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And Still I Rise

Excerpts from the Academy of Achievement’s interview with Maya Angelou on January 22, 1997, at High Point, North Carolina (www.achievemt.org/auto doc/page/ang0int-8) , with full text of Angelou’s poem from Famous Inspirational Poem (www.familyfriendpoems.com):

Is there any one poem or verse that you’ve used to sustain you through challenges or adversities or difficulties?  Well, yes. Some of them are mine, of course. “And Still I Rise,” which is a poem of mine that is very popular in the country. And a number of people use it. A lot of black people and a lot of white people use it.

Nina Simone: Four Women at Park Square Theatre, 2017

Still I Rise by Maya Angelou

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiest upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

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Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

The Liar Rehearsal

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

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Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Education Program - Audience

So there is that poem, and it goes on. And then, a poem just for women, which is called “Phenomenal Women,” and I love the poem. I wrote it for black women, and white women, and Chinese women, and Japanese women, and Jewish women. I wrote it for Native American women, Aleut, Eskimo ladies. I wrote it for all women. Very fat women, very thin, pretty, plain. Now, I know men are phenomenal, but they have to write their own poem.

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Photo credits (top to bottom):

Regina A. Williams in Nina Simone: Four Women by Petronella J. Ytsma; scenes from The House on Mango Street, The Liar and A Raisin in the Sun by Connie Shaver; student matinee audience; The Soul of Gershwin: The Musical Journey of an American Klezmer and Flower Drum Song by Petronella J. Ytsma

Current and Upcoming Productions:

A Raisin in the Sun, October 28-November 20 (tickets also available for purchase to Student Matinees November 1-December 22), Andy Boss Thrust Stage

The Soul of Gershwin: The Musical Journey of an American Klezmer, December 2-31, Proscenium Stage

Flower Drum Song, January 20-February 19, Proscenium Stage

Nina Simone: Four Women, February 7-26, Andy Boss Thrust Stage

Hope and Inspiration

One cannot help but be reflective after Election Day, and one thing that I’ve been thinking about is the role of theatre arts in society as a source of hope and inspiration.

In my work at Park Square Theatre, both as blogger and daytime usher, I get to witness firsthand some of the dynamic changes occurring within the Minnesota scene as Elders begin to hand off responsibilities to a younger generation, as organizations soul-search on how to remain relevant to their audiences and as they ever strive to fulfill their missions–all while trying to stay financially afloat to be able to come back to do it all over again season after season. What I have discovered is that a theatre is a place of service, and those who work in one are more likely than not following a calling. The theatre “bug” is not foremost a pursuit of fame and fortune (though the latter would be a welcomed help) but a dedication by those involved to work for the greater social good.

While at Park Square Theatre, I get to brush shoulders with living Minnesota theatre history–the people who have been the shakers-and-movers of Twin Cities theatre for decades, not much in the limelight but still tirelessly dedicated to bringing quality live theatre to you from behind the scenes. To name just a few, there are Artistic Director Richard Cook, who co-founded and built up Park Square’s stature in its Saint Paul community; Education Director Mary Finnerty, who created what is likely the strongest theatre education program for middle- and high-school students in the state; photographer Petronella J. Ytsma, who can tell you photoshoot stories that span the change of photo-technology; and newly hired Group Sales & Community Engagement Manager Linda Twiss, who has likely, unbeknownst to you, already touched some aspect of your theater-going experience in Minnesota through the years.

Then there are our Future–the younger generation who also carry on the vision and mission. In my two seasons at Park Square Theatre, I have watched House Manager Amanda Lammert rise to Audience Services Director and, as such, clear the path for  millennials, such as Jiffy Kunik to become Performance Supervisor, Adrian Larkin to become Lead House Manager and Ben Cook-Feltz to become Ticket Office Supervisor. Our stage managers, such as Jamie Kranz, Megan Dougherty, Laura Topham and Lyndsey Harter, tend to be young female leaders with sure hands on each production that they oversee. My own fellow blogger, Vincent Hannam, is so clearly a Student of Life through Theatre; I get to see him grow not just as a theatre artist but as a wholehearted human being as I blog alongside him. And I have interviewed so many up-and-coming theatre professionals, from actors to designers, working with such intensity and creativity in their chosen fields. To be amongst such passionate young people, committed to theatre as a social cause is a constant source of hope and inspiration.

Park Square's A Raisin in the Sun. Photo by Connie Shaver.

