FENCESEXPLORING THE PLAY1What is meant by the concept of the“American Dream”? How do Troy andCory each view the American Dream?Why do their views differ? Do youthink the American Dream issomething that can come true forpeople in your generation?How does August Wilson’sperspective on the American Dreamcompare to perspectives on theAmerican Dream presented in otherliterature you’ve read?2Is Troy a heroic character, a tragiccharacter, a bit of both, or neither? Why?34Fences is set in 1957. How do thedefining characteristics of this erainfluence the characters and the eventsin the play? In what ways might thecharacters’ lives differ if the story hadbeen set in 1937, before World War II?How would they differ if the story tookplace in 1967, or today?K ey Quote:“ Some people build fences to keeppeople out and other people buildfences to keep people in.”—Jim Bono, Act 2Set in1957A father’sfrustration with hisown past threatenshis son’s futureWhat does the fence-building projectrepresent for each of the Maxsons(Troy, Rose, and Cory)?Pulitzer Prize WinnerDRAMA1987
FENCESBEYOND THE PLAY: YOUR VOICE, YOUR COMMUNITYIN YOUR BACKYARDWhen Troy was a young player at the top of his game,Major League Baseball was segregated. By the time theLeague was integrated, Troy was considered too oldto play in it. Research Negro League teams that wereestablished in or near your community. Who were someof the standout players? What happened to them afterthe integration of Major League Baseball?Troy’s LegacyImagine Cory’s life after the events that took place inFences. Write a monologue for him set in the future,when he is Troy’s age.EXPRESSION PROJECTHer Story: Write a one-act sequel or prequel toFences, with Rose as the central character. Write aone-act sequel to Fences with Raynell as the centralcharacter. Share your work with the August WilsonEducation Project at wqed.org/augustwilson/toolkit/share or [email protected].
GEM OF THE OCEANEXPLORING THE PLAY1In Gem of the Ocean, Aunt Esterspeaks of the “City of Bones,” amythical city at the bottom of theocean representing the burial place ofan estimated 15% of the 11–13 millionenslaved Africans who perished duringthe Middle Passage on ships fromAfrica to the Americas during theAtlantic slave trade.Read Aunt Ester’s descriptions ofthe City of Bones and then make adrawing, painting, or collage of it.What do you imagine it looks like?2After visualizing the City of Bones,write a one-act play that is set therefrom start to finish.3A unt Ester is known in the communityas a “washer of souls.” She takesCitizen Barlow on a symbolic, lifechanging trip to the City of Bones.Why does this trip have such aprofound impact on Citizen?How does it cleanse his soul?Set in1904Through thepower of memory,a man takes amystical journeytoward freedomand redemptionTony Award NomineeBEST PLAY2005
GEM OF THE OCEANBEYOND THE PLAY: YOUR VOICE, YOUR COMMUNITYIN YOUR BACKYARDBefore Emancipation, Solly Two Kings and Eli were partof the Underground Railroad. Research nearby historicsites, museums, parks, libraries and monuments inyour area to find out if any of these landmarks werestops on the Underground Railroad. If so, create abrochure about these places that could be used by yourcommunity’s visitors’ center or tourism board. A list ofknown sites can be found at oad/locations.Key Quote: “The people made a kingdom out of nothing.”—Aunt Ester describing the City of BonesAunt Ester’s words also describe the resilience of theenslaved Africans who survived Middle Passage, and of theirdescendants. Starting with nothing, or very little, AfricanAmericans formed communities, built businesses, createdart forms (jazz, blues), and more. Ask your older relatives orneighbors to describe a time when they created “somethingout of nothing.” Record these interviews. Choose one as thebasis for a piece of creative writing.Who Keeps the Collective Memory?At nearly 300 years old, Aunt Ester embodies the Africanpresence in America, beginning with slavery. As such, sheholds the collective memory and wisdom of her community.How do the elders and wisepersons in your family andin your community keep the collective memory of yourculture? What memories do they hold and have passeddown to you? Record these memories (conduct interviewsas needed). How does collective memory help sustain anduplift a family or community? Compare your culture toother cultures in this regard.EXPRESSION PROJECTResearch the contributions and successes of AfricanAmericans that you don’t typically hear about duringBlack History Month, including people in your community.Work with your classmates to create a slideshow, photoexhibit, or graphic booklet celebrating these unsungindividuals. Share your work with the August WilsonEducation Project at wqed.org/augustwilson/toolkit/share or [email protected].
