How I Learned What I Learned Director’s Message
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"I dropped out of school, but I didn't drop out of life. I would leave the house each morning and go to the main branch of the Carnegie Library in Oakland where they had all the books in the world... I felt suddenly liberated from the constraints of a pre-arranged curriculum that labored through one book in eight months."

August Wilson

It’s a great honor to return to TheatreWorks with August Wilson’s sublime poetry and indomitable voice of resistance. I jump at any chance to live with the words and wisdom of August— I still remember standing out on the bricks at Oregon Shakespeare Festival on several occasions as August conjured the characters, monologues, and plots of the final three plays he was in the process of completing for his extraordinary American Century Cycle. When giving a talk at Carpenter Hall at OSF in 2002 after seeing my production of The Piano Lesson, starring G. Valmont Thomas and Crystal Fox, August reached into the breast pocket of his jacket and pulled out a sheet of paper. He began to read several stories from his life that he was “trying out” in front of us for a one man show he was planning to premiere at Seattle Rep. That show was How I Learned What I Learned. He wrote and performed that show one year later in 2003.

The stories in How I Learned… are vibrant, humorous, infused with jazz poetry, and capture the voice and life force of August like a mesmerizing spell. What a thrill it’s been to collaborate with Constanza Romero and the rest of this stellar creative team in conceiving a sacred liminal space for veteran Wilson actor Steven Anthony Jones to conjure these potent memories. Spending time in rehearsal with Steven telling these stories and having the privilege of hearing the deeply personal back stories from Constanza has been a magical and unexpected gift.

In a nation still plagued by systemic racism and divided about the teaching and accountability of our racialized history, How I Learned What I Learned is a clarion call. August’s experiences and observations—that we, black and white (all Americans), “are victims of our history,” and that victimization leaves us “staring across a great divide of economics, privilege, and the unmitigated pursuit of happiness”—is urgent, uncannily resonant, and feels like it could have been written today. It has been inspirational to examine and celebrate the legacy of self-respect and self-actualization of the monumental black artist who was the greatest American playwright of the twentieth century.

"Confront the dark parts of yourself, and work to banish them with illumination and forgiveness. Your willingness to wrestle with your demons will cause your angels to sing."

August Wilson

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