tv Lectures in History Playwright August Wilson Fences CSPAN February 28, 2021 12:00am-1:16am EST
>> watch the full program sunday at 6:00 p.m. eastern, 3:00 p.m. pacific on american artifacts on american history tv. >> you're watching american history tv, 48 hours of programming on american history every weekend on c-span3. follow us on twitter at c-span history for information on our schedule, and to keep up with the latest history news. up next on lectures and history. tulane university professor john ray proctor teaches a class about august wilson, his contribution to african-american theater in his pulitzer prize-winning play "fences." >> today we will look at august wilson's "fences." we will begin with a brief discussion about who and what august wilson was, his goal as a
playwright, and i will repeat some stuff you have heard before from our in class presentation. there will be some stuff i will talk about in a little bit more depth than we talked about last class. on thursday you guys are going to look at -- i really hope you read that and prepared to do that. i will give you your very quick pop quiz. the pop quiz for fences should be easy. we will take it so you get a grade for it. we will have the pop quiz for t-bone and weasel. let's start with august wilson. august wilson was born frederick august kittle on april 27 of 1945. his mother's name was daisy wilson. she was a cleaning lady whose father's name was frederick august kittle.
he was a german baker. why you pay attention. race matters in a specific way. this is what we talk about as we look at these plays. his father, frederick august kittle was a german baker. his mother was a black woman named daisy and is a cleaning lady. we are already talking about a mixed relationship. his mixed identity is a part of what he is working on when he is writing. like how he is negotiating african-american existence is a part of who and what he is as he works as a writer. it's part of the mission he is undertaking. he is the fourth of six children. they live in the hill district of pittsburgh, pennsylvania. a lot of what wilson talks about deals with the great migration.
i have mentioned that before. the great migration is what happened after reconstruction in the south when the social status of black people moved from slavery to freed, to the reconstruction error, to sharecropping. sharecropping was this new name for, i don't think it's accurate for me to say lavery, but essentially that's what it becomes. we talked about what sharecropping is, right? good, thank you. it's a system where the black people who used to be slaves on the plantation are now in a position where they are renting what used to be the slave cabins. they are renting the clothes, they are renting the tools to go work for the same farms on which they were enslaved. and they enter this system in which they are never able to actually pay for the rental fees
for the things that they are now using to till the land. that is why -- that is one of the motivating factors that caused a number of blacks to move northward at the turn-of-the-century, and to pursue a better life in the north. i want you to think for a couple of minutes about what that means for black families in the south. was it whole families moving north or was it, more often than not, the man who would go north, or the eldest son who would go from the southern states to the northern states, and their purpose was to make money so that they could send home. that is always the goal. you will find a number of people in pittsburgh, in new york, and in chicago who have come north, looking to make a fortune so that they can either make enough money so that their families can come up to the north and live with them in the north, or so
they can send money home so that the people that are there people down there could have a way of living. so, understand that one of the things that wilson is talking about, one of the things that informs what wilson is talking about is the great migration. in pittsburgh, because these rural areas are now dealing with an influx of black people, there are racial tensions that start to get built at the turn-of-the-century and afterwards. racial tensions include white neighborhoods in which black presence had not been before. in which now you have a growing poor black population who need things to live. they need jobs, they need food, they need shelter because it's cold. it's colder in pittsburgh than
it was in south carolina or in georgia, and the black people who have now migrated north are they ask, how do we live, how do we feed ourselves or clothe ourselves. understand that all of those things are what are informing "fences" when we finally get to it. at the age of 15 and 1960, he dropped out of high school and joins the army for three years. i want to take a second and talk about what that means. why today do we have black people -- i cannot give you the real percentages, i would be making stuff up and lying to you, but i believe there are a higher percentage of black people in our current military than other races. what are some of the motivating factors for joining the military ?
