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The Bluegrass Mile program

The Bluegrass Mile

Written and Directed by Mark Clayton Southers
At Madison Arts Center, 3401 Milwaukee Street
October 7th – 29th, 2023
World premiere!

This world premiere drama about Black horse jockeys in the late 1800’s is the latest installment in Mark Clayton Southers’ 19th Century Collection of plays.

Rosa Lee DrewChrystal Bates
Kermit ThomasCharles E. Timbers Jr.
AbcdMalic Maat*
William PickfordKevin Brown
Curtis HenshawKymir Cogdell-Freeman
Sheriff TannerDavid Whalen*
Henrietta CogsdaleKendra McLaughlin
*Members of Actors Equity Association

Playwright’s Note

“Look at this, touch this, listen to this, smell this, taste this.” These are the things that best friends say to each other when they experience something great. That’s what makes me tick as a playwright. I want audiences’ senses to enjoy something that I have enjoyed, whether it’s been things I’ve imagined, researched or actually lived.

As a descendant of Africans that reside in America, I can’t help but to wonder just how my daily walk through life differs from others, and not only that, but what dent can I put into the fabric of American life that can possibly spark a change for the better?

It’s no secret that I’ve been inspired by August Wilson. Mr. Wilson was a huge bump in my universe. The collection of plays that I’m assembling are all rooted in the 1800s. The nineteenth century was a time when African Americans were enslaved as well as freed from bondage. I’m fascinated by our history, especially that which is never talked about or fully explained. I grew up in a time when you had to dig through a set of encyclopedias for knowledge, whereas now it’s obtained much faster with the click of a button or rather a tap on your handheld computer, aka smart phone.

With the help of this extremely talented cast, designers, and crew I hope that your curiosity and senses are aroused and nourished tonight, my friends.

Enjoy,

Mark Clayton Southers

From the Managing Director

Friends:

Elizabeth Reiss, Managing Director

Welcome to Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company and our production of The Bluegrass Mile by Mark Clayton Southers.  This is a special production for us.  It marks the end of our 20th season of plays, which is a milestone moment for our company.  Mark founded Playwrights because he had a vision: to create a community where people could learn about each other’s shared humanity by watching plays.  With your support he has manifested this vision, so in every respect our 20th anniversary belongs to you, too.  Thank you for your support. 

We chose The Bluegrass Mile to be the capstone of the season because it is written by Mark Clayton Southers.  From my perspective, it has been an incredible joy and privilege to watch Mark grow as an artist.  To support the careers of Pittsburgh’s writers is our core purpose, and I can not think of a better way to serve that purpose than staging this play. 

I give great applause and respect to Mark and the entire team that created The Bluegrass Mile.  I hope you enjoy it.

 Elizabeth Reiss, Managing Director

PS, to celebrate our 20th anniversary, please consider donating $20 a month.  Sign up here.

Black Jockeys – What Happened?

In 1875, the black jockey Oliver Lewis rode Aristedes to victory in the first Kentucky Derby. During the early years of horse racing in America, most jockeys were African American, perhaps because as enslaved people prior to emancipation, they had cared for and rode the horses of wealthy whites. After Emancipation, black jockeys continued to serve as jockeys for white Southerners with great success. A number of jockeys like Oliver Lewis and Isaac Burns Murphy were able to, at least for a time, enjoy prosperity and realize the American Dream for themselves. Between 1890 and 1899, Black jockeys won six Derbies, one Preakness Stakes, and three Belmont Stakes.

But the years following the American Civil War were fraught with racial tension and backlash against black Americans, particularly in the American South. By the 1890’s, the economy was in a depression and hostility towards people of color was being helped along by legislation such as Kentucky’s Separate Coach Bill that required trains to provide separate accommodations for black riders. This law helped enlarge the gulf between black and white and justify the trend of disenfranchisement and white supremacy that was common in other Southern states. Horse racing became yet another arena where racial tension would soon come to a head, as owners were favoring black jockeys and ironically, white jockeys cried discrimination.