A scene from A Raisin in the Sun (Photo by Connie Shaver)

And this fall I am witnessing the fruits of the prior year’s labor to carefully select this season’s plays, culled from suggestions by theatre professionals, theatre goers and volunteer script readers–all committed to fulfilling Park Square Theatre’s mission. The whole process is a mixture of intentionality and serendipity, resulting in a breathtaking season of anticipation and high hopes that we got it right. This season, we started out with The Liar and The Realistic Joneses, both in their own ways guiding us to what is true and real. Then came The House on Mango Street and currently A Raisin in the Sun, both uplifting the human spirit in the face of adversity. In December, we look forward to The Soul of Gershwin: The Musical Journey of an American Klezmer, a style of music brought to us by Jewish immigrants.

Park Square Theatre’s mission is “to enrich our community by producing and presenting exceptional live theatre that touches the heart, engages the mind, and delights the spirit.” It is theatre in service to the common good and, by extension, a source of hope and inspiration. To all.

Note: We have a very limited number of tickets available for A Raisin in the Sun evening and weekend performances through November 20. But you may now purchase tickets for weekday student matinee performances through December 22. (You would be watching the play with school groups.) Student matinee tickets cost just $25.

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Tickets for The Soul of Gershwin: The Musical Journey of an American Klezmer evening and weekend performances are available through December 31.

To order, call 651.291.7005 or go to parksquaretheatre.org.

The Heart and Soul of Gershwin

What do you think of when you hear Gershwin? Right now I only mean the literal name – George Gershwin. Do you think of iconic songs such as “Rhapsody in Blue” and “An American in Paris”? How about the great opera, Porgy and Bess and it’s classic “Summertime”? Okay, now what else do you think about (again, about the man himself). Do words like “New York”, “jazz”, “immigrant”, “Great American Songbook” and “Roaring ’20s” float through your imagination?

They’re all floating about in my head and I’m just a millennial who’s about to live through a whole new ’20s!

George Gershwin

George Gershwin

 

Speaking of which, now what images are appearing in your mind? I bet it is the 1920s, the decade with which Gershwin will forever be linked. In a post-war world, the United States suddenly took the lead in cultural influence, where our figures of pop culture took on Olympian status. Athletes, aviators and artists were now more popular than any stuffy politician or war hero. Jazz, sex and money seemed to be the cultural touchstones of the era with a soundtrack composed by George Gershwin.

Born in New York City in 1898, to Roza and Jakov Gershowitz, Jewish immigrants from Russia. He had three siblings named Frances, Arthur and Ira (who would become his equally famous writing partner). The children grew up in the Brooklyn tenements and were unwittingly influenced by the cultural melting pot that surrounded them at the turn of the century.

All of this culminated in 1924 when Gershwin was commissioned to compose a jazz concerto that became Rhapsody in Blue. The piece and that opening clarinet glissando immediately established him as a serious composer at the fine age of 26.

Four years later, his next major work premiered, An American in Paris. Inspired by the years he had spent in Paris (probably the next most artistically scintillating city after New York City) he said, “My purpose here is to portray the impression of an American visitor in Paris as he strolls about the city and listens to various street noises and absorbs the French atmosphere.”

He went so far as to include Parisian taxi horns into the composition.

With the dizzying heights reached by Gershwin and the country, it seemed poetic that the only way to go was down. The extravagance of the ’20s fizzled into the bleakness of the ’30s. The country may have been depressed but Gershwin was as busy as ever, composing a the folk opera, Porgy and Bess. A failure at the time, it is now regarded as a true American masterpiece, noted for it’s cast of classically-trained African American singers. Of course this was an extremely bold move at the time and thankfully one Gershwin was willing to make.

The work unfortunately proved to be his last, for what came after is again, almost poetic. In 1937 he suffered a  brain tumor and died.  The events were devastating as Gershwin was only 38 and seemingly poised to start a new chapter in his already stellar legacy.

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Now this winter, Park Square Theatre takes up the mantle of that legacy with The Soul of Gershwin: The Musical Journey of an American Klezmer. That last word, a Yiddish one, means “instrument of music”. How fitting then for a man who was an instrument of so many talents.

 

Jackson Smith: October’s Front of House Employee of the Month

Jackson Smith and his many hats Photo by T. T. Cheng

Jackson Smith and his many hats
Photo by T. T. Cheng

Our October Front of House Employee of the Month, Jackson Smith, wears many hats at Park Square Theatre. Though hired as the Accounting Associate in September 2015, Jackson has also readily switched hats when needed to work for Front of House as a bartender, ticket agent and house manager. He has even at times donated his personal time and talents on behalf of the organization.

