August Wilson’s How I Learned What I Learned

Clarence Cryer

How I Learned What I Learned is an autobiographical play created by August Wilson and Co-conceived by Todd Kreidler in 2002. Wilson was born in 1945 and grew up in the Hill District of Pittsburgh. He became a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright and in a very short period of time (1982-2005) wrote a series of 10 plays known collectively by various titles including The Pittsburgh Cycle and The American Century Cycle.

The Visalia Players production of How I Learned What I Learned at the Ice House Theatre stars Clarence Cryer, who along with his director, fell in love with Wilson’s work over two decades ago. Cryer is honored and humbled to portray this incredibly talented man.

The play has Wilson telling numerous stories about his life in Pittsburgh and how the people he knew and the circumstances he experienced shaped his life and helped him depict with clarity and honesty the African American condition in 20th Century America.

Wilson applied for and held various jobs in his youth including stockroom clerk, grass cutter, and dishwasher. His stories about these experiences are entertaining and revealing in their simplicity. His mother’s experience with winning a radio call-in contest taught him the “something is not always better than nothing.”

His tales about Barbara Peterson, Snookie, Chawley Williams, and Cy Morocco detail how his life and understanding of the world were shaped by others. From Coltrane, he learned how music could sooth the soul and the limitation of instruments.

Wilson’s stories are not always pleasant, but they are told with the sincerity and the humor required to maintain humanity in the midst of adversity. Wilson always tried to show the similarities between people not their diversities. The following quote from The Paris Review is typical.

“I think my plays offer (White Americans) a different way to look at Black Americans. For instance, in Fences they see a garbageman, a person they don’t really look at, although they see a garbageman every day. By looking at Troy’s life, White people find out that the content of this Black garbageman’s life is affected by the same things – love, honor, beauty, betrayal, duty. Recognizing that these things are as much part of his life as theirs can affect how they think about and deal with Black people in their lives.”

How I Learned What I Learned opens at the Ice House Theatre at Race and Santa Fe in Visalia at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, August 5 and runs for three weekends with evening performances at 7:30 p.m. on 8/5, 8/6, 8/12, 8/13, 8/19, and 8/20, and matinees at 2:00 p.m. on 8/7, 8/14, and 8/21.

NOTE: Q&A sessions will be held after the Sunday matinees for those interested in hearing more about Cryer’s experience in portraying August Wilson and the significance of Wilson’s outstanding work.

To purchase tickets, visit our website at www.visaliaplayers.org, visit our Facebook page “Visalia Community Players”, or call 559-734-3900.

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