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Wali Jamal channels legendary playwright August Wilson
'How I Learned What I Learned' Jan. 17-18 at UNCC
Published Monday, January 14, 2019 12:34 pm
by Ashley Mahoney | The Charlotte Post

Wali Jamal portrays August Wilson in "How I Learned What I Learned Jan. 17-18 at UNC Charlotte.

“How I Learned What I Learned” belongs on a college campus.

Wali Jamal noted the evolution of playwright August Wilson from obscurity to coursework since his death in 2005. Jamal, a Pittsburgh native and Wilsonian ambassador, portrays Wilson in “How I Learned What I Learned” at UNC Charlotte’s Black Box Theater in Robinson Hall Jan. 17-18 at 7:30 p.m. Wilson performed in the premiere at the Seattle Repertory Theatre in 2003.

The play explores Wilson’s evolution from high school dropout to Pulitzer Prize winner. Primarily, it focuses on how his life as a black artist in Pittsburgh’s Hill District shaped him, spanning from his childhood to the completion of the American Century Cycle—a total of 10 plays.

“It is an autobiographical presentation of Wilson—his life, his city and mostly the people he encountered,” Jamal said. “Most people, when reminiscing about the August Wilson they knew, he did not really talk a lot to a lot of people, but sat back and listened. He listened and he wrote. In his one-man show, it is him who is being taught by all these different characters who he talks about in the show. I try to give separate and distinct voices to the characters he talks about.”

Jamal, a Pittsburgh native, is the only actor who has performed in each of the 11 Wilson works. He is also one of three actors licensed to perform Wilson’s 2003 work; the others are Ruben Santiago-Hudson (2014) and Eugene Lee (2015). Jamal’s accomplishment earned him the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 2018 Performer of the Year.
“The awareness is more widespread to the point of being taught in a college class,” Jamal said.

Jamal’s work has taken him offstage and into the classroom as a guest lecturer for University of Pittsburgh professor Christopher Rawson’s course on Wilson.  

“There is an English professor here in Pittsburgh [Rawson] who is the senior theater critic for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette,” Jamal said. “He teaches a class on August Wilson, and has been doing that for the last 10-12 years. He had me come in to address the class, to talk to them about August Wilson, his characters, about different areas of Pittsburgh that he talks about in his plays, and then he will have me perform a monologue or two from one of his various plays, or a specific play that he is teaching at that time.”

Note: tickets are $8-$18.

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