Posts Tagged A Raisin in the Sun

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.

 

oglesby-greta-2016-bw          langason-theo-2015

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
https://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.

students_hands

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.

langston

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!

A Little More Poetry From Raisin

I was recently chatting with my fellow blogger, Ting Ting Cheng, about my previous blog and about how Lorraine Hansberry took her title from a line in a Langston Hughes poem entitled, “Harlem”. Well, Ting informed me, the first title Hansberry ever had in mind was A Crystal Stair which comes from another Hughes poem called “Mother to Son”.

Whaaaaaa?

I love this! Primarily because this poem is new to me and I think it is just as powerful as “Harlem”, alive with rich imagery and written in such prose that it really speaks to the common person while, again, reflecting the singular African American experience.

Here it is:

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
Bare.
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So, boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps.
‘Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

See what I mean? I for one can’t get enough of the imagery that is so simple yet conveys so much. Words like “tacks” and “splinters” fill you with a sense of something sharp and unpleasant. The picture of a person walking through the darkness is dreadful as well as the word, “bare” – alone by itself as if to symbolize it’s own meaning.
Park Square's A Raisin in the Sun. Photo by Connie Shaver.

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

For all of the negative imagery, however, the poem offers up hope in the virtue of perseverance. No matter how hard the path is, the Mother continues to struggle for a higher salvation and tells her son that he must also follow this path. Up is the only way they can go and while it may not be any crystal stair, the landings will still be reached and the corners turned. Much like, “Harlem”, this poem can perfectly summarize A Raisin in the Sun. The Younger family knows these stairs better than anyone and like the Mother and Son in the poem, the generational dynamics are the key to the play. How many times does Walter want to just give up and “set down on the steps”? How many times does Mama have to fight him not to?
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Park Square’s A Raisin in the Sun. Photo by Connie Shaver.

Think about the meaning of this poem when you’re watching A Raisin in the Sun. Think about “Harlem” too. Think about all the great works of literature by African Americans like Hughes, Hansberry, August Wilson, Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Maya Angelou and a thousand others because their stories are American stories the same as anyone else’s. They need to be studied, read and seen. How lucky we are then that Park Square is telling one of those stories now.
Park Square's A Raisin in the Sun. Photo by Connie Shaver.

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

 

Theatre That Builds Futures: A Benefit for Africa Classroom Connection

On Saturday, November 5, Africa Classroom Connection (ACC) holds a benefit at Park Square Theatre’s Andy Boss Stage in Saint Paul’s historic Hamm Building. Support ACC by joining in this delightful afternoon of events:

  • Doors open at 1 pm for an African Marketplace, selling beautiful handcrafted jewelry, baskets, wooden masks and more from South Africa.
  • Let the show begin at 2 pm! Don’t miss seeing the powerful American classic, A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry. The play was the first written by an African American woman to be produced on Broadway, winning the 1959 New York Drama Critics Award.
  • After the performance, enjoy a South African wine and cheese reception and participate in a brief live auction, featuring uniquely enticing items such as a South African Wine Tasting for 10.
Director Warren C. Bowles with a model of Lance Brockman's set design for A Raisin in the Sun Photograph by Connie Shaver

Director Warren C. Bowles with a model of Lance Brockman’s set design for A Raisin in the Sun
Photograph by Connie Shaver

Purchase tickets ($65, $40 tax-deductible) through Park Square Theatre’s Ticket Office at 651.291.7005 (mention “Africa Classroom Connection fundraiser”) or online at http//parksquaretheatre.org/box-office/special events/order-form-special-benefit-performance-of-a-raisin-in-the-sun/

Generous sponsors* have paid for all event expenses, so 100 percent of your contributions go directly toward building classrooms!

Questions? Contact Claire at 612.767.4430 or info@africaclassroomconnection.org

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What is Africa Classroom Connection (ACC)?

Africa Classroom Connection (ACC) is an American nonprofit organization that builds schools in rural KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Its vision is that every child in KwaZulu-Natal has the opportunity for an excellent education. The program was started in 1977 by the Rotary Club in a small rural town Eshowe, South Africa. Amazingly, the organization has built over 3,000 classrooms in 800 schools, more than the government.

It’s a self-help partnership: the community must raise a five percent deposit, then donors cover the remainder to build each classroom. As a result, the community respects and cares for its school. Each school’s simple standard classroom design ensures that common materials and local labor can be used. That local labor develops income and skills in the community. The government maintains and staffs the schools. A local Steering Committee makes all decisions about where need is greatest, and provides evidence and audits to ensure international accountability. ACC is volunteer-lead, with all administrative costs generously paid for by its board members, so 100% of contributions go directly to construction.

Board member Tammie Follett and 16 others just returned from a Learning Tour to KwaZulu-Natal to visit classrooms and communities in need of schools. “One day,” Follett said, “we met 630 primary school students. We described our careers and they asked us questions such as ‘What did you study? What do I have to do to be a doctor? Lawyer? Teacher? Electrician?’ We aim to inspire and inform them about the power of education. We hope they explore the possibilities!”

The traveler group also brought home beautiful handcrafts available in an African Marketplace at the benefit performance of A Raisin in the Sun at Park Square Theatre on the afternoon of November 5. Please come enjoy great theatre and support powerful education through Africa Classroom Connection www.africaclassroomconnection.org! Event sponsors include *Books For Africa, Merrill Lynch, Presentation Wiz, Thomson Reuters and Z Wines USA.

