ANN ARBOR, MI (November 19, 2020) — Acclaimed actor Wendell Pierce (The Wire, Treme, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, Olivier nominee for Best Actor for Death of a Salesman) will make his University Musical Society (UMS) debut with a Digital Artist Residency that will feature a filmed, fully-staged production of James Anthony Tyler’s 2015 play, Some Old Black Man. The two-person play also features veteran actor Charlie Robinson and is directed by Berkshire Playwrights Lab founder Joe Cacaci. HMS Media, based in Chicago, filmed the production.
The members of the production — Pierce, Robinson, Cacaci, Tyler, and stage manager Tiffany Robinson — came to Michigan for a four-week production period, quarantining as a group during rehearsals in Ann Arbor for the three weeks leading up to the play’s filming at the Jam Handy in Detroit. As part of a safety plan approved by several unions representing those involved in the production, participation required the team to follow rigorous safety protocols, including testing before arrival; additional extensive, regular testing frequently throughout the rehearsal and production period; continued testing and oversight in the filming phase (which involved more personnel); and a designated COVID supervisor to ensure compliance with all safety protocols. Special consideration was made to accommodate the group for everything from food delivery to exercise equipment to ground transportation. UMS received significant guidance and generous support from University of Michigan leadership and public health officials, and was able to utilize the newly developed saliva-based testing that has been adopted by the University.
“We are extraordinarily proud and humbled to present theater once again — albeit without in-person audiences and by using the digital frame — for the first phase of our Digital Artist Residency with acclaimed actor Wendell Pierce,” said Matthew VanBesien, President of UMS. “Some Old Black Man resonates with both social justice themes and with intergenerational conflict, making it a very fitting title for our times, when the reality of more togetherness also unveils some of the tensions underlying even the closest of relationships. We continue to build capacity at UMS, exploring new ways of bringing the performing arts into people’s homes, and we sincerely thank the many funders, supporters, and key partners here at the University of Michigan who have made this ambitious and groundbreaking work possible.”
Wendell Pierce, who is one of UMS’s Digital Residency Artists during the 20/21 season, noted, “When we started envisioning this project, we were focused on developing something that will be an answer to these difficult times. I believe this special experiment and experience will be an answer to performance during a pandemic but also UMS demonstrating a legacy of vanguard performances and the importance of artists to our community as a whole.”
Playwright James Anthony Tyler added, “Working with this incredible creative team has been a highlight of the pandemic for me, and it’s wonderful to see them interrogate the work and explore the intergenerational nature of the relationship with such grace under trying times. I’m fascinated by how little we know about what our elders encountered in their lives, and how that leads to misunderstandings and hurt in our closest relationships. I’m thrilled that this play will be seen again through the Digital Artist Residency program at UMS.”
The production of Some Old Black Man is made possible with leadership level support from Tim and Sally Petersen, Michigan Engineering, DTE Energy Foundation (Wendell Pierce provides the voice for all DTE radio and television commercials), Newmarket LLC, and the Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan. Additional support was provided by the UMS Sustaining Directors group and the Jerry and Dale Kolins Endowment Fund. In addition, several individuals and corporations advised on and contributed to the safety protocols for this project, including Keith Dickey, Preeti Malani, Michigan Medicine, and LynxDX. The Ford Motor Company Fund provided PPE for those involved in the rehearsal and filming period, and special thanks to Bridget McCormack and Steve Croley for their generous housing assistance.
ABOUT SOME OLD BLACK MAN
THE CREATIVE TEAM
Some Old Black Man was workshopped at the Berkshire Playwrights Lab, co-founded by Joe Cacaci, and had its Off-Broadway premiere in 2018.