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The Century Cycle by August Wilson

Agora Foundation Online Intensive -
The Century Cycle by August Wilson
Thursday Afternoons - 12:00-2:00PM PST
February 17 - April 21, 2022

century cycle box set.jpeg

August Wilson - "the theater's poet of Black America"

At the outset of her introduction to a book subtitled, “The Story of the Last Slave,” published in 2018, almost sixty years after her death and shortly before the ship on which that slave had been brought to America was raised out of the muck of Mobile Bay, Zora Neale Hurston stated flatly, “The African slave trade is the most dramatic chapter in the story of human existence.”  Like Odysseus conjuring stories from the Underworld in The Odyssey, the characters in August Wilson’s plays conjure stories out of the centuries-long experience that made the Atlantic Ocean, as one of those characters tells us, “the biggest unmarked graveyard in the world.”  Wilson’s plays are unique in American letters and language. Indeed, they are almost singular in English.  There has been no project like his Century Cycle in the history of the English language, aside from Shakespeare’s history plays, which count about the same number and (excluding an outlier or two) cover a period of national experience of roughly comparable length. Wilson’s dramas, each set in a different decade of the 20th century, nine of the ten in a single neighborhood of a single, unglamorous city, fill to overflowing with the vitality, grit, and grace of the American idiom in speech, poetry, song.  They introduce us to some of the most interesting Americans we may ever meet. Given the realities of traditional American representation of African-American life, Wilson held strong views about the performance of his plays, but the plays themselves, holding the mirror up to nature, show the unbearably tender universal through the unspeakably tough particular.  Somehow, as one of Toni Morrison’s characters says of his beloved, Wilson’s plays give back to us Americans “the pieces (of ourselves), all in the right order” – some of them, anyway.  In an essay on Hawthorne, Herman Melville wrote, “Believe me, my friends, that men not very much inferior to Shakespeare, are this day being born on the banks of the Ohio.”  About fifty years after Melville died, August Wilson was born to a black mother and white father in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, on the banks of the Ohio.  

August Wilson (April 27, 1945 – October 2, 2005) was an American playwright. He is best known for a series of ten plays, named The Century Cycle, which chronicle the experiences and heritage of the African-American community in the 20th century. His works delve into the African American experience as well as examinations of the human condition. Winner of two Tony Awards, two Drama Desk Awards, two Pulitzer Prizes, and nominated for Academy and Primetime Emmy Awards, this collection of plays are each set in a different decade and aim to sketch the Black experience in the 20th century and "raise consciousness through theater" and echo "the poetry in the everyday language of black America".

Chicago's Goodman Theatre was the first theater in the world to produce the entire 10-play cycle, in productions which spanned from 1986 to 2007. His work has drawn several iconic performances onstage from James Earl Jones, Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Angela Bassett, Phylicia Rashad, Laurence Fishburne, L. Scott Caldwell, and Samuel L. Jackson. Davis said of Wilson's writing, "He captures our humor, our vulnerabilities, our tragedies, our trauma. And he humanizes us. And he allows us to talk. Since Wilson's death two of his plays have been adapted into films, Fences (2016), and Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (2020). Denzel Washington has shepherded the films and has vowed to continue his legacy by adapting the rest of his plays into films for a wider audience by saying, "The greatest part of what’s left of my career is making sure that August is taken care of".

​These ten online seminars will take place on Thursday afternoons, 12:00-2:00PM Pacific Time. Our tutor will be Eric Stull. Participants will received a beautiful hardcover ten-play collection as part of the tuition. Groups will be limited to 14 participants and no prior knowledge is required. Teachers will be offered 3 CEU credits for participation as requested, and partial scholarships are available.  


The Century Cycle of August Wilson Online Intensive​ - Dates and Curriculum

Session One (1900s): Thursday, February 17, 2022
12:00-2:00PM PST - 
Gem of the Ocean


Session Two (1910s): Thursday, February 24, 2022
:00PM PST - Joe Turner's Come and Gone


Session Three (1920s): Thursday, March 3, 2022
:00PM PST - Ma Rainey's Black Bottom


Session Four (1930s): Thursday, March 10, 2022
:00PM PST - The Piano Lesson


Session Five (1940s):Thursday, March 17, 2022
:00PM PST - Seven Guitars


Session Six (1950s): Thursday, March 24, 2022
:00PM PST - Fences

Session Seven (1960s): Thursday, March 31, 2022
:00PM PST - Two Trains Running

Session Eight (1970s): Thursday, April 7, 2022
:00PM PST - Jitney

Session Nine (1980s): Thursday, April 14, 2022
:00PM PST - King Hedley II

Session Ten (1990s): Thursday, April 21, 2022
12:00-2:00PM PST - Radio Golf

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