Conversation with L. Peter Callender

By January 7, 2016 January 11th, 2016 Jitney


JITNEY’s Director, L. Peter Callender, is the Artistic Director of the African-American Shakespeare Company in San Francisco, CA and comes to American Stage with an impressive resume of credits ranging from Broadway to work in England, France, and Japan.

Join L. Peter Callender and American Stage Producing Artistic Director Stephanie Gularte in conversation this Sunday (January 10th) at 1PM. $7 Subscribers | $10 General Public. Book Now.

What makes JITNEY unique in Wilson’s Century Cycle?

JITNEY, Wilson’s first play,  is the only of Wilson’s plays not to go to Broadway. Not because it wasn’t worthy, but because the producers got cold feet after the play before did’t do the expected ticket sales. An attempt to rectify that error is being made as we speak. Another aspect of it’s uniqueness is the play itself. Unlike MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM, JOE TURNER’S COME AND GONE, FENCES or PIANO LESSON, four of Wilson’s masterpieces, JITNEY’S genius is in its characters and Shakespearean-like poetry. The plot is a simple one, but Wilson shapes each character with a journey of yearning; a personal attempt to battle the forces that are trying to encroach on their world. He gives them all magnificently sculpted arias that emanate effortlessly from the hearts of these people and touch their listeners. In it’s earlier incarnation, JITNEY was 90 minutes long and needed work, Wilson put it aside determined to write a great play: MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM was the result. He then came back to JITNEY, took away characters, added the beautiful monologues, changes the year from 1971 to 1977 and presented the world with what I sincerely feel is his best play!


Do you anticipate any unique directorial challenges to working on JITNEY at American Stage?

Yes. Each stage, each space, has it’s challenges–physical or otherwise. American Stage presents a challenging audience perspective which I have to be always aware of as director. I am constantly on the move in rehearsals to make sure I am delivering the play to every part of the house and not cheating any audience member out of our beautiful work. It’s a challenge we are solving nicely. There is also a steep rise to the house, so I am also directing my actors to not keep their heads down too much or too long so as to not loose the top rows. These are not problems, but simple challenges to be solved ensuring our audiences enjoyment this magnificent play fully realized, with as few visual obstructions as possible. Wilson’s JITNEY fits perfectly in this space. Audience members experience the ultimate intimate theater experience while, at the same time, watching each other experience the plays. What can be better?


What contemporary relevance or perhaps universal truths exist within JITNEY that might resonate with American Stage audiences?

With the advent of “Black Lives Matter”, gentrification of major areas of the United States formerly housing great populations of Black people, protests at college campuses by all races across the country–an American Spring, of sorts, JITNEY (and one other play of Wilson’s–RADIO GOLF), ascends to remind us that the uprooting of families “for the better” without a specific plan to make their lives better is insulting at the least and criminal at most. Almost 40 years after this play was written, we still see, in major American cities, thousands of structures laying empty, but for the rodents and their unfortunate homeless companions. Owners are holding out for the big bucks while our parks, storefronts and alleyways become makeshift homes for the displaced. City leaders become the army of the “supposed”. One Wilson character says, “They supposed to build some houses. That’s what they need to do.” Another adds, “They supposed to build a new hospital down there on Logan Street. They been talking about that for awhile.” The elder sums up: “They ‘supposed’ to build some houses, but you ain’t gonna see that. You ain’t gonna see nothing but tear-down. That all I ever seen.” That plaintiff cries by the elders of the past are still echoed by today’s youth through the canyons of our largest cities. Who is listening? When will it stop?

JITNEY begins performances on Wednesday January 20th. Click Here to Learn More.