what did they give you? he is unmarried at this point. go ahead. >> don't army recruits go to poor black neighborhoods in neighborhoods of people in color , like black and brown kids in push it out as a force to bring more. prof. proctor: i just want you to understand that what her question had to do with was, she believes that recruiting agencies go to poor black neighborhoods and recruit lack people in greater numbers than they do enrich white neighborhoods. that is a fact of today, may have been a fact in the 1960's. but, it's a job, it's a good job. he provides money, he provides an income. it provides a steady income. we are risking your life, yes,
but that is part of this. think about the institutions that take black men away from their families. outside of prison, and what will -- what will become the incarceration rate based around things that happened in the 1980's. but we have to look at the systems that moved black men away from their families. the army was one of them. or the armed services were one of them. but it was not in a cruel way. i think they were offered this opportunity. they said, hey, here is an opportunity for you to get three meals a day, a place to sleep, training, education. you can send a check home to your family. that is one of the opportunities for employment and advancement. that happened when wilson was -- at this point, he would have been about 18 years old. but he's in the army for three years. after he leaves the army in the late 1960's, he comes back to
the pittsburgh area and joins a group of artists, and they form the center avenue points. -- poets. later, he will cofound the black horizon theater, a black nationalist theater company in pittsburgh, pennsylvania. he stays in pittsburgh until i think 1974 or 1975. then he begins to move westward. he spends a couple years in chicago, then he moves in 1978 to minnesota. and he joins -- he's going to concentrate on playwriting in minnesota. he joins the penumbra theater and the artistic director is lou bellamy. the penumbra theater is a black-owned, black oriented, and black centered theater company in minnesota. why is the name of the town in why is the name of the town in one a minnesota flying out of my head?
all my brain is trying to say fargo, minnesota. but it is not fargo. minneapolis, that would be the name of the giant town in minnesota that i cannot think of right now. the penumbra theater in minneapolis, minnesota. and he is working with lou bellamy. understand that august wilson gets to a point in his life where what he is writing about is the lives of black people. and i want you guys to think for a couple of minutes about why that is happening. why is it significant and in what way is it significant that he is writing about the lives of black people? we have talked in this class before about the shift between white artists writing black voices. what does it mean when a white playwright writes a black character into a play? what does their voice sound like? is it authentic? what is the character's purpose? black characters were appearing
in white movies. i will jump just a bit to talk about the popular culture that is influencing the way august wilson is thinking about plays and writing and the presentation of black people. but i am only going to jump for just a couple seconds. i want to talk for a second about the popular culture of the 1980's. so in the 1980's, what are the things that are informing -- and i'm talking about the 1980's because august wilson will ultimately talk about -- we will talk about "fences." but let's talk about the things that informed the way wilson was thinking about the world? in the beginning of 1986, 1987, what are the popular images that are influencing what wilson is seeing? the movies include "e.t," "return of the jedi," "raiders of the lost ark", "beverly hills
cop", "breakfast club," "pretty in pink", "some kind of wonderful." most of these movies came out before you all were born. are you at all familiar with these series of movies? have you heard of them before? if you think about things like "the breakfast club," "pretty in pink," i think his name is john hughes, if i'm not mistaken. john hughes is making a whole genre. we talk about what ideology means in this room before. ideologies are the unspoken and sometimes less clear structures that influence the way people think about america. the way women should behave, the way men should behave. what it means to be straight, what it means to be gay, what it means to be a lot of things. no one says it outright. but it is unspoken, underlying structures that inform the way we think about race and identity and class and gender. does that make sense? good.
if you have movies like "pretty in pink" and "some kind of wonderful," there is the movie with john cusack holding up the boombox. "hi fidelity?" i don't think it's "high fidelity." i can't remember what it is. but you have all of these as the biggest movies coming out in the 1980's. and the primary concern in these movies is technically the beginnings of romcom. i am am not a cinema professor, i cannot tell you the truth about that. but, white women, white men falling in love, those are what a lot of those stories are about. overcoming rejection, obstacles, overcoming blah, blah, blah. most of our movies in the 1980's are dealing with white folks falling in love. think for a couple seconds about how we, people of color, appear
-- african-american people appeared in those films. give it just a little bit of consideration. we are more often than not marginal or tangential. we are someone else in that story. right? so when we finally make it to , august wilson we have an instance -- the things that are motivating august wilson are his desire to move black people from the margins to the center. and say, what is true about us? what matters to us? what is happening in our lives? because when we are just are on the margins, what we have to say is maybe not part of the main story. it becomes this caricature where we are saying the funny lines. like i said, prior to this, we've got george jefferson who began as a marginal character. it is not called "the archie bunker show," but it was archie bunker.
