Co-directors of “Nine Days in the Sun,” Jamaica Johnson (PPTCO) and Michael Schwartz (IUP), talk about the production, bringing two casts together, and why this show—which they know will make audiences feel uncomfortable—is so important.

Playwright Southers to Present During Feb. 20 Six O’Clock Series

Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s Theater-By-The-Grove will present Mark Clayton Southers’ Nine Days in the Sun at IUP.

This initiative begins Theater-By-The-Grove’s association with Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company (PPTCO), where Southers is the founding artistic director.

The play explores a world where dark skin is the desired tone, so the racial balance is shifted and the social order in America is turned upside down.

The show’s cast is a blending of nine IUP student actors with five Pittsburgh actors affiliated with the PPTCO. The show is co-directed by Jamaica Johnson from PPT and IUP theater faculty Michael Schwartz. It includes several additional IUP students working behind the scenes for the production.

The show will be performed at IUP’s Waller Hall mainspace theater on March 2, 3, and 4 at 7:30 p.m. and March 5 at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are available at the door, online, and on the Lively Arts website.

The production at IUP is the first performance of the play since its initial staging in 2005 at the PPT.

Southers, of Pittsburgh, is the PPT’s founder and producing artistic director. An award-winning playwright, stage director, scenic designer, photographer, and theatrical producer, he is a protégé of Pittsburgh’s Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson. From 2010 to 2013, Southers served as the artistic director of Theatre Initiatives for Pittsburgh’s 486-seat August Wilson Center for African American Culture.

The production is supported by a Six O’Clock Series presentation and question and answer time with Southers on February 20 from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. in the Elkin Hall Great Room. The Six O’Clock Series event, which is free and open to the community, is Southers’ story: “Perseverance of a Steelworker/Playwright,” and is his own story, of the times when he has had to say “yes” and persevere.

Mark Clayton Southers

Mark Clayton Southers

Southers, who started his career as a photographer while in high school, worked in western Pennsylvania steel mills for 19 years.

“My dad taught me photography, and in high school I took pictures for the school newspaper and yearbook,” Southers said.

After graduating from high school, he left Pittsburgh for Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute, enrolling in a pre-veterinary program and playing baseball there. He left after a year, spent some time in Detroit with family members there, eventually returning to Pittsburgh and enrolling at the Art Institute to study photography. At 18, he was hired as a photographer by the New Pittsburgh Courier newspaper and worked there for 12 years.

When he was laid off from his photography job, he started work at a steel mill; while he did that work, he continued to write in his spare time.

That all changed when he met playwright Wilson. He attended Wilson’s master class in playwriting at the Grahamstown Arts Festival in South Africa in 1998. Following that experience, he attended the Edward Albee Theatre Festival in Valdez, Alaska, where he did seated readings with Wilson of all of Wilson’s plays.

“August Wilson liked my writing style, and he encouraged me to write for the stage. We became good friends, I started an August Wilson Reading Circle at my home, and he would often stop by. I’ve been wrapped up in the theater ever since,” Southers said.

Writing at night while working in the steel mills, he founded the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theater Company in 2003, and quit the steel mill in 2010 to pursue the arts full time. Shortly after, he was offered the position of director at the August Wilson Center.

“I’ve always been a storyteller,” he said. “First, I was telling stories with my camera, I wrote a couple of review of plays while at the Courier—it was an artistic type of job there. I’ve always felt that connection, a need to express myself,” he said.

Southers acknowledges that it’s not always easy for an urban theater company, with actors of color, to work well with theater companies in the rural areas. However, he’s finding the experience with IUP has been a positive one.

“There’s a lot of work to be done, but I think that IUP is taking steps in the right direction,” he said. “The dialogue in Nine Days in the Sun has some comedic elements in the different scenarios, so that allows people to view the situations a little more comfortably. I like the fact that the casts are merged together—I think it will lead to a very good production.”

In his role with the PPTCO, Southers has produced more than 160 full-length and one-act plays, including August Wilson’s complete 10-play American Century Cycle.

He has written over 20 full-length and one-act plays, including the poem play Angry Black Man Poetry aka End Angered Species, which had a successful run at Teatr Śląski in Katowice, Poland, in 2009; and Miss Julie, Clarissa, and John, which ran at the 2017 National Black Theatre Festival and also had a three-week run in 2017 at Scotland’s prestigious Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Nine Days in the Sun

  • Waller Hall mainspace theater
  • March 2, 3, 4 — 7:30 p.m.
  • March 5 — 2:00 p.m.


