August Wilson Center to Open in Pittsburgh Sept. 17

News   August Wilson Center to Open in Pittsburgh Sept. 17
The August Wilson Center for African American Culture will officially open the doors of its new facility in Pittsburgh with a music-filled gala on Sept. 17.
August Wilson
August Wilson Photo by David Cooper

The occasion is marked by what's billed as a Grand Opening and World Premiere Tribute Ceremony & Celebration that will run 5 PM to midnight (with various admission levels and times) at the organization's new home at 980 Liberty Avenue.

Formerly known as the African American Cultural Center of Greater Pittsburgh, the August Wilson center is named for the late Pulitzer Prize-winning African-American playwright who made Pittsburgh his home (and set many of his plays there) and died in 2005.

The not-for-profit group "presents performing, visual and education programs that celebrate the contributions of African Americans within the region and the impact of cultural expression from Africa to the African Diaspora." The AWC's presentations include dance, music, art, theatre and other cultural, educational and artistic events.

Plays by Wilson are expected to be presented there in the future. Wilson's works includes Fences, Two Trains Running, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, Seven Guitars, Jitney, Gem of the Ocean, Radio Golf, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, The Piano Lesson and more.

The gala is $500 per person. The 6 PM Tribute Ceremony's honorary chairs are Wilson's widow Constanza Romero Wilson, and Milt and Nancy Washington.The Center's National Advisory Council includes 28 performance legends, including actor-director Delroy Lindo and actress Anna Maria Horsford who will serve as co-hosts for the evening. "Playing Herald Loomis in Joe Turner's Come and Gone remains one of the richest and most rewarding experiences I've had, as an actor, anywhere, Lindo said in a statement.

The two-story, 65,000 square-foot building was designed by African American architect Allison Williams, principal of Perkins+Will, San Francisco. Estimated cost is $39.5 million.

The building sits on a triangular plot that is slightly less than an acre between the David L. Lawrence Convention Center and the city's Cultural District. The Center "joins dozens of venues that have transformed a downtown area once shunned for its undesirable activity and shabby real estate into a destination location for residents as well as visitors from around the world," according to AWC notes.

The Sept. 17 evening's entertainment includes Broadway and pop performer Billy Porter (a Pittsburgh native), and the Sphinx Chamber Orchestra, featuring young African-American and Latino musicians performing masterpieces by Bach, Vivaldi and Mozart, as well as works by composers of color, such as Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, George Theophilus Walker and Michael Abels.

According to AWC notes, "More than a museum, the new August Wilson Center for African American Culture building will be reflective of all aspects of African American culture. The AWC will include galleries, classrooms, a 486-seat theatre, a gift shop, a cafe, and many multipurpose spaces available for rental and use by the community and to be used for visual and performing art and expression. While the new facility will house exhibits that help tell the story of how African-American culture has developed, including both historical and current experiences, this is only a small part of what the August Wilson Center is about. The Center will serve as a hub for people celebrating and experiencing the on-going contributions of African Americans — in music, theatre, dance, science, athletics, business and many other aspects of American life. It will bring together people from all walks of life and foster mutual understanding and appreciation rooted in the values and ideals that drive the evolution of dynamic cultures worldwide."

Among the signature events of the first season at the Center is the "Aunt Ester Cycle" of plays by Wilson, running in mid-November. According to AWC, "Theatregoers can sit a spell with Aunt Ester, the 'washer of souls,' who appears in multiple plays of August Wilson's 'Century Cycle.' The August Wilson Center examines the impact of this legendary character through productions of Two Trains Running by Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company; Gem of the Ocean by the St. Louis Black Repertory Co.; Radio Golf by Penumbra Theatre Company (St. Paul) and a stage reading of King Hedley II. The series also includes The Women of the Hill, an original performance created by theatrical innovator Ping Chong; and Staging Wilson, a performance symposia series with scholars, directors and dramaturges exploring new themes and directions for interpreting August Wilson's work."

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