then we have "good times." black people showing up in comedy. black people's lives in popular culture for a long time was something you laughed at. not laughed with, but laughed at. great? we were the joke, we were the comedy. think about eddie murphy. i don't know if any of you looked at or read his early comedy, but think about what that is rooted on. it is different. black comedians, black people creating black comedy for black people is a different experience than black people appearing in largely white structures as something to be laughed at. i want you guys to consider how that works. on television, you have "roseanne", "married with children," vcr's become a thing. -- thing in the 1980's. mtv, believe it or not, at one point in time, music television began with music. "video killed the radio star" in i think 1986.
or somewhere around there. i was a high school student. you are all looking at me with vacant expressions like, for real? the very first song that ever played on mtv, and i don't know it because of a trivial pursuit card, was "video killed the radio star." i can't tell you who did that song but i know that was the song. michael jackson's "thriller." think about michael jackson in the 1980's. this is how black people are represented in art. it becomes a thought that people are doing on purpose. people are really considering -- black artists, black playwrights, black songwriters, black performers -- i'm not saying that they are embracing black identity, but they are becoming critical and critically analyzing black identity in a way that is a response to the blacksploitation films of the 1970's.
in response to the civil rights movement of the 1960's. we have to look at things in relationship to each other. we've got the 1960's and what happened during the civil rights movement. we can go back further and look at the 1950's. we again look at emmett till's mother who realized the value of performance by keeping emmett till's casket open. that was an act of performance. she was like, this won't happen behind closed doors anymore. think about private voice versus public voice. what does it mean when we are forced to keep something in private, as opposed to what happens when we make it public? think about the developments in technology that have happened between the 1950's and 1980's. think about the advancements we make in telephone, think about the advancements we get in recording technologies. think about the advancements we have made in film and television itself. for example, and the way that should make sense to you guys now, there are videos. every time something happens out
there, if somebody meets you in the grocery store parking lot and they start acting funny, what's the first thing that happens? what is the first thing that happens if you are in a public space and you think things will go bad? that is not a rhetorical question. you can leave, yes. somebody pulls out a phone and starts recording. we have all of these instances right now of things that used to happen without any evidence. but now, there is evidence. there is evidence not only from local street cameras, but every individual. everybody in this room has their own phone so they have a way of documenting their existence and that these crazy things happen to us. because that is what african-american existence becomes for a while. we say to the public, you are
treating us in this way. and often times what comes back is people will go, it cannot be that bad. you are exaggerating. well now, we get to the point where the phone comes out and we are not exaggerating, this is what is happening. what happens subsequently is this weird justification. i have to understand the context. that was taken out of context. maybe it wasn't taken out of context. when we get back to august wilson in the 1980's, the things that are informing his artistic vision and his life as a writer include all of those pop-culture references that i talked to you. he is seeing a large -- what is informing his television and movie habits, he is like, that is white people's world. who is writing about us? when they write about us, what are they saying? that's what's driving him as a playwright. good. so, let's talk about -- really
briefly, i will go through the contextualization of the 1980's. a lot of this is stuff that i was alive for. there is a different relationship to this. i realized as i was putting this up here this morning, you guys will look at a lot of the stuff i'm about to say as stuff that only ever existed in a history book. but i was in high school from essentially here on. everything i am talking about are things i have a memory of having happened while i was in high school. i was a little younger than where you guys are now. in 1980, mount saint helens explodes. i cannot begin to tell you what the images of the ash pouring all over those people look like. it was on my television for days. images of people covered in ash. we all saw it. it is what informed us. on october 10, 1980, president
jimmy carter signed legislation establishing the boston african-american national historic site. it is the oldest black church in america. that happened in the 1980's. it was on the news. january 20, 1981, the inauguration of ronald reagan. the 40th president of the united states. this matters. i'm not an economics professor. but reaganomics is something you can look up and look at how it affected the world. one of the things that is the most important part that we will talk about later deals with a tax cut in which we went from a 70% tax rate, there's a way to say it that i don't know what it is, but a 70% tax rate that gets dropped to 37% or 35%. from the wealthiest people in the country. over the course of five years, we lose as a country $750 billion.