Cast member Theo Langason looks at set designer Lance Brockman's drawing. On November 5, see how art can also open doors to education. Photograph by Connie Shaver

A Raisin in the Sun cast member Theo Langason looks at set designer Lance Brockman’s drawing. On November 5, join us at Park Square Theatre when art opens doors to education.
Photograph by Connie Shaver

Universal Themes in A Raisin in the Sun

One of the shows that most excites me in Park Square’s current season is Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun.  The story about a family just trying to survive and get ahead is such a powerful one that it resonates as not just an American tale, but a human one.  Of course, the family at the center of it all is African American, allowing the play to delve even deeper into themes that have a historically specific relationship with African American citizens.

A Raisin in the Sun

This past winter I was in a production of Clybourne Park at Yellow Tree Theatre, which for those who don’t know, is set in the same world as Raisin, only after the events as told in Hansberry’s play.  It’s a script that picks up the mantle for the 21st century and scathingly shows us that issues such as racism, gentrification, entitlement and civil rights continue to nip at our heels no matter how many steps we take forward.

Among the many great things to come out of that experience for me was a reason to re-read A Raisin in the Sun (like you need a reason!), and I couldn’t put it down.  I remember reading it in high school and definitely not having the same reaction.  Obviously, my tastes and sensibilities have matured since I was sixteen but also so has our culture, where minority rights are deservedly back at the forefront of our social narrative.  As a white guy, it’s just been inherent that I live with certain blinders on; but with art such as A Raisin in the Sun, those blinders can start to come off and I can do my part to help make the world a better place.

That’s why A Raisin in the Sun is a great play, but the reason I believe it is a masterpiece of the American stage is how it gets its message across.  It’s extremely well-written!  Yes, the central theme is that of the African American experience, but it is told in such a way that it instantly becomes recognizable to anyone who has ever had a family, had to move, had to deal with life insurance and wills, been taken advantage of and so on.  Within this framework, the Younger family’s struggles become relatable to everyone; and in this way, it begins to create the social change for which I’m sure Hansberry was ultimately striving.

Nearly 60 years after Hansberry’s play premiered, we are still freakin’ fighting for universal rights.  I think there’s a lot of frustration that the years continue to roll without total victory.  Again as a white guy, when I was feeling the most frustrated with my seeming inability to relate, I picked up A Raisin in the Sun and I got it. Whether it’s sixty years ago or now, the story of the Youngers suddenly became my story and it changed my whole perspective. 

I’ve read it a couple times but I have never seen a production of A Raisin in the Sun. This October and November promises to be a special one at Park Square where, I believe, many perspectives will change and the world will inch ever closer to the equality we desire.

 

An Evening of Theatre During the Day

Education Program - Bus

With the school year now in full swing, student audiences will steadily begin arriving at Park Square Theatre to enjoy An Evening of Theatre During the Day and/or Immersion Day workshops with local teaching theatre artists.

An Evening of Theatre During the Day, which is what we call our student matinees, provides our young audience members with all the same amenities we offer for an evening performance–the same version of the play, concessions available at intermission, and the same playbill we give to an evening audience as well as ticketed seating with usher assistance.

Education Program - Audience

When asked how she’d conceived the idea of An Evening of Theatre During the Day, Education Director Mary Finnerty replied:

I came up with Evening of Theatre During the Day in 1995 when I was asked if we could not seat students in reserved seats to save time which was how many theatres were dealing with Student Audiences.

Since this is usually the first theater-going experience for 90 percent of the students, it is our chance to give them an unforgettable experience that may nurture a future love for theatre.  I think it is extremely vital that we give students this age a truly remarkable theatre experience and part of that was treating them to uncut versions of exceptional productions and customer service that made them feel welcome. If we do not give them an Evening of Theatre during the Day we are cheating them.

Every year, middle and high school groups of all sizes, including home school groups, come to participate in Park Square Theatre’s award-winning education program, which serves up to 32,000 students per year. Its service to one of the nation’s largest teen theatre audiences impacts many communities throughout Minnesota and into its neighboring states.

The general public may also purchase tickets for student matinees as long as seats are available. It can be a truly rich and invigorating experience to watch a play surrounded by these enthusiastic young audience members.

To arrange a matinee performance or Immersion Day workshop for students OR to watch a show with student groups, make arrangements with Quinn Shadko at 651.291.9196 or education@parksquaretheatre.org.

Student Matinee Show Times:

The House on Mango Street – October 11 to November 4
A Raisin in the Sun – November 1 to December 22
A Midsummer Night’s Dream – December 5 to December 22
Flower Drum Song – January 31, February 1, 7, 8, 14, and 15
Nina Simone: Four Women – February 14, 15, 21, and 22
The Diary of Anne Frank – February 28 to April 28
Macbeth – March 28 to May 5

Regular Show Times Evening Performances:

The House on Mango Street – October 21 and 22
A Raisin in the Sun – October 28 to November 20
Flower Drum Song – January 20 to February 19
Nina Simone: Four Women – February 7 to 26
Macbeth – March 17 to April 9

 

Note: Find out the history of Park Square Theatre’s Education Program by reading “The House That Mary Built” (our August 10, 2016, blog post) and look out for upcoming blogs on Education staff, volunteers and services throughout our programming season.

Tickets

The Park Square Ticket Office is open for phone calls Wednesday and Thursday from noon to 5:00 pm.
Please call 651.291.7005.

For service other days of the week, please email tickets@parksquaretheatre.org.

Tickets can be purchased online at anytime.

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