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study guide




yracuse Stage is committed to providing students with rich theatre experiences that explore and examine what it is to be human. Research shows that children who participate in or are exposed to the arts show higher academic achievement, stronger self-esteem, and improved ability to plan and work toward a future goal. Many students in our community have their first taste of live theatre through Syracuse Stage’s outreach programs. Last season more than 30,000 students from across New York State attended or participated in the Bank of America Children’s Tour, Backstory performances, artsEmerging, the Young Playwrights Festival, and our Student Matinee Program. We gratefully acknowledge the corporations and foundations who support our commitment to in-depth arts education for our community. Children’s Tour Naming Sponsor

ArtsEmerging Sponsor

John Ben Snow Foundation, Inc. Student Matinee Sponsor

General Education Sponsors

Lori Pasqualino as “Annabel” in the 2010 Bank of America Children’s Tour: Annabel Drudge... and the Second Day of School. Photo by Michael Davis

Content collection and portions written by Len Fonte Layout design and portions written by Michelle Scully

Timothy Bond

Producing Artistic Director

Syracuse Stage and SU Drama

820 E Genesee Street Syracuse, NY 13210

www.SyracuseStage.org Director of Educational Outreach

Lauren Unbekant (315) 443-1150

Manager of Educational Outreach

Michelle Scully (315) 442-7755

Group Sales & Student Matinees

Tracey White (315) 443-9844 Box Office

4. Production Information 5. Introduction 6. Teaching Theatre 8. Letter from the Director 9. About the Playwright 10. About the Play 11. Context and Content 13. Sources and Resources 14. Syracuse Stage Season 2012-13

(315) 443-3275

Syracuse Stage is a global village square where renowned artists and audiences of all ages gather to celebrate our cultural richness, witness the many truths of our common humanity, and explore the transformative power of live theatre. Celebrating our 40th season as the professional theatre in residence at Syracuse University, we create innovative, adventurous, and entertaining productions of new plays, classics and musicals, and offer interactive education and outreach programs to Central New York.

EDUCATIONAL OUTREACH AT SYRACUSE STAGE The Bank of America CHILDREN’S TOUR brings high-energy, interactive, and culturally diverse performances to elementary school audiences. The BACKSTORY Program brings history to life as professional actors portray historical figures in classrooms and other venues. ArtsEMERGING takes students on an in-depth exploration of one mainstage season production using a multi-cultural, multi-arts lens. The YOUNG PLAYWRIGHTS FESTIVAL challenges students to submit original ten-minute plays for a chance to see their work performed at Syracuse Stage. The STUDENT MATINEE SERIES provides student with the opportunity for a rich theatrical experience as part of our audience.


Directed by Timothy Bond

January 30 - February 17 In Two Trains Running, an optimistic ex-con enters the insular confines of Memphis Lee’s diner and awakens a cast of older and skeptical characters to the possibilities of a new era. Set in the turbulence of 1969, a time much like today, Two Trains Running is one of the most humorous and politically potent of Wilson’s 20th Century Cycle plays.




Welcome! As you take your students on the exciting journey into the world of live

theatre we hope that you’ll take a moment to help prepare them to make the most of their experience. Unlike movies or television, live theatre offers the thrill of unpredictability. With the actors present on stage, the audience response becomes an integral part of the performance and the overall experience: the more involved and attentive the audience, the better the show. Please remind your students that they play an important part in the success of the performance!

A few reminders... BE PROMPT

Give your students plenty of time to arrive, ďŹ nd their seats, and get situated. Have them visit the restrooms before the show begins!


Etiquette Audience

Please remind your students that their behavior and responses affect the quality of the performance and the enjoyment of the production for the entire audience. Live theatre means the actors and the audience are in the same room, and just as the audience can see and hear the performers, the performers can see and hear the audience. Please ask your students to avoid disturbing those around them. Please no talking or unnecessary or disruptive movement during the performance. Also, please remind students that cellphones should be switched completely off. No texting or tweeting, please. When students give their full attention to the action on the stage, they will be rewarded the best performance possible.


Instead of instructing students to remain totally silent, please discuss the difference between appropriate responses (laughter, applause, participation when requested) and inappropriate noise (talking, cell phones, etc).


Please do not leave or allow students to leave during the performance except in absolute emergencies. Again, reminding them to use the restrooms before the performance will help eliminate unnecessary disruption.



teaching theatre

Most (but not all) plays begin with a script — a story to be told and a blueprint of how to tell it. In his famous treatise, The Poetics, the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle outlined six

Elements Drama of

that playwrights are mindful of to this day:

Plot What is the story line? What happened before the play started? What does each character want? What do they do to achieve their goals? What do they stand to gain/ lose? Theme

What ideas are wrestled with in the play? What questions does the play pose? Does it present an opinion?


