ELEXA HANNER playing Ma Rainey from “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”
To Alumni Theater Company founder, Pittsburgh Playwright August Wilson is a treasure.
The mission of the Alumni Theater Company is to create work that represents the unique perspective of young artists growing up in an urban environment. ATC’s body of work strives to capture the ideas, interests and struggles of the current generation of teenagers.
August Wilson’s timeless work touches on subjects that are of importance to teens and people of all ages.
“August Wilson is a great American playwright no matter where you live or what race you are, period,” Donner said. “Because he was from Pittsburgh and his plays were set in Pittsburgh it makes you feel special, especially if you call Pittsburgh home.”
In an effort to educate students about Wilson’s work, Alumni Theater Company partnered with the Bill Nunn Theatre Outreach Project and presented “The August Wilson Project,” which was presented at the Grey Box Theatre in January.
Sponsors for the event included presenting sponsor The EQT Foundation, The Heinz Endowments, The Grable Foundation, BNY Mellon, Fifth Third Bank and PJ Dick.
The evening featured selections from Wilson’s Century Cycle, a group of 10 plays set in Pittsburgh during a different decade of the twentieth century. Each play has lyrical monologues that tell the story of African-American life through laughter, pain and song.
In addition to the Grey Box Theatre performance, Alumni Theater Company also performed The August Wilson Project at Career Connections and Wilkinsburg High Schools.
“It was a chance for kids to see August Wilson on stage, living and breathing through other high school students,” Donner said.
Donner enlisted the help of veteran actor, Bill Nunn and the Bill Nunn Theatre Outreach Project to help her ATC students prepare for the performances.
The mission of the Bill Nunn Theatre Outreach Project is to create a platform for underserved public school students in the Pittsburgh region to gain access to theater arts and work with seasoned professionals within the field.
Nunn, a Pittsburgh native, made his feature film debut in Spike Lee’s film, “School Daze” in 1988 as Radio Raheem. He has also been featured in other movies including “Sister Act” opposite Whoopi Goldberg. Nunn is the son of legendary Steelers scout Bill Nunn Jr, and grandson of former Courier Managing Editor Bill Nunn Sr.
“Bill is a fantastic resource to have in Pittsburgh and he’s a fantastic actor and teacher and person. We started working on this in November. Reading August Wilson material is a very cozy experience,” Donner said.
Donner also used the performances to inform the high school students about the August Wilson Monologue Competition.
Founded in 2007, the yearly competition strives to introduce young people to Wilson’s work and legacy. Participants receive coaching and teaching from artists like Nunn and prepare their monologue for local and national competitions.