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February 10, 2021

5 Things to Know About ‘Some Old Black Man’


UMS presents a free encore screening of Some Old Black Man from March 1-14, 2021.

Register to Watch

Starring actors Wendell Pierce and Charlie Robinson, Some Old Black Man frames racial prejudice with bold probity rarely confronted and dramatized. In the play, Calvin Jones (Pierce), a hip, coolly intellectual African-American college professor, moves his 82-year-old ailing but doggedly independent father, Donald Jones (Robinson), from Greenwald, Mississippi into his Harlem penthouse. An argument over what to eat for breakfast turns into a generational clash over race, class, and opportunity.

The creative team for this digital theater production quarantined and rehearsed in Ann Arbor for three weeks in Fall 2020, subsequently filming the production in Detroit under strict coronavirus safety protocols. Here are 5 things to learn about the production:

1. Wendell Pierce’s UMS Digital Artist Residency

While in-person presentations have been on pause during the pandemic, UMS has worked with a group of artists to create projects specifically for the digital frame. Actor Wendell Pierce (The Wire, Jack Ryan) sought to produce theater during the COVID-19 pandemic safely. Hear Wendell speak on the vital role of the arts in this critical time:

2. From Stage to Screen

Playwright James Anthony Tyler’s Some Old Black Man was first produced by Berkshire Playwrights Lab in 2015 and subsequently moved to 59E59 Theaters in New York City. UMS’s presentation is the first digital theater production of this powerful work. Learn how the cast and creative team came together in this behind-the-scenes look:

3. Transforming a Detroit Warehouse into a Harlem Penthouse

Some Old Black Man was filmed at Detroit’s Jam Handy, a historic venue used as a film production sound stage from the 1930s through the 1960s. See how scenic designer Justin Lang, an alumnus of the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance, transformed the empty industrial space into Calvin’s sleek and modern Harlem penthouse with views of Central Park.

4. Testing, Testing, Testing…

Actors Wendell Pierce and Charlie Robinson, director Joe Cacaci, playwright James Anthony Tyler, and stage manager Tiffany Robinson all quarantined and rehearsed together in a home on the west side of Ann Arbor. A strict coronavirus safety plan with daily testing and other preventative and control measures, developed in advance and approved by SAG-AFTRA (the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists), was critical to making this production possible at every step…especially after a positive test appeared!

Read more on our blog, ‘Safety First: The Making of Some Old Black Man

5. An Unforgettable Premiere Weekend

Months of preparation, rehearsal, filming, and editing culminated in UMS’s digital premiere of Some Old Black Man in January 2021. Viewers in all 50 states and more than 30 countries around the world watched the production. We were blown away by the heartfelt praise from virtual audience members across social media:

UMS is tremendously proud of Some Old Black Man and grateful to Lead Presenting Sponsor Michigan Engineering — and the University of Michigan’s support — for making this entire production possible.

Please register to join our special free U-M screening from February 24-28.