stylized chronolography.

Depicting centuries of repression, struggle and achievement, the mini-documentary is a welcome tribute to both the embattled and the inspired. Images and commentary of 20th century innovators pop up unexpectedly. Text fades in and out, or tracks across the screen. I whisper the names of each fleeting image I recognize - Ethel Waters, Paul Robeson, Marcus Garvey, Phyllis Hyman, Shirley Chisholm…”unbought and unbossed.” The musical parody of the Wings’ hit classic Let ‘Em In at first seems more silly than profound as it sweeps over speeches, sound bites and brief shots of trailblazers that flicker by. All of a sudden, the enduring duality of African American experiences and expressions, represented throughout the entire exhibit, clicks in. And it feels just right.

Sorcerer’s Village, Romare Bearden, Serigraph, 1972

Sorcerer’s Village, Romare Bearden, Serigraph, 1972

The fifth and final installation in the 5-room exhibit, “From Drums to Zeros and Ones” is an appropriate finale for In My Father’s House. The total exhibit is brimming with masterpieces by Romare Bearden, spectacular photography, African American paintings, African masks and fabrics, an experimental video, as well as period furnishings, chosen by, and in some instances created by, the five curators responsible for assembling the meticulously researched art and artifacts placed in each of the rooms.  This is an exhibit for everyone and well worth the price of bus fare, parking, or a skipped lunch on a Saturday or weekday afternoon. One of the messages here is that regardless of your class, color, age, or education, any lived-in environment can be seen as a gallery of memories and of aspirations, depicted in objects of many forms, collected and displayed because they are important, because they are beautiful. Visit the August Wilson Center soon.

Ada Gay Griffin

Editor’s Note: In My Father’s House will be up through July 2011 at The Center, 980 Liberty Avenue, Downtown Pittsburgh. Hours are 11 am to 6 pm Tuesday through Saturday. Admission is a suggested donation of $5 for adults, $3 for seniors and students and free ages 5 and under and members. For information, call 412.258.2700 or visit AugustWilsonCenter.org.

Let’s Kick This Thing offRight!

Posted in General, Guest Posts on July 7th, 2010 by Shaunda – Be the first to comment

At a loss for what to do this Tomorrow? Ladies and Gentleman have no fear the August Wilson Center has the solution. This Thursday July 8th is the kick off of two new weekly programs held here at the August Wilson Center. I know…you’re so excited you can barely contain yourself! But just keep reading, there is more to come!

For the leisurely lunch crowd, check out Lunch On Liberty from 11 am - 2 pm this and EVERY THURSDAY through September 2nd. Bring your friends and soak up the sun on our patio, located at 980 Liberty Avenue. Bring your own lunch or enjoy food from Cory’s Deli, who will be grilling out on our patio for the month of July! There will be live entertainment and FREE WIFI to help enhance your lunching experience. This week Joy Ike will be playing the lunch set…so prepare yourself for some great music and good food!

Joy Ike

Now for you late night hipsters, we’ve got you covered too. offCenter also starts this thursday with a second chance to hear Joy Ike perform from 5:30 - 8 pm. Followed by The Peace Project from 9 - 10:30 pm! There will be food provided by Abay Ethiopian Cuisine (who made a special menu for offCenter) for the month of July and a cash bar available as well. Food, drink, WIFI, great music, and a cool atmosphere. What else could a late night crowd want? There will also be opportunities to sign up for our mailing list (so you can stay in the loop) and to respond to the question for this coming seasons theme! You don’t want to miss it.

The Peace Project

The kick off starts TOMORROW with Lunch On Liberty and continues into the evening with offCenter! Don’t forget to come on down to the center and be apart of it. If by some chance you miss it (which you shouldn’t!) then remember that these programs run every Thursday through September 2nd, same place same time!

Check AugustWilsonCenter.org for updates on who’s performing each week!

Our Haiti: Words from Daniel Bernard Roumain

Posted in Community, Events, General, Guest Posts on January 25th, 2010 by Shaunda – Be the first to comment
Innovative composer, performer, band leader, artist Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR) is not just passionate about the music he births out of his marriage to classical, funk, hip-hop and rock music–this Haitian American violinist is passionate about the country that holds his heritage. Much of Haiti’s Port-Au-Prince has collapsed from the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that ripped through the region January 12, leaving 200,000 and counting feared to be dead. Since then, DBR, like so many others, has been working feverishly to do whatever he can to help his Haiti.

DBR and the queen of Haitian pop, Emeline Michel, wrote the following post, and wanted us to share it with you.

