At the company's Waterford, Connecticut, home, the tribute will include a performance and a barbeque celebration with participants of the 2006 summer conferences, the National Critics Institute fellows and O'Neill alumni. The event will also mark the launch of the newly-established August Wilson Endowed Fellowship.
"We will salute Mr. Wilson's extraordinary talent and celebrate this great man of the theater with a special performance by Charles Dutton and a festive world-class barbeque. Most importantly, we will launch the August Wilson Endowed Fellowship on this occasion in order to insure that a playwright of color will always be present in the National Playwrights Conference," said Executive Director Amy Sullivan.
Tony Award-nominated and Emmy Award-winning actor Dutton—seen in Wilson's Ma Rainey's Block Bottom and The Piano Lesson on Broadway—will perform a number of scenes from the plays of Wilson. He will be joined by fellow Emmy winner Merkerson ("Law & Order," "Lackawanna Blues") who also appeared on Broadway in The Piano Lesson.
Wilson is remembered for his epic cycle of plays chronicling the African-American experience in the past century decade by decade. The undertaking (in order of decade which the drama is set) includes Gem of the Ocean, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, The Piano Lesson, Seven Guitars, Fences, Two Trains Running, Jitney, King Hedley II and Radio Golf.
Ten of the aforementioned cycle plays – Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Fences, Joe Turner's Come And Gone, Seven Guitars, The Piano Lesson and Gem of the Ocean – were developed at the O'Neill National Playwrights Conference before going on to Broadway, Off-Broadway and regional theaters. His Ma Rainey's Black Bottom was submitted to the O'Neill in 1982 via open submission. In a blind selection process – whereby the names and other information of the playwrights are withheld by the committee – former National Playwrights Conference Artistic Director Lloyd Richards chose the Wilson drama for development. The late Richards would go on to continuously collaborate with Wilson throughout the scribe's career. The August Wilson Endowed Fellowship will fully underwrite a playwright's residency at the Conference every year. For more information or to make a contribution, call (860) 443-5378, ext. 213.
Reservations for the Special Tribute to August Wilson, at $75 per person, can be made through (860) 443-5378, ext. 217.