His mother told him his first stage appearance was as one of the seven dwarfs in a kindergarten play.
And although Francois Battiste can’t remember that play, he does remember high school and playing Seth in “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” by August Wilson.
Now here he is back again playing in August Wilson’s “Seven Guitars,” running through Oct. 7 at People’s Light and Theatre in Malvern.
“Seven Guitars” is set in May of 1948 in the Hill District of Pittsburgh where Wilson was born and raised, and all of the action takes place in the backyard of a house shared by several of the characters in the play.
The play centers around Floyd Barton, a blues guitar player on the threshold of success. Wilson crafts the story as a memory play and we begin after Floyd’s funeral and then flashback to events leading to his death. Throughout the play, characters battle with questions of ambition, love, death, heritage, faith, and individual as well as cultural legacies as all of them struggle to achieve their dreams and find their place in the world.
“I play Canewell, one of Floyd’s closest friends for the majority of the play,” Battiste explains. “As a rule, when you play a character you have to bring yourself to that character and align yourself with his identity so you can understand and hopefully relate to him.”
Battiste thinks doing that is very important to bring the character to life. “I think it’s extremely important to personalize your character and find yourself in his circumstances so that you can marry that to what the character is and does.”
Originally planning on becoming a newscaster, this actor says he wasn’t sure he wanted to be an actor until he was ready to graduate from college and figure out some way to make his way in the world. And once he decided acting was for him, he went on to study his craft at Juilliard in New York.
His studies led to many premiere roles such as “Prelude to a Kiss” on Broadway, “The Good Negro” off-Broadway which led to an Obie Award, several roles in Shakespeare in the Park and others. He’s also been seen on TV in such productions as “Person of Interest” and “Are We There Yet?” And on film in “Delivering the Goods,” “Men in Black III” and others.
“Working on and being awarded an Obie for Tracey Scott Wilson’s ‘The Good Negro’ was certainly a highlight for me,” Battiste says. ‘Actually I love doing it all - stage, film, TV. Of course, my heart craves the stage but my pocket book desires TV and film.”
Adding that the stage is an actor’s medium, he does acknowledge that “film and television have their own obstacles, but present different things you can’t find elsewhere and give you an opportunity to exercise different muscles — necessary for every actor.”
“Seven Guitars” is a celebration of the community, but also the struggles of individuals in their search for the American dream. While that search is important, Battiste offers his own advise for one’s future.
“For that I often quote Shakespeare who says ‘To thine own self be true.’ Certain things you plan for your future are not really choices but a duty if you’ve been given certain gifts. You have to pay attention to those gifts and work with them as best you can.”
For times and ticket information, call (610) 644-3500.