Our HaitiDaniel Bernard Roumain

At this moment, in this desperate hour, I am overwhelmed with grief for all of those lost, suffering, and struggling with the realities of this deepening disaster. I am not at all certain what my response should be, and I’m gripped by a feeling of helplessness.

Emeline Michel and I are determined to do all that we can for our Haitian brothers and sisters, and we’re grateful that an array of musicians and artists are joining together in a journey of hope towards Haiti’s recovery and rebirth. We are providing websites and links for you to respond immediately, and planning concerts and other special events that will be a march towards the reconstruction and resurrection of our island-nation-one that has given us so much while never asking for anything in return. We will rebuild, we must rebuild, and in doing so, we begin the process of helping and healing those who now need us the most, now, and in the coming months and years.

Nothing is as powerful as the will of a nation to survive, the strength of people to believe, and the miracle of the individual boldly acting towards world-wide change.

–Daniel Bernard Roumain and Emeline Michel

DBR at the August Wilson Center 2/6

DBR at the August Wilson Center 2/6


EDITOR’S NOTE: DBR will be in concert at the August Wilson Center 8 pm Saturday, February 6. In our response to the earthquake, $3 from every ticket sold for this concert will be donated to Brother’s Brother Foundation for Haiti relief efforts.

Also, during hours of operation, the Center is accepting brand new personal items, including baby wipes, non-liquid soap and toothpaste, among other things that Brother’s Brother send to the country.

Great Connections

Posted in General, Guest Posts, Review on January 19th, 2010 by Shaunda – Be the first to comment
A big welcome to one of our new guest bloggers, Charlene Foggie Barnett, who we’ve featured in past articles for her participation in the August Wilson Center’s production of The Women of the Hill. Charlene, an enthusiastic and dedicated arts supporter, attended Alonzo King LINES Ballet when they performed in front of a packed house on both January 15 & 16. The following is her perspective of the evening.

I’m always fascinated about how situations are connected in the experiences of living. For the past decade, I’ve given my daughter–an 18-year-old dancer–a yearly wall calendar of ballet, modern or contemporary dancers. For the past several years, I’ve selected a calendar

Corey Scott-Gilbert

Corey Scott-Gilbert

whose monthly images are static shots, of the formidable dancers in the Alonzo King LINES Ballet Company. As we entered the August Wilson Center on Saturday evening, my daughter said to me, “you do know that this is the company whose calendars you’ve been giving me.”  I replied, “I hadn’t realized that, but I felt so compelled to see this show when I saw it advertised on the Center’s Web site.”

And it was a real treat. The performance opened with the piece Signs and Wonders, as an undulating cast of strong male dancers took the stage by force. The traditional African music appropriately accompanied the piece in intricate, pulsating rhythms. This was an impressive introduction to the company’s dynamic mentoring (by Alonzo King), coupled with superb technique.

Meredith Webster

Meredith Webster

The standouts for me were a very tall young man, whose limbs seemingly stretched across the expanse of the stage, and a shorter, stockier male dancer, who alternated between displays of strength and graceful prowess. As the enticing ladies in the company later joined them en pointe, each one demonstrated their elegantly woven fortitude. The women bore the ballet in twists and contortions that are not often

performed with such ease and grace. It looked effortless, and yet, I knew “effort” was a major point of the piece.  After a short intermission, the company performed “Refraction.” This piece, albeit very different from the first, was more melodic and swayed me into a comfortable trance, yet it’s complexities, such as the intricate daisy chain near the conclusion, persistently enticed the audience. Lighting played a unique part, and the music, by Jason Moran, was so enjoyable that I searched for it in iTunes. The relational stance between dancers, seemed to individually “pop,” while still being veiled by their unending cohesion, as a whole.

As anticipated, the event was spectacular, and my daughter and her friends enjoyed every minute of it. As usual, the audience included many of those connected to dance in Pittsburgh - Dance Council

Artist Director/Founder Alonzo King

Artist Director/Founder Alonzo King

members, teachers and dancers from Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, Creative And Performing Arts High School and Dance Alloy to name a few. But the theater was filled to capacity, with a variety of enthusiastic patrons of the arts. I sat in the very last row of the balcony, behind a large group of youngsters, ranging from ages 7 to 12, whose interest never wavered from what they observed on stage. That’s probably because, as I can attest (having been seated all over the theater), there is not a bad seat in the August Wilson Center house.

