The Bearden painting depicts a young girl sitting at a piano with her piano teacher standing over her. August Wilson was born Frederick August Kittel on April 27, 1945 in the predominantly Black Hill District of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Piano Lesson, set in 1936 Pittsburgh, was written in 1989, and was Wilson’s fifth installment in the “10-play cycle experiment” which garnered him his second Pulitzer Prize for Playwriting in 1990 and a New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award.
The Piano Lesson was first presented as a staged reading at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center’s National Playwrights’ Conference in December 1987.
Tisch Jones, director of the current Mainstage production, believes that the play is about ritual and wants audiences to be “changed, mandated…provoked.” She invites them to witness “our American history…the history of Black folks,” and in the words of DuBois, a theatre that is “for us, by us, near us and about us.” Enjoy!
NOTICE: The State University of Iowa Foundation is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization soliciting tax-deductible private contributions for the benefit of The University of Iowa. This juxtaposition of the two: the woman standing over the girl, inspired Wilson to create the play’s central female character, Berniece along with her daughter, Maretha…as well as the dramatic conflict that ensues.

He was one of six children born to Daisy Wilson (he would later change his last name to Wilson in honor of his mother) and a German immigrant father who worked as a baker and for whom he was named.
It was directed by Lloyd Richards, then Artistic Director of the Conference and Dean of the Yale School of Drama. That conflict being between Berniece and her brother, Boy Willie who has just arrived at Berniece's home in the Hill District of Pittsburgh from Sunflower County, Mississippi with the intention of convincing his sister to sell the 135-year old family heirloom piano (that Berniece refuses to ever play) so that he may take his portion of the money to purchase land back in Mississippi. Wilson’s father deserted the family when Wilson was five years old leaving his mother to raise her six children in a two-bedroom apartment above a grocery store that still stands today and was designated as a state historic site in May 2007. This partnership between Richards and Wilson would be the first of several collaborations to follow. Wilson continues, “…I thought the woman would be a character who was trying to acquire a sense of self-worth by denying her past. It is safe to say that Richards was partially, if not wholly responsible for Wilson’s success as a playwright.

Williams founded the Centre Avenue Poets’ Theatre Workshop in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, which would eventually evolve into the Black Horizon Theater, a “Black Nationalist theatre company” inspired by the Black Arts Movement and Amiri Baraka’s Black Arts Repertory Theatre. Two of Wilson’s early plays were Recycling, produced for community houses throughout the Pittsburgh area and Jitney, the first of Wilson’s “10-play cycle,” a play written for each decade of the 20th Century chronicling Black American life.
The play would have a subsequent production at Boston’s Huntington Theatre Company in January 1988 and eventually opened on Broadway at the Walter Kerr Theatre in April 1990 with S.

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