NEW YORK CITY: New York Public Radio and the August Wilson estate, led by executor Constanza Romero, have announced that the audio recordings of the playwright’s American Century Cycle, recorded at the Jerome L. Greene Performance Space in 2013, will be archived in 15 cultural institutions across the nation. The recordings will be made available onsite to scholars, historians, and artists as an educational resource.
“I can’t imagine a more meaningful moment than now to make these historic recordings available to the next generation of artists and scholars, as people take to the streets across the world to speak truth to power,” said Romero, Wilson’s widow, in a statement. “When Indira approached me with this idea back in 2012, it was truly an idea whose time had come and one that I knew would be profoundly meaningful to the legacy of my husband. The pilgrimage that historians, educators, dramaturgs, and theatre artists will make to these locations across the nation is a profound way to keep August’s legacy authentically alive and well for generations to come.”
Wilson’s American Century Cycle is a series of 10 plays about the Black experience in America throughout the 20th century, all but one set in Pittsburgh’s Hill District. Directors for the project included Kenny Leon, Phylicia Rashad, Michele Shay, and the late Marion McClinton. The recorded readings feature many actors reprising the roles they performed onstage, including Leslie Uggams, Anthony Chisholm, Brandon Dirden, Russell Hornsby, the late Roger Robinson, Keith David, Ebony Jo-Ann, John Earl Jelks, Roslyn Ruff, S. Epatha Merkerson, Jerome Preston Bates, Taraji P. Henson, and the late Chadwick Boseman. The readings were scored with original music by the late Bill Sims Jr. and other composers who worked with Wilson.
The institutions that will house the recordings onsite will include the August Wilson African American Cultural Center in Pittsburgh; the Billie Holiday Theatre in Brooklyn; California Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles, Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H.; Howard University in Washington, D.C.; the Juilliard School, New York City; New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, New York City; New York University, New York City; National Museum of African History and Culture in Washington, D.C.; Northwestern University, Chicago; North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston Salem, N.C.; the University of Pittsburgh; the Schomburg Center at NYPL in New York City; Atlanta University Center Consortium with Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, and Spelman College, Atlanta; and Yale Drama School in New Haven, Conn. The estate of August Wilson will work with each institution to ensure the integrity of the recordings, as they are made available to the public solely onsite as a resource for research and educational purposes.
“The profound joy of being in a space with close to 100 Black theatre artists and creating a blueprint for the next generation to follow,” said Santiago-Hudson in aa statement, “is only eclipsed by now being able to share them with institutions across the nation to inform historians, educators, dramaturgs, and theatre practitioners who want to ensure the work going forward is rooted in the blues, the rhythms, the souls of Black folks.”
In addition to the release of the recordings, Wilson’s work will come to the screen in the film adaptation of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, which will be released on Netflix Dec. 18. The streaming service will also later release “Giving Voice,” a documentary about the August Wilson Monologue competition, with appearances by Viola Davis and Denzel Washington.
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