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WUSF TV to Air Documentary on 'American Shakespeare,' August Wilson

Award-winning playwright August Wilson is the subject of a PBS "American Masters" documentary airing on WUSF TV this weekend.

August Wilson was a playwright whose series of ten plays, "The Pittsburgh Cycle," tried to show what life was like for African-Americans in the 20th century, decade by decade.

The work won him rave reviews, as well as five New York Drama Critics' Circle Awards, two Pulitzer Prizes and a Tony Award. 

The PBS series "American Masters" has produced a documentary on Wilson's life and work, "August Wilson: The Ground on Which I Stand," which will air on WUSF TV beginning this weekend.

Speaking before the documentary's local premiere recently, an area artist who worked with Wilson talked about the power of the playwright's words.

Bob Devin Jones, the co-founder of St. Petersburg's Studio@620, has acted in and directed a number of Wilson's plays.

"To work with the language - one, it changes your DNA, it's like our American Shakespeare," Jones said. "If you trust the language and you get the rhythm of the language correct, as an actor, you can do amazing things and whatever it is you want to do or envision to do, there's language there to support it - it's very much like Shakespeare."

Credit Studio@620
Bob Devin Jones (left), co-founder of The Studio@620, has acted in and directed a number of Wilson's plays.

And although Wilson's work, like "The Piano Lesson," "Fences" and "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," focused on African-Americans, Jones said it was about more than race.

"They're quintessentially American plays about the African-American experience," Jones said. "His plays are very personal and nuanced and they're very specific, and because they are so specific and nuanced, they speak to the human condition in a very universal way.

"There is a lot of humor borne out of some definite crucible of struggle that is inherent in the plays and they're very American in that sense."

"August Wilson: The Ground on Which I Stand" airs Sunday night at 9 p.m. on WUSF TV, with a number of rebroadcasts scheduled throughout the month.

Mark Schreiner is the assistant news director and intern coordinator for WUSF News.
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