August Wilson's Four Bs: THE BLUES

Acting Apprentice Adriana Bordea gives us some background on one of August Wilson's Four Bs (influences on his Pittsburgh Cycle). We start with: THE BLUES.

ADRIANA: While working down here in the basement of the church, sounds creepy I know but it’s actually quite sunny, I can’t help but get distracted by the noise from upstairs. Stomps from up above shake the ceiling, laughter from the choreographed dance parties brings smiles across our faces, and of course the piano which seems to echo above and beyond. There is only one explanation for this… THE PIANO LESSON is deep in rehearsal and Opening Night is just around the corner!

    I never noticed just how much sound had an impact on me, or even to go further how music from the piano suddenly changed my mood. After hearing the cast rehearsing songs, I got to thinking, "When August Wilson wrote his plays, what was his source of inspiration to create his stories." With the help of a simple search engine, thank you internet, I discovered the key to Wilson’s success. He had the 4 Bs: Blues, Baraka, Bearden, and Borges. Try saying that four times. But rumor has it that Blues gets top spot.

     It all started when a young Wilson began sifting through old albums at thrift stores and came across Bessie Smith, one of the greatest blues singers of that time."I put that on, and it was unlike anything I'd ever heard before…Somehow, all that other music was different from that. And I go, 'Wait a minute. This is mine… there's a history here.'” says Wilson.

     Blues originated in the Deep South and was used by an individual to express what they could not say. Whether it was in spirituals, work songs, or “jump-ups” they all had one thing in common….which happened to be specific chord progressions to move it forward, or twelve bar blues which was actually the most common. It was also used as a narrative, or in dorky actor’s lingo, a monologue. Wilson’s goal was to relate the characters back to their true selves and way of living which always were rooted in blues. Some might assume that just cause its Blues that that runs into a path of gloominess, but on the contrary if you look further you will find ones that have drive and purpose and even really hilarious ones. "I bought you a ten dollar dinner, you said thanks for the snack." Yes, these are actually blues lyrics from Mr. B.B. King himself! 

    What’s interesting is even though THE PIANO LESSON is known as a play, some consider it to be more of a musical. Blues, boogie-woogie, the work song, the railroad song, just to name a few appear throughout that show to express moments of African-American history. Some believe the term “blues” came from blue indigo, which was used by many West African cultures in death. The blue was as respect to show the grief of the one who passed. This also might explain why August Wilson chooses to have Sutters ghost wear a blue suit in THE PIANO LESSON. As the play comes to the end, we see just how much the music not only impacts the living, but also the dead.

      So now I'm sure your thinking, "Where can I find some hella good Blues music around Portland?" Come here, we wanna see your lovely faces! THE PIANO LESSON, directed by Kevin Jones, runs September 24-November 2, and as we all know, Wilson Fever is in the air, which means tickets are going fast! Cant wait! :) 

Bessie Smith singing “Nobody in Town Can Bake a Sweet Jelly Roll Like Mine.” Wilson explains that this song is what made him finally see the beauty of language of Black America. 

THE PIANO LESSON has been extended through November 16th. Get tickets here.