JITNEYEXPLORING THE PLAY123redevelopment’s visible and invisiblecosts to the African Americancommunity. Summarize Wilson’s viewof urban redevelopment, based onthese 3 plays. Do you agree with hisperspective? Why or why not?The relationship between Becker andhis son Booster is characterized bytheir different views on personal pride.Do you relate more closely to Becker’sperspective on pride, Booster’s, both,or neither?Jitney is set inside an unofficialcab station. In what ways is thisunique setting central to the story?The unlicensed and unregulatedcab services currently operating insome cities are modern-day jitneys.These services have come under firebecause they do not follow existingrules for cabs. Do you supportthis transportation option in yourcommunity? Why or why not?Two Trains Running and Radio Golfare two other August Wilson playsthat, like Jitney, deal with urban4Key Quote:“ There’s no idea in the world thatis not contained by black life. Icould write forever about the blackexperience in America.”—August WilsonConsider the quote above and theinteractions between Youngbloodand Rena, Becker and Booster, andother characters in Jitney. How arethese relationships both personal anduniversal, reflecting the broad themesof love, honor, duty, and/or betrayal?Set in1977Bonds betweengenerations aretested by personaland communityconflictsNew York Drama Critics’Circle Award WinnerBEST PLAY2000
JITNEYBEYOND THE PLAY: YOUR VOICE, YOUR COMMUNITYIN YOUR BACKYARDAugust Wilson developed the characters in Jitney fromlistening to the everyday conversations of people in hisneighborhood, The Hill District of Pittsburgh. Go on alistening expedition to find interesting characters andvoices in your neighborhood. Take notes. Coffee shops,barbershops, parks, rec centers — even your schoolcafeteria and hallways — are full of material. Chooseone more bits of dialogue to focus on, and transformthis material into a story set in your community.EXPRESSION PROJECTBridging the Generation Gap: If you wrote a playset in the hub, or center, of your community, wherewould it take place? Who would be there? What conflictsmight arise?What conflicts exist between people of differentgenerations in your family or in your community?How is today’s generation gap similar to the one inJitney? How are they different? What might help tobridge today’s gap?Explore the possibilities by writing a scene betweentwo pivotal characters from different generations.Then, write additional scenes to create a one-act play.Share your work with the August Wilson EducationProject at wqed.org/augustwilson/toolkit/share [email protected].
JOE TURNER’S COME AND GONEEXPLORING THE PLAY1In Joe Turner, as in all of AugustWilson’s plays, the characters’ personaland collective histories take centerstage. Research the Middle Passageand The Great Migration. How do theseliteral, historical journeys influencethe personal and emotional journeysof the characters in Joe Turner?2During The Great Migration, millionsof African Americans journeyed fromthe rural South to the North, West, andMidwest in search of greater economicopportunities and freedom. What didfreedom mean for them in 1911? Whatdoes freedom mean to you, today?3Key Quote:“ I can look at you, Mr. Loomis, andsee you a man who done forgot hissong Fellow forget that and heforget who he is ” — BynumAugust Wilson defined a person’s songas their unique gifts and way of beingin the world. What does Bynum meanwhen he tells Herald Loomis that hehas forgotten his song? What causedMr. Loomis to forget his song?4Art History: Part 1The boardinghouse in whichJoe Turner is set was inspired by a1978 Romare Bearden painting,Mill Hand’s Lunch Bucket. The titleof the play itself comes from ablues song of the same name whichwas about the real-life Joe Turner(Turney) who ran a chain gang. Viewthe painting, read the song lyrics, andresearch Joe Turney.Set in1911Tenants of aboardinghousecontend withthe personal andsocial aftermath ofslavery and theGreat MigrationNew York Drama Critics’Circle Award WinnerBEST PLAY1988
JOE TURNER’S COME AND GONEBEYOND THE PLAY: YOUR VOICE, YOUR COMMUNITYArt History: Part 2 Like a collagist, August Wilson pulledtogether pieces of art and history to create an original story.Think of the various art forms — painting, music, literature,etc. — current and historical events, and important peopleyou’ve studied in school or on your own. Combine two ormore of these elements to create a fresh story.Reach Out: What helped Herald Loomis to sing his songagain? Think of someone you know who has forgotten theirsong. Write a letter of encouragement to them.IN YOUR BACKYARDDid African Americans migrate from or to yourcommunity during The Great Migration (1910–1930)?If so, conduct interviews with older residents to createa local oral history project about how the migrationimpacted individuals, families, and the communityat-large.FINAL PROJECTWhat’s Your Migration Story? Check out examplesof interactive history mapping, such as theThe Abolitionist Map of America at ve-map/abolitionists-map/ and the projects at historypin.org.Write your family’s migration story beginning withthe migrations of older generations of your family,up to and including your personal migrations (eachtime you have moved to a new place, even in the samecity). Work with your classmates to map these storieswith pictures, audio, and video. Compile the audio ofyour project into a podcast and share it via iTunes oranother podcast directory.Share your stories with the August WilsonEducation Project at wqed.org/augustwilson/toolkit/share or [email protected].