Who are the people in the story? What are their relationships? Why do they do what they do? How does ages/status/etc. affect them?

Language Music

What do the characters say? How do they say it? When do they say it?

How do music and sound help to tell the story?


What visual elements support the play? This could include: puppets, scenery, costumes, dance, movement, and more. Other Elements: Conflict/Resolution, Action, Improvisation, Non-verbal communication, Staging, Humor, Realism and other styles, Metaphor, Language, Tone, Pattern & Repetition, Emotion, Point of view.

ACTIVITY At its core, drama is about characters working toward goals and overcoming obstacles. Ask students to use their bodies and voices to create characters who are: very old, very young, very strong, very weak, very tired, very energetic, very cold, very warm. Have their characters interact with others. Give them an objective to fulfill despite environmental obstacles. Later, recap by asking how these obstacles affected their characters and the pursuit of their objectives.

Any piece of theatre comprises multiple art forms. As you explore this production with your students, examine the use of:



How are each of these art forms used in this production? Why are they used? How do they help to tell the story?



teaching theatre

Most plays utilize designers to create the visual world of the play through scenery, costumes, lighting, and more. These artists use

Elements Design of

to communicate information about the world within the play and its characters.

LINE can have length, width,

texture, direction and curve. There are 5 basic varieties: vertical, horizontal, diagonal, curved, and zigzag. is two-dimensional and encloses space. It can be geometric (e.g. squares and circles), man-made, or free-form.


FORM is three-dimensional. It encloses space and fills space. It can be geometric (e.g. cubes and cylinders), man-made, or free-form.


has three basic properties: HUE is the name of the color (e.g. red, blue, green), INTENSITY is the strength of the color (bright or dull), VALUE is the range of lightness to darkness.


SPACE is de-

fined and determined by shapes and forms. Positive space is enclosed by shapes and forms, while negative space exists around them.

refers to the “feel” of an object’s surface. It can be smooth, rough, soft, etc. Textures may be ACTUAL (able to be felt) or IMPLIED (suggested visually through the artist’s technique).


Have students discuss these elements BEFORE attending the performance and ask them to pay special attention to how these elements are used in the production’s design. Whether your students are observing a piece of visual art (painting, sculpture, photograph) or a piece of performance art (play, dance), allow them first to notice the basic elements, then encourage them to look deeper into why these elements are used the way they are.



a letter from the education director

Dear Educator, Live theatre is a place for people to gather and experience the joys, triumphs, and sorrows life has to offer through a shared experience. The Syracuse Stage Education Department is committed to providing the tools to make learning in and through the arts possible, to address varied learning styles and make connections to curriculum and life itself. It is our goal in the education department to maximize the theatre experience for our education partners with experiential learning and in-depth arts programming. Thank you for your interest and support!


Lauren Unbekant Director of Educational Outreach



about the playwright

AUGUST WILSON Born Frederick August Knittel in 1945, August Wilson was born in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, the sixth child of a white German immigrant and Daisy Wilson, an African American cleaning woman from North Carolina. His parents separated in the late 1950’s, and Daisy remarried, moving with her children from Pittsburgh’s Hill District to Hazelwood, a mainly white working class neighborhood, where they experienced racial hatred. When a high school teacher accused him of plagiarizing a twenty-page paper on Napoleon, the teenage Frederick dropped out of school and continued his education on his own at the public library, devouring the work of authors such as Langston Hughes, Ralph Ellison, and Arna Bontemps. In 1965, his father died, and young Frederick changed his name to August Wilson, in honor of his mother. When, in the same year, he purchased his first typewriter, the twenty-year-old declared himself a writer. After dabbling in poetry, he started writing plays, and in 1969 co-founded the activist theater company Black Horizons on the Hill with playwright Rob Penny. When he moved from Pittsburgh to Minneapolis in 1978, Wilson started to clearly hear the voices of the Hill District for the first time. A draft of the early play Jitney won him a $200 a month fellowship at the Minneapolis Playwrights Center. In 1982, his next play, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom was accepted by the Eugene O’Neill National Playwriting Conference, where he met director Lloyd Richards, who directed Wilson’s first six plays on Broadway. Wilson’s work has assumed an important position in American culture. Fences (1985) and The Piano Lesson (1989) both won the Pulitzer Prize for drama. The original production of Fences, starring James Earl Jones, received the Tony Award. Denzel Washington starred in an acclaimed 2010 Broadway revival. In 2005, shortly after the premiere of Radio Golf, the tenth play in his “Century Cycle,” August Wilson was diagnosed with liver cancer. He died on October 2nd of that year in Seattle, Washington. Two Trains Running is the seventh play in August Wilson’s “Century Cycle” to be produced by Syracuse Stage, which is determined to produce all ten plays.


