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Joe Turner’s Going to School: high school student set to direct August Wilson play

August Wilson Center for African American Culture. Tribune-Review.
August Wilson Center for African American Culture. Tribune-Review.

By Mia Crow

Point Park News Service

DeVaughn Robinson caught the acting bug in the 7th grade in 2008 when he co-directed a production of Snoopy at the Urban League Charter School.

His love of theater grew when he won third place honors in the national August Wilson Monologue competition in New York.

Now at 17 and a junior at Woodland Hills High School, Robinson has been named to direct August Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone as a part of a new theater program for young people at the center bearing the Pittsburgh playwrights’ name.

“Ever since I was young I knew as a career, whatever I decided to do, I wanted to entertain people.” Robinson said.

The play is brought to the AugustWilsonCenter by the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theater Company’s founder Mark Clayton Southers, who is also the Artistic Director of theater initiatives at the AWC.  PPTC is a small non-profit theater committed to developing and showcasing the talents and works of local playwrights.  Starting with Joe Turner, the company will present all of Wilson’s plays over the next 10 years with high school student directors and cast.

 

On the surface, Devaughn Robinson looks like the typical high school junior, dressed in skinny jeans and fitted shirt and a pair of flipped sunglass lens, made popular by Dwayne Wayne in the 90s television show A Different World.   In the world of acting, he is anything but.   

From an early age Robinson was involved in school plays and other productions to hone his craft of acting.  Along with school plays, he landed a role as one of the lost boys in Peter Pan at the Kelly/Strayhorn Theater.  At a young age Robinson knew he was an entertainer struggled with what career path he wanted to take.  He considered a life of doing voice overs for Disney movies, creating productions at theme parks, but ultimately he decided he needed to learn to write to reach his goals.  As a writer Robinson flourished.  Among other scripts, he wrote his own version of the 3rd installment of The Pirates of the Caribbean and various other plays he pitched for years before he found a producer for a play he wrote called Backstage Stories, about the conflicts and relationships that develop while performing.

“I actually contacted multiple universities, but the university that decided to do my play was CarnegieMellonUniversity.  During their playhouse series they produced the first play I ever wrote, Backstage Stories…I had college actors performing my work.”

As a result, the play ran as a part of CMU’s Playground festival and a run with the Alumni Theater Company, with actor Bill Nunn acting alongside the students.

In 9th grade Robinson competed in the regional August Wilson Monologue Competition in Pittsburgh and won first place by performing a monologue of Sterling Johnson from Radio Golf, Wilsons last installment of his 10-play cycle in the Pittsburgh Series, about the redevelopment of the Hill district in the 1990s.

That qualified him for the National Wilson competition in New York City, where he was the youngest competitor.

“It was a big thing for me because someone from Pittsburgh was representing Pittsburgh…and place nationally.  That spoke more to me than coming in 3rd.”  Robinson said enthusiastically.

Robinson’s second play, Black and White, was his take on interracial marriage and bringing the families together and was also produced by CMU in 2009.

It was during the time of the Black and White festival that it caught the attention of Mark Southers, who wanted to include the works in the festival.  Southers, founder and actor of the Pittsburgh Playwright Theater, immediately made him stage manager of Jitney, which Southers was producing at the playwright’s.  Robinson had to take down notes, took care of the props, stage direction and held cues.

 Later, Southers made Robinson co-director of a Teenie Harris play,  at the Hill House on the hill, grooming him for the his solo directorial debut with Joe Turner. 

He landed the Joe Turner gig with his impressive resume and hard work under Southers.  Robinson says, Southers gave him the chance to direct the play because he trusts his skill and love for the theater.

He says Southers knew his ability and passion he has for acting and it was the deciding factor in selecting him to direct this play.   Robinson knows it’s a major responsibility of creating the rehearsal times, marketing and auditions.

“I’ve sort of had to take a step back from some of the other things I’m doing.  I have to focus on this.”  Robinson stated passionately.

He feels it’s his duty help kids his age respect the craft of acting showing them how to look and feel for their characters.  He said this play gives him a chance to teach them about character and the different ways of acting.

“This is gonna be something major, a lot of the cast members have never worked in a venue this big.  It’s going to be a new experience for a lot of people and we should take advantage of that.”

Robinson knows that directing this play of this magnitude is game changing and his career can soar.   His greatest fears in directing this play is that his efforts will look like a professional production instead of a high school play, especially since it is an August Wilson play.

However, he says his greatest hope is to direct the play so well that it will be reviewed in the New York Times.  The play will run February 15-24 at 8 pm and will cost $15.

“This is a big event; it’s like a Shakespeare in the park.  No one’s ever attempted to do this.”  Robinson sees his future of him living off of his art and doing what he loves to do.

Robinson plans to attend college for acting and has his eye on a few, such as Carnegie Mellon, New York University and William and Mary.

“I plan on doing multiple things and not just play writing, acting, directing and writing.  I also want to continue to dance.  I don’t want to be put in a box.”

August Wilson Center for African American Culture. Tribune-Review.
August Wilson Center for African American Culture. Tribune-Review.

 

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