Trinity Repertory Company member Joe Wilson, Jr. has appeared seven times in the theater’s annual production of A Christmas Carol – three times playing Scrooge. This year, he takes the helm, marking his first time directing for the theater.
Wilson’s career took a circuitous route. “I was always a performer,” he says with a laugh, noting that he came to it out of advocacy.
During his junior year as a Political Science major at the University of Notre Dame, he and a tight-knit group of BIPOC students, frustrated by the lack of support for students of color, formed a coalition called Students United in Respect. They drafted a list of demands and organized a sit-in at Notre Dame’s famed dome, with over 500 students taking part. “Ten years later, many of the things we fought for were implemented,” he reflects.
But after three years of campus organizing, politics wore him out. So in his senior year, he took an acting class. “It allowed me to live in the truth of who I am.” He applied to both law school and graduate acting programs, receiving more acceptances for acting than lawyering. His decision was easy. “I inherently love being in the community of theater.”
It is this community – and his desire to put people together in community – that drove his pivot to directing.
COVID derailed plans for Wilson to direct the 2020 production of A Christmas Carol. Instead, he played Scrooge in Trinity’s virtual version. Tackling the production a year later, he leaned into shared pandemic experiences and the country’s racial reckoning. Wilson’s “uniquely American Christmas Carol’’ honors writer Charles Dickens’ time period but creates a multicultural world that reflects the one we live in now.
“I knew it had to be a diverse piece,” he says. “I wanted to be as intentional as possible. What did it mean to have [actor] Ricardo Pitts-Wiley play Marley? To have a Black man be in partnership with Scrooge? For him to arrive on stage in chains? What did Marley give up to do this?”
“Dickens wrote an inherently political tale,” he continues, noting that the original novel was a cautionary story about capitalism run amok. “All the things we are talking about right now.”
“It’s times like these that we are seeking answers. The play speaks to the way we seek the divine. Not God,” he clarifies, “but that thing that allows us to see humanity. To some people, it’s dogma. To some, it’s nature. To some, it’s ghosts. But these are all ways to tap into the best of who we are.”
Wilson’s advocacy, sparked as a student, continues both on and off the stage. He’s active in various mentorship programs in Providence and in initiatives around diversity, equity, and inclusion. He calls out inequities inherent in theater as an institution with tough love.
“Regional theater was formed as an alternative to the commercial theater happening in New York and LA. But we remade ourselves in their image,” he says. “The work that needs to be done is very hard. What I’ve learned is grace and joy in doing the work to make our institutions safe and equitable.”
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