KING HEDLEY IIEXPLORING THE PLAY12King Hedley II revisits the stories ofcharacters introduced previously inAugust Wilson’s Seven Guitars, setin 1948. Read both plays, and thencompare and contrast social andeconomic conditions for AfricanAmericans, almost 40 years earlier.Identify 2–3 historical events that takeplace between the two plays. How dothese events influence the changesyou noted?When Ruby decided to name her son“King Hedley,” what kind of legacydid she give him? Was this legacy ablessing, a curse, or both? Why?34King Hedley II is considered to beAugust Wilson’s most tragic play.Do you agree with this assessment?Why or why not?Aunt Ester dies at the reported age of366 years old. Her birth parallels thearrival of Africans in America. Withher death, what statement do youthink August Wilson was making aboutthe state of urban African Americancommunities in the 1980s?Set in1985A man’s quest foridentity and dignityis thwarted bylimited opportunity,secrets fromthe past, andpersonal demonsPulitzer Prize FinalistDRAMA2000
KING HEDLEY IIBEYOND THE PLAY: YOUR VOICE, YOUR COMMUNITYIN YOUR BACKYARDAsk your relatives, teachers, family friends, neighbors,local business owners, and others how your communityhas changed since 1985. Then, identify 2–3 historicalevents that have taken place in the decades since 1985.How did these events influence the changes that tookplace in your community? Create a visual timeline ofevents that is unique to your community and share itwith your local history museum.Key Quote: “I’m through with babies. I ain’t raising nomore. I ain’t raising no kid to have somebody shoot him.To have his friends shoot him. To have the police shoothim. Why I want to bring another life into this world thatdon’t respect life? I don’t want to raise no more babieswhen you got to fight to keep them alive.” —TonyaLike other urban areas in the 1980s, Pittsburgh’s Hill District —where King Hedley II and 8 other plays in the Century Cycleare set — was plagued by gun violence, gangs, and the drugtrade. How does this harsh reality color Tonya’s perspectiveon becoming a mother again? Find local, state, and nationalcurrent events, such as in Ferguson, MO, that reflect theissues that Tonya lamented in 1985. Make a collage ofheadlines to illustrate the problems.EXPRESSION PROJECTWho Are The People In Your Neighborhood?Along with several friends or classmates, take awalking tour of your neighborhood, or of severalneighborhoods in your city. Take photos of peoplethat you see (Remember to ask for permission!).How do these pictures tell the story of yourcommunity? How do these pictures tell the story oflife in the 21st century? Create a photo essay with yourpictures. Share your work with the August WilsonEducation Project at wqed.org/augustwilson/toolkit/share or [email protected].
MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOMEXPLORING THE PLAY12Consider how each of the charactersin Ma Rainey responds to the personaland professional injustices they face.Which character is most like youin terms of how they react? Whichcharacter is least like you? How do yourespond when you’re treated unfairly?What similarities do you noticebetween the each of the musiciansin Ma Rainey and their respectiveinstruments? Which instrumentbest reflects your personality andtemperament? Why?3Did Levee’s actions at the end ofMa Rainey surprise you? Why do youthink August Wilson chose to end theplay this way? Summarize what yousee as the message of the play, basedon this ending.Set in1927Stifled anddisillusioned byexploitation bywhite recordlabels, blackmusicians turntheir rage inwardTony Award NomineeBEST PLAY1985
MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOMBEYOND THE PLAY: YOUR VOICE, YOUR COMMUNITYIN YOUR BACKYARDWhat are other examples of institutional racism you’veobserved or encountered? Write a one-act play, essay, orshort story that addresses one or more of these issues.Key Quote: “You don’t sing [the blues] to feel better –you sing ’cause that’s a way of understanding life.”—Ma RaineyListen to some of Ma Rainey’s songs on iTunes :bit.ly/maraineysblues. Then, listen to some contemporaryblues songs by Ruthie Foster: bit.ly/ruthiefostersblues.Compare and contrast today’s blues music with that of the1920s. Compose a blues song that reflects the cares andconcerns of your 21st century life. Work with your classmatesto set your songs to music and perform them.Then vs. now: In the decades immediately followingEmancipation, African Americans faced racism, segregation,and prejudice. As a musical form, the Blues gave voiceto African Americans’ personal and political frustrations.However, institutional racism existed within the musicindustry itself. Research “race records” (African Americanmusic recorded in the 1920s and 1930s). Who were the leadartists of the day? How were they treated by music industryexecutives? Compare and contrast their experiences withthose of your favorite contemporary African Americanrecording artists.EXPRESSION PROJECTMother of the Blues: Gertrude “Ma” Rainey was oneof the most popular blues artists of the 1920s. Learnmore about the real “Ma Rainey.” Then, tell a differentpart of her story by writing a one-act play set beforeor after the events in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.Share your work with the August Wilson EducationProject at wqed.org/augustwilson/toolkit/share [email protected].
THE PIANO LESSONEXPLORING THE PLAY12The ghosts in The Piano Lessoncould be viewed as merely restlessor vengeful spirits. Or, they couldrepresent the unresolved, internalstruggles of the characters. Revisiteach appearance of ghosts in the text,and for each, describe what you thinkis happening.Berniece, a widow, objects to the ideathat as a woman, her only worth is inrelation to a man. How are Bernieceand the other women characters inThe Piano Lesson — including thedeceased ones that are mentioned —portrayed? Are they presented onlyin relation to men?3Berniece rejects Avery’s proposalsand resists the pressure to bein a relationship. But she sharesan unexpected kiss with Lymon.What does this reveal to youabout Berniece?Set in1936Siblings disagreeabout how to honorthe legacy of theirfamily’s painful pastPulitzer Prize WinnerDRAMA1990
THE PIANO LESSONBEYOND THE PLAY: YOUR VOICE, YOUR COMMUNITYINSPIRING MINDSThe Piano Lesson was inspired by a Romare Beardenpainting of the same name. The painting features awoman and a girl sitting at a piano (see it here:bit.ly/beardenspianolesson), and it’s believed thatrenowned jazz pianist Mary Lou Williams inspiredthe painting (listen to Williams on iTunes :bit.ly/marylouwilliams). Who are the artists and othersthat inspire you? Make a list of your inspirations and howeach of them helps you to express yourself.Key Quote: “Mama Ola polished this piano with her tearsfor seventeen years. For seventeen years she rubbedon it till her hands bled. Then she rubbed the blood in mixed it up with the rest of the blood on it. Every daythat God breathed life into her body she rubbed andcleaned and polished and prayed over it.’Play somethingfor me, Berniece. Play something for me, Berniece.’Every day. ’I cleaned it up for you, play something forme, Berniece.’” —BernieceAugust Wilson used the phrase “blood’s memory” todescribe the memories of a shared past among AfricanAmericans, a past with deep and inextricable ancestral rootsin Africa. In all of Wilson’s plays, knowing and honoring thiscollective past is essential to the community’s present-dayviability. In The Piano Lesson, the family heirloom — a pianoacquired from the sale of two ancestors during slavery — isa point of contention between Berniece and Boy Willie. Decidewhich sibling’s plans for the piano you believe most honortheir ancestors, then write a persuasive letter to the othersibling to make your case.EXPRESSION PROJECTMetaphorically Speaking: In addition to the ghosts,what other extended metaphors does Wilson use inthis play? Choose one of Wilson’s metaphors and useit to create a creative work (poem, story, play) of yourown. Share your work with the August Wilson EducationProject at wqed.org/augustwilson/toolkit/share [email protected].