Predictably, white jockeys started to envy the success of the black jockeys. As purses grew and the rewards for jockeys became more lucrative, being a jockey became an esteemed profession. So the white jockeys began to use violent tactics during races, hitting black jockeys with their crops, running them into rails, and injuring jockeys and horses. These campaigns succeeded in supplanting black jockeys with their white counterparts; owners stopped offering mounts to the black jockeys either out of fear for their horses or solidarity with white jockeys. In 1902, Jimmy Winkfield was the last African American to win a Triple Crown race, and one of the last to ride in a Triple Crown race for almost a century. (He left for Europe and enjoyed success and celebrity he could not accomplish in the United States.) By 1905, The Washington Post was explaining away the absence of black jockeys with a white supremacy argument in their article entitled: “Negro Riders on the Wane: White Jockeys’ Superior Intelligence Supersedes.”

Michelle Belan, Program Editor

To learn more about this fascinating and disturbing part of American history, consider reading:

➺The Prince Of Jockeys: The Life Of Isaac Burns Murphy by Pellom McDaniels
➺Black Winning Jockeys in the Kentucky Derby, James Robert Saunders & Monica Renae Saunders
➺Race Horse Men: How Slavery and Freedom Were Made at the Racetrack, Katherine C. Mooney
➺Black Maestro by Joe Drape (Biography of Jimmy Wingfield)

The Music of the Time

What comes to mind when you hear the term Bluegrass Music? I’m pretty sure you don’t think, “the son of a slave.” You probably just envision someone playing a banjo. Now where do you think that banjo came from? I’m pretty sure you didn’t think Gambia, West Africa. You probably just thought of Kentucky. But it’s because of the son of a slave and an instrument that has its origins in West Africa that we now have Bluegrass Music. Enslaved people from West Africa used a split gourd covered with animal skin and vegetable fibers attached to wooden necks to play music. They did this so much that it became part of how we were stereotyped. In the 1800’s, as minstrel shows were the most common kind of entertainment, the instrument most typically played by these caricatures was the banjo.

In the mid-1800’s, that son of a slave was born, and his name was Arnold Shultz. He became a proficient fiddler and guitar player who created a jazzy “thumb style” that eventually turned into the Kentucky style. At one point, he taught this style to a man named Bill Monroe. Bill learned all that he could from Arnold and then openly cited him as a major influence on the way he played. Bill Monroe went on to be named the Godfather of Bluegrass. Arnold Shultz was said to have been poisoned by a jealous white musician.

Also during this time, the musical genre of Ragtime became popular. This music is mix of the march style and the polyrhythmic sounds from African music. The first sheet music of this style was published in 1895 by the minstrel performer Ernest Hogan. In 1899, another son of a former slave, musician Scott Joplin, published “Maple Leaf Rag.” After a string of ragtime hits, he was dubbed the King of Ragtime. Scott Joplin said that Ragtime music had been in America ever since the Negro got there, and that it only got popular once white people took notice of it.

There is a line in this play that says, “Sure I wasn’t never no slave, but I knows all I needs to know ‘bout it.” During my research for this play, I realized there was definitely more to learn. So now when you hear Bluegrass music or Ragtime music, realize that two sons of slaves were integral in its sound. Thank you Arnold Shultz. Thank you Scott Joplin. And thank you Mark Clayton Southers for writing this piece.

Ben Cain, Sound Designer

About the Cast

Chrystal Bates (Rosa Lee Drew) is happy to be back at the Pittsburgh Playwrights, where the magic happens! Prior stage appearances include the title role of Dot in Dot and Emma in A Lesson before Dying at the Cloverdale Playhouse in Montgomery, Alabama. She was last seen in Pittsburgh at Pittsburgh Playwrights Theater as Aunt Ester in August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean. She also played Clarissa in Mark Southers’s production of Miss Julie, Clarissa and John, which was performed in Pittsburgh, PA, the National Black Theater Festival in Winston-Salem, NC, as well as the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. Great to be back!

Kevin Brown (William Pickford) last appeared in the Pittsburgh Playwrights production of Joe Turner’s Come and Gone. The majority of this year Brown has been on the road. Brown was seen as Pops in the Atlanta Georgia production of GodGuys, produced by uNiqu’ Arts and Expected End Entertainment. Brown portrayed Hedley in the co-production of Seven Guitars with the Milwaukee Repertory Theater Company and the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park Theater Company. Brown portrayed Ben Loman in Death of a Salesman, a co-production with the University of Nebraska and the St Louis Black Repertory Company. Also as Becker in Jitney with the St Louis Black Repertory Company, where Brown received a nomination for best actor by the St. Louis Theater Circle of St Louis Missouri. Brown is represented by the Talent Group and thankful to be a member of Pittsburgh’s supportive artist community. For Art sake!! 

