Remember the first Live Aid concert, where Bob Dylan muttered a comment about how a similar event should be staged to help the American farmer? A year later, Willie Nelson and Neil Young took that off-hand comment to heart and created "Farm Aid."
Well, now August Wilson, the U.S.' premier African-American playwright, has used his eminence to get wheels rolling. His June 1996 speech at a Theatre Communications Group conference, about the dearth of regional black theatres, first led to a rancorous public debate with Robert Brustein about the nature of black theatre in America. Another Wilson comment, about funding an actual black theatre movement, has been slower to germinate but may be longer lasting.
According to the NY Times (Feb. 9), back in `96 after his speech, Wilson was approached by Dartmouth College assistant professor Victor Leo Walker II suggested setting up a major conference for black theatre artists and professionals. It's taken more than a year, but the conference will actually happen, March 2-6, with expected participants to include Ntozake Shange, Ed Bullins, Thulani Davis, Ricardo Khan, Robbie McCauley, Clinton Turner Davis and Woodie King Jr. Though those panels will be closed to the public, there will also be an open March 7 overview, "African American Theatre: The Next Stage."
The Times reports that instead of the scattershot ideas and attacks of the Wilson/Brustein debates, the conference will attempt to formalize an approach to financial, marketing, legal, community and aesthetic issues. There are plans to publish a book based on the panels' discussions and to set up an institute allied with Dartmouth's business administration school.
Meanwhile, Wilson has been teaching a playwriting course at Dartmouth, while one undergraduate play analysis course at the Hanover, NH college is devoted solely to Wilson's plays. -- By David Lefkowitz