RADIO GOLFEXPLORING THE PLAY1August Wilson used the game of golfas a metaphor for a question facingthe black middle class toward theend of the 20th century: Do you haveto “play the game” of the dominantculture in order to succeed sociallyand economically?In Radio Golf, what does thismetaphorical “game” involve?How do the characters balancepersonal ambition with personalintegrity and a desire to honorthe past and their community?2Research the Hill District, thePittsburgh community in whichRadio Golf is set. How does thiscommunity’s past and what’shappening there today influenceyour understanding of Radio Golf?Set in1997The rewards of theAmerican Dreamare weighed againstthe cost to thelarger communityNew York Drama Critics’Circle Award WinnerBEST AMERICAN PLAY2005
RADIO GOLFBEYOND THE PLAY: YOUR VOICE, YOUR COMMUNITYDare to Dream? Do you think it’s possible to achieve successin America without compromising who you are?What Would You Do? Describe a situation in whichyour personal integrity came into conflict with somethingyou wanted.The Fate of 1839 Wylie Avenue: Hold a class debatewith two teams — one arguing for the demolition of thehouse, one arguing against.Speak Out!: You’ve been asked to address the crowdprotesting the demolition of 1839 Wylie Avenue. Write a2-minute speech that conveys your thoughts about thefate of the house.Key Quote: “A Negro don’t know he’s a Negro.He thinks he’s a white man. It’s Negroes like youwho hold us back.” —SterlingHow is Roosevelt holding the community back, accordingto Sterling, quoted above? Do you agree?EXPRESSION PROJECTIn Your Own Backyard: The issue of gentrificationis at the center of Radio Golf. Is your school or homein or near a neighborhood that has been or is beinggentrified? In what ways has the neighborhoodchanged? Make a video of a class debate about thepros and cons of these changes. Share your video withthe August Wilson Education Project at wqed.org/augustwilson/toolkit/share or [email protected].
SEVEN GUITARSEXPLORING THE PLAY12August Wilson believed the GreatMigration — the early 20th centuryrelocation of millions of AfricanAmericans from the South to northerncities like Chicago and Pittsburgh —was a mistake. Read Wilson’sJoe Turner’s Come and Gone. Giventhe experiences of characters inJoe Turner and in Seven Guitars,do you agree with Wilson? Why orwhy not?What did Chicago symbolize forFloyd? Why do you think he was sodetermined to get back there, despitethe obstacles in his way?3If Vera had asked you if she shouldgo with Floyd to Chicago, what advicewould you have given her? Why?4August Wilson’s King Hedley II, set in1985, features some characters fromSeven Guitars. Read both plays, andthen compare and contrast socialand economic conditions for AfricanAmericans, almost 40 years later.Identify 2–3 historical events that takeplace between the two plays. How dothese events influence the changesyou noted?Set in1948Internal andexternal strugglesshape AfricanAmerican menas they fight fortheir humanityand self-worthNew York Drama Critics’Circle Award WinnerBEST PLAY1996
SEVEN GUITARSBEYOND THE PLAY: YOUR VOICE, YOUR COMMUNITYHer Story: While the struggles and fate of African Americanmen is a key theme in Seven Guitars, the characters of Vera,Louise, and Ruby are also central to the story. For eachcharacter, create three brief story sketches/notes:1) Her story before the events of Seven Guitars2) Her story after these events3) Her story if she were the central character inSeven Guitars.Challenge: August Wilson sketched his ideas on everydayitems, such as napkins, then collected them later to write hisplays. Jot down your sketches on napkins (or similar sizeditems), using one napkin per sketch. Practice working inthis limited space. Then, choose one of the nine sketches todevelop into a larger story or play.Key Quote: “I am not a historian. I happen to thinkthat the content of my mother’s life — her myths,her superstitions, her prayers, the contents of herpantry, the smell of her kitchen, the song that escapedfrom her sometimes parched lips, her thoughtful reposeand pregnant laughter — are all worthy of art.Hence, Seven Guitars.” —August WilsonSeven Guitars is set, literally, in the backyard ofAugust Wilson’s childhood home. How do the “contents” ofyour parents or other loved ones lives’ inform your view ofhistory and the art you create?Make a list similar to Wilson’s above about the contents of thelife of someone you love. Use these details to create a story,poem, song, or one-act play.EXPRESSION PROJECTPSA: Both Canewell and Floyd describe being “arrestedfor nothing” in Chicago and in Pittsburgh. How mightAugust Wilson have dramatized current events in thenews, such as in Ferguson, MO, related to racial profilingand harassment of African Americans? Write and record a30-second Public Service Announcement raising awarenessabout this issue. Share your video with the August WilsonEducation Project at wqed.org/augustwilson/toolkit/share or [email protected].
