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Beyond the Century Cycle: August Wilson's Huntington Homecoming

August and Todd

Todd Kreidler with August Wilson

In 1986, the Huntington Theatre Company began its longtime collaboration with playwright August Wilson on the production of Joe Turner’s Come and Gone. Since then, all ten plays of his acclaimed Century Cycle have been produced at the Huntington; seven of them before they went to Broadway. Now the stories that shaped Wilson’s work are shared by two of his close collaborators: Wilson’s dramaturg Todd Kreidler, the co-conceiver and director of August Wilson’s How I Learned What I Learned, and actor Eugene Lee, who appeared in many of Wilson’s productions. Both men were friends of the late playwright and were profoundly impacted by Wilson’s life and work.

The collaboration between Todd Kreidler and August Wilson began in 1999 as Kreidler worked on the original production of Wilson’s King Hedley II. Both men were natives of Pittsburgh, and through their  shared experience, they developed an artistic and working relationship that would last until the end of Wilson’s life in 2005. “We made a strangelooking couple,” Kreidler explains in an interview with Pittsburgh Magazine, “Me, a babyfaced white kid and one of the world’s most prominent playwrights.” After King Hedley II, Kreidler became Wilson’s dramaturg and assisted in researching and advising Wilson’s later works. Under Wilson’s mentorship, Kreidler also became a playwright. Kreidler recalls Wilson saying to him, “If you’re gonna write, man, be a writer. Don’t stand out there hesitating. Man, you gotta stand up and claim it.” Kreidler went on to become the book writer for the Broadway musical Holler If Ya Hear Me inspired by rapper Tupac Shakur and to adapt Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, which was staged at the Huntington in 2014.

Wilson, Kreidler, and Lee all worked on Gem of the Ocean, the last play Wilson rehearsed at the Huntington in 2004 before his health declined. As Wilson and Kreidler were working on Gem of the Ocean, they were also steadily crafting Wilson’s theatrical memoir How I Learned What I Learned. The two worked tirelessly on the project, and Kreidler recognized the importance of telling Wilson’s story in Wilson’s own words. Kreidler recalls with fondness the impact Wilson had on him: “It was probably one of the greatest relationships in my life. He was best friend. He was father. He was brother.”

“It was probably one of the greatest relationships in my life. He was best friend. He was father. He was brother.”

Beyond Gem of the Ocean, actor Eugene Lee also returned to perform in the Huntington’s productions of Radio Golf in 2006 and Fences in 2009, as well as in three other plays in the Century Cycle at theatres throughout the country. Lee is excited to bring Wilson’s voice back to life: “Having worked with August and having heard some of these accounts from this play first hand, gives me just a wonderful joy in my heart to lift these things up, to share them, to share his insights, his perspectives on his time, to share things that were the catalyst for his compelling, dedicated work.” As an actor, Lee felt that Wilson’s work allowed him to stretch his boundaries and to tell stories with honest,

August and Constanza

Constanza Romero with August Wilson

complex, and heartfelt characters. “One of the things that I have always enjoyed about my profession as an actor is the fact that I don’t always know what my next job is going to ask me to know. I’ve been a construction worker, I’ve been a preacher, I’ve been a man who freed and ran away with slaves — all thanks to August Wilson,” remarks Lee. Wilson played the title role in the original production that premiered in Seattle in 2003. Seven years later, Kreidler was ready to take the show on the road again with other actors performing the titular role in Wilson’s final play, and Constanza Romero, Wilson's widow and executor of his estate, as creative consultant and costume designer. 

Wilson’s work is not only preserved on stage, but also in educational programs throughout the country. “In high school, I read The Glass Menagerie. I read Death of a Salesman. How are we going to be sure kids encounter Fences?,” Kreidler asked in a conversation with longtime director of Wilson’s works Kenny Leon. From that question, the two created the August Wilson Monologue Competition. The Boston component of this nationwide event is facilitated by the education department at the Huntington and is open to schools throughout the greater Boston area. The program culminates in a national competition performed at the August Wilson Theatre in New York City. This production of August Wilson’s How I Learned What I Learned is intrinsically linked with Wilson’s specific vision, and is being brought to life by collaborators and friends of the late, iconic playwright.

— PHAEDRA SCOTT


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