Kymir Cogdell-Freeman (Curtis Henshaw) is 15, was born in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, educated at Dilworth Elementary K-5 and is currently attending Pittsburgh CAPA 6-12 where he studied theater, musical theater, and is currently majoring in dance. He has portrayed many characters in his summer camp EECM plays, but in 2021 he had his first lead role, playing Daniel in the EECM camp production called The Fight To Be Your ‘Best’! Kymir has also appeared on stage as a featured performer in CAPA’s Winter Wonderland and CAPA’s Willy Wonka middle school musical in 2019. Kymir wants to pursue his acting career and someday appear on television!

Malic Maat (Abcd) is a Pittsburgh-based, multi-disciplinary artist and educator. Native of Aliquippa, PA, and graduate of Slippery Rock University’s (SRU) theatre-acting program, Malic has collaborated with many theaters, institutions, and organizations in Western Pennsylvania. Select acting credits include: A Few Good Men, Gift of the Mad Guys, and The Merchant of Venice with Pittsburgh Public Theater, City Theatre’s annual Young Playwrights Festival (2015/2018), Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom with Pittsburgh Playwrights, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings with Prime Stage Theater, Dreamgirls with Pittsburgh Musical Theatre, Yankee Tavern and Cloud 9 with Throughline Theatre, multiple nominated performances at the Region II Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival, and the world premier of Electra: An American Gothic, performed internationally at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Edinburgh, Scotland.  In addition to work in the arts, Malic has the pleasure of serving as an Outreach Program Manager for CS Pathways, a division of the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University. These programs are primarily focused on developing access opportunities for students from underrepresented, under-resourced communities, and those who may be underestimated in STEM fields. Malic is a proud member of Actors Equity Association and is blessed to return to PPTCO for the premiere of The Bluegrass Mile. “…balancing the energy to achieve and the energy to just be, without needing to achieve.”

Kendra McLaughlin‘s (Henrietta Cogsdale) recent credits include Love, Loss & What I Wore, PICT Classic Theatre’s The Old Curiosity Shop, Pittsburgh New Works Festival’s Where the Star Fell (for which she won the Outstanding Lead Actress award), and City Theatre’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center of New York City.  When she is not acting on stage, Kendra acts as a Standardized Patient for the University of Pittsburgh Medical School and the Allegheny Health Network.  She also has her own production company, Playground Productions, and during the pandemic, she wrote three plays and a screenplay.  Kendra is humbled and grateful to be working with such a talented cast and crew on this world premiere. 

Charles E. Timbers Jr. (Kermit Thomas) is a member in good standing in the SAG-AFTRA union. He has been performing for more than 3 decades in many stage productions here in Pittsburgh and across the country. He was recently seen in Shantytown (2023) and Jitney (2022) with PPTCO. He is best known for his role as Cutler in the August Wilson play Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom in which he received the Theater RoundTable Excellence in Acting award in Columbus Ohio (2016) and mentioned in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for best supporting actor. Charles has performed with the Pittsburgh Opera in The Summer King, the Josh Gibson story, and with the Mendelssohn Choir as Narrator in Let My People Go: A Spiritual Journey, the Harriet Tubman story. He has appeared in several movies including the made-for-TV movie ABC’s The Jacksons: An American Dream as Dr. Hayes. He has appeared in multiple short films and student films with Point Park University and CCAC. He is a voiceover artist and a producer and director with PCTV in Pittsburgh. He is a member of the Demaskus Theater Collective and Arts Renaissance Collective.

