Kenny Leon seeks out performance art that combines a sense of history with modern appeal. His goal is to access the widest possible audience for this work at his True Colors Theater Company in Atlanta, Georgia. Most recently, Leon directed a revival of Fences, starring Viola Davis opposite famed movie star Denzel Washington, who also has a rich history on Broadway.
The True Colors Theater Company is reinvigorating the canon of African-American classics. Specifically, the director is interested in the works of August Wilson, and in 2008 became the first person to stage the playwrights entire, 10 play cycle, each set in a different decade, telling the comic and tragic aspects of the 20th century African-American experience.
Kenny Leon is making history … as the foremost interpreter of August Wilson’s work. Before passing in 2005, Wilson gave Leon’s theater company permission to mount any of his plays, even if they were running on Broadway at the time. The director’s staging of Fences won the 2010 Tony for Best Revival, cementing Leon as the man to stage the larger body of Wilson’s work.
What’s next for Kenny?
Leon is gearing up for the August Wilson Monologue Competition, which he brings to five major American cities every year. The competition establishes workshops and training for hundreds of eager teenage performers to act in national finals on Broadway. Leon is also continually trying to increase audience diversity in Atlanta. True Colors recently hosted Samuel L. Jackson, along with Jim Pickens of Grey’s Anatomy, to a joint reading in hopes of varying the racial make-up of their respective audiences.
WATCH THEGRIO’S 100 KENNY LEON HERE
Who inspires Kenny?
“In addition to August Wilson and Martin Luther King, Jr., people like my grandmother, who worked everyday of her life on her hands and knees to see that her grandchildren would have better lives,” Leon told theGrio. “Also, my mother, who was a single parent for a long time. I’m always trying to have a connection with those who are not rich and famous; the people who do everyday things inspire me. Those who work everyday and don’t know what the front of their house looks like because they leave before dawn and return after the sun has set.”
In his own words …
“The part that excites me is the fact that you can tell people’s stories on a stage. It’s a chance for all human beings to sit next to each other, look at a story and find themselves in it,” the director told Langfield Entertainment in 2006. “The power of finding yourself in a story creates better human beings, a better way of being with each other and living with each other.”
A little-known fact …
Leon’s 2004 production of A Raisin in the Sun registered the highest-grossing box office sales for any drama in Broadway history.
Click here for more …