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FW: Theater To Be Renamed For August Wilson

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  • Tracey de Morsella (formerly Tracey L. M
    ... From: GIRLFRIEND [mailto:GIRLFRIEND@HOME.EASE.LSOFT.COM]On Behalf Of T. McCormick Sent: Friday, September 02, 2005 9:55 AM To:
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 2, 2005
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      -----Original Message-----
      From: GIRLFRIEND [mailto:GIRLFRIEND@...]On Behalf Of T.
      Sent: Friday, September 02, 2005 9:55 AM
      To: GIRLFRIEND@...
      Subject: Theater To Be Renamed For August Wilson

      September 2, 2005
      Theater Is to Be Renamed for a Dying Playwright
      "I have a robust imagination, but I never imagined anything like this."
      The words are those of August Wilson, a two-time winner of the Pulitzer
      Prize for drama, who next month will receive one of the great honors in
      American theater: his name affixed to the marquee of a Broadway theater.
      Rocco Landesman, the president of Jujamcyn Theaters, which owns five
      Broadway theaters, said yesterday that his company would change the name of
      the Virginia Theater, at 245 West 52nd Street, to the August Wilson Theater.
      The new marquee, with a giant neon sign bearing the writer's signature, is
      to be unveiled on Oct. 17.
      Mr. Wilson, 60, will be the first African-American for whom a Broadway
      theater is named. He will take his place beside such theatrical figures as
      the playwright Eugene O'Neill, the composer George Gershwin and the actress
      Helen Hayes.
      "He's one of the most important American playwrights ever," said Mr.
      Landesman, who has known Mr. Wilson since his breakthrough with "Ma Rainey's
      Black Bottom" in 1984. "I think his work is going to speak to generation
      after generation of theatergoers."
      Mr. Wilson may never see the marquee or sit in the theater that carries his
      name. Last month, in an interview with The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, he
      announced that he was dying of liver cancer, with three to five months to
      He disclosed it with the type of plainspoken grit one of his heroic
      characters might admire.
      "I've lived a blessed life," Mr. Wilson said. "I'm ready."
      Mr. Wilson said that his cancer was too far along to be treatable, but that
      he would continue writing until his death, putting the final touches on his
      monumental 10-play cycle. The plays document the African-American experience
      in the 20th century, and each is set in a different decade. The final play,
      "Radio Golf," set in the 1990's, had its premiere in May at the Yale
      Repertory Theater in New Haven and now is playing in Los Angeles.
      The news of Mr. Wilson's cancer shocked many on Broadway, where eight of his
      plays have been produced, including his Pulitzer Prize winners, "Fences" and
      "The Piano Lesson," as well as other critical hits including "Two Trains
      Running." The larger theatrical community, where he is known as both a
      strong advocate for the development of minority playwrights and minority
      audiences, was also stunned, and theaters where his work has been produced
      issued statements with best wishes, while theatrical Web sites overflowed
      with similar messages.
      For Jujamcyn executives, the renaming was a delicate matter, one they said
      was richly deserved but tragically accelerated.
      "I'm sure he knows that we might not be doing this at this point if not for
      the circumstances," said Jack Viertel, the creative director at Jujamcyn and
      a longtime friend of Mr. Wilson's. "But he's been so stand-up about the
      whole thing, it hasn't been awkward." The company also plans to help set up
      a fund in Mr. Wilson's name to bring disadvantaged young people to Broadway.
      Mr. Wilson was too fatigued to be interviewed yesterday, said his assistant,
      Dena Levitin. But in a statement from his home in Seattle, he said: "I have
      a robust imagination, but I never imagined anything like this. I think it is
      an extraordinary honor, and it is truly a capstone of my career. I am
      Others along Broadway said the renaming was appropriate and overdue.
      "A great choice," said Emanuel Azenberg, a veteran Broadway producer. "The
      man is a major American playwright."
      The Virginia was built in 1925 and renamed in 1981 in honor of Virginia M.
      Binger, the wife of James H. Binger, who owned Jujamcyn then; it is the
      latest of several theaters to change names. In 2003, the Martin Beck Theater
      was renamed in honor of Al Hirschfeld, the caricaturist. This year,
      adjoining theaters on West 45th Street were renamed for Bernard B. Jacobs
      and Gerald Schoenfeld, two executives from the Shubert Organization,
      Broadway's most powerful landlord.
      Several other theaters have picked up corporate names in recent years,
      including the American Airlines Theater and the Hilton Theater, both on West
      42d Street.
      The soon-to-be August Wilson Theater is currently dark but has been, over
      the years, the home of hits ("Jelly's Last Jam") and misses ("Carrie," the
      musical). In 2001, "King Hedley II," the 1980's segment of Mr. Wilson's
      cycle, was performed there.
      Yesterday Mr. Landesman said he intended to produce "Radio Golf," the final
      chapter of Mr. Wilson's cycle, on Broadway next season.
      Long before that, however, Mr. Landesman intended to recognize -
      permanently - the contributions of an old friend.
      "The marquee is going to survive August," Mr. Landesman said. "And it is
      going to survive me."
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