Smith’s newest hat to put on is that of recently promoted Finance Coordinator. Finance & Operations Director Sheri J. Zigan enthusiastically declared both his award and promotion as “well deserved recognition to the one I call my lifeline!!!”

In May, we featured Jackson in the blog “When Passion and Practicality Collide: The Journey of Jackson Smith,” introducing readers to an inspiring young man, bitten by the theatre bug from childhood then, later in life, steadily following a call to Theatre Finance. It is heartening to know that, with Park Square Theatre currently looking for a Finance intern, that intern will be mentored by this young “old soul” who, with hard work and persistence, continues to make big dreams a reality–his and ours.

With great enthusiasm, we at Park Square Theatre give Jackson Smith a standing ovation.

Which hat does Jackson have on now? Photo by Connie Shaver

Which hat does Jackson have on now?
Photo by Connie Shaver

(Note: You can still access “When Passion and Practicality Collide: The Journey of Jackson Smith”  as the May 21, 2016 blog post.)

The Real Life Younger Family of Minneapolis

I recently came across a piece from MPR News entitled, “Event Remembers Black Family Terrorized in South Minneapolis.” Tenderly, I read on.

The article told a short but powerful story about a couple named Arthur and Edith Lee who were among the first African Americans to move into south Minneapolis in 1931, along with their young daughter. What happened next was what you could imagine, even more so if you’re familiar with A Raisin in the Sun. The backlash from white residents was immediate and harsh – The Minneapolis Journal reported that a mob of 1,000  people surrounded the house and pelted it with rocks.

Of course this isn’t a play, but real life history from our Twin Cities. There’s no way to know if Lorraine Hansberry knew of this particular incident but she was undoubtedly aware of similar stories from Northern communities – her own in Chicago for instance. In a sad irony, freedom-searching blacks from the South ran into a buzzsaw of prejudice in the Northern cities in which they sought refuge.

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Edith and Arthur Lee

“Nobody asked me to move out when I was in France fighting in mud and water for this country. I came out here to make this house my home. I have a right to establish a home.” – Arthur Lee July 16, 1931

This is known as the Great Migration and it lasted from 1910-1970, irrevocably shaking up the country’s demographics. Over that period, six million African Americans fled the South and moved into cities such as Chicago, New York (especially Harlem), Milwaukee and Minneapolis. If you think the homogeneity in Minnesota is extreme now, imagine what it was like at the start of the 20th century when nine out of every 10 black Americans lived in the South. The Lees, like their fictional counterparts in the Youngers, were victims of this social upheaval.

Bringing it back to the original MPR article, however, we are given hope in our modern world that a kind of solace can be attained even if we can’t change the past.

The Lee family stood their ground in south Minneapolis for a year-and-a-half before deciding to move. Eighty years later, in 2011, the current owner of the home allowed a small statue to be erected in the yard to commemorate the family and then in 2014, the house was added to the National Register of Historic Places. It’s located at 4600 Columbus Ave., and I for one am going to seek out this extremely important piece of history. I’d also highly recommend checking out the articles below for further reading.

NOTE: we have opened up tickets for purchase for our weekday morning student matinees through Dec 22. Tickets are just $25. Call 651.291.7005 or order at parksquaretheatre.org

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Randolph, Toni. “Event Remembers Black Family Terrorized in South Minneapolis.” The Cities: Notes on the News from the Twin Cities, MPR News, 15 July 2011, http://blogs.mprnews.org/cities/2011/07/event-remembers-black-family-terrorized-in-south-minneapolis/

Elliot, Paige. “House in South Minneapolis Added to National Register of Historic Places.” Twin Cities Daily Planet, 25 July 2014, http://www.tcdailyplanet.net/arthur-lee-monument-goes-national/

“Great Migration.” History.com, 2010
http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/great-migration

I Didn’t Know That!

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry is playing on Park Square Theatre’s Andy Boss Thrust Stage from October 28 to November 20. Here are some Raisin-related facts that you may not have known:

 

A Raisin in the Sun was originally titled A Crystal Stair, an allusion to a line in the poem “Mother to Son,” when Lorraine Hansberry began writing the play in 1957.

