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august wilson’s

FENCES nov 27-dec 22

directed by

phylicia rashad


go r d o n e d e l st e i n artistic director


J OSHUA BORENSTEI N managing director


august wilson’s


Dir ect ed b y p h y l i ci a r a s h a d


T e a c h e r I n f o r m a ti o n P a c k e t Compiled and Written by a n n ie d imarti no Director of Education m a l l o r y pel legrino Education Programs Manager kr istian n a s mit h Resident Teaching Artist ba r bar a so nens tein Resident Teaching Artist kev in durk e Education Intern stev e sca r pa Director of Marketing & Communications Teacher Information Packet Layout by claire zoghb

long wharf theatre gratefully acknowledges t h e g e n e r o s it y o f o u r e d u c a ti o n s u pp o r t e r s

Elizabeth Carse Foundation Frederick A. Deluca Foundation The George A. and Grace L. Long Foundation The Seedlings Foundation wells fargo foundation The Werth Family Foundation founding supporter of long wharf theatre ’ s video study guide and supporter of the educators ’ laboratory

GORDON EDELSTEIN Artistic Director




FENCES directed BY

Phylicia Rashad

SCENIC Design Costume Design Lighting Design Sound Design Hair & Wig Design Fight Director Production Stage Manager Assistant Stage Manager Casting BY

John Iacovelli° ESosa° Xavier Pierce° John Gromada° J. Jared Janas & Rob Greene Michael Rossmy David Blackwell* Amy Patricia Stern* Calleri CASTING

FENCES is presented by special arrangement with SAMUEL FRENCH, INC. Originally Produced by YALE REPERTORY THEATRE Lloyd Richards, Artistic Director PRODUCTION CO-SPONSORs:

* Member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States ° Member of United Scenic Artists, USA-829 of the IATSE This Theatre operates under an agreement between the League Of Resident Theatres and Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.

contents ABOU T T HE P LAY Characters 10 Deeper Meanings Behind Character Names 12 Synopsis 13 About the Playwright: August Wilson 15 Meet the Director: Phylicia Rashad 17 T HE W ORLD OF T HE P LAY Glossary 20 Setting Fences in Time and Place: The 1950s 22 Pittsburgh’s Hill District 28 Baseball 29 The Inspiration for Troy Maxson? 32 S u pp l e m e n t a l M a t e r i a l s August Wilson’s Influences in Black Culture 34 The Pittsburgh Cycle 39 Symbols and Themes in Fences 41 Curriculum Connections 43 For the First-Time Theatregoer 44

Look for this symbol to find discussion and writing prompts, questions and classroom activities!




TROY MAXSON “Troy is usually the most talkative and at times he can be crude and almost vulgar, though he is capable of rising to profound heights of expression.”

JIM BONO Troy’s friend. “Obviously the follower. His commitment to their friendship of thirty-odd years is rooted in his admiration of Troy’s honest, capacity for hard work, and his strength, which Bono seeks to emulate.”




Troy’s Wife. “She is ten years younger than Troy, her devotion to him stems from her recognition of the possibilities of her life without him: a succession of abusive men and their babies, a life of partying and running the streets, the Church, or aloneness with its attendant pain and frustration. She recognizes Tory’s spirit as a fine and illuminating one and she either ignores or forgives his faults, only some of which she recognizes.”

Troy’s son. “Thirty-four years old Troy’s son by a previous marriage, he sports a neatly trimmed goatee, sport coat, white shirt, tieless and buttoned at the collar. Though he fancies himself a musician, he is more caught up in the rituals and “idea” of being a musician than in the actual practice of music. He has come to borrow money from Tory, and while he knows he will be successful, he is uncertain as to what extent his lifestyle will be held up to scrutiny and ridicule.”

GABRIEL Troy’s Brother. “He is seven years younger than Troy, injured in WWII, he has a metal plate in his head. He carries an old trumpet tied around his waist and believes with every fiber of his being that he is the Archangel Gabriel.”



Troy and Rose’s Son. “Enter carrying his football equipment.”

Troy’s daughter from an affair. “Seven years old, enters dressed in a flannel nightgown.”

In Act 2 Scene 5 Entrance: “He is dressed in a Marine corporal’s uniform and carries a duffel bag. His posture is that of a military man, and his speech has a clipped sternness.”

In the Cla s s r o o m 1. W  hy do you think August Wilson goes into such detail describing the entrances of Troy, Bono, Rose, Lyons, and Gabriel but not Cory or Raynell? 2. W  hat inference can you make as to the content of the play based solely on what August Wilson wrote in the stage directions about each character? 3. C  ory is given distinct character notes in the second act instead of the first. What can you infer from this?


D EE P E R ME A N I N G S B E H I N D C H A R A CTE R N A MES During the first read-thru of Fences at Long Wharf Theatre, Director Phylicia Rashad reminded the cast that everything August Wilson wrote was intentional and had meaning, especially when it came to naming his characters.

Troy: A reference to the ancient city of Troy. Paris of Troy fell in love with and stole King Menelaus of Sparta’s wife, Helen. Troy was sieged and later destroyed by the Greeks. Maxson: Derives from “stream.” Jim: Supplanter; “to take the place of.” Bono: “Good” in Latin. Rose: A beautiful flower, often symbolizing love. A rose also has thorns. Lyons: Possibly a reference to Linus, Apollo’s son, who is the inventor of melody and rhythm. He also taught music to Orpheus and Hercules. Gabriel: An archangel; often serves as a messenger from God to certain men. This name often means a strong man of God. Cory: No significant meaning, except that Cory shares three letters with Troy. Raynell: RAY means “protector” or “advisor,” while NELL is a diminutive of Helen. Alberta: “Noble” and “bright.” SOURCE:

In the Cla s s r o o m What do these “deeper meanings” reveal about the characters and how August Wilson wanted to use them in the play? Again, Cory is the only character not given any outright “deeper meaning.” What do you think this means? What “deeper meaning” do you find? Do you agree or disagree with our interpretation?




he play opens at the house of Troy Maxson in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, PA. Troy and his best friend, Bono, discuss why the Black employees are not allowed to drive the garbage trucks and can only lift the garbage. Troy asks Bono, “Don’t I count?”

book and will be responsible for opening the gates to Heaven on Judgment Day. Rose asks Troy when he will finish building the fence for their yard, but Troy says he will work on the fence after he goes to the bar to watch baseball. When Cory comes home from football practice, Troy reprimands Cory for going to football practice instead of doing his chores. While Cory and Troy work on the fence, the two argue because Troy will not agree to sign the permission papers for Cory to play college football. Troy says that Cory must work at the A&P supermarket instead of going to football practice. Troy tells Rose he is giving his family everything he can, but Rose doesn’t think it is enough.  