“Perseverance of a Steelworker/Playwright”

  • Elkin Hall Great Room
  • February 20
  • 6:00–7:30 p.m.

The idea to bring Southers’ influence, network, and talent to IUP through one of his plays has been an idea in the mind of Brian Jones, chair of the IUP Department of Theatre, Dance, and Performance, for some time.

“After George Floyd’s murder and the massive social protests, as a department, we were very public in our commitment to develop anti-racism practices,” Jones said. “As a department, we’ve been clear that in order to have meaningful change, we must take the time to do the work, which often means dismantling current practices and trying different things,” he said.

“One of our objectives in our anti-racism work is to create long-lasting, creative relationships with BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, Persons of Color) artists, including inviting them here and listening and employing their ideas of doing things differently,” he said.

In September 2022, Jones organized students and faculty to present public readings of Southers’ two plays—Nine Days in the Sun and Miss Julie, Clarissa, and John, to request input on which play should be performed at IUP. Based on feedback from attendees and the readers, Nine Days in the Sun was chosen for the spring performance.

“Having BIPOC artists here, working with our students, brings a whole different perspective and flavor to this production,” Jones said. “The cast members are extraordinary, the co-directors are great, and I believe it will be a very thought-provoking experience for our audience.”

Members of the PPTCO, including co-director Johnson, come to IUP on weekends for rehearsals for the performance; the weekend rehearsals also include time for the cast members to join together for a meal and conversation. “Our students and the PPTCO cast members are learning about one another, and from one another,” Jones said.

Jones recognized the university-wide support for this project, including support from the IUP Office of Social Equity and Title IX.

"We appreciate this support from the Office of Social Equity and Title IX,” Jones said. “It fills a critical need to bring our students on stage together in a fuller range of human experience. This funding impacts our student, staff, and faculty creative teams by giving them the creative resources necessary to play stories on stage reflecting ideas and issues of our diverse university community.”

“The Office of Social Equity and Title IX is very proud to provide funding and support to the Department of Theater, Dance, and Performance for Nine Days in the Sun and for the Department’s ongoing diversity, equity, and inclusion programming,” Social Equity and Title IX Office Director Elise Glenn said.

“Not only is the play itself important because of its themes and messages, but by bringing BIPOC writers, directors, and performers to our university and to our community, we have the opportunity to support talented Black and Brown artists while modeling excellence and success in the arts by BIPOC artists and others who are part of the project.

“Hosting performances like this by artists who bring new perspectives and experiences grows the repertoire of diverse programming available here at the university for our students, employees, and the community; these programs influence all who are involved as audience members or performers, which helps us to make positive culture change through the arts,” she said.

About the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company

The PPTCO was established in 2003 at the Penn Theater in Bloomfield/Garfield by Southers. In 2005, with funds supplied by the Pittsburgh Foundation and the RK Mellon Foundation, the PPT opened a 75-seat theater in the Cultural District of downtown Pittsburgh.

The Company has staged plays in a variety of settings since then, from dedicated theater spaces above a parking garage and at 937 Liberty (from 2011 to 2018), and in empty lots, hillsides, and even on film. In 2022, the PPT began staging performances at its new space in Pittsburgh’s historic Hill District.

Since 2003, the PPT has produced seasons of plays that serve two roles: to focus on local playwrights, and to use the stage to examine the Black experience. Sometimes this work is hyper-focused, as seen in the play about Jonny Gammage. Sometimes the plays address experiences that impacted our nation, such as Hercules Didn’t Wade in the Water, set in post-Katrina New Orleans. Often, the plays address issues that are regrettably timeless, as even if they are set in an historical era, are as relevant today as they were 50 years ago, which the Company sees in the works of August Wilson.

“Throughout all our work we developed a reputation as a place where one could enter into the world of theatre—as an actor or as a sound technician,” the Company website notes. “In 2020 we formalized our mentorship mentality into a training program, Ground Up Theatre, that works to train and uplift people of color in theatre careers.

“Today, 21 years after our founding, we remain committed to our playwrights, our community, and our goal to build a better Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company has continued to grow and thrive, moving to the Cultural District in 2005.”