Immediately following the performance, several of the dancers treated audience members who chose to stay, with a question and answer “Artist Talk” session. Nature had been calling me, so I rushed off to the facilities, but those who attended told me it was a great opportunity to get to know more about Alonzo King’s vision and the company members. Afterward, as I chatted with friends in the lobby, the tallest male

Alonzo King and Laurel Keen

Alonzo King and Laurel Keen

dancer from LINES was leaving the theater. As fate would have it, a (young male) dancer friend of our family, who attends CAPA and PBT, was introduced to the LINES dancer and enjoyed a moment of encouraging conversation.

You’ve got to appreciate the August Wilson Center - not just for the great shows they bring to Pittsburgh, but for the hospitable manner in which these acts are presented. Also, at the end of a performance, I never feel pressured to abruptly leave, as I often do in other theatres, but rather enjoy browsing the well-stocked gift shop, and sharing a brief moment of conversation with friends. Thanks once again, AWC, for a lovely evening of entertainment and connection!

- August Wilson Center Patron, Charlene Foggie Barnett

OTHER COVERAGE:

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh City Paper
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (article 2)
CrossCurrents
CrossCurrents (article 2)
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

EDITOR’S NOTE: Coming up next– February 6, 8 pmDaniel Bernard Roumain (DBR), a classically trained composer, performer, violinist and band-leader noted for blending funk, rock, hip-hop and classical music into an energetic and experiential sonic form.

Regina Carter Review: To Know Her, Is to Love Her

Posted in Events, General, Guest Posts, Review on January 2nd, 2010 by Shaunda – Be the first to comment
The following is a guest-post from arts and cultural enthusiast Carmen Ramsey Ellington. Carmen, an avid supporter of the August Wilson Center, attended the Regina Carter concert in December. Internationally acclaimed jazz violinist Regina Carter and her quartet performed pieces from her Paganini project along with music from Mali, Senegal and Uganda. Carter brought sold-out audiences to their feet with a musical style Time magazine called “probingly intelligent” and “breathtakingly daring.” This concert was presented in partnership with MCG Jazz. Carmen wanted to share her experience at the August Wilson Center with you.

Regina Carter

Regina Carter

Breathtaking.

That single word has reverberated in my mind since my mother and I had the pleasure of seeing Regina Carter and her band in concert at the August Wilson Center on December 12th.  Neither of us had ever seen Carter perform and in fact knew almost nothing about her or her music.  We were attending the concert primarily to support the Center.  Carter’s talent drew the two neophytes in, and quickly.

She opened her show with a lush, romantic piece by Habib Koite, who, coincidentally, will be performing at the August Wilson Center in mid-March 2010.  My first thought was that the song belonged on the soundtrack of a sweeping romantic epic, set somewhere like Mozambique or Cote D’Ivoire.  My second thought was that she should come back to the Center in March and perform the song with Koite.  She had my undivided attention from the very first note to the very last.

Regina Carter

Regina Carter

I felt as though I was being treated to an auditory travelogue.  The music took me to places I’ve never seen:  Uganda, Mali, Madagascar.  The melodies were at turns serious and cheeky.  The band’s 20-minute tribute to post-Katrina New Orleans was so rollicking, I had to remember that I wasn’t in the midst of Mardi Gras and had to remain in my seat.  The band also played a song in tribute to the arts and supporters of the arts.  It was a wonderful piece that made me think of all the reasons why arts education is so important.  Music truly is a universal language, one that should be cultivated and taught at an early age.

Carter was, of course, the evening’s focal point, but her band was amazing as well. I loved how well they meshed, and how Carter gave each plenty of room to shine.  Each one of the gentlemen in her band brought something unique to the evening, but surprisingly, the one who sticks out in my mind the most is Will Holshouser, the accordion player.  I never imagined that accordion music could be romantic and a bit sexy.  And Yacouba Sissoko, the kora (West African harp) player, was simply captivating.

Capitvating.  Sexy.  Romantic.  Breathtaking.  Regina Carter and her band were all that and then some.

–Carmen Ramsey Ellington

The Real ‘Women of the Hill’ Talk

Posted in Events, General, Guest Posts on January 2nd, 2010 by Shaunda – 2 Comments
The Women of the Hill
The following is a guest-post from Norma Thompson and Charlene Foggie Barnett — two of the six women who had the opportunity to act out their life stories on the August Wilson Center stage in “The Women of the Hill.” The stage piece, produced and directed by Ping Chong and Talvin Wilks, embodied the legacy of the strong women at the heart of African American culture–specifically Pittsburgh’s historical Hill District. Norma and Charlene wanted to share their experiences with you. The play and the women were the featured cover story in the Pittsburgh City Paper on November 19, 2009.

