Actors break down ‘Fences’ to encourage Waco

The cast of August Wilson’s stage production titled “Fences” performs Monday during their dress rehearsal. Mission Waco’s Jubilee Theatre is hosting the production on Friday and Saturday.
Matt Hellman | Lariat Photographer

By Bonnie Berger

Mission Waco’s Jubilee Theatre brings Pulitzer Prize-winning production “Fences” to the stage at 7:30 p.m. Friday.

Set in the 1950s, August Wilson’s production depicts the life and hardships an aspiring baseball player and his family’s experience in a pre-integrated sports industry. Social barriers to protagonist Troy Maxson’s goals drive him into a downward spiral of broken relationships and despair.

Maxson is a multifaceted character, “embracing all the contradictions of being black and male and American in his time,” according to New York Times critic Frank Rich’s review of the play in 1987. “A black man, a free man, a descendant of slaves, a menial laborer, a father, a husband, a lover,” Maxson is a figure audiences can identify with.

“The central theme is ‘what happens to someone when they give up on a dream?’” said Stephen Walker-Webb, costume and stage designer. “It deals with father/son relationships, the love between husband and wife. Because [Maxson] is so angry, it affects all his relationships. In the end, there’s this beautiful story about redemption and how we can be redeemed to one another.”

Directed by Lutheran Ministries and Social Services of Waco director Francine Lumbard, “Fences” brings literature and relatable themes to the community.

“You never get anywhere in society without trying new things,” Lumbard said. “This has been really wonderful for me. Knowing the ethnic and economic makeup of the community, I wanted to offer something a little different.”

Through six weeks of rehearsals and preparations, actors and directors combated low budgets and scarce formal theatrical training to put together a production with passion.

“My actors have communicated and demonstrated commitment to do this,” Lumbard said. “They’ve been supportive of one another. As it is with any theatrical performance, it’s a collaborative art. So you have to have a group that is trying to pull together.”

This script marks the first full production for the Jubilee Theatre, requiring ingenuity and teamwork from directors and staff in order to bring the vision to life.

“I went into my grandmother’s closet and pulled out all the clothes out of her closet,” Walker-Webb said. “She was alive during this era and she would have been the same age as many of the characters. They worked perfectly for the production.”

Closet raiding was but one of the many unconventional ways in which the production of “Fences” came to life.

“I had to create this outside space that was believable,” he said. “I went Dumpster diving for about two weeks. I’d get a call from [Mission Waco executive director Jimmy Dorrell] for a meeting and I’d be knee deep in a Dumpster pulling out a screen door.”

Walker-Webb wasn’t the only individual dedicating time and energy to the set design. Men from Manna House, Mission Waco’s center for rehabilitation, offered a hand as well.

“They would stay behind and help me work on pieces,” Walker-Webb said. “It’s been a community collaborative effort.”

Through the hours of hard work and creative endeavors, staff members learned lessons they contributed to an overarching goal.

“I was having to try to create what someone else was seeing in their head,” Walker-Webb said. “I’ve never assisted someone in directing a production before. It’s taught me how to communicate because no one knows your vision and you have to communicate that.”

“Fences” will show at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with a matinee showing at 2 p.m. on Sunday 17. Pre-sale tickets are available for $8 and are $10 at the door. Reservations are available by calling (254) 753-4900.

“I’ve been very proud of my actors,” Lumbard said. “It takes a lot of courage to get up and perform as an actor, period. It also takes a lot of courage to step out and try something like this.”