Wilson’s “Century Cycle,”Also referred to as his “Pittsburgh Cycle,” consists of ten plays-nine which are set in Pittsburgh’s Hill District. Each play is set in a different decade and aims to sketch the Black experience in the Twentieth Century.

Although the plays are not connected to the degree of a serial story, some characters appear at various ages in more than one play. Children of characters in plays set in earlier decades appear in later plays.

In decade order, the plays are: 1900s - Gem of the Ocean (2003) 1910s - Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (1984) 1920s - Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (1982) 1930s - The Piano Lesson (1989) Pulitzer Prize 1940s - Seven Guitars (1995) 1950s - Fences (1985) Pulitzer Prize 1960s - Two Trains Running (1990) 1970s - Jitney (1983) 1980s - King Hedley II (2001) 1990s - Radio Golf (2005)



about the play

SYNOPSIS August Wilson’s chronicling of 20th century black history reaches the 60’s in Two Trains Run-

ning. It is set in Memphis Lee’s eatery in one of Pittsburgh’s poor, mostly black sections. The city wants to tear down an entire block, including Memphis’ building, but Memphis wants $25,000 for his property, and won’t take a penny less. West, a wealthy undertaker from across the street, offers Lee $20,000, but it’s no deal. West, for all his prosperity, has troubles of his own. At the lunch counter for his regular coffee, he reveals that Prophet Samuels is laid out in his funeral parlor, and the prophet’s enthusiastic but unruly followers, are creating difficulties. Meanwhile, Risa, a follower of the Prophet, is the lone and lonely waitress at the cafe. Tired of pawing, abusive men, she has slashed her legs repeatedly to keep men away. But that is no deterrent to Sterling, the young bank robber just released from the penitentiary. He plans to go straight, get a job, and marry Risa, despite the fact that she thinks he’s crazy. But there are no jobs, so Sterling gambles by playing the numbers and gets himself a gun. Among the other regulars at Lee’s restaurant is Wolf, the numbers runner, who uses the pay phones there to conduct his business, which infuriates Memphis. Memphis shows no compassion, either, to Hambone, the deranged character who painted a fence for Lutz, the white butcher, nine and a half years ago. Lutz promised him a ham, but dissatisfied with the job, gave Hambone a chicken instead. Hambone can only stand outside the butcher shop and rage: “I want my ham,” and “He gonna give me my ham.” The only seemingly contented regular at Lee’s is Holloway, a retired house painter. He has found peace by consulting the unseen Aunt Ester, a “322”-year-old sage who gives mystically unorthodox but sound advice. Holloway becomes a philosopher, dispensing observations about whites, blacks, and the world at large that get “dissed” and discussed by the others present. Two Trains Running reflects the complex social tapestry surrounding blacks at the end of the 60’s. Despite the tumultuous times of Civil Rights unrest and the Vietnam War, the spirit of survival among Wilson’s characters remains undiminished as they scramble, argue, and hope. In their story-telling, they chronicle African-American history and make a connection to their past, which makes their present more precious and meaningful. The characters “live life with dignity—they celebrate and accept responsibility for their presence in the world which is all that can be asked of anyone.”

WEST: “ You can’t go through life carrying a ten-gallon bucket. Get you a little cup. That’s all you need. get you a little cup and somebody put a little bit in and it’s half full. That ten-gallon bucket ain’t never gonna be full. Carry a little cup through life and you’ll never be disappointed.” SYRACUSE STAGE Two Trains Running STUDENT STUDY GUIDE


context & content


MEMPHIS, a man in his 50s, is the owner of a small Hill District restaurant slated for demolition for an urban renewal project. According to the playwright, “His greatest asset is his impeccable logic.”

HOLLOWAY, who is 65, is a restaurant regular and cracker barrel philosopher. His belief in the supernatural allows him to accept his lot in life. A talkative man in his 30‘s, STERLING has recently been released from prison. He is marked by “ a combination of ... unorthodox logic and straightforward manner.”

RISA is an enigmatic waitress, who, in an attempt to define herself as something else than a sexual object, has scarred her legs with a razor.

As the community’s numbers runner, WOLF enjoys the popularity of someone who holds out the possibility of success in a moment.

Driven mad by a petty injustice, HAMBONE is “Self-contained and in a world of his own. His mental condition has deteriorated to such a point that he can only say two phrases, and he repeats them idiotically over and over.”

WEST owns the funeral home across the street from the restaurant. The dapper undertaker has “allowed his love of money to overshadow the other possibilities in his life.”