Troy’s wife Rose joins them and mentions that their son Cory has been recruited by a college football team. Troy does not like the idea of Cory playing football in college because he feels nothing good will come out of it. His own disappointment with baseball makes Troy feel that sports will also be a disappointment to Cory. Troy suggests Cory learn a trade instead. Lyons, Troy’s older son, shows up at the house and asks Troy for ten dollars. This is a ritual the two often perform. Troy scolds Lyons for his lifestyle as a Jazz musician and refuses to give him any money. Then, Rose convinces Troy to give Lyons the money.

Troy is given a promotion that will make him the first Black garbage truck driver in the city. Lyons and Bono tease Troy because he does not know how to drive and he cannot read. Cory comes home enraged after finding out that Troy went to his high school football coach and told him that Cory may not play on the team anymore. Cory confronts Troy, telling him that Troy is holding him back from his dreams because Troy is afraid that Cory will be better than Troy. Troy warns Cory that his defiance is a strike against him and he better not “strike out.”

The next day, Troy’s spirited veteran brother, Gabriel, shows up. Gabe has recently moved into his own place at Miss Pearl’s and out of Troy’s home. Troy does not approve of this living arrangement, believing that Miss Pearl is only after Gabe’s disability money from the government. Gabriel says that he has seen St. Peter’s



ory tells Rose that he isn’t quitting the football team, and Rose agrees to talk to Troy when he comes home from bailing Gabriel out of jail for causing a disturbance. Bono and Troy work on the fence together – struggling with the wood. Cory joins them and cuts through the wood easily. Cory and Troy do not understand why Rose wants a fence built. Bono explains to them that Rose loves her family and wants to keep them safe and close. Bono tells them “some people build fences to keep people out… and other people build fences to keep people in.”

When Cory goes into the house, Bono confronts Troy about his relationship with a woman named Alberta. Troy admits to Bono that he is having an affair with her, and Bono tells him to stop then leaves. Troy tells Rose there is a hearing in three weeks for Gabe to determine whether or not he should be recommitted to an asylum. As they argue over what to do about Gabe, Troy reveals a painful truth to Rose: he is having a child with another woman. Rose says she cannot believe that Troy has treated her like this after she has been so loyal to him for so long. Troy


Sy n o p s i s


explains to Rose that he used Alberta to get away from the pain of his unfulfilled goals and the weight of his responsibilities. Rose accuses Troy of being selfish. Troy grabs Rose’s arm. Cory surprises Troy by grabbing him from behind and punching him in the chest, knocking Troy to the ground. Troy lunges at Cory, but Rose holds him back. Troy tells Cory “that is strike number two.”

blamed for Troy’s sins. Rose promises to take care of the baby as her own child, but refuses to honor her partnership with Troy. Cory graduates, and Lyons suggests Cory get help from Troy for his job hunt. Cory leaves instead of talking to Troy. Bono stops by after work, but his friendship with Troy has changed significantly - they are no longer close friends. As Troy resumes drinking and singing by himself, Cory returns. The two men argue over respect, ending in a physical altercation with a baseball bat. After winning the bat away from Cory in a struggle, Troy stands over Cory with the bat and tells him to leave. At this point Cory leaves, saying he’ll be back for his things. Troy responds that Cory cannot come inside and that he will leave Cory’s belongings on the other side of the fence.

After not talking to Troy for six months, Rose asks Troy to come home on Friday night, but Troy says he wants to have some time to himself to relax and enjoy life. Exasperated with Troy, Rose warns him that she does not have much more patience for his behavior. Troy tells Rose that he is going to the hospital to see Alberta who has gone into labor. Rose reveals bad news of her own: Gabriel has been taken away to the asylum because Troy signed papers granting permission for half of Gabe’s money from the government to go to Troy and half to the hospital. Troy is confused and upset. He thought that the papers he signed were the release forms to allow Gabe out of jail, but he accidently sent Gabe away because he could not read the papers. As the two argue, the phone rings. Rose answers it and returns with news from the hospital: Alberta had a healthy baby girl but died during childbirth.


even years later, it is the day of Troy’s funeral. While playing outside, Raynell sees Cory, returning home for the first time. Now a Marine, Cory has returned home but refuses to attend the funeral as an act of defiance. Rose tells Cory that not attending Troy’s funeral does not make Cory a man. As Raynell and Cory sing Troy’s old blues song, Gabriel arrives with his trumpet to open the gates of heaven for Troy. Although Gabe blows his trumpet, no sound comes out. Gabriel blows, dances, and screams for the gates to open, until finally he says, “That’s the way that goes.” The play ends.

Troy brings home his motherless baby, Raynell. As he sits on the porch singing a blues song, Rose enters. She decides that the baby is innocent and shouldn’t be


ABOUT THE PLAYWRIGHT: augu s t wil s o n

august wilson

“I think my plays offer [white Americans] a different way to look at Black Americans. For instance, in Fences they see a garbage man, a person they don’t really look at, although they see a garbage man every day. By looking at Troy’s life, white people find out that the content of this Black garbage man’s life is affected by the same things - love, honor, beauty, betrayal, duty. Recognizing that these things are as much part of his life as theirs can affect how they think about and deal with Black people in their lives.” – August Wilson, The Paris Review


ugust Wilson was born Frederick August Kittle on April 27, 1945. He was the fourth of six children born to his parents, Frederick Kittle, a German immigrant, and Daisy Wilson, an African-American. Wilson grew up in Pittsburgh’s Hill District: a poor, mostly Black, neighborhood where he lived in a two-room cold-water apartment with his mother and siblings. This experience deeply influenced his later writings. Eventually, Wilson’s parents divorced and his mother remarried and moved the family to a predominantly white suburb. Wilson barely knew his father, a white, hard-drinking baker who died in 1965 and only visited occasionally during Wilson’s childhood.