Forever Changed

Norma Thompson

Norma Thompson

One of the greatest experiences of my life was working in the production of The Women of the Hill. The producers, Ping Chong and Talvin Wilks, were excellent. Our technical staff, stage manager, and all others who worked with us had so much spirit and understanding.

Each of our stories was unique in their own way, but they wove a tapestry of the similar experiences of our lives and the history of the Hill District. The play set us on a journey together through the years -where we shared our ups and downs, triumphs and failures, hopes and fears - from the oldest to the youngest in the cast. The audience also traveled in the journey with us, and I am constantly hearing how our stories touched their lives. The audience shares in our bond with their hope for all good things to come to the Hill.

The six of us formed a bond that I hope will never be broken. Kimberly, Marlene, Phillis, Brenda, Charlene, and I have a sisterhood that looks forward to all the wonderful things the future will bring to the Hill District.

–Norma Thompson

A Wonderful Sisterhood

From the moment I became aware of the play, “The Women of the Hill,” I felt magnetically drawn to the process. Simply put, I feel that my being cast in this play was a dream come true, and I will always cherish how seamlessly my “worlds” came together.

The thought of performing was not frightening to me, because I was a theatre major in college and have performed many times since, but never for anything as personal, nor historically significant as this. I gulped each time I remembered that this play was to be included in a celebration of the great playwright, August Wilson and his homage to the strength of the black women he encapsulated in the character, Aunt Esther, of his historic Pittsburgh Cycle of plays. The thought of being a performer in this beautiful theatre, in its inaugural season, was at times, unfathomable to me.

Once confirmed that I was indeed in this play, I couldn’t wait for the rehearsal process to start and to meet the other ladies chosen. The evening finally came when I walked into the August Wilson Center, and we were introduced to one another. Immediately, we started filling in connective links as to how we might know each other, and our family and friends. Talvin Wilks, our writer/director, gave us a script overview, and discussed the next phases of the production. We did our first reading of a portion of the play, and it started to come clear to us, how this unique presentation would be performed. We all left filled with anticipation for the next meeting, and a sense of sisterhood and camaraderie began to unfold. Talvin brought treats for us to nibble on for each session, as many of us were coming from work for rehearsals, but then one cast mate made us some tasty chili one evening, and that set the tone for all of us to take turns bringing something to keep our energy up for the two weeks of rehearsals, prior to the show. One thing that stood out about our cast was it’s strong faith in God, and we prayed before each rehearsal and performance, for His honor and glory. We gave cast and crew members rides and helped each other in any way, necessary.

Charlene Foggie Barnett

Charlene Foggie Barnett

In the course of these weeks, we had rewrites, and script changes everyday, as things had to be tightened for the pace of the show. It was often quite hard to relinquish a beloved storyline, but we came to understand and appreciate the stride we needed to allow the performance to take. Along with rehearsals came television, radio, and newspaper interviews and photo sessions. We made our costume selections, which basically was to be any outfit in which we felt comfortable and most like ourselves.

In addition, Ping Chong always includes a potluck dinner with the cast and crew, prior to the production of his shows. I was privileged to host the potluck in my home, which was like having our own Thanksgiving with our new “Women of the Hill” family. We even celebrated two birthdays.

Finally the day came to hold our first rehearsal on the main stage. The script, lighting, music, props, and costumes - everything was coming together. We were all very excited, and at times edgy, because changes come fast in live theatre, and adapting quickly is essential. The full production staff, from our director’s, and stage manager all the way to the wardrobe mistress, was all wonderfully accommodating and supportive of any thing we needed. Before each actual show, Talvin and Ping led us in “theatre games” on stage, which cemented the vibrations of everyone’s feelings, and created a sense of trust between we six actors.

The performances felt magical, and although we were nervous, we gained strength from each other and through the response of the audience. It was very difficult to do our last show. We had only done one weekend together, but it felt like saying goodbye to a season long run! Many of the “professionals” commented on our positive attitude, and I can attest that I have never felt so connected to both cast and crew, in any other show I’ve ever done. I’ve had countless emails of praise from friends and audience members who attended the show. I was also stopped at the grocery store by a new couple to the Pittsburgh area, who said the piece taught them so much about the Hill District’s rich history, and they are even more proud to call Pittsburgh their new home.

My gratitude for this opportunity knows no bounds. The spirit of the August Wilson Center staff is as beautiful and impressive as the facility they work in. Ping Chong and Talvin Wilks brought the best of our collective pasts to light, and patiently gave us the confidence and poise to reveal our stories. In turn, we were honored to bring a positive view of our beloved Hill District, to the world. My thanks to my fellow cast mates, for their respect, love and friendship. I am truly blessed!

–Charlene Foggie Barnett