over five years, we as a country lose $750 billion in tax revenue, based on this bill that was signed by ronald reagan. march 30, 1981, someone tried to kill ronald reagan. everybody knew about it. i am only talking about the things that showed up on the news for days. april 12, 1981, the first launch from the space shuttle in cape canaveral. january 29, reagan's tax cuts cost america $750 billion over the next five years. september 12, 1981, sandra day o'connor becomes the first female justice of the supreme court. these are big stories we couldn't not see. i am absolutely positive on some level these stories impacted or were in the awareness of august wilson. i don't say that it even necessarily impacted "fences,"
but these are some of the things he is thinking about. when you guys are thinking about what the themes are in "fences," and as we move from the deeply personal to the public, i want you to think about the way the public is becoming aware. because of the public's growing awareness of the world, nation, the national identity. march 2, 1982, the senate passes a bill eliminating the practice of busing to achieve racial integration. busing stops in 1982. was racism fixed in 1982? no, i don't think it was. busing was born -- i think busing was initially built as a way to integrate blacks and whites. it had to do with the quality.
what do you know of that from history? and we talked about this a couple of classes ago. the young black woman who had to go to school in mississippi, and the 5000 national guard people who went to mississippi just so she could go to school. in 1954, 1955? all of these things are related to each other. black people being allowed to go to largely white institutions. being allowed to. and we in this room have to think specifically about what this means for us. we here at tulane, looking at the racial demographics of tulane, we have to consider what that means to us. we are a part of this history. september 20, 1984, "the cosby show" premieres. we have talked about that in this room. it is one of the first times we have the representation of a black male doctor married to a black female lawyer.
and they have five kids who are all successful and professional. they are living life in a way that is not abject poverty, not just a joke, that is not in constant pain. the things that concern the cosby family, we have to consider what their primary concerns are. we have to think about vanessa, who is looking for a boyfriend. it became layered. what black people are was something new because of "the cosby show." 1985, bob gill dorf raised $70 million for relief in ethiopia. he does this with a giant televised concert. 1986, for the first time martin luther king's holiday is officially recognized for the first time. january 28, 1986, the challenger space shuttle explodes, killing seven astronauts.
it is one of those things -- i am 50 years old now. and i can remember where i was when this happened. i was in high school. this was my senior year of high school. how old were you guys? do you have a memory of 2011? of what happened to the world on september 11, 2001? do you guys remember that? do you have images of the towers falling in your head? just a generational thing. there are several things that have happened in our country and in the world that we as people have images fed to us on television. one of those for me was the explosion of the challenger will space shuttle. we watched it launch and moments later, we watched it explode. what we watched seven astronauts
disintegrate. what we watched it as a nation. what in 2001, september 11, we will watched airplanes hit the twin towers in new york. then we watched in real time the power towers fall on fire. and we watched it happen. i find it interesting that you guys were too young to have a memory of where you were. oh and then may 25, 1986, i included this one, hands across america. the 1980's were a special, you special time. but you guys should have a reference for hands across america as of last week. what is your reference for hands across america? it is jordan peele's "us." good. think about the things that have global impact. that is one of them. so, this is the world that is
informing august wilson as he is writing the play "fences." one more thing to talk about, then we will discuss "fences" as a class. i want to talk about "the pittsburgh cycle." "the pittsburgh cycle" is a series of 10 plays that august wilson undertook to move black identity, black concerns, black lives, from the margins to the center. he did it on purpose. his goal -- it wasn't that he was necessarily -- he may or may not have held animosity for white america. but white america is not the central concern of his plays. white people are not the central concern of his plays. black lives, black identity, black existence. it gets moved to the center of his plays and playwriting. "the pittsburgh cycle" begins in -- well, it is different. he premiered with "jitney."