The Mystical, Spiritual & Unseen

In Two Trains Running, several unseen characters represent the forces pulling on Memphis and his customers. R.K. MELLON AUNT ESTER PROPHET SAMUEL Heir to the Mellon fortune, Characters in Two Trains From Memphis’s restauwhich included Gulf Oil, Mellon Running speak in reverence of rant, customers can see Hill Bank, and Alcoa, Mellon was a visits to Aunt Ester, a “washer residents lined up in front of driving force behind the Pittsof souls” who is reportedly West’s funeral home waiting burgh urban renewal program. 322 years old. This age would their turn to pay final respects have her born at the moment to the Prophet Samuel, a powLUTZ African slaves first arrived in erful preacher who is rumored The white owner of the market North America. Aunt Ester, to be buried with his expenacross the street from the restau- who first appears in Gem of sive jewelry and hundred rant, he offered Hambone a ham the Ocean, requires supplidollar bills. For them, Prophet for a painting job, but reneged cants to throw twenty dollars Samuel is either revered as a on his promise, driving him fur- into the river as her payment. saint or reviled as a charlatan. ther into madness. Aunt Ester dies in 1983 durSamuel is patterned after ing the events of King HedFather Divine, a famed Afriley II. The action of Radio can American preacher with Golf revolves around plans to a huge following. A vocal demolish her house for urban proponent for racial justice renewal. and peace, Father Divine, who claimed to be God, was said to gather immense personal wealth. 11

context & content

“One running by night, one run by day ...” According to August Wilson, for this play representing the Sixties the title came first. “The title came from a blues song called ‘Two Trains Running,’ and actually that phrase is in several blues songs. It’s most commonly followed by the lines ‘two trains running, neither one going my way. One running by night, one run by day.’. . . I wanted to write a play for whom neither of these trains were working. He had to build a new railroad in order to get where he’s going, because the trains are not going his way. That was the idea I started our exploring.” MEMPHIS: ... and if you around her looking for justice, you got a long wait. Ain’t no justice. That’s why they got that statue of her and got her blindfolded. Common sense would tell you if anybody need to see she do. There ain’t no Justice. Jesus Christ didn’t get justice. What makes you think you gonna get it?


The Hill District is a predominantly African American neighborhood within walking distance of downtown Pittsburgh. It is August Wilson’s birthplace and the setting for the majority of his plays. The Hill District was always a diverse area. Generations of Jewish and Irish immigrants called this area home in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Starting from approximately 1880-1900, African Americans began migrating from the South and many settled in “The Hill.” The area quickly established itself as one of the important African American communities in the nation, with a strong emphasis on art, literature, and music. Business districts along Wylie and Bedford avenues and Logan Street thrived, and it was a hotbed of Jazz at places like the Crawford Grill. The Hill was also the home of thePittsburgh Crawfords, a Negro League baseball team featuring Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige. Over time, the population grew and the neighborhood deteriorated. In 1955 the Lower Hill Redevelopment Program was approved, which included construction of a new Civic Arena. The project cleared ninety-five acres and displaced 1,239 African American families and 312 white families.

Following the redevelopment project, the downward spiral continued. Residents became embroiled in violence following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the area was hard hit in the 1980s by illegal drug use. These events caused the population to plummet from over 50,000 in 1950 to about 15,000 in 1990, with a large percentage living in public housing. The Hill District continues to struggle to this day. At present, the area does not even have a grocery store. What it does have, however, are residents who care deeply about their homes and are trying to improve the area. --adapted from materials developed by Theatreworks

WOLF: “I learned to watch where I was going at all times. Cause you always under attack.” 12

sources and resources

TEACHING THEATRE/ARTS TheatreTeachers.com http://www.theatreteachers.com/ ArtsWork.com http://artswork.asu.edu/ ChildDrama.com http://www.childdrama.com/lessons.html Educational Theatre Association http://schooltheatre.org/ Kennedy Center http://artsedge.kennedy-center.org/educators/lessons.aspx Viola Spolin http://www.spolin.com/ Princeton Online Art Lesson Plans http://www.princetonol.com/groups/iad/Files/elements.htm

SOURCES AND ONLINE RESOURCES http://augustwilson.net http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/166561/Father-Divine www.gevatheatre.org/downloads/twotrains_discoveryguide.pdf penumbratheatre.org/.../TwoTrainsRunning/TTR-Study-Guide-FULL... http://pittsburgh.about.com/od/famous-locals/p/august-wilson.htm http://plays.about.com/od/plays/a/augustwilson.htm theoldglobe.org/_pdf/studyguides/two-trains-study-guide.pdf http://theatreworks.commercialmedia.com/media/studyguide.radiogolf.pdf http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_King_Mellon Wilson, August. Two Trains Running. Plume: New York, 1993.

Watch August Wilson discuss playwriting with Charlie Rose: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-cyCKuyriA 13

Profile for Syracuse Stage

Two Trains Running  

Two Trains Running Study Guide

Two Trains Running  

Two Trains Running Study Guide

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