Posts Tagged ‘August Wilson’

“I Want My Ham! A Meditation on Hambone” from Donya K. Washington

In Assistantship on January 29, 2013 at 3:13 PM

Donya Washington Photo Week 2v2

I’m assisting on Two Trains Running and have the privilege of listening to the play every day. One of the characters in the play, Hambone, has essentially two lines. “I want my ham.” “He gonna give me my ham.” After listening to those lines for several days, one day I suddenly heard them. Although he seems simple, Hambone’s story is one of profound persistence in the face of injustice. For nearly a decade, this man has tried to claim what he believes is rightfully his – just payment for his services. Although he is offered a lower fee (a chicken), he refuses. He will take nothing less than a ham, no matter how many times he must ask for it. His request is simple, but his stubborn determination is profound.

Last week, January 21st, was the day set aside to remember the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. During his final trip in Memphis, Dr King (along with many others) worked with the Sanitation Workers to help bring their strike to a successful conclusion. They are the ones you see in photos from the period holding signs that say “I AM a man.” This was not the first (nor would it be the last) time they had struck to fight for a living wage. Those men, like Hambone were fighting for their right to be heard, or as Dr King said the night before he died “We are saying that we are determined to be men. We are determined to be people.” It seems such a simple thing, and something that today most of us are lucky enough to take for granted. But those simple things are often the most difficult to attain.

At a production meeting last week someone, in reference to using food on stage, said “We can’t do leftovers.” The phrase stuck with me. It seemed more profound than the intended meaning of the moment. Hambone wasn’t settling for leftovers. The strikers in Memphis weren’t settling for leftovers. And Dr. King certainly wasn’t settling for leftovers. What does this mean for me? I’m an artist. I’m black. I’m a woman. Many people fought and died for my right to ride on a bus and sit anywhere I please; many people fought and died for my right to so freely declare myself an artist – without my ancestors struggle for self-determination (their “ham”), I would not have been free to follow my heart into theatre. To honor their fight, I believe it’s my duty to give my all to my craft, to learn as much as I can and to speak with integrity through my work.

I need to fight for my own ham. We as a people should not settle for leftovers. It may take the stubborn determination of Hambone, but to get to the Promised Land we can’t settle for leftovers. I want my ham. He gonna give me my ham!


“The Yin and Yang” from Wind Woods

In Literary, Residency, Wind Woods on January 7, 2013 at 3:48 AM


The Yin and the Yang, the present and the future, hope and hopelessness, woken life or wrapped in the mystical qualities of a dream – there are always two trains running, with three distinct options: 1) to stay or 2) board train #1 or 3) board train #2. Whether these trains lead to love or loneliness, success or failure, dreams achieved or dreams deferred, with every choice we must tote the heavy baggage of history. The weight of this baggage increases the depth of the footprints we leave in the soil. This weight skews our sight as we strain to decipher the road map that marks our future.

Wilson’s plays are haunted with the spirit of history, encamped in the state of the present, and actively involved in the creation of what is yet to come. Two Trains Running forces us as artists and audience to wrestle with the dimensions of the past, present, and future. Wilson in each scene draws attention to the interconnectivity of the “now”, “back when”, and “someday” and demonstrates how dependent these three temporal settings are to each other and to understanding our position in the world. We, as well as the characters in the play, are a product of this time triad.

In the rehearsal room and in the world of the play, we are forced to go back before we go forward. As Memphis states “Ain’t no need in keeping running, ‘cause if you get to the end zone it ain’t gonna be a touchdown [if you dropped the ball].” We must all go back to our own individual past, retrace our own personal journey. Before there were tracks in the ground there were foot prints and dirt paths to follow, most of them now washed away by wind and rain.

The setting of Two Trains is a location where paths cross, a transfer station on the way to someplace else. There are many places like this in the world, where travelers stop, nourish themselves and ready for more travel, more life. When we arrive at the crossroad, the transfer station, we are met with the questions: Where are we? Where have we come from? And where do we want to go? If we miss a train, we catch the next one, but we cannot stand idle in the present forever. So we board, finding a destination that excites or frightens us, some simply get in the first line they see, some may flip a coin. We hope that the seats are comfortable and the service is good, but once the train jolts into motion we are all transported in different directions. The next stop might vary for us all, but the nature of the journey is always the same. We leave, and sometime in the future we arrive. For no matter what train we take, what direction the train heads, what souvenirs we collect along the way, we are in the end caught in the tragic irony of time and existence. We all, at one time or another must board that final train, an unavoidable final stop on the line. One person’s final destination might be another’s initial point of departure. They board, take their seat, perhaps come across something a fellow traveler has left behind, a partially completed crossword puzzle, a receipt, a hat or a scarf. The item may remind them of how alike everyone’s journey is.

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