the first play he wrote was called "jitney." it premiered in 1982. will the second play he wrote was "ma rainey's black bottom." it was set in 1927 but premiered in 1984. what "moderate ease black bottom is an amazing play -- " ma rainey's black bottom" is an amazing play. it deals with five black musicians and one black female singer. do you guys know who big mama thornton is? have you ever heard of big mama thornton? you should look up big mama thornton. if you are just hanging out at your house, listening, doing homework, you might want to listen to big mama thornton. you can go back and listen to ma rainey. you can go back and go, there -- they are a different type of singer. you will get nina simone, but nina simone is kind of crossing
over into mainstream. ma rainey is a contemporary reference. have you ever seen miss doreen play in the quarter? you need to go to the quarter and listen to miss doreen. she plays clarinet. you have an understanding if you go listen and talk to miss doreen. after her, we have joe turner's "come and gone." this premiered in 1984 and was set in 1911. finally we get to fences set in 1957 but premiered in 1987. we will talk about "fences," in just a second. he also wrote "the piano lesson" "king henley," "gem of the ocean," and radio -- "and radio
golf." i think he also includes "clybourne park." let's talk about "fences." august wilson is influenced and in conversation with more artists than just playwrights. i know that all of these things informed him. at some point in time he stops concerning himself with white representation. he specifically begins to seek out black representation. and black art. one of the artists that he specifically looked to was here. let me show you.
i didn't break it and i am proud of that. [laughter] >> i have a question of ma rainey's black bottom. does it have to deal with sexuality? prof. proctor: yes, it does have to deal with sexuality. for a while, one of the other characters in the play is an opportunist. a young woman who is an opportunist. who has built a relationship with ma. the play tells you, the play intimates that it is of a sexual nature. yes, dealing with that is part of it as well. [video clip]
>> when i first began to do collages, i had no idea i would develop such simple processes with my work. like the train, the guitar. these are natural things that i saw. [indiscernible] these are the elements. ♪ i used a train because so many of the lives of black people had to do with the train. these are the elements of my environment. [end of video clip] prof. proctor: screen up.
bring the african-american experience or bring the universal to the african-american experience. what is significant about bringing the universal to the african-american experience? what is significant to you about an attempt to bring the universal to the african-american experience? >> it makes it something that everyone can understand. makes it easy for you to relate to it. to the story. does not matter if you are black, white, whatever. you can relate to it more. prof. proctor: how does the idea of empathy impact what you were saying? >> people feel more empathy towards black people. they will try to help out with more of the issues that are going on in the community. prof. proctor: ok. making the black experience understandable. we all have children.
i think about trayvon martin. every time i think about august wilson. august wilson's artistic purpose, i find myself thinking about trayvon martin. i want to know why the newspaper, why the media depicted him as such a monster deserving of such treatment. when all i saw was a 17-year-old boy who had been followed home. right? empathy, that is what ideology has to do with. if, ideologically, we can construct the black experience as something that is hostile, something that is aggressive, something that is violent, then the treatment of black people becomes justified by our criminal justice systems. right? but if we can perform the narrative of blackness in such a way that it becomes universal,
then maybe there can be empathy. maybe then we can get the rest of america to go, you know what, this demonizing of blackness that is happening on in ideological level, let's step away from that. find out that is just a mother and just a son. when we look at rose and troy in "fences." we are hearing the story of a man and woman. they don't really concern themselves with the white world around them. they are concerned with their lives. that process of exposing or showing the deeply personal by showing the specific and personal. it is an attempt to make that story universal. right?
oh, a husband and wife. it's not about this black has -- lack husband -- black husband and wife. that is my question for you guys. is the story specifically about this black man and black woman? or, is it about men and women? do you understand my question? yes? >> [indiscernible] they are really symbols of african-american men and women. and how we interact with each other. prof. proctor: ok. >> i feel like it probably showed more of a proper life of african-american experience. how african-american husband and wife interact with each other. prof. proctor: would you say "fences" humanizes the black experience?
