Actor Wendell Pierce Secretly Filmed a Play in Detroit. This Is The Music That Got Him Here.

The University Musical Society production of “Some Old Black Man” is part of a new digital artist residency with acclaimed actor Wendell Pierce. He joined CultureShift to talk about the play and the music that has influenced him throughout his career.

An experiment in how to bring live theatre back during the pandemic is taking place in Ann Arbor.

The University of Michigan’s University Musical Society (UMS) produced a play last fall by quarantining cast and crew together for nearly a month to be able to film a production of “Some Old Black Man” by James Anthony Tyler. 

“How do we move forward as artists in a time of lockdown? I wanted to explore that with theatre.” — Wendell Pierce

It’s part of a digital artist residency with acclaimed actor Wendell Pierce (“The Wire,” “Treme”), who stars in the play alongside longtime theater actor Charlie Robinson. The 2015 play is centered around an argument over breakfast that turns into a generational clash between father and son, living in close quarters and confronting the trauma of their past.

Doug Coombe
Doug Coombe

“It’s a wonderful two-character play about a professor who brings his 82-year-old father home to New York from Mississippi,” says Wendell Pierce. “It’s their first morning living together as father and son — this middle-aged man and this elderly man who have a history that has to be reconciled.”

The story was one that resonated with Pierce and his current living situation in his hometown of New Orleans.

“First of all, I’m in New Orleans right now with my dad who will turn 96 next month,” says Pierce. “(The play is) poignant for the time — this racial reckoning we’re in — and also just living together as a family in a lockdown with the issues of intimacy and being together.”

What’s the music that influenced Wendell Pierce throughout his life? Listen to how Funkadelic, John Coltrane and even Katy Perry have influenced the acclaimed actor for CultureShift’s “In The Groove” series:

As part of his digital artist residency at UMS, Pierce decided to quarantine with his castmate, director Joe Cacaci, playwright Tyler and stage manager Tiffany Robinson in Ann Arbor for a four-week period before filming the play at the Jam Handy in Detroit.

“It was a case study in public health and a case study in how we do live performance in a pandemic,” says Pierce. “From this point forward, every live theater venue has to understand there has to be a digital element to your live element. It doesn’t suppress the desire to see something live. It just enhances it and entices you to get back to the theater.”

The play will be available for free to audiences around the globe via the University Musical Society (UMS) website. It will be available from January 15th at 7 p.m. through the Monday, January 18th. Registration is required to view. 

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  • Ryan Patrick Hooper
    Ryan Patrick Hooper is the award-winning host of "In the Groove" on 101.9 WDET-FM Detroit’s NPR station. Hooper has covered stories for the New York Times, NPR, Detroit Free Press, Hour Detroit, SPIN and Paste magazine.