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Theatre professor takes on the role of iconic playwright August Wilson
Melvin Huffnagle in "How I Learned What I Learned" Photos by Magnus Stark

Theatre professor takes on the role of iconic playwright August Wilson

October 16, 2023 at 10:00am

All human beings are shaped by the times, locations and circumstances in which they were raised. For the late playwright August Wilson, described as one of America's most influential playwrights and referred to as “theater's poet of Black America,” that truth is especially relevant.

Wilson's crowning achievement is the “Century Cycle,” a collection of 10 plays, each set in a different decade of the 20th century and chronicling the African American experience in the predominantly black Pittsburgh neighborhood where Wilson grew up, known as the Hill District,

FIU Theatre assistant professor Melvin Huffnagle is giving voice to the iconic playwright as he inhabits the role of August Wilson in the autobiographical one-person show “How I Learned What I Learned,” which runs through October 22 at GableStage in Coral Gables.

Written two years before Wilson died, the work recounts his remarkable story growing up in the tumultuous 1960s as a youngster of mixed-race.

“I believe this is an important play in that August takes off the gloves and shares his experience,” Huffnagle says. “Many of the issues regarding race are extremely relevant still. I believe a show like this really opens up a dialogue of how to work through the many issues we deal with in America.”

Huffnagle takes the stage for the entire 90+ minutes, weaving in and out of stories and embodying different characters that shaped Wilson’s life. Along the way, he drops wisdom and insights on life, race, strength, resilience and creativity.

“After each performance, I find myself in some really heartfelt conversations with audience members who come away with a different way of thinking than they had before,” Huffnagle says. “As an artist, that’s what you want.”

Back on campus, in the spring, Huffnagle will direct FIU students in Bruce Norris’ Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning play “Clybourne Park as part of the 50th anniversary season. The biting satire is a spin-off and response to the Lorraine Hansberry classic, “A Raisin in the Sun.