>> in a direct way i say it do. from the dialogue of the main character, the african-american man, his dialogue towards his children and wife. prof. proctor: ok. so, let me ask you guys this. yes ma'am? >> i just wanted to say that i think the play is about a shared experience of oppression that black men and women both go through, as well as what is intertwined with the relationship between black men and women at home, inside the home. the way they have their own forms of, i guess, oppression from a man to a woman. like, some of the things she is going through with her husband, troy, and the way he was treating her. it was very misogynistic.
go get this for me, woman. there was a lot of that. prof. proctor: let's talk about this. i am not contesting you. thank you for a great comment. this is my question. we can describe the relationship between troy and rose as oppressive, right? we can describe it as misogynistic. take a couple seconds, and tell me from the play, give me an example from the play of what you think or what you would describe as oppressive or misogynistic. i'm not saying you are wrong, i'm asking everybody to support that position. what were some specific examples from the play that you might describe as misogynistic or abusive? >> he just expected rose to wait on him and get him whatever he wanted whenever he wanted. it.
or, yeah. prof. proctor: rose doing as she was told, yes. absolutely. you are 100% correct. i think that is a reflection of the state of women in the domestic sphere. so, this play was set in 1957. we have to think about things like, "i love lucy, " "leave it to beaver," "good times," and the idea of the american dream. what was a woman's role in a household in 1957? what was a woman's role -- even me saying that isn't necessarily true. when i say there were broader things that happened in the world. when a huge number of men left the country to go fight in world war ii and then came back, women went and worked. when all the men left the country to go fight in the war, women went to work.
this image that we have of the white woman with the rag on her head, that was a symbol for rosie the riveter. women went to factories and then they came home. who and what female meant and what the domestic sphere meant is being questioned. women had a different lived experience because of world war ii. the other thing that happened is -- happened after world war ii is the mccarthy era when you could be in trouble for -- being called a communist was the worst thing ever. you could appear before the house of un-american activities committee. that was a thing. that was a boogie man used to scare a lot of americans into what -- i cannot even say the government -- into proper behavior. women had their place.
there was an idea and american culture that women had their place. and their place was in the home. there are things that we would look at and call utterly crazy. magazines specifically for white women. about having your man's drink ready when he came home from work. being dressed nice, wearing a pair of heels and stockings and having a full face of makeup on. these things were in magazines. i have seen them. they all exist. we can go back and look at them. primarily this was a rhetoric being taught to white women. black women were trying to figure out how we fit into the american society. black women's hair is a part of that story. black women's jobs are a part of all that story. going out and being domestic, caring for white people's kids,
all of that is a part of the story. how black american identity fits into the fabric of american society is all a part of this story. you were going to say? >> i was just going to say i still see remnants of that and my grandmother and the way she still carries herself. for one, she put rollers in her hair every night. i have never seen her miss a night. i don't know how she does it and i bet that is so uncomfortable. also, we cannot have guests if the house is messy. you have to uphold this image that you are well kept. prof. proctor: right. again, it's the public versus private. if your house is messy, people don't come in. i also don't remember my grandmother going to bed without rollers in her hair. i remember as a boy thinking, how do you sleep on that? it is not comfortable at all.