A b o u t t h e playwrigh t

As the only Black student in his class at a Roman Catholic high school, he experienced the ugliness of racism firsthand. “There was a note on my desk every single day,” he told The New Yorker in 2001. “It said, ‘Go home, nigger.’”  At subsequent schools, the harassment continued and climaxed when Wilson wrote a paper on Napoleon, and the teacher accused him of plagiarism because it was so good. At odds with his stepfather, David Bedford, and fed up with discrimination, Wilson dropped out of school at 15.


in 1978 and took a job adapting Native American folk tales into children’s plays. Soon after moving to Minnesota, he began writing his own plays, drawing on his memories of the people he knew in the Hill District. His play Jitney got him accepted to the Playwright’s Center in Minneapolis, and he began to think of himself as a playwright instead of a poet. After Jitney and another play he submitted to the Eugene O’Neill Playwrights Conference were rejected, he tried again with Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and was accepted. The head of the Conference at that time was Lloyd Richards, who was also the first Black director to work on Broadway, the Dean of the Yale School of Drama, and Artistic Director of Yale Repertory Theater. Richards took the unknown playwright under his wing and produced and directed Ma Rainey at the Yale Rep, where it quickly established Wilson’s success as a playwright. The two men worked together for years. Richards directed premieres of many of Wilson’s plays at Yale Rep and even directed his first six plays on Broadway.

Yet, his education continued as he discovered the “Negro” section of books at his local library, which included the works of writers like Ralph Ellison, Langston Hughes, and Richard Wright. “Those books were a comfort. Just the idea Black people would write books. I wanted my book up there too.” He devoured these books and those of white writers as well. He then began writing his own fiction and poetry.


ilson’s education also continued on the streets of Pittsburgh where he listened to the Hill District residents as they passed their time on stoops, in coffee shops, and at Pat’s Place, a local cigar store. These voices and stories would provide material and inspiration of many of his plays.

When Wilson died of liver cancer in 2002, he had secured his place as one of the greatest American playwrights, having won numerous awards, including two Pulitzer Prizes.

In 1962, Wilson enlisted in the U.S. Army for three years but left after one year. He worked odd jobs as a dishwasher, porter, cook, and gardener to support himself. In 1965, he legally changed his last name to “Wilson” as an act of identification with his mother and her race, and he purchased his first typewriter for $20, using money his sister paid him for writing a term paper for her. Deciding he was a poet, he submitted poems to magazines and began scouring thrift shops for dapper jackets, ties, and crisp white shirts to distinguish him from the casual attire worn by other young men at that time.

Sources: newsandfeatures/03wilson.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 AugustWilsonBioSketch.pdf

Later, Wilson co-founded a Black theater, serving as a self-taught director and occasional actor for the 50cent shows that were staged in the auditoriums of elementary schools. After an unsuccessful attempt at playwriting, he gave it up until he moved to Minnesota Klaus, Carl H., Miriam Gilbert, and Bradford S. Field.  Stages of Drama: Classical to Contemporary Masterpieces of the Theater. New York: St. Martin’s, 2003. Print.


MEET t h e dir e c t o r : PHYLICIA RASHAD

phylicia rashad, director of fences, with stage manager david blackwell


hen Phylicia Rashad speaks, people listen. During a recent visit to Long Wharf Theatre to review set designs and tour the space, Rashad spoke with a group of staff members about the power of Fences, the classic play by August Wilson being staged in November on the Mainstage.

took an original person, an everyman, and elevated that person in theatrical importance.” The everyman at the heart of the play is named Troy Maxson, a former Negro League baseball player thwarted from his dreams of playing in the majors by the prejudices of the time period. Now living in Pittsburgh and working as a garbage man, Maxson is dealing with his own son as he grows into his place in the world. “The play is about Troy. Who he is, where

She held the room rapt with that famous, burnished, warm voice and a commanding, yet gentle presence. “It is a play about life,” Rashad said. “August Wilson




phylicia rashad as a young actress

he’s come from, how he lives, and what his concerns have been. It’s about the choices he’s made and how he feels about that,” she said.

way about him. He placed me in the era of my father. He had a quiet, even, and smooth way of asserting his manhood,” she said.

While Troy is the driver of the piece, the other characters are no less complex. Cory, his son, is pursuing the same athletic goals that so disappointed his father. Rose, his wife, may have thought that she wanted a domesticated life, but is forced in the play to ask the question, “at what cost?”

He was a man who respected the theatrical process, Rashad said, and allowed everyone in the room an opportunity to do their jobs to the utmost. “I thought, surely, this must be what it was like for actors to have Shakespeare in the room,” she recalled. Rashad’s directing career began several years ago when Wilson’s widow, Constanza Romero, thought she would have a great insight into Seattle Rep’s production of Gem of the Ocean. “I hadn’t been thinking about it,” she said.

“We have relationships with each other as human beings. We label those relationships without necessarily understanding what is deep in the heart of people,” Rashad said. “This is what I’ve always revelled in these plays, the complexity of humanity.”

Gem of the Ocean was followed by other opportunities to explore Wilson’s work, including a highly regarded production of Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, starring John Douglas Thompson. Rashad now finds herself as one of the go-to interpreters of August Wilson. “I find it pretty amazing that this is happening,” she said.

