DIRECTOR'S CUT: More with "Fences" director Kenny Leon

Akiba Abaka | 9/16/2009, 10:37 a.m.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Akiba Abaka's with Kenny Leon, director of the Huntington Theatre Company's production of "Fences," running through Oct. 11, covered too much ground for the Banner to print it all. Below, you'll find more from their discussion.

You know, Kenny, in 2003, when Up You Mighty Race staged "Fences," I will never forget an e-mail that I received a week after the show opened. It was from an audience member who made sure to point out that he was white, and that the play made him feel the need to call his father because they had not talked in years. We staged it for Father's Day, and he just wrote to us and said, "Thank you, I need to call my father."

But that's what great plays do. And sometimes August gets marginalized as an African American writer, but he's much more than that, you know. Certainly he has given African Americans plenty, but he talks about America, our place in America, and he writes about this African American family in a specific way ... because he does that so well, you're able to see the universality of the play. ... How many people [do] you think aren't dealing with a 17-year-old going into the world?

EDITOR'S NOTE: More from Leon about Bartlett Sher, who is white, directing a Wilson play on Broadway, and on introducing more black directors on Broadway:

I think, on one hand, August was always fighting for that. And if we look at the Broadway landscape — Bartlett is definitely a great director, and he has proven himself; he has won several Tonies and the like — but if you look at Broadway last year, you say to yourself, we're in a country where African Americans are 12 percent of the population or thereabouts, and so you'd say, "Well, 12 percent of those directors would have been African Americans." Well, if you do your research, you see there [weren't] 12 percent of African Americans directing plays on Broadway last year. There was, in fact, zero.

Last season?

Last season.

What about "Passing Strange"? Was that an African American director?

Who directed "Passing Strange"? (EDITOR'S NOTE: The director of that critically acclaimed musical, which traces a young black musician's journey across the world and throughout musical styles, was Annie Dorsen, who is white.)

If there was an African American director, that was probably the only one.

Yeah, and that was the season before last.

OK, yeah.

But either way ... if I grow up in the South, and I have the major theater company in the South, and you produce, let's say, in one season, Tennessee Williams was produced probably five or six times. Well, he's a Southern playwright. I run a major theater where he lived. But it just doesn't occur to other producers to say, "What about Kenny Leon for that?" They just don't think of that, because most African American directors are defined by their race, and most other directors aren't defined that way.