but that idea of presentation. what would you say ruth's primary concern is in the play? anybody i have not heard from. yes. >> i would say maintaining the family. prof. proctor: maintaining the family. the most important thing to ruth in this play is maintaining the family. >> i think also maintaining the image that they are a happy family, kind of. prof. proctor: maintaining the image -- are they a happy family? >> in my opinion, no. >> i would say it got to the point where they are. they have problems. even when the baby came about, she still tried to have the family presence. she just neglected her duties as being a wife. i wouldn't say that is a complete family. prof. proctor: backup, you said
neglected her duties as a wife. which duties are you talking about? >> as far as, i guess being there for her husband in whatever capacity she was before. prof. proctor: being there for her husband. >> doing things that she would normally do. -- do as a wife. like when she found out about the baby she said, i will take care of the baby. you're not on your own but it is not the same. prof. proctor: i'm not sleeping with you anymore. >> yeah, that's no longer a thing. prof. proctor: that's no longer a thing. >> i guess maintaining -- prof. proctor: she was burning that bridge. >> yeah, but she still would be a mother to the child and care for the children. so i guess it still is like maintaining the family, but not in a holistic approach. prof. proctor: did she respond? did she say you have shown me
such disrespect that i will no longer share my body with you? because that is the only thing i have. could she have left him? really? i'm just curious. where would she go? >> i don't think she had that much money. prof. proctor: she's stuck. but that is her reality. i don't know if she thought of it as being stuck. >> in those days most people did not get divorces. prof. proctor: people did not get divorces. maybe that wasn't an option. >> a part in maintaining this perfect family image. prof. proctor: identity. it also has to do with her identity. my identity, the thing that tells me who i am is your wife, troy. it is the mother. this is troy's second relationship from which he has
kids. she is already wife number two. what were her options? what were her options as a black woman in 1957. >> she had few, if any. prof. proctor: she had few, if any. i don't want to say it was making the most of a bad situation. i think it is family. >> i think it's family, i think it's financial situations, like you said she really didn't have much money. why leave someone that is more financially stable, more stable than you would be on your own. i feel like that factors in as well. prof. proctor: what does family mean? think about your own families.
do you have cousins, sisters, brothers? how bad do you guys have family members i have maybe crossed the line? i have them. [laughter] nobody in your family has pushed the boundaries of what family means? >> nobody. prof. proctor: i believe you. i have relatives who are in jail. quick show of hands, how many of you know a man or woman in your family who has cheated? does cheating mean the relationship is over? [laughter] that's grown folks, right. you figure out how to get to what happens next when you are
there. rose was figuring that out. "fences," let's talk about "fences." what is a fence? really quickly, you guys. what exactly is a fence? this is not trying to trick you. what is a fence? it is something that keeps someone in or out. it is a barrier or a boundary. what is troy's activity? what is he trying to do? jordan, what is it that troy is trying to do this whole play? build or finish a fence. right. good. what else? at the beginning of the play there is a baseball bat leaning against a tree trunk. do you all remember that? good. troy has an image in his head of what he was supposed to be.
remember, he says i was just born at the wrong time. what is that mean? can i ask you to speak up. >> my bad. saying basically black people weren't allowed to play baseball professionally and stuff like that. he grew up in an era where he had to forget sports, let me go work a 9:00 to 5:00 so i can take care of my family. prof. proctor: right, so some of it has to do with what he perceives as a man's responsibility. i cannot remember the line exactly, but i think it is something like, his dream is i , could've been a great baseball player if i didn't have to do this. he has this perception that the fortunes of a black man have shifted from when he was younger to where he is now. good. the set is described as a
dilapidated front porch. sorry, back porch. why? why do you think most of this play takes place on the porch? >> it's usually where a lot of black people grow up. prof. proctor: a lot of black people grow up on the porch, yes. that's not me being funny, i get it. it has to do with community. right? when i moved down here to new orleans i did not realize that porch sitting was an actual thing. but porch sitting is an actual thing. you sit out on the porch when it gets too hot and you say, hey. you say hey to all your neighbors walking by. if you don't say hey, you uppity. you must be from up north. [laughter] people sit outside, there is a sense of community, right. good. the porch is unfinished. troy has a way of not following
