It’s been more than a decade since Kamal Angelo Bolden has performed in Music City. But the actor has found it easy to slip back into what he calls the “Nashville vibe.”
“So much has changed,” says Bolden, who’s perhaps best known for his work on television’s The Resident, Chicago Fire and Rosewood. “It’s like a whole new city. But there’s still that laid-back vibe. People are not so pretentious here. They’re not trying too hard to impress everyone — it’s all about the work.”
These days, Bolden is focused on the work of August Wilson’s Jitney, which opens Thursday on the outdoor stage at OneC1ty, thanks to a new collaboration between the Nashville Shakespeare Festival and Kennie Playhouse Theatre. Part of Wilson’s landmark Pittsburgh Cycle — a collection of 10 plays that explore the African American experience in the 20th century — Jitney follows a crew of independent cab drivers (or “jitneys”), struggling to get by in Pittsburgh’s Hill District in 1977.
“To me, Jitney is one of Wilson’s most accessible works,” says Bolden, who’s taking on the meaty role of Booster. “The energy is electric, the characters are so relatable, and the camaraderie of these gentlemen really comes through. There are some heavy themes, but it’s very lighthearted in its approach, so there’s an immediate buy-in from the audience. And throughout the story there’s this love of community that’s so specific, yet totally universal.”
Bolden says he is thrilled to be working with veteran director Chuck Smith (resident director at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago and a resident director at the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe in Sarasota, Fla.), along with Brian Anthony Wilson (a prolific actor known for his work on The Wire), who plays Booster’s father and owner of the jitney station.
“Having these incredible artists challenge and support me here, in the place where I started my career, is just so special,” says Bolden, who early on in his career acted with the Nashville Children’s Theatre. “It just feels like such a full-circle moment. Kenny Dozier [artistic director of Kennie Playhouse] gave me my first professional job when I was just starting out, and the first time I ever performed Shakespeare was right here with the Nashville Shakespeare Festival.
“I began my career onstage,” he adds, “and it just feeds me in a way that television and film can’t. There’s something so exciting about an ensemble coming together to investigate a play, to work and explore together. There’s nothing else like it.”
Bolden says he’s also excited to have Nashville music legend and five-time Grammy Award winner Victor Wooten composing original music for the show. “I think that [Wooten’s] music is really going to set the stage for the whole evening. I’m eager to see how people respond to that, how they lean into the story, and how everything plays out in this beautiful space.”
After Jitney’s run (Aug. 12-22), the Nashville Shakespeare Festival will stage the Bard’s 12th Night Aug. 26-Sept. 12. Both shows play an encore weekend Sept. 16-19 at the Williamson County Performing Arts Center at Academy Park in Franklin.
“Honestly,” Bolden says, “my hat is off to Denice [Hicks, artistic director of NSF] and Kenny, for putting Shakespeare and August Wilson together like this — performing these two plays in rep, so audiences can see that there are more similarities than differences. As an actor, I feel like these two masters of playwriting just belong together. I’ve studied both, I’ve performed both, and there are a lot of similarities, both thematically and in terms of language. I mean, August Wilson may not be using iambic pentameter, but there’s such a lyrical quality to his work. And there’s just so much truth to these characters. I think that’s what audiences really respond to — recognizing a bit of themselves in the characters and their struggles.”