Wilson’s work is complex, yet accessible; heartfelt, but occasionally biting. “Everything is significant but it flows as easily as a stream. It’s palpable. You can take it all in,” she said. Rashad had acted for Wilson in the premiere of Gem of the Ocean. “He was wonderful. He had a style and a




gl o s s ary “I liked to”: I was about to; I could have. “Having truck with”: Having to do with; dealt with. “Studying you”: Watching or observing you. $20 in 1957 is about $166.65 in 2013 Uncle Remus: “I know you. I know you got some Uncle Remus in your blood. You got more stories than the devil got sinners.” Bono to Troy (Act 1, Scene 1) Uncle Remus was a fictional character and narrator of African-American folktales created by Joel Chandler Harris. The first Uncle Remus was published in November 1880. Most Uncle Remus stories were “trickster tales” involving Br’er Rabbit. Many of the stories are now thought to be racist and patronizing. Archangel: An Angel of the highest rank. Archangels serve as the holy messengers of God, bringing God’s messages to humans. Michael is the only archangel named in the Bible (1 Thessalonians 4:16 and Jude 9). The Roman Catholic Church includes the Apocrypha which contains books not usually included in the New Testament. In the Apocrypha, Gabriel and Raphael are designated Archangels, and sometimes Uriel is included as a fourth: “the Archangel of salvation” (2 Esdras).


Hellhounds: “only one of many names used to describe ethereal, black dogs that roam hillsides and graveyards.” Hellhounds are often described as having “glowing red eyes, super strength and speed, and a tendency to trail fire and brimstone in their wake.” As messengers from the underworld, they are said “to have been created by a group of ancient demons to serve as heralds of death.” The N Word: The word nigger is derived from the Latin word for the color black, niger. According to the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, it did not originate as a slur but took on a derogatory connotation over time. Nigger and other words related to it have been spelled in a variety of ways, including nigga, nigguh, niggur, and niggar. No one knows precisely when or how niger turned derisively into nigger and attained a pejorative meaning. We do know, however, that by the end of the first third of the nineteenth century, nigger had already become a familiar and influential insult. Despite this, the word has become a household term and one of the main root words in Hip-Hop music (NaS even named an album after it), growing into a kind of social phenomenon.


SOURCES: creatures/hellhound.htm One-Archangel-Two-Archangels.aspx# books/chap1/nigger.htm


SETT I N G F E N C E S I N T I ME A N D P L A CE : T H E 1 9 5 0 S


ences takes place in 1957, during a decade when many Americans were celebrating the end of World War II and looking forward to a future of peace and prosperity. The U.S. entered the 1950s as the world’s strongest military power with a booming economy and a booming birthrate. 

Along with the baby boom came the suburban boom. As developers made low-cost tract homes available outside cities and returning soldiers could afford low-cost mortgages (thanks to the GI Bill), many families moved to the suburbs. But the families moving to the suburbs were mostly white families and those left in the urban neighborhoods – which now had to survive with shrinking tax bases – were mostly Blacks and ethnic minorities. The ongoing struggle against racism and segregation gained momentum. Acts of “nonviolent resistance” like the boycott helped shape the civil rights movement of the next decade.

T I ME L I NE : April/May 1945: End of World War II



1949: Housing Act of 1949 sparks urban renewal by providing federal funding to cities so they could acquire “slums” and “redevelop” them.

1950: Pittsburgh becomes the first major city to undertake a modern urbanrenewal program.




1954: Brown v. Board of Education results in the desegregation of public schools



1955: Rosa Parks is arrested in Montgomery, Alabama for refusing to give up her seat on a city bus to a white person.




1956: The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 results in highways being built right through the middle of many urban areas, often isolating and destroying neighborhoods.


1957: Fences

I n t h e Cla s s r o o m In what ways are the events and issues of the 1950s brought to light in the lives of the characters in Fences? 




HERRON AVENUE From the beginning, I decided not to write about historical events or the pathologies of the black community. The details of our struggle to survive and prosper, in what has been a difficult and sometimes bitter relationship with a system of laws and practices that deny us access to the tools necessary for productive and industrious life, are available to any serious student of history or sociology.


he Hill District of Pittsburgh was August Wilson’s childhood home and the setting for 9 out of 10 plays in his Century Cycle (oftentimes called the Pittsburgh Cycle).

cities in the world. The Lower Hill District, a popular neighborhood for Italians, Jews, Eastern Europeans, and Blacks was targeted for renewal. While it was a thriving neighborhood with shops, nightclubs, restaurants, and small businesses, some thought it was undesirable. “You could smell urine,” said the director of Pittsburgh’s Urban Renewal Authority at the time. “It was a bad, overcrowded neighborhood.” In the late-1950s, Lower Hill was torn down, displacing thousands of people into the already crowded Upper Hill or into the few outlying suburbs where Black people were allowed to live. By 1960, Pittsburgh was one of the most segregated big cities in America.

Once described as “among the truly magic places on earth,” the Hill District in Pittsburgh, PA, was one of “the most generative black communities in the United States” during its heyday in the 1930s-1950s. Until the city undertook a modern urban-renewal program in May 1950, Pittsburgh was infamous as one of the dirtiest and most economically depressed



t h e n e gr o l e agu e s

players was $125.00 in the early 1930s, eventually rising to $800.00 in the mid-40s for the stars of the leagues like Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige. So when Troy tells Bono that, unlike Gibson’s girl, “[white player George] Selkirk’s daughter ain’t walking around with raggedy shoes on her feet,” he’s talking about the difference of pay between Black and White players of that time and the difficulty that African-American players faced taking care of their family on such a meager salary.

Troy Maxson is a former Negro League baseball player who narrowly missed the opportunity to play in the Major Leagues. While Troy was a young player at the top of his game, Major League Baseball was segregated. When the integration of players from the Negro League to the Majors began, Troy was too old to play professional baseball. Troy’s unfair situation in professional baseball was common in those times. There were many African American ball players who played in the Negro Leagues and were good enough to play in the Majors, but they were denied the opportunity because of the color of their skin. Until the 1950s, baseball in America reflected the broader racial culture. When the Negro National League was formed in 1920, it consisted of eight teams which included the Chicago American Giants, Chicago Giants, Dayton Marcos, Detroit Stars, Indianapolis ABC’s, Kansas City Monarchs, St. Louis Giants, and the Cuban Stars.