David Whalen (Sheriff Tanner) is thrilled to work on this exciting play with Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre. Recently, he appeared in the acclaimed production of Hamlet at The Guthrie Theater, marking their 60th Anniversary. Theatrical credits include: Roundabout Theatre, South Coast Rep (10 productions), Pittsburgh Public (12 productions), City Theatre Company (7 productions), Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park (5 productions), Alley Theatre, Philadelphia Theatre Company, Center Stage in Baltimore, Arden Theatre, Folger Theatre, Hartford Stage, Everyman Theatre, Roundhouse Theatre, Huntington Theatre, Laguna Playhouse, McCarter Theatre, Syracuse Stage, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, Peoples Light & Theatre, Playmakers Rep, Virginia Stage, among others. Awards: Performer of the Year by the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Kevin Kline. Barrymore, & Helen Hayes. Representative film & TV credits: The Loudest Voice, FBI: Most Wanted, American Pastoral. Southpaw, The Last Witch Hunter, The Fault In Our Stars, Jack Reacher, Cyril, Unsinkable, Checkmate, 61*, The Christmas Tree, Black Dahlia, My Bloody Valentine, Indictment: The Mcmartin Trial, Three Rivers, and George Washington in 1787: The American Constitution slated for a 2024 release. Up next, David will appear in American Buffalo at barebonesproductions.com, followed by the world premiere of The Refugees at Gulfshore Playhouse. More at www.davidwhalenactor.net

Creative Team & Staff

Playwright & DirectorMark Clayton Southers
Stage ManagerAshley Southers
Assistant Stage ManagerTrysta Fields
Scenic DesignerTony Ferrieri
Lighting DesignerMadeleine Steineck
Lighting TechMarcus Carl Southers
Costume DesignerKimberly Brown
Special EffectsSteve Tolin
Makeup & HairCheryl El Walker
Sound DesignerBen Cain
Sound TechMatthew Southers Jr.
Scenic PaintingErnest Bey
Scenic ConstructionHerb Newsome
PropsAshley Southers, Austin Sills & Frank Dowling
CrewCharles Gray, Kaleb Delouvpre, Marcus Carl Southers & Matthew Southers Jr.

About the Creative Team

Mark Clayton Southers (Playwright, Director, Producing Artistic Director) and his family reside in Pittsburgh’s historic Hill District. He is an award-winning playwright, stage director, scenic designer, photographer and theatrical producer. He is the founder and producing artistic director of the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company where he has produced well over 175 full-length and one-act plays, including August Wilson’s complete 10 play Pittsburgh Century Cycle. Favorite directing credits include Paul Robeson for the Griot Ensemble Theatre Company, Pill Hill for New Horizon Theatre, Dutchman for Bricolage Theater Company, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and The Piano Lesson for American Stage Theatre, Gem of the Ocean for Human Race Theatre, Angry Black Man Poetry for Theatre Śląski, Passing Strange for Short North Theatre, Papa Doc for Trilogy Opera Company, Sty of The Blind Pig for The Banyan Theatre Company, A Soldier’s Play for Phoenix Black Theatre Troupe, and Dorothy Six, Seven Guitars, VALU-MART, The Battle of Homestead and Jitney for The Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company. He’s also the resident August Wilson Cycle director at Pittsburgh’s CAPA. For more info please visit www.markclaytonsouthers.com

Kimberly Brown (Costume Designer) holds Master of Fine Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees from Ohio University, Athens, Ohio. Kim’s previous design work for Pittsburgh Playwrights includes 12:52 The Mike Webster Story, Shantytown and Gem of the Ocean. An award-winning costume designer and makeup artist, Kim is the President of Spotlight Costumes LLC in Pittsburgh’s historic West End. She has provided wardrobe for movies, television shows and commercials shot locally as well as national musical tours, amusement parks and opera. Upcoming projects include Catch Me If You Can , Freaky Friday and Holmes for the Holidays all at Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center in Midland, Beauty and the Beast at Comtra Theatre, Annie Jr at Quaker Valley Middle School and Radium Girls at Middlesex School, Concord MA. Kim is on the faculty of Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School as a resident artist teaching costume design and theatrical makeup to a new generation of artists. Thank you for your continued support of live performance and the arts!

Ben Cain (Sound Designer) is an actor and sound designer. He is a huge fan and family member of PPTCO who is always honored to work with this company and Mark Southers. As an actor he can be seen on many shows including Bel-Air on Peacock, Long Slow Exhale on Spectrum/BET, Buried in Barstow on Lifetime and coming soon to Amazon Freevee, American Rust Season 2. Doing sound design is a passion that has grown over the years and he looks forward to doing more.

