TWO-TIME ACADEMY AWARD-WINNER DENZEL WASHINGTON came to Pittsburgh, Sept. 26, 2018 to announce fundraising efforts to restore and renovate the landmark August Wilson House on Bedford Avenue in the Hill District. (Photos by Emmai Alaquiva/File)
Four years ago, actor Denzel Washington stood on the grounds of playwright August Wilson’s childhood home on Bedford Avenue, and said: “I love August Wilson. He touches my soul, our souls, in a way that no one I’ve ever read has.”
Washington, the two-time Academy Award winner, was in Pittsburgh in September 2018 as part of the groundblessing ceremony for the preservation of Wilson’s childhood home. He helped raise $5 million to jumpstart the preservation project.
Four years later, here we are. “August Wilson House,” as it’s called, has been more than preserved —the home has turned into a brand new arts center, as Wilson had said he wanted the space inside the home to be useful to the community.
The grand opening celebration for the arts center at August Wilson House is Saturday, Aug. 13. And the New Pittsburgh Courier has learned exclusively that Denzel Washington is returning to Pittsburgh, to be part of the historic celebration.
“He just loves everything August Wilson,” Denise Turner, August Wilson House chief executive and board president, told the Courier in an exclusive interview. “When he (Washington) found out that we were preserving the very place that August (Wilson) as a young child drew his inspiration from, engaging with his mother and just living in the Hill District and seeing all of these beautiful families and being inspired to write about the human experience…his expression and words, it penetrates the hearts of many, not just Black people. And that’s why he’s not just a great African American playwright; he’s a great American playwright.”
Saturday, Aug. 13, will be a daylong celebration at August Wilson House, culminating with a “House Party” from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. featuring the likes of local DJs and other notables. Events throughout the afternoon and into the evening will feature notables from the local arts and performance community. Constanza Romero, the widow of Wilson, is also scheduled to attend.
On Friday, Aug. 12, Mark Clayton Southers’ Pittsburgh Playwrights Theater Company will host a production, “Jitney,” which is part of Wilson’s famous “Pittsburgh Cycle” set of 10 plays. Nine of those 10 plays were set in Pittsburgh.
August Wilson House held a “Legacy Brick” campaign throughout the year as a fundraiser for the home’s restoration. The campaign allowed supporters to make Wilson’s house a home for community artists by purchasing a “legacy brick.” That brick, which has a cost from $100 to $1,000, was strategically located along prominent walkways, entryways and patios at the arts center. More legacy bricks can be purchased even after the Aug. 13 grand opening.
“While a lot of people may think that (the arts center) is museum-like, it’s not going to be,” Turner told the Courier.
“There will be a museum portion because we did a historic preservation of (Wilson’s) childhood home…so there will be some artistic expression in those rooms, but it will operate as an arts center. Reading roundtables, new play-reading series, an oral histories program, playwright residencies,” among other programs.
The arts center at August Wilson House, 1727 Bedford Ave., is dedicated to strengthening youth and Hill District residents, and nurturing artists and scholars locally and around the world.
“August Wilson is iconic and well-known globally as the theater’s poet of Black America,” Turner said, “and we are both proud and thrilled to celebrate him with this incredible arts center.”
(Editor’s note: For more information on tickets and programming for the Aug. 13 events, visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/august-wilson-house-grand-opening-celebration-tickets-381366416217 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.)