Negro League schedules were a combination of preplanned games (with other Negro League teams) and impromptu games called barnstorm games (against White professional all-star teams). White players were not allowed to wear their official uniforms during these games because the Major League owners’ didn’t want to give the impression that they were permitting this. Negro League players were faced with harsh conditions and segregation laws as they travelled to play games.

The average monthly salary for the Negro League



“Some of the things we had to endure down there [in the South] were horrific…just maintaining our focus … was a lot. We took long bus trips. Sometimes, we’d make stops along the highway to eat in a diner. The [white or light-skinned] players would bring us sandwiches on the bus. Not only couldn’t we eat in the place, we couldn’t use the restroom. We had to relieve ourselves in the bushes. All these things were demeaning. But we had to endure them.” – Ed Charles


“hundreds of [players] better than Robinson … [he] wasn’t nobody” – Troy Maxson Overall, most players in the Negro leagues took Robinson’s move to the majors as a sign of progress, change and a chance to finally showcase African-American players’ abilities. Their biggest thrill, as outfielder Cool Papa Bell said, was “when they opened the door to the Negro.” Others players said though that the door should never have been closed in the first place. Though there is no dispute that Robinson was talented and that his move was very significant for the African American community in baseball and in general, many still believe that he found his way to the major leagues by a path cleared by many unknown players before him.

“It shall be unlawful for any amateur colored baseball team to play baseball on any vacant lot or baseball diamond within two blocks of a playground devoted to the white race.” – Georgia Law “You didn’t get hurt when you played in the Negro Leagues … you played no matter what happened to you because if you didn’t play, you didn’t get paid.”– Roy Campanella

“They say Jackie Robinson paved the way. He didn’t pave the way. We did.” – Joe Grenne

It wasn’t until 1947 when Jackie Robinson signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers that the color line in major league baseball was finally breached, but not all Negro League players were ecstatic.

The most famous Negro League players did not ever receive as much fame as Jackie Robinson. Satchel Paige (mentioned in Fences) is considered to be not just one of the best Negro League pitchers ever but also one of the greatest pitchers in the history of the entire game of baseball. Though his exact age is unknown it is supposed that he was born sometime around 1906-1908 in Alabama, where he suffered a rough childhood. Born into poverty and resorting to stealing as a boy, he was sent to a Juvenile detention center. While there, Paige learned the game of baseball. He played for at least eight Negro League baseball teams throughout his career. Statistics were not widely kept during this time so Paige’s legacy has relied more on tales. In a World Series game, Paige claimed that he had intentionally loaded the bases just so that he could pitch to Josh Gibson, the league’s best batter, and strike him out on three straight pitches. Satchel Paige did get the chance to play in the Major Leagues. At the age of 42, Paige was signed by the Cleveland Indians to pitch from their bullpen during the pennant race of 1948. Though his pitching was not nearly as good as it had been in his younger days, he played an important role in helping the Indians win the American League pennant that year.



satchel paige

“hundreds of [players] better than Robinson … [he] wasn’t nobody” – Troy Maxson josh gibson The Negro Leagues is remembered as a symbol of both great injustice and great achievement. Several of its players, including Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron, went on to have legendary careers in the Major Leagues, but most of the League’s great players were unfairly denied this chance. Players such as Gibson and Paige, including other great stars like Monte Irvin, Cool Papa Bell, and Judy Johnson, are remembered for their individual achievements and for the great impact they made on Black baseball. Through these players baseball was no longer just a White America’s game - It was a game for all.

Josh Gibson could have been one of the men Wilson used as a model for Troy Maxson. According to the Baseball Hall of Fame, into which Gibson was inducted in 1972, Gibson hit almost 800 home runs in his career (the current leader in career home runs is Barry Bond with 762). This number is impossible to validate though since, like Paige, Gibson’s statistics were never officially kept. Much like Troy Maxson in Fences, Gibson never played in the White Major Leagues. He suffered from alcoholism and depression later in life, which his former teammates and friends say was brought on by his frustration and the disappointment he encountered from the segregation in baseball. Gibson died of a stroke in 1947, just months before baseball was integrated when Jackie Robinson signed a contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers. FencesDiscoveryGuide.pdf


s a m ba n k h e ad : t h e i n s pira t i o n f o r t r o y m a x s o n ?


t’s impossible to say with absolute certainty where the inspiration for a piece of art comes from. However, there are some Negro League scholars who believe that the Negro League baseball player Sam Bankhead was one of the models for Troy Maxson, the central character in Fences by August Wilson.

There is little doubt, according to baseball scholars, that Bankhead would have held his own against Major League pitching. He hit .387 in nine Negro League All-Star games, which featured the top players in the circuit. In 21 games where Bankhead faced Major League pitchers, he hit .342 (27-79). Totaling up all of Bankhead’s statistics, a difficult task given the inconsistent recordkeeping in the Negro Leagues, he hit .311 over the course of his career.

Bankhead, born in Empire, Alabama in 1905, was the oldest of five brothers who played professional baseball in the Negro Leagues. A right-hander, Bankhead played professionally from 1930 to 1950 for the Birmingham Black Barons, the Homestead Grays, Pittsburgh Crawfords, Memphis Red Sox, and Ciudad Trujillo, among other teams. His younger brother Dan was the first African-American to pitch in the Major Leagues, playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, 1950-51, compiling a record of 9 wins, 5 losses and a 6.52 earned run average.

The connection between Bankhead and Troy Maxson come from the events occurring after his playing days concluded. After 20 years of playing professional baseball year-round, Bankhead took a job working with the Pittsburgh sanitation department, mirroring Maxson’s profession in the play. Working alongside his godson Josh Gibson Jr., son of the Negro League superstar, Bankhead did get favorable treatment from his boss, a baseball fan who remembered him.

