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Chris D. Evans Directs Seven Guitars

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by Chris D. Evans and Jessica Harris 

Actors rehearse for the play Seven Guitars by August Wilson Photo Credit: Ézé Amos

The Charlottesville Players Guild (CPG) at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center (JSAAHC) presents Seven Guitars by August Wilson now through Sunday, March 5, 2023. Seven Guitars, a classic play by prolific Black playwright August Wilson, takes place in the backyard of a rooming house in the Hill District of Pittsburgh in 1948. Lead character Floyd “Schoolboy” Barton has a hit record on the radio and wants his band and his partner Vera to go with him to Chicago to record an album and make it big.

Chris D. Evans, seen as Cesar in Gem of the Ocean in the CPG’s last season, makes his directorial debut. He brings with him a cast originating from Lynchburg, Virginia to JSAAHC to perform. Evans has been a professional actor, working on stage and in film for over 30 years. 

In this article, Chris shares his thoughts on the show and the process, and reminds us why this play is still significant to Black folks today.  

About CPG: Charlottesville Players Guild works to ensure a safe space for Black artists to create, learn and grow in all aspects of live theatrical production. Under the umbrella of public programming for the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, CPG is concerned with telling Black stories from the Black perspective within the 20th Century.

Tickets can be purchased online here for virtual or in person shows. Shows are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and 2:00 p.m. on Sunday. To see more about CPG’s upcoming season, including its completion of the entire body of August Wilson American Century Cycle, which includes 10 plays, visit here.

They got roosters in the yard!

by Chris D. Evans

In the 1940s, Black men wanted what all men would: to be treated fairly, to be paid what was owed for their labor, and to own a piece of something. Following the win and end of WWII and the 1948 executive order abolishing the ban of Black men in the armed services, little changed in how Black men were treated in the South and the North in the United States, which leaves me to ask, “Will we get what we deserve?”

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson (1945- 2005), known for works like Fences (1987) and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (1984)

The stageplay Seven Guitars by August Wilson, set in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1948, shows Black folk with dreams, hopes, and promises ruled by fate. Whether Black folks are seeking a better life or fulfilling the promise of their fathers –to live better than they had—they are concerned for one another’s wellbeing, as family, while sharing recipes, a home, and good music.

August Wilson is seen by many to be the Black William Shakespeare or our time. He writes about the lives of Black folks we are familiar with. He has created a road map of Black history through his plays, and many people would never get to see or hear our history any other way.

Wilson demonstrates in this play that food and music have always been integral to the communities created by Black folks for as long as we have existed. Whether in the country or city, Black folks have gathered to celebrate births, anniversaries, and deaths. In the preparation of meals, stories, and songs, Black folks continue oral histories and traditions. Black folks continue to teach the next generation by keeping the past alive. Songs, hairstyles, recipes, and advice—wanted or not—are just a few ways the traditions are preserved.

In this work, blues music sets the tone for Black folks during this time, becoming another character in Seven Guitars. Blues music was being performed by both men and women in the late 40s. Black folk like Big Mama Thornton, Big Joe Turner, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe were topping the charts with guitar and harmonica players, and some of the most noted and powerful voices of a generation. Their hit records were and are still being played on the radio.

Seven Guitars is set in the backyard of a rooming house. There were several Black folks living with animals in the yard, front and back– communities where some residents had chickens, pigs, and roosters in the yard. It may not have been appreciated by a few of their neighbors, but it was more common than we would think. The adage is true, “You take you with you wherever you go.” I guess one can move to the city and keep their country ways.

What interests me about this play is the how we Black folks move from city to city creating family and community of folks caring for one another. Since the Great Migration, we have had Black folks from all over the South moving North, bringing with them the flavors of home, and tied together by common love and interest. In Seven Guitars, a group coming from other places came to call Pittsburgh home.

While I am generally happy on the stage, directing has always been in the back of my mind. And while I hold a few film credits, I enjoy the energy received from a live audience. It is hard to sit back and watch others create, but so rewarding to watch the final product. 

My journey into directing this play could not have been more rewarding. I have acted in two August Wilson productions, but this is my first time directing. There was a dream some said would be impossible: to bring together a group of Black folks, rehearse a play in one city, and then perform in a different city. A few told me it could not be done, but I saw there was a common love and interest in telling Black stories– honoring those who have come before us and celebrating in making Black History. Many people will find they recognize the characters in Seven Guitars. You have been with them, lived with them, and they are family.

In Seven Guitars, characters build family with those they choose. It is the love that these people show that will have you tapping your feet, humming along, and laughing with joy.

 

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