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

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


But I have to say that in a commercial world, producers are more comfortable with directors that they know. So they usually get an opportunity to do that. So what I want to happen is that I want everybody to be able to do whatever work they want to do, because we certainly are defined by more than just our race. I want to tell stories about love, I want to tell stories about families, I want to tell about mysteries, and romance, and [so on]. ... I want to see more women on Broadway directing.

And all I say is that if you want to do August Wilson's work — 50 years from now, there is no doubt in my mind that he will be thought of as one of the greatest [playwrights] ever, and that's because his work is so fresh — you would hope that we would get a chance to establish all of those 10 plays in a way that would make him proud, so that they can go on and live a fuller life. And I think that when you do his work, regardless of your race or your gender, you have to do your research, make sure you do your homework. And that's the most important thing, because there [are] so many elements that are important to his plays that have to do with the culture that must be present in all of his plays. And when we miss that ... you can't miss that.

That has nothing to do with a directorial interpretation. It calls for us to do our homework, you know. ... African American culture is real, reality, it's based on the way people live, its not made up. There are certain things that, for instance, that African American mothers would put up with and not put up with — the way that she ordered her kitchen and her living space in a way that we must honor it ...

I just did a master class with [Russian theater director] Kama Ginkas on understanding [playwright Anton] Chekhov, and I would never have imagined the level of intricacies in that play, and understanding even that culture, and then understanding the culture of the writer. And to approach Chekhov, it's a very meticulous approach, and ... people are very reverent as to how — at least, professional directors are very reverent as to how they approach Chekhov. It's more than interpretation. There are givens in a playwright's dramaturgy, and I think that directors have to develop their personal dramaturgy — not just rely on dramaturge from an institution, but they should develop their dramaturgical bag as well. So I think that point is made very clear.

EDITOR'S NOTE: More from Leon about how he views August Wilson's plays now that the revered playwright is no longer alive:

... Sometimes, as working artists, we say, "Oh, that play is too old." I remember when I approached actors across the country about "A Raisin in the Sun" — before the television film, but for Broadway. Some of the actors said, "Oh, that play is too old." It's because we