Sam Bankhead was primarily a shortstop and a right fielder – although he played every position on the field at one point or another – and was known as an aggressive line drive hitter with good speed. His contemporaries reported that he played excellent defense and was known to have a cannon for an arm.

As the years passed, Sam Bankhead became increasingly bitter, drinking more and more, reportedly refusing to see Dan play in the majors. In 1976, Sam got into an argument with a co-worker over who was the best employee at their respective hotel. Bankhead slapped the man in the face and was in turn gunned down. He was 71 years old.

sam bankhead (top and left) and his brother, dan bankhead






s a teenager, August Wilson was inspired when he discovered the words of Black writers and poets like Langston Hughes – not surprising since Wilson himself was a poet before he was a playwright. Hughes was first recognized as an important literary figure during the 1920s, a period known as the “Harlem Renaissance” because of the number of emerging Black writers. Here is one of his poems:


As I Grew Older It was a long time ago.

Rose until it touched the sky-

I have almost forgotten my

The wall.



But it was there then,

I am black.

In front of me,

I lie down in the shadow.

Bright like a sun-

No longer the light of my

My dream.

dream before me,

And then the wall rose,

Above me.

Rose slowly,

Only the thick wall.


Only the shadow.

Between me and my dream.

My hands!

My dark hands!

Into a thousand lights of sun,

Break through the wall!

Into a thousand whirling

Find my dream!


Help me to shatter this

Of sun!

darkness, To smash this night, To break this shadow


I n t h e Cla s s r o o m Connect to Fences: 1. Apply this poem to Troy Maxson’s life: What was his dream? What happened to it? 2.  Many Black critics of his day faulted Hughes for portraying a realistic view of Black culture, flaws and all. Estace Gay wrote: “Bad enough to have White authors holding up our imperfections to public gaze. Our aim ought to be [to] present to the general public, already misinformed both by well-meaning and malicious writers, our higher aims and aspirations, and our better selves.”

To this type of criticism Hughes responded with the following: “I sympathized deeply with those critics and those intellectuals, and I saw clearly the need for some of the kinds of books they wanted. But I did not see how they could expect every Negro author to write such books. Certainly, I personally knew very few people anywhere who were wholly beautiful and wholly good. Besides I felt that the masses of our people had as much in their lives to put into books as did those more fortunate ones who had been born with some means and the ability to work up to a master’s degree at a Northern college. Anyway, I didn’t know the upper class Negroes well enough to write much about them. I knew only the people I had grown up with, and they weren’t people whose shoes were always shined, who had been to Harvard, or who had heard of Bach. But they seemed to me good people, too.”

Who is making a better argument, Gay or Hughes? Why? Is the portrayal of Black life in Fences more in line with the thinking of Gay or Hughes? Why?



THE ART OF ROMARE BEARDEN “[The art of Romare Bearden] was the art of a large and generous spirit that defined not only the character of Black American life, but also its conscience. I was looking at myself in ways I hadn’t thought of before and have never ceased to think of since.” “What I saw was Black life presented on its own terms, on a grand and epic scale, with all its richness and fullness, in a language that was vibrant and which made attendant to everyday life, ennobled it, affirmed its value, and exalted its presence.” – August Wilson


ugust Wilson said that one of his great influences was the art of Romare Bearden, particularly his collages. Romare Bearden (1911–1988) grew up at the height of New York City’s Harlem Renaissance and was influenced by such family friends as Langston Hughes, W.E.B. DuBois, and Duke Ellington. Although he was a successful painter and dedicated civil rights activist, Bearden is best known for his vibrant collages fusing depictions of Harlem life with images and impressions of the American South. This sense of a cultural narrative spanning generations and expressing the African-American experience is also a hallmark of Wilson’s plays. 



I n t h e Cla s s r o o m Allow students time to look at several works of Romare Bearden such as Train Whistle Blues No. 1, Jazz, The Street and Mysteries. 1.    What is it about Bearden’s work that might have inspired Wilson? How does it reflect the African-American experience? What do you think Wilson particularly liked about Bearden’s collages?

train whistle blues no. 1


the street




THE BLUES As a young man, Wilson haunted Pittsburgh’s thrift stores, buying stacks of old albums for a nickel each. One day, he came across a recording by Bessie Smith, one of the great blues singers of the 1920s and 30s. “I put that on, and it was unlike anything I’d ever heard before,” Wilson recalls. “Somehow, all that other music was different from that. And I go, ‘Wait a minute. This is mine… there’s a history here.’” The first song on the record was “Nobody in Town Can Bake a Sweet Jelly Roll Like Mine.” Listening to the song, over and over, Wilson realized he could write in the language he heard around him — Black street vernacular — rather than the English he admired in the works of such writers as Dylan Thomas. It was, he recalls, a defining moment: “The universe stuttered, and everything fell into place.” In Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, the title character calls the blues “life’s way of talking.” Wilson says the blues are life’s instructions: “Contrary to what most people think, it’s not defeatist, ‘Oh, woe is me.’ It’s very life-affirming, uplifting music. Because you can sing that song, that’s what enables you to survive.”

