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IUP, Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company Presenting "Nine Days In the Sun"
Mark Clayton Southers
Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s Theater-By-The-Grove will present Mark Clayton Southers’ “Nine Days in the Sun” at IUP; this initiative begins Theater-By-The-Grove’s association with Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company (PPTCO).
Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s Theater-By-The-Grove will present Mark Clayton Southers’ “Nine Days in the Sun” at IUP.
This initiative begins Theater-By-The-Grove’s association with Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company (PPTCO) where Southers is the founding artistic director.
The play explores a world where dark skin is the desired tone, so the racial balance is shifted and the social order in America is turned upside down.
The show’s cast is a blending of nine IUP studentView more
The idea is simple. What if dark skin were the desired tone and the beige/pinkish color we call white was a liability? A terroristic attack has pushed the Earth closer to the sun and depleted its ozone mantle. Nine Days in the Sun takes the audience to a world where the racial balance has shifted and as a result, the social order in America is turned upside down.
Nine Days in the Sun is produced by Theater-by-the-Grove in association with Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre, funded in part by the IUP Student Cooperative Association and a generous grant from IUP’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Fund.
Written by Mark Clayton Southers. Co-directed by Jamaica Johnson (PPTCO) and Michael Schwartz (TBTG).
Tickets are available online, by calling 724-357-2787, and at the door.
Contact: (724) 357-2787
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Southers, who started his career as a photographer while in high school, worked in western Pennsylvania steel mills for 19 years.
“My dad taught me photography, and in high school, I took pictures for the school newspaper and yearbook,” Southers said.
After graduating from high school, he left Pittsburgh for Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute, enrolling in a pre-veterinary program and playing baseball there. He left after a year, spent some time in Detroit with family members there, eventually returning to Pittsburgh and enrolling at the Art Institute to study photography. At 18, he was hired as a photographer by the New Pittsburgh Courier newspaper and worked there for 12 years.
When he was laid off from his photography job, he started work at a steel mill; while he did that work, he continued to write in his spare time.
That all changed when he met playwright Wilson. He attended Wilson’s master class in playwriting at the Grahamstown Arts Festival in South Africa in 1998. Following that experience, he attended the Edward Albee Theatre Festival in Valdez, Alaska, where he did seated readings with Wilson of all of Wilson’s plays.
“August Wilson liked my writing style, and he encouraged me to write for the stage. We became good friends, I started an August Wilson Reading Circle at my home, and he would often stop by. I’ve been wrapped up in the theater ever since,” Southers said.
Writing at night while working in the steel mills, he founded the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theater Company in 2003, and quit the steel mill in 2010 to pursue the arts full time. Shortly after, he was offered the position of director at the August Wilson Center.
“I’ve always been a storyteller,” he said. “First, I was telling stories with my camera, I wrote a couple of review of plays while at the Courier – it was an artistic type of job there. I’ve always felt that connection, a need to express myself,” he said.
Southers acknowledges that it’s not always easy for an urban theater company, with actors of color, to work well with theater companies in the rural areas. However, he’s finding the experience with IUP has been a positive one.
“There’s a lot of work to be done, but I think that IUP is taking steps in the right direction,” he said. “The dialogue in ‘Nine Days in the Sun’ has some comedic elements in the different scenarios, so that allows people to view the situations a little more comfortably. I like the fact that the casts are merged together – I think it will lead to a very good production,” Southers said.
In his role with the PPTCO, Southers has produced more than 160 full-length and one-act plays, including August Wilson’s complete 10-play American Century Cycle.
He has written more than 20 full length and one-act plays including the poem play “Angry Black Man Poetry aka End Angered Species” which had a successful run at Teatr Śląski in Katowice, Poland in 2009 and “Miss Julie, Clarissa and John” which ran at the 2017 National Black Theatre Festival and also had a three-week run in 2017 at Scotland’s prestigious Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
The idea to bring Southers’ influence, network, and talent to IUP through one of his plays has been an idea in the mind of Brian Jones, chair of the IUP Department of Theatre, Dance, and Performance, for some time.
“After George Floyd’s murder and the massive social protests, as a department, we were very public in our commitment to develop anti-racism practices,” Jones said. “As a department, we’ve been clear that in order to have meaningful change, we must take the time to do the work, which often means dismantling current practices, and trying different things,” he said.
“One of our objectives in our anti-racism work is to create long-lasting, creative relationships with BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, Persons of Color) artists, including inviting them here and listening and employing their ideas of doing things differently,” he said.
In September 2022, Jones organized students and faculty to present public readings of Southers’ two plays – “Nine Days in the Sun” and “Miss Julie, Clarissa, and John,” to request input on which play should be performed at IUP. Based on feedback from attendees and the readers, “Nine Days in the Sun” was chosen for the spring performance.
“Having BIPOC artists here, working with our students, brings a whole different perspective and flavor to this production,” Jones said. “The cast members are extraordinary, the co-directors are great, and I believe it will be a very thought-provoking experience for our audience,” he said.
Members of the PPTCO, including co-director Johnson, come to IUP on weekends for rehearsals for the performance; the weekend rehearsals also include time for the cast members to join together for a meal and conversation. “Our students and the PPTCO cast members are learning about one another, and from one another,” Jones said.
Jones recognized the university wide support for this project, including support from the IUP Office of Social Equity and Title IX.
"We appreciate this support from the Office of Social Equity and Title IX,” Jones said. “It fills a critical need to bring our students on stage together in a fuller range of human experience. This funding impacts our student, staff, and faculty creative teams by giving them the creative resources necessary to play stories on stage reflecting ideas and issues of our diverse university community,” Jones said.
“The Office of Social Equity and Title IX is very proud to provide funding and support to the Department of Theater, Dance, and Performance for ‘Nine Days in the Sun’ and for the Department’s ongoing diversity, equity, and inclusion programming,” Social Equity and Title IX Office Director Elise Glenn said.
“Not only is the play itself important because of its themes and messages, but by bringing BIPOC writers, directors, and performers to our university and to our community, we have the opportunity to support talented Black and Brown artists while modeling excellence and success in the arts by BIPOC artists and others who are part of the project.
“Hosting performances like this by artists who bring new perspectives and experiences grows the repertoire of diverse programming available here at the university for our students, employees, and the community; these programs influence all who are involved as audience members or performers, which helps us to make positive culture change through the arts,” she said.
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