through. troy has a way of not finishing what he started. troy has a way of not completing the relationship he invested in. he goes off and finds another woman and has another baby. troy has a way of not being present in his own life. do you guys have a response to that? what do you think of that idea of masculinity? what do you think of the idea of masculinity represented in the character of troy or his eldest son in the play? why can this family afford this house? >> he had a job. prof. proctor: he has a job, but
his brother gets a disability check. he always has a shame. troy is ashamed that the only way he can get this house is because of his brother's disability check. there is an investment in his brother not moving out. there is an investment in his brother still being there and being disabled. that has to be his reality. he loses his house if his brother moves out, if his brother moves into a facility, or if his brother dies even. there is that dependency on that. what else does this play say
about troy? what does it say about troy's version of masculinity? >> talking about his relationship towards his son prof. proctor: prof. proctor:. which son? >>'s youngest son. he wants to play sports. we know troy dreamed of sports. he won't let his youngest son play sports because i feel like you wanted him to be realistic and get a job and stuff. i really don't understand the relationship, that's why i wanted to bring it up. he knows it's a different time now. he still won't let him play sports. prof. proctor: why do you guys think troy won't let cory play sports? >> so he won't be disappointed. troy thinks the reason he wasn't able to play sports is because
he is black. really it is because he got old. they didn't want to draft an old guy into the league. he doesn't want his son to face the same racism he thought he experienced. he is keeping him from opportunity. not even allowing him to have the opportunity to be scouted. prof. proctor: your hand was up? could it be jealousy? >> i thought it was. >> i was thinking that, too. i was thinking it's because he is getting so many chances more. the void that is being filled through the lack of discretion in what he is failing to do is beyond him. he can't find a way to come to terms with himself. he chooses to fight with his
son, gives them strikes. at the end, when his son mentions the only way you are able to have this house because of your brother, he gets really angry and they start fighting again. it is a resentment i feel. he takes it out on others. they are able to do what he is not, or what he wishes he could have done. it is like he is aware and conscience but he is taking it out in ways that are not reasonable. >> i feel like he was trying to protect him because he didn't want him to fall in the same footsteps as him and get to that point in his life to have to struggle like that. prof. proctor: in your opinion, one of the things that is happening is troy is protecting him? >> yes. prof. proctor: protecting him
from what? troy is protecting cory from what? >> failure, i guess. prof. proctor: absolutely possible. your hand came up. >> like a father, you have to love your children. so you'll -- so you don't want them to follow the same path you took and be in the same situation. come back and get a job and then it'll be a struggle. prof. proctor: you said something really interesting. what i said -- and i am not seeing either of you are wrong, i agree with both of you. thank you for adding that. when i said what is troy protecting cory from, you said -- >> america. prof. proctor: the realities of what it means to be black and male in america. that is also a possibility.
>> what they were saying about what masculinity, i think black men tend to use what they go and through as a black male in america as an excuse for how they act inside the home. prof. proctor: ok. you know what, if you're going to write a thesis statement for this class, and you might, that is a really good place to start. i am just saying. yes, that is what i mean about the complexity of characters. the nature of who and what troy is his wildly complex. literally, everything you have just said fuels what makes up that character. that is what i mean by having a layered character. a character with depth. a character who is a fully rounded person. do you see how that might be different than the comedic character that showed up in the
jeffersons? that is what august wilson is doing. he is actually allowing black existence to be a complex thing. not just allowing it, he is doing an artistic rendering of black existence that is complex, layered, not simple or easy. >> how do you think white america viewed this play? it was nominated for four oscars. viola davis won. prof. proctor: i don't know how white america took this play. i don't know how white america reads this play, because i'm not. >> is it for them, or is it -- prof. proctor: one of the realities of american theater that we have to deal with is this.
if we look at the economic realities of black and white people in most urban areas, like even here in new orleans, new orleans, more than 60% of the population is african-american. but, 80%-85% or higher percentage of the wealth is owned by the white community. but that is the reality. great, so i have a theater company and i want my theater company to be site -- to be financially successful. that means i'm going to charge -- i will be conservative. let me say i will charge $30 per ticket.