Blues songs generally repeat a 12-bar phrase of music and have a 3-line stanza that repeats the first line in the second line. A blues song usually contains several blue, or minor, notes in the melody and harmony. Fences is structured somewhat like a blues song, with certain phrases and scenes repeated different ways. For example, there are three scenes that take place on Friday, Troy’s payday, but each is different because of changes that have taken place in the lives of the characters. In addition, Troy sings two blues songs: in Act Two, scene three, “Please Mr. Engineer Let a Man Ride the Line,” and in Act Two, scene four, “Hear it Ring! Hear it Ring!” Rose also sings the song, “Jesus be a Fence all Around Me Every Day,” in Act One, scene two, but the song with its religious theme is likely in the gospel tradition. Troy’s song, “Hear it Ring! Hear it Ring!” was passed on to him by his father and in the last scene of the play, Cory and Raynell sing it together after Troy’s death. In this way, the blues are shown as a vehicle for connecting generations and keeping traditions alive beyond the grave. SOURCE:

I n t h e Cla s s r o o m While showing art of Romare Beardon, play blues music like Bessie Smith’s “Nobody in Town Can Bake a Sweet Jelly Roll Like Mine.” (Found at:

Ask students the following two questions: 1.   Why would Wilson have been so excited to hear this blues music for the first time? Do you see the influence of blues music in the dialogue in Fences? Do you think the characters are better able to deal with life because of the ideas expressed in blues music? Why or why not? 2.   Do you listen to certain types of music to feel creative, energized or peaceful? If so, what are they?


t h e pi t t s burgh c y c l e :

chronicling the african-american experience


ugust Wilson is best known for 10 plays called the “Pittsburgh Cycle” or “Century Cycle.” Each play is set in a different decade of the 20thCentury, chronicling the African-American experience and exploring the disconnection felt by Blacks in the U.S. as a result of being uprooted from their original homeland and forced into slavery.  He told the Chicago Tribune that “by not developing their own tradition, a more African response to the world, [African Americans] lost their sense of identity.” Through his plays, Wilson attempted to help Black people understand their roots and themselves. As he explained in American Theatre: “I wanted to present the unique particulars of Black American culture as the transformation of impulse and sensibility into codes of conduct and response, into cultural rituals that defined and celebrated ourselves as men and women of high purpose.”

Wilson explained that the idea of creating the cycle developed over time: “Well, actually, I didn’t start out with a grand idea. I wrote a play called Jitney set in ’77 and a play called Fullerton Street that I set in ’41. Then I wrote Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, which I set in ’27, and it was after I did that I said, ‘I’ve written three plays in three different decades, so why don’t I just continue to do that?’”



Nine of the ten plays are set in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, near Wilson’s childhood home. The only exception is Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, which is set in Chicago. In 2005, August Wilson completed the tenplay cycle chronicling the African American experience in the 20th century. They are as follows:

1900s – Gem of the Ocean (2003) 1910s – Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (1984) 1920s – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (1982) – set in Chicago 1930s – T  he Piano Lesson (1986) – Pulitzer Prize 1940s – Seven Guitars (1995) 1950s – Fences (1985) – Pulitzer Prize 1960s – Two Trains Running (1990) 1970s – Jitney (1982) 1980s – King Hedley II (2001) 1990s – Radio Golf (2005)





Cory: “I don’t see why Mama want a fence around the yard noways.”

Troy’s experience with baseball – his success and his bitter disappointment at being too old when the national leagues were finally integrated – is emblematic of his life and he tends to explain his actions in terms of baseball metaphors.

Troy: “Damn if I know either. What the hell she keeping out with it? She ain’t got nothing nobody want.”

When he talks about facing death, he compares it to a duel between a pitcher and a batter.

Bono: “Some people build fences to keep people out . . . and other people build fences to keep people in. Rose wants to hold on to you all. She loves you.”

TROY: That’s all death is to me. A fastball on the outside corner. (Act One, Scene 1)

(Act Two, Scene 1)

When he bullies his son Cory, he warns him:

Troy: “All right . . . Mr. Death. See now . . . I’m gonna tell you what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna take and build me a fence around this yard. See? I’m gonna build me a fence around what belongs to me. And then I want you to stay on the other side.”

TROY: You swung and you missed. That’s strike one. Don’t you strike out! (Act One, Scene 4)

(Act Two, Scene 2) When Troy confesses to Rose that he has been unfaithful and fathered an illegitimate child, he uses a baseball metaphor to explain himself:

Cory: “Tell Mama I’ll be back for my things.”

TROY: I fooled them, Rose. I bunted. When I found you and Cory and a halfway decent job . . . I was safe. Couldn’t nothing touch me. I wasn’t gonna strike out no more. I wasn’t going back to the penitentiary. I wasn’t gonna lay in the streets with a bottle of wine. I was safe. I had me a family. A job. I wasn’t gonna get that last strike. I was on first looking for one of them boys to knock me in. To get me home.

Troy: “They’ll be on the other side of that fence.”

(Act Two, Scene 4)

ROSE: You should have stayed in my bed, Troy.

Discussion Questions:

TROY: Then when I saw that gal . . . she firmed up my backbone. And I got to thinking that if I tried . . . I just might be able to steal second. Do you understand after eighteen years I wanted to steal second. (Act Two, Scene 1)

1. What is the significance of the play’s title? Why is it plural? 2. How do “fences” (real and metaphorical) create conflict between characters? Who builds these emotional “fences”? Are “fences” taken down?

Discussion Question:

3. How many types of “fences” can you identify in the play?

What significance is there in the way Troy uses baseball to describe his life to his loved ones?





his own well-being. This is what Lyons has to say. “I know I got to eat. But I got to live too. I need something that gonna help me to get out of bed in the morning. Make me feel like I belong in the world. I don’t bother nobody. I just stay with my music cause that’s the only way I can find to live in the world. Otherwise there ain’t no telling what I might do.”

“I thought, ‘I can write one of those plays where you have a big character and everything revolves around him.’” Wilson explained, “In Fences, I wanted to show Troy as very responsible. He did not leave. He held a job. He fathered three kids by three different women, due to the circumstances of his life, and he was responsible to all of them.”

Cory has talent as a football player and wants to pursue a career. Troy wants Cory to get a job that will support him. When Rose asks Troy about his own sports career, Troy explains his fears for Cory: “I don’t want him to be like me!... I decided seventeen years ago that boy wasn’t getting involved in no sports. Not after what they did to me in the sports… I got sense not to let my boy get hurt over playing no sports.”

Troy is unfaithful to his wife, harsh with his son Cory, and dismissive of his son Lyons. But he is responsible. To him, that is his ultimate duty and as someone who has had to fend for himself in a cruel world, being responsible is the best thing he can do for those he loves.

