August Wilson: The Ground on Which I Stand, which premieres nationwide tonight on PBS, explores the life and legacy of the playwright who has been called “America’s Shakespeare.”
The program honors the 70th anniversary of Wilson’s birth and the 10th anniversary of his death, as well as Black History Month. It spans his roots as an activist and poet to his achievements on Broadway, and was partly filmed in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, where the bi-racial Wilson was raised in poverty and dropped out of high school because of bullying and prejudice.
Hence, Wilson educated himself in the Pittsburgh public library and city streets and was influenced by the growth of black consciousness in the 1960s. The Ground on Which I Stand follows his transition from young activist poet to successful playwright in Pittsburgh and St. Paul, to his breakthrough at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Playwrights Conference in Waterford, Conn., where he began his life-changing collaboration with mentor-director Lloyd Richards and the nine original Broadway productions that ensued.
The filmmakers enjoyed unprecedented access to Wilson’s theatrical archives and rarely seen interviews, and also produced new dramatic readings of his 10-play cycle chronicling each decade of the 20th-century African-American experience and including the Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning Fences and Pulitzer Prize-winning The Piano Lesson. Among the film and theater luminaries who appear in the film are Viola Davis, Charles Dutton, Laurence Fishburne, James Earl Jones, Suzan-Lori Parks and Phylicia Rashad.
Rashad took part in a panel discussion of the film at Harlem’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture on Feb. 9.
“Each play is different, and yet there is [something] about each play that is the same,” said Rashad. “There’s a very specific appreciation for life, for human existence. I marvel at August’s ability to write about specific people in a specific place in a specific time–and yet what he’s writing, although so specific to those people and to that place and that time, it’s so universal–you can be touched by his universality at any given moment in every play in ways that are grand and pronounced, yet also subtle.”
August Wilson: The Ground on Which I Stand will be available on DVD on Feb. 24 from PBS Distribution.
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