TWO TRAINS RUNNINGEXPLORING THE PLAY123What does Hambone’s “He gonna giveme my ham” say about his belief in theAmerican Dream? How does this compareto Memphis’s idea of the American Dream?The character of Aunt Ester is mentionedor appears in three plays (Two TrainsRunning, King Hedley II, and Gem ofthe Ocean) in August Wilson’s 10-playcycle. In Two Trains, her age is givenas 349 years old; her birth coincideswith the arrival of the first capturedAfricans in America. Read the threeplays mentioned. What does Aunt Esterrepresent in Two Trains, and in Wilson’sCentury Cycle as a whole?By 1969, the Civil Rights Movement hadcome to an end. As evidenced by thecharacters and events in Two Trains, whatissues remain unresolved for AfricanAmericans, and for America as a country,in 1969? Did this play change or improve4your understanding of the Civil RightsMovement? If so, how so?The year before Two Trains takesplace, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wasassassinated in Memphis. August Wilsonnames one of the central charactersMemphis, and the story takes place ina diner, the site of many Civil RightsMovement protests. Memphis lamentshis declining customer base; as smallbusinesses close, fewer people arecoming together to share meals in thecommunity. Risa, the only woman amongthe central characters, isn’t interested inattending the racial justice rally. Throughthese story and character elements,what does August Wilson reveal aboutthe post-Civil Rights Movement era?Viewed this way, do you think the CivilRights Movement succeeded, failed, orsomething in between?Set in1969African Americansgrapple withthe social andpsychologicalimpact of the CivilRights and BlackPower MovementsNew York Drama Critics’Circle Award WinnerBEST AMERICAN PLAY1992
TWO TRAINS RUNNINGBEYOND THE PLAY: YOUR VOICE, YOUR COMMUNITYHer Story: Write a prequel to Two Trains with Risa as thecentral character. In your prequel, reveal the events that ledher to cut her legs.IN YOUR BACKYARDFind out where your parents and grandparents were livingin 1969. How were their lives similar to the lives of thecharacters in Two Trains at that time? How were theirlives different? Ask each person to describe that year ina single word. Use those words to create a poem entitled,“1969.” Share your poem with the August Wilson EducationProject at wqed.org/augustwilson/toolkit/share [email protected] Quote: “You can’t go through life carrying a tengallon bucket. Get you a little cup. That’s all you need.Get you a little cup and somebody put a little bit in andit’s half full. That ten-gallon bucket ain’t never gonna befull. Carry you a little cup through live and you’ll neverbe disappointed.” —WestDid West himself live according to his words above? Do youagree with West’s approach to life? Why or why not? Writeyour own philosophy of life, using no more than 50 words.EXPRESSION PROJECT“Take a Look”: When the jukebox starts up, the songthat plays is Aretha Franklin’s “Take a Look.” Look upthe lyrics to this song. Why do you think August Wilsonchose this song for this particular play? What songwould you choose to play in the background of a storyor one-act play about your life this year. Choose thesong, then write the play or story.
JITNEY BEYOND THE PLAY: YOUR VOICE, YOUR COMMUNITY IN YOUR BACKYARD August Wilson developed the characters in Jitney from listening to the everyday conversations of people in his neighborhood, The Hill District of Pittsburgh. Go on a listening expedition to find interesting characters a