When Cory finds out his dad has stopped him from attending college to play football he only has one response for his father: “Why you wanna do that to me? That was the one chance I had…Just cause you didn’t have a chance! You just scared I’m gonna be better than you, that’s all.”

When Cory asks Troy if he likes him, Troy is shocked. TROY: Like you? I go out of here every morning…bust my butt…putting up with them crackers every day…cause I like you? You about the biggest fool I ever saw. (Pause.) It’s my job. It’s my responsibility! You understand that? A man got to take care of his family. (Act 1, Scene 3)

Troy has an affair that results in him fathering a baby with another woman. When he must admit the child and the affair to Rose, she is outraged. Troy’s defense is that he has been stuck for years and just wanted a release from the pressures of his life. This is Rose’s response: “I took all my feelings, my wants and needs, my dreams… and I buried them inside you. I planted a seed and watched and prayed over it. I planted myself inside you and waited to bloom. And it didn’t take me no eighteen years to find out the soil was hard and rocky and it wasn’t never gonna bloom. But I held onto you, Troy. I held you tighter. You was my husband. I owed you everything I had. Every part of me I could find to give to you.”

Discussion Questions: 1. What is responsibility to you? 2. How does being responsible, or not, reflect on who you are as a person?

Dreams In his introduction to Fences, August Wilson writes: “They cleaned houses and washed clothes, they shined shoes, and in quiet desperation and vengeful pride, they stole, and lived in pursuit of their own dream. That they could breathe free, finally, and stand to meet life with the force of dignity and whatever eloquence the heart could call upon.”

Discussion Questions: 1. Do parents have the right to dictate the dreams of their children? 2. How do our dreams define who we are? 3. What happens to a person when they lose their dream? 4. What does Lyons means when he says, “Otherwise there ain’t no telling what I might do”? 5. Do you think Rose’s dreams were fulfilled? If yes, how? If not, how has she coped?

Each character in Fences is in pursuit of a dream or, unfortunately, has already watched their dream fade before them. Lyons, Troy’s son, is pursing a career in music. Troy thinks this is foolish because Lyons does not care about


c urri c ulu m connections We believe that theatre can support and work in tandem with everyday classroom activities and scholastic goals. Below are some suggested activities that can be done for each production, with a focus on vocabulary, fluency, comprehension, and writing. VOCABULARY


• Highlight words in the script that are unfamiliar.

• Read the script aloud in a large circle. • Pair up and read scenes aloud together.

• Write definitions in the margins of the script.

• Pick a character and focus on reading his/her lines with accuracy and expression.

• Find synonyms for new vocabulary words. • Find antonyms for new vocabulary words. • Study the new vocabulary words for spelling tests.

• Switch roles so that the students have a chance to experiment with different vocal expressions for different characters (tone, tempo, and volume).



• Create a story map for the play.

• Write journal entries or monologues using vocabulary words.

• Create a biography for one of the characters.

• Write a journal entry or monologue from the perspective of one of the characters.

• Map out the relationships in the play. • Write a scene depicting part of the story that we hear about in the play, but is not in the stage action.

• Summarize the play. • Summarize each individual scene.

• Write a review of the production. • Summarize the play from the perspective of one of the characters.

• Write a letter to one of the cast members, designers, director, playwright, or staff members sharing your impression and questions regarding the show.

• Answer the essay and text-related questions. • Discuss the play’s themes.

• Write a letter from one character to another.

• Discuss the current events that correlate with the themes of the play.

• Write a new ending to the play.

• Cut out articles from magazines and newspapers that discuss some of the issues and topics brought up in the play.


F O R T H E F I R ST - T I ME T H E A T R E G OE R In theatre etiquette, the major consideration to keep in mind is that your actions can be distracting not only to the rest of the audience, but to the actors on stage as well. Behavior that is acceptable in other public settings, like movie theatres, ballgames, or concerts, is out of place when attending the theatre. The following tips should help you get acquainted with some DOs and DON’Ts for first-time theatregoers.

DO arrive early. Make considerations for traffic, parking, waiting in line, having your ticket taken, and finding your seat. If you need to pick up your tickets from the box office, it is a good idea to arrive at least twenty minutes early. Generally, you can take your seat when “the house is open,” about half an hour before the show begins. Late seating is always distracting and usually not allowed until intermission or a transition between scenes, if it is allowed at all. Follow the old actors’ mantra: To be EARLY is to be ON TIME. To be ON TIME is to be LATE. To be LATE is UNFORGIVABLE. DO dress appropriately. Going to the theatre is a special event for many people, and your clothing should reflect your respect. The dress code is casual, but not sloppy: hats, bandannas, and revealing clothes are a bad idea. Nice jeans are okay, but those with holes are not. DO turn off your cell phone. Phones and any other noise-making devices should be switched off before you even enter the theatre: you won’t be allowed to use them anyway. Texting during a performance is also rude. The intermission is a good time to use your phone, but remember to turn it off again before the next act begins. DON’T leave your garbage in the theatre. Food and drinks are usually not permitted in the theatre at all, with the exception of bottled water. If it is allowed, be sure to throw out your trash in a garbage can or recycling bin in the lobby; don’t leave it for the house manager or ushers at the end of a show. DO watch your step. Aisles can be narrow, so please be considerate when finding your seat. Avoid getting up during the performance whenever possible, since it can be very distracting. You can use the restroom before the show and during intermission. Also, be careful not to cross in front of the stage, as it will break the illusion of the show. Don’t step on or over seats, and never walk on the stage itself. DON’T talk during the performance. Chatting is extremely rude to the actors and the audience around you. Everyone is trying to pay attention to the play and those nearby will be able to hear, so please be quiet and considerate. DO get into it! Actors feed off of the audience, just as the audience feeds off of the actors. Don’t be afraid to laugh, clap, or cry if you are so moved. However, there is a line that can be crossed. Please be respectful, and don’t distract from the work of the professionals on stage. After all, people paid good money to watch the show, not you. Just enjoy the experience and let yourself have an honest response.


Fences Teacher Information Packet  
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