august wilsonMcCarter Theatre Center and the Lewis Center for the Arts present a symposium commemorating the 20th anniversary of August Wilson’s seminal speech, “The Ground on Which I Stand,” delivered in 1996 from the stage of the McCarter’s Matthews Theatre addressing questions of race, diversity, and cultural identity in the American Theater.

As part of the 1996 Theatre Communications Group (TCG) annual conference held at McCarter Theatre Center, Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning playwright August Wilson delivered the event’s keynote address. Holding up a candid mirror to the assembled cultural organizations and the theater profession at large, the speech laid out Wilson’s views on a wealth of topics including imperialism and appropriation, white privilege, historical context, and institutional funding as related to the American cultural landscape.

“The Ground on Which I Stand” launched months of debate both in terms of the historical legacy addressed in the work and proactive responses to Wilson’s challenge for the future of the industry. The speech remains a significant part of Wilson’s profound and lasting legacy, and a central moment in his celebrated career.

To honor the 20th anniversary of this watershed moment, this jointly-produced symposium will endeavor to explore Wilson’s speech through the lens of the last twenty years of race and theater, and discuss where we stand today. The event will include a reading of the speech itself, panel discussions with prominent members of the theater community and Princeton faculty, and reflections.

This event is free and open to the public, but reservations are encouraged but not required. Reserve seating through McCarter Box Office by calling 609.258.2787.

McCarter Theatre Center and the Lewis Center for the Arts offers its sincere thanks to the Estate of August Wilson for their support in planning this symposium. Additional support provided by the Council on the Humanities and the Russel B. Newton Faculty Support Fund.



1:00 p.m. | Welcome and Reading of “The Ground on Which I Stand”

2:00 p.m. | As The Ground Shifts: Tracking Seismic Changes in Race and Gender Representation
Princeton’s Dean of the College and Professor of English and Theater Jill Dolan moderates a conversation with theater professionals, reflecting on the context of Wilson’s speech and subsequent debates, examining the contemporary history of representation in American theater, and discussing what has and has not shifted in the past twenty years.

John Dias (Artistic Director, Two River Theatre)
Teresa Eyring (Executive Director, TCG)
Lisa Kron (Playwright)
Emily Mann (Artistic Director and Resident Playwright, McCarter Theatre)
Marion McClinton (Director)
James Williams (Actor)

3:00 p.m. | The Ground from Which We Step: Wilson’s Legacy and Our Contemporary Conversations
Princeton University Assistant Professor of Theater, Brian Herrera, moderates a discussion with artists and theater professionals, exploring how the legacy of Wilson’s speech has impacted their own careers, considering today’s conversation around diversity, and expressing their hopes for the future of inclusion and parity in the theater.

Vivienne Benesch (Artistic Director, PlayMakers)
Polly Carl (Co-Artistic Director, ArtsEmerson)
Jade King Carroll (Director)
Branden Jacobs-Jenkins (Playwright)
A. Rey Pamatmat (Playwright)

4:00 p.m. | Reflections


All are invited and encouraged to attend the 2016 Toni Morrison Lecture at 5:30 p.m. in McCosh 10, delivered by Nobel Laureate Professor Wole Soyinka, sponsored by the Department of African American Studies and Princeton University Press.

* Panelists subject to change


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Presented By

  • Lewis Center for the Arts
  • McCarter Theatre Center