Producers Philip Rose and David Cogan took over a year to raise enough money from 150 investors to mount the original run of A Raisin in the Sun on Broadway in 1959.

Columbia Pictures had hired Lorraine Hansberry to write the screenplay for A Raisin in the Sun. Hansberry ended up writing two screenplays, only to have both rejected as being too controversial by studio executives.

The completed film version of A Raisin in the Sun, which was released in 1961, had cut out over a third of Hansberry’s original screenplay as well as downplayed the Youngers’ poor living conditions. Hansberry’s opening with Langston Hughes’ poem “Harlem” superimposed over a montage of scenes in Southside Chicago’s ghetto was one of those cuts; and his poem, in fact, appears nowhere in the film.

Lorraine Hansberry was the godmother to Nina Simone’s daughter Lisa.

The FBI kept a file on Lorraine Hansberry due to her social activism.

A Raisin in the Sun inspired a musical, Raisin, in 1973. It won the Tony Award for Best Musical.

Greta Oglesby, who will play Mama (Lena Younger) in Park Square Theatre’s production, was the understudy for Phylicia Rashad as Mama when A Raisin in the Sun was revived on Broadway in 2004. It was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play.

Director Warren C. Bowles considered actor Theo Langason for both the roles of George Murchison and Joseph Asagai–a wealthy young black man and a poor Nigerian college student, respectively–who want to marry Beneatha Younger (Mama’s daughter). Langason was ultimately cast as Asagai.

 

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Greta Oglesby and Theo Langason

 

Sources:

http://www.enotes.com/topics/raisin-in-the-sun/themes
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lorraine_Hansberry
http://dx.dol.org/10.1080/0033563042000206790
http://parksquaretheatre.org/wp-content/uploads/Raisin-in-the-Sun-Study-Guide-10-9.pdf

Lindner’s Line

Robert Gardner, who plays Lindner, with Director Warren C. Bowles and all cast members (in background) on Opening Night Photograph by Connie Shaver

Robert Gardner, who plays Karl Lindner, with Director Warren C. Bowles and some other cast members (in background) on Opening Night
Photograph by Connie Shaver

 

Cast members for Park Square Theatre’s production of A Raisin in the Sun, playing on the Andy Boss Thrust Stage from October 28 to November 20, were invited to tell about the line(s) in the play that most resonates with them, a poem or line(s) from a poem that resonates with them or a personal reflection related to the play.

Robert Gardner, who plays Karl Lindner, a representative from the Clybourne Park Improvement Association, gave the following response:

I’m the only white guy in A Raisin in the Sun, playing the only white character, Karl Lindner.  The role is small but crucial as he presents the Younger family (and particularly Walter) with their dilemma at the end of the play:  accept money for staying in their old home in a black neighborhood or take the risks of moving into a white neighborhood.

Lindner’s key line for me, as he makes his offer to buy the Youngers out of their new house, is: “I want you to believe me when I tell you that race prejudice simply doesn’t enter into it.” 

Well, of course it does enter into it, as is perfectly clear to the Youngers and, I’m sure, to the audience.  But I believe Lindner himself believes that he is being honest when he says this.  I also believe that his unacknowledged racism is something we all have to contend with.  And there’s a seductive plausibility to his argument that “people get along better, have more of a common understanding of the life of the community, when they share a common background.” While this may be true (and it has been the guiding principle of many communities, not just white ones), when it is adopted as a principle of exclusion, it is a formula for stagnation that denies communities the ability to grow and improve.

 

Robert Gardner as Lindner in a rehearsal with Greta Oglesby, who plays Mama Photograph by Connie Shaver

Robert Gardner as Lindner in a rehearsal with Greta Oglesby, who plays Mama
Photograph by Connie Shaver

 

A Fly on the Wall

As an usher for the student matinees as well as mom of a tween, it is dear to my heart that students from all backgrounds descend upon us beginning in the fall to connect through theatre. I often wonder what these young scholars take away from their experience at Park Square Theatre. My only glimpses are their reactions as they watch the play, any comments that I overhear during intermission or after the show and their questions to the cast if they stay for a post-show discussion.

Today while watching The House on Mango Street with a mainly Hmong audience of sixth, seventh and eighth graders (who came without any cellphones!), I witnessed students so engaged in the performance that when the character Darius pointed out beyond the audience to an imaginary cloud, dozens of heads turned to see for themselves. While monitoring the bathrooms at intermission for a different school audience, I once spoke to a girl who thought it was way cool to have just read the book and now see its stage interpretation. And a week ago, I sat in on a cast discussion with a Spanish class conducted en Espanol. Those not totally fluent in Spanish, including cast members, were aided by those more fluent. It was muy estupendo!

