Clemente drama students choose ‘Fences’ for inaugural performance

Award-winning play chronicles black America in the 1950s

From AAPSNews Service

A proud Roberto Clemente community offered its first student drama performance this month with August Wilson’s award-winning play “Fences.” The new student group took to the stage on May 11-12, offering public performances of the acclaimed production.

"Fences" at Roberto Clemente
Drama students from Roberto Clemente star in August Wilson's "Fences."

A number of Clemente students starred in the production, representing  all attendance areas of the Ann Arbor Public Schools. Students also took part in set creation, production and lighting for the school’s inaugural production.

“This adaptation is a moving story and intensely performed by our students,” said Principal Ben Edmondson in a note about the performance sent to school staff. “We are particularly proud to bring this play to you, as it is a great demonstration of our understanding of what equity work looks like within our building.”

Wilson’s play is set in the 1950s, and chronicles one African-American family’s experiences living in the Hill District in the city of Pittsburgh, where playwright Wilson grew up. “Fences” is one of series of plays that he wrote chronicling the African-American experience in the 20th Century.

“I have learned more in this first year than I think I have in all my 11 years with the Ann Arbor Public Schools so far,” said teacher and play director Joey Parins, who came to Clemente last fall after teaching at Clague Middle School. “The students you are about to see have gone through a great transformation. Everybody – from our lights to our backstage to our set design.”

Parins, who began the drama program this year at Clemente, told the audience that she shared a special connection with playwright Wilson, spending time with him years ago when she worked at a restaurant named Esteban’s in St. Paul, Minnesota.

“He used to come in and he used to sit there at the bar every afternoon,” she said. “It was quiet and nobody was there and he would come in and write. And he’d have a cup of coffee and I would sit there and visit with August.”

Parins noted that the play “has been a natural fit for our students” and said she would love to do another of Wilson’s plays, “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” or another of his through-the-decades plays next year.

Clemente student actors included: Marcus Buggs playing the lead role of Troy Maxson; David Wren as Corey; Courtney Tubbs and Serena Johnson as Rose Maxson; DaVonn Harding as Bono; James Kelly as Gabriel; Bria Galloway and Mica Sims as Raynell; and Arquise Patterson as Lyons.

On the crew were Tyler Sheldon and Anthony Hugan on lights and Chris Coghlan, YaJaira Marin, Dennejah Drumright and Raven Hinton in the technical area.

AAPS Educational Foundation logoTechnology teacher Mike Fransten and his students handled set design and English teacher Jonathan Royce wrote the grant for the production. It was funded with grant money from the Ann Arbor Public Schools Educational Foundation and with proceeds and donations taken at the door. Lowes donated fencing for the set and Uncle Ed’s Oil Shoppe allowed the use of its jumpsuits for the play’s wardrobe.

A number of school staff saw a preliminary performance of Clemente’s “Fences” the previous week. Fine Arts Coordinator Robin Bailey said staff and students did “a marvelous job” on the production. Slauson Middle School Principal Chris Curtis was quoted as saying: “If I were to sum up my reaction in two words, they would be ‘spine tingling. It was awesome.” Assistant Superintendent Joyce Hunter said, “the students at Clemente should also receive a Tony Award.”

“Fences” won four Tony Awards including an award for best play and also won the Pulitzer Prize and several other prestigious awards. The original Broadway version starring James Earl Jones set a record for a nonmusical when it grossed $11 million in a single year and ran for 525 performances. August Wilson died in 2005 of liver cancer, according to published obituaries.

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