Back In The Director's Chair With Mark Clayton Southers

Nov 19, 2015

After a life threatening car crash last May award-winning theater director Mark Clayton Southers has returned to work. His production of August Wilson’s  play “The Piano Lesson” runs through Saturday at the downtown center bearing the late Pittsburgh playwright’s name. Mark, along with his wife Neicy, joined Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer to talk about how the accident and road to recovery have changed him.

The accident occurred soon after the Southers-directed production of August Wilson’s “Fences” premiered. Southers became overwhelmed by a particularly bad coughing fit as he was driving, with his wife in the car, to Home Depot. Souther had suffered previous coughing spells however; he lost consciousness in the midst of the fit.

As a result, Southers’ car crossed the road, eventually hitting a school bus whose only passenger was the driver. While Southers was unconscious, Neicy was not.

“It takes you a minute to realize ‘This is a car accident,’” Neicy said. “You’re in shock and you see the glass and it’s looking like a big spider web and so you realize ‘Ok, this is real.’”

Neicy said there was no greater sense of powerlessness than her not being able to free her husband from the wreck. Southers recalled hearing the Jaws of Life being used to free him, though he says he does not remember a great deal from the accident.

At the hospital, Southers was placed in an induced coma for several weeks undergoing extensive surgeries. His injuries included broken ribs, hip, back, internal bleeding and legs so badly damaged the doctors were not sure he would be able to walk again.

During his recovery, Neicy found strength in prayer and faith, as well as the visiting members of the theater community. Southers  had up to 12 visitors a day. Posts to his website, detailing his time in the hospital, proved to be a form of therapy.

However, the theater director realized he needed something else to help him recover. That something turned out to be “The Piano Lesson.”

“I needed something to reach towards,” Southers said. “Theater is my second love after my family and I needed something.”

Despite having two previous productions of the “The Piano Lesson,” Southers was all too happy to direct another especially since it was being performed at the August Wilson Center.

“I think if we want the spirit of August Wilson to live at the center, manifest itself, it needs to be in the art that’s being done here,” says Southers.

More Essential Pittsburgh segments can be heard here.