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A scene from A House on Mango Street

Photograph by Petronella J. Ytsma

Student groups are now coming to see A Raisin in the Sun on our Boss Thrust Stage. Afterwards, I wonder: What will they have to say about racism and white privilege? How did they feel about the three generations of women in the play? Will they empathize with Walter Lee? How did this play relate to or expand the world around them, both near and far? Will they go deep or barely scratch the surface on the issues? Will it simply be seen and parked or feel much too relevant to ignore?

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A scene from A Raisin in the Sun

Photograph by Connie Shaver

 I really wouldn’t know the answers unless I could be a “fly on the wall” during these young people’s bus rides back or in their classroom discussions. But my greatest hope is that the plays that they see at Park Square Theatre are seeds planted in their minds to inspire future social action and changes to better our world. Or to pursue their greatest dreams and follow their callings based on watching others on stage who do just that.

May Park Square Theatre, in essence, serve as their Muse.

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Students at Park Square Theatre for a matinee

 P.S. Any teacher wanting me to be a “fly on the wall,” just let me know! I would be thrilled to listen in.

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Don’t Miss These Upcoming Raisin in the Sun Events!!!

A Raisin in the Sun student matinees run from November 1 to December 22 (contact Megan Losure at 651.291.9196 or education@parksquaretheatre.org if you would like to watch with school groups)

A Raisin in the Sun evening and weekend performances run from October 28 to November 20

Post-show discussion with Twin Cities playwright Christina Ham and Jamice Obianyo (Director, Community Relations, Ecolab) on Wednesday, November 2

Musings with Twin Cities Theatre Bloggers on Sunday, November 6

Post-show discussion with former Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton on Sunday, November 13

Theatre Fan Night Out: Four Tickets for $99 available for Thursday, November 10, 7:30 pm; Thursday, November 17, 7:30 pm; Friday, November 18, 7:30 pm; Sunday, November 20, 2 pm (use code FAN when ordering)

A Little Poetry from A Raisin in the Sun

In the very beginning of the script of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun there is a short poem byLangston Hughes. It is called “Harlem” and goes like this:

What happens to a dream deferred?
      Does it dry up
      like a raisin in the sun?
      Or fester like a sore—
      And then run?
      Does it stink like rotten meat?
      Or crust and sugar over—
      like a syrupy sweet?
      Maybe it just sags
      like a heavy load.
      Or does it explode?

The piece is vivid and compelling. It fills the reader with how essential dreams are to a person’s life by showing them what happens when they’re ignored, or deferred. Will they dry up, crust over or even explode?

A lot of critical analysis has gone into this poem and it is arguably Hughes’s most famous. I certainly read it in high school and was therefore pleasantly surprised when I put the pieces together between the poem and the play that takes it’s name from the third line.

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Park Square’s A Raisin in the Sun. Photo by Connie Shaver.

 

Clearly Hansberry was just as transfixed by the imagery and wanted to convey the same feelings in her own work. Like the play, Hughes’s poem is universal in it’s themes , although we all know he is specifically commenting on the experiences of African Americans. Could the poem be a warning then? While not especially violent in tone, you could definitely describe the writing as bleak and ominous. The last line, “Or will it explode?”, seems to jar the reader with a sudden sense of urgency. Your mind races as you contemplate what it would mean if a dream is deferred for so long that it ruptures into a million pieces, the shrapnel flying.

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Langston Hughes

Of course great works of literature are always relevant, but by looking at the world Hughes lived in, you can better understand this sense of urgency. “Harlem” was written in 1951, only seven years before A Raisin in the Sun, and just at the cusp of the modern Civil Rights movement; Brown v. Board of Education was in 1954 and Rosa Parks made a name for herself in 1955. The timeline is evident and it’s roots stretch even further back to the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and 30s where Langston Hughes and other African American artists first rose to prominence in the United States.

Hansberry had a rich legacy then to draw from and consequently enhance. Like Hughes before her, she created a work of art so compelling in its imagery that it has lived on to inspire others and now Park Square has the chance to bring it to life.

It’s all very exciting for any fans of literature and the dramatic arts, so this concludes today’s lesson. Study up and enjoy the show!

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