Cheryl El-Walker (Makeup & Hair) is an award-winning costume designer and makeup artist who is also a veteran stage actor from Pittsburgh. She is the resident costume/makeup artist for the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company. Her creative work in various venues has earned her several Onyx awards from the African American Council of the Arts (AACTA): Best Make-up Artist (2007); Best Costume for a Musical for Christmas Is Coming Uptown (2008); Best Leading Actress for Freeman (New Horizon Theatre, 2008); Best Costume Design for a Play (Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012) and the PPTCO 2012 Legacy Award. In 2013, Cheryl debuted another one of her skills and received PPTCO’s Theater Festival in Black and White Award for Best Director. Most recently, Cheryl was seen in PPTCO’s Savior Samuel as Virginia. Cheryl is an alumna of Point Park University and is pleased to announce that she has done costume, makeup and special effects for all ten August Wilson plays.

Tony Ferrieri (Scenic Designer) Awards and milestones include: 43 years with City Theatre, the Carol R. Brown Creative Achievement Award for Established Artist, New Works Festival Lifetime Achievement Award, “Designer of the Year” by Pittsburgh City Paper and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “Frankel Award,” “Fred Kelly Award for Outstanding Achievement,” “Harry Schwalb Excellence in the Arts Award,” features in Live Design and Stage Directions, and nearly 550 designs. Recent designs include: Native Gardens, Clyde’s, Downstairs, The Santaland Diaries, One Night in Miami, The Roommate, Pipeline, and Citizens Market. Feeding the Dragon for Hartford Stage in CT and Primary Stages at The Cherry Lane in NYC; Clue, Miracle on 34th Street, Sweeney Todd, Big Fish, Mary Poppins, and The Little Mermaid for Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center; The Book of Merman, Double Threat Trio, Perfect Wedding for CLO Cabaret; The Current War, King Lear, Looking for Violetta, The Master Builder, The Winter’s Tale for Quantum Theatre; True West, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, A Streetcar Named Desire for barebones; Scared of Sarah and A Feminine Ending for Off the Wall; and You Say Tomato I Say Shut Up! for Dana Phil Playhouse Productions. Other credits include designs for Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company, Bricolage, Jewish Theatre of Pittsburgh, Carrnivale Theatrics, Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre, Emelin Theatre, Northlight Theatre, Madison Rep, TheatreWorks, 1812 Productions, Playhouse Rep, Tuesday Musical Club, and Unseam’d.

Ashley Southers (Assistant Stage Manager) has always had a passion to pursue the arts. She loves working alongside her family at Pittsburgh Playwrights Theater Company. She considers herself a jack of all trades as well as a D-I-A-P (Do-It-All-Person). She graduated from Point Park University in 2018, with a Bachelor’s Degree in English/Creative Writing. In her free time, she loves writing, watching movies, and hanging out with family, friends, and her dogs Cocoa and Bentley. She would like to thank her father Mark Southers for being an inspiration for her upbringing. She always enjoys challenging herself, and expanding her creativity through the arts.

Madeleine Steineck (Lighting Designer) has been working as a Lighting Designer and Master Electrician in western Pennsylvania since 2011. Companies she has designed for include: Mercyhurst Institute for Arts and Culture, MCG Jazz, Pittsburgh Festival Opera, off the WALL Productions, Carnegie Stage, Mercyhurst University Theatre Program, the New Hazlett’s CSA Program, Texture Contemporary Ballet, fireWALL dance theatre, Morgantown Dance Studio, and Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company. She also designs for local high school and middle school productions. Master Electrician credits include: 2019 and 2016’s Regional Dance America: Northeast in Erie, PA, Lake Erie Ballet, Erie Contemporary Ballet Theatre, PICT, Erie Festival of Dance, and Mon Valley Sizzles at the Carrie Furnace.  She also works as a stagehand for IATSE Local 3.  Her design for PPTCO’s production of Miss Julie, Clarissa, and John was seen at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2017. She has also travelled as the lighting director for Raphael Xavier’s productions: The Unofficial Guide to Audience Watching Performance (Chicago, IL and Burlington, VT in 2014) and Point of Interest (Lake Placid, NY in 2018).

PPTCO Staff and Board

See our staff and board members here.

Sponsors

We would like to thank Susie McGregor-Laine and Dr. Michael Ramsay for their generous donations that helped to make this production possible.

Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company thanks the following for supporting our season of plays and special projects:

We also thank our donors! Click for a complete list, and learn how to become a PPTCO donor.

Printed program design and editing by Michelle Belan.
Online program design and editing by Steven Doerfler.