August Wilson

Re-Evaluating the Ground on Which We(s) Stand(s): An Evening with Broadway’s Crystal Dickinson and Brandon Dirden

Friday, September 25, 2020 at 4:30pm

FREE! Pre-registration by Friday, September 25, 2020 at 9am required for access to this virtual event.

Please Note: Due to the imminent Netflix release of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and restrictions by the Estate of August Wilson, this evening will not include excerpts from the August Wilson canon. The evening will now feature works by Lorraine Hansberry, Adrienne Kennedy, Alice Childress, and Dominique Morriseau.

Assistant Professor of Theater Maria-Christina Oliveras and Associate Professor of English Rashida Z. Shaw McMahon host acclaimed actors Crystal Dickinson (Clybourne Park and You Can’t Take It With You on Broadway; Showtime’s The Chi) and Brandon Dirden (Martin Luther King, Jr. in All the Way starring Bryan Cranston and Jitney on Broadway; FX’s The Americans; Netflix’s The Get Down) in an evening exploring the challenges of presenting and teaching BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) theater in predominantly white spaces. The evening will feature excerpts from plays by Adrienne Kennedy, Alice Childress, Lorraine Hansberry, and Dominique Morriseau, which will serve as anchoring points to engage the Wesleyan community in direct conversation with the work, its themes, and its resonance and relevance today, particularly in our efforts to de-center whiteness from our curricula.

Inspired by August Wilson’s 1996 keynote address to the Theater Communications Group, The Ground on Which I Stand, this is the inaugural event to the series "Re-Evaluating the Ground on Which We(s) Stand(s)," amplifying voices of BIPOC artists and engaging the community in conversations about the challenges of BIPOC theater in white spaces.

Co-sponsored by the Theater Department and the English Department.


CRYSTAL DICKINSON made her Broadway debut in the Tony Award Winning Play, Clybourne Park, for which she received the Theater World Award. She subsequently starred alongside James Earl Jones and Rose Byrne in the Tony Nominated Revival of You Can’t Take It With You, also on Broadway. Off Broadway credits include Lincoln Center, the Signature Theater, The Public Theater, Playwrights Horizons and The Atlantic, among numerous others, where she has worked with Thomas Kail, Michael Grief , Scott Ellis, Bryan Cranston, Wendell Pierce, Pam Mackinnon, Lila Neugebauer, Leigh Silverman and Kenny Leon. She is also a Four-Time AUDELCO Award Nominee. Her Film and Television credits include: Collateral Beauty, I Origins, This Is Where I Leave You, The Good Wife, New Amsterdam and a recurring role on Showtime’s The Chi. Crystal has also had an illustrious career teaching acting at Stella Adler Studio, Spelman College, NYU, Princeton, Pace University and both of her Alumni schools, University of Illinois and Seton Hall. A proud MFA graduate of The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she also studied at the London Academy for Music and Dramatic Art and is an elite member of the Lincoln Center Directors Lab.

BRANDON J. DIRDEN starred on Broadway as Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Tony Award winning production of All the Way, with Bryan Cranston, and as Booster in the Tony Award-winning revival of August Wilson's Jitney directed by frequent collaborator, Ruben Santiago-Hudson. Additional Broadway credits include Clybourne Park, Enron, and Prelude to a Kiss. Off-Broadway, he has appeared in The Piano Lesson by August Wilson, for which he won Obie, Theatre World, and AUDELCO awards; The First Breeze of Summer and Day of Absence at Signature Theatre; Detroit ‘67 at the Public Theater and Classical Theatre of Harlem; Peter and the Starcatcher at New York Theatre Workshop and as ‘Brutus’ in TFANA’s production of Julius Caesar. On screen he has appeared in The Good Wife, The Big C, Public Morals, Manifest, The Get Down, The Accidental Wolf, Blue Bloods, The Quad and four seasons of FX’s The Americans as Agent Dennis Aderholt. He recently starred in the ABC series For Life and was seen in the FX miniseries, Mrs. America. He has directed numerous plays by Dominique Morriseau and August Wilson. Brandon holds BAs in Mathematics and Drama from Morehouse College and an MFA in Acting from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Associate Professor of English, RASHIDA SHAW MCMAHON is originally from the island of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. She is a Wesleyan alumna, class of ‘99, who majored in Theater (with a concentration in Acting) and Sociology. After Wesleyan, she attended Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois where she received her Ph.D. in Theatre and Drama. Her course offerings and research exemplify interdisciplinary methodologies and collaborative approaches towards examining: the dramatic and performance traditions of African Americans and the larger African Diaspora; American drama; American musical theatre; American and European theatre and performance histories; theatrical spectatorship; dramatic adaptations of poetry, novels, and historical fiction; and, the application of critical race theories, gender theories, sexuality theories, and popular culture theories to drama and performance. Her book, The Black Circuit: Race, Performance, and Spectatorship in Black Popular Theatre (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, March 2020), examines “Chitlin Circuit” theatrical productions and the reception practices of African American spectators. Her current research projects include an investigation into the public exhibition of children from the Danish West Indies (referred to today as the United States Virgin Islands) in early twentieth century Denmark and an investigation into the hypervisibility of African American women characters within the plays of August Wilson.

Assistant Professor of Theater, MARIA-CHRISTINA OLIVERAS, is an actor, singer, and educator whose career spans theater, film, television and voice-overs. On Broadway, Maria-Christina originated the role of Gina in Amelie, and also appeared in Machinal and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. Off-Broadway credits include the world premieres of Here Lies Love by David Byrne and Fat Boy Slim (The Public; cast album), Pretty Filthy by Bess Wohl and Michael Friedman (The Civilians; cast album), Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (The Public), Romeo and Juliet (The Public), Zorba! (Encores), Taylor Mac’s 24 Hour History of Music (St. Ann’s Warehouse), among numerous others. Selected regional world premieres include Kiss My Aztec!, a new musical by John Leguizamo, Tony Taccone, Ben Velez and David Kamp (Berkeley Rep/La Jolla), Soft Power by Jeanine Tesori and David Henry Hwang (Center Theater Group), and El Huracan by Charise Castro Smith (Yale Rep). Film and television credits include St. Vincent, Manhattan Night, “The Blacklist,” “Madame Secretary,” and “Law & Order: SVU”. She received her B.A. from Yale University, and her Acting from the National Theatre Conservatory.


View a broadcast below of the debate between playwright August Wilson and critic Robert Brustein over multiculturalism and the theater. The discussion is moderated by actress, playwright, and performance artist Anna Deavere Smith.

IMAGES (from left): August Wilson, Crystal Dickinson, Brandon Dirden, Rashida Z. Shaw McMahon, and Maria-Christina Oliveras.