More about Mark Clayton Southers

Mark Clayton Southers’ directing credits include the “August in February Series” for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust; Angry Black Man Poetry for Teatr Śląski; Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, The Piano Lesson, and Radio Golf for American Stage Theatre in St. Petersburg, Florida; Almost Maine for South Park Theatre; Gem of the Ocean for Human Race Theatre in Dayton, Ohio (named best director by Dayton Most Metro); Passing StrangeFences, and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom for North Short Stage in Columbus, Ohio; operas Papa Doc, Paul Robeson, W.E.B. / Booker T, and Five for Trilogy: An Opera Company in Newark, New Jersey; The Sty of the Blind Pig for the Banyan Theatre Company in Sarasota, Florida; The Battle of Homestead for the Battle of Homestead Foundation; and A Gathering of Sons for Pittsburgh Festival Opera.

For the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company, he has directed Dorothy Six, The Piano Lesson (twice), Two Trains Running (one of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s top 10 plays of the decade), Seven Guitars (twice), VALU-MART, Jitney (voted one of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s top ten best plays of 2010, it broke all house attendance records), Gem of the Ocean, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and Fences. He is a four-time recipient of the AACTA Onyx award for Best Director.

About the Pittsburgh-based Cast in Nine Days in the Sun

Nahseya Scoggins

Scoggins is an aspiring actress whose passion, work ethic, and eloquent voice speaks for itself. She first found her love for performing as a child getting a small acting gig, which powered her drive for art and was the beginning of her tapping into her artistic skills. From theater to dance, she has always made sure to exhibit those skills by performing and elevate those skills by practicing and teaching youth. She is a well-rounded individual, sharp on the edges when it comes to anything vocal. She was known for her unapologetic drive to speak up for things that are wrong and gain social justice for people like herself, especially the youth. This consistent power led her to becoming president of the Black Student Union. Accompanying that role, she is the coach of Urban Pathways Charter School dance team, work she has done for the past three years. After performing and speaking at more than 12 events, Scoggins knows that this is her passion, performing is her life. She dreams to be on Broadway and desires to stay in the spotlight and make her mark on the work through her creativity and ambitiousness.

Tavius Hill

Hill is an aspiring actor, director, producer, and writer. He began his journey acting as a freshman in high school. He portrayed Emmet Till in a Black history event, which he considers one of the pivotal moments in his life to make him decide acting is what he wants and loves to do. Since then, he has performed at various events including Check Please, his first comedy show. On top of acting, Hill was the vice president for his school's BSU; that role included speaking and saying spoken word and many events planned, organized, and presented through the BSU. Hill has dreamt of being in the acting world since a child and can't imagine doing anything other than this. All of his endeavors and dedication goes into forming, molding, and shaping his craft. As of now most of his experience is on stage, but he will explore getting work done in front of the camera as well.

Ofelia Torres

Ofelia Torres is new to stage acting but has a history in modeling, rapping, and film acting. She is a proud Latina who grew up in the Bronx of New York. She discovered her love for being in front of the camera at age 15. She has been featured in local films and magazines but is most known in her community for her music. Torres has music on all platforms and music videos on YouTube. She moved to Pittsburgh in 2017, where she has found her footing with stage acting and started her small business.

Amaru Williams

Williams is an actor from Pittsburgh. He started his acting career at the early age of seven and has a plethora of appearances in plays and musicals. Recently he has started moving his endeavors to film. Williams has been included in the ensemble of A League of Their Own and Mayor of Kingstown season two, as well as other indie films and projects around the Pittsburgh area.

Dynasti Lewis

Lewis is a musician, singer, esthetician, dancer, and aspiring actress. She found love in performing at a young age and is the type of person who wants to know a little bit of everything. She has performed at more than 10 events and won a handful of artists’ competitions. Her strong suit has always been singing and is growing to be acting. She enjoys learning the becoming and embodying of a character and relating that to oneself to bring her vulnerable self forward. Lewis has been skilled in playing the violin since third grade and has played the harp since high school. She dreams of playing and singing with an orchestra on a higher level, as she would sing in the city choir alongside the Pittsburgh Orchestra as a child. She has recently turned her focus to stage acting and is practicing and learning the works of theater. She is hard-working and a perfectionist when it comes to her work.