A RAISIN IN THE SUN, January 24 – February 25, 2018. Lorraine Hansberry’s groundbreaking family drama is the first play in our American Legacy series! Tickets at americanstage.org/RAISIN | #asRAISIN #asLEGACYSERIES
Young(er) Americans Interview; 02/23/2018:
By Kody Hopkins
This week, I sat down with one of the younger Youngers and another young man to discuss the still young Young Americans Initiative. Both Kiara Hines and Troy D. Wallace are recently graduated from university programs and are already delivering fantastic performances night after night on our stage. I wanted to get their take on American Stage’s bold new initiative, as well as some of their thoughts on young people’s relationship with live theatre and where we may go from here.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
What got you started in theater? Was it an opportunity afforded by a theater company?
Kiara Hines: The regional theatre in my hometown does a show every year called “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” and usually it’s got tons and tons of children in it. I auditioned and got into the show when I was in fourth grade, and that was really what started it. They did offer acting and dance classes, but they were very expensive, and we couldn’t afford it.
Troy D. Wallace: I had always been in music classes, such as choir, since early elementary. I also remember my childhood best friend and I would always reenact scenes from some of my favorite movies — you know, like most kids. Then sixth grade came around. Every year my high school does a huge musical in the spring, and when I was in fifth grade, all of my friends auditioned and got cast. I was going to but I got cold feet. So then, in my sixth grade year, I’m like: “Y’know what? I’m gonna audition. I’m gonna do it.” And I did it. And I remember, it was 8 P.M. Sunday night when I got the call asking me to join the youth ensemble of Les Mis.
If something like the Young Americans Initiative had existed in your hometown/college town, do you think it would have impacted your relationship to theatre?
KH: One hundred percent. Like I said before, acting class was too expensive for us, and even seeing a show — just going with my mom or something — I don’t recall doing that in my childhood besides when we would have field trips. I don’t have a specific “what was the first show I saw” because it wasn’t until I was a teenager that we started going to the theatre. When you’re a family of four, it racks up after a while, you know, so it would have definitely been lovely to have had that.
TDW: Most definitely. Coming from a single mother household, finances were extremely tight. Something like the passport would have been especially helpful, where she just had to pay for her ticket, not my sister and mine’s ticket. That would have opened doors for us to go see shows. Because it would always come down to: “Well, I can’t afford to put you both in something, so I have to put one of you in and the other has to wait.” And there are so many kids out there that don’t even dream of going to the theatre because of classicism, it’s outside of their class bracket, so yeah, I think that these programs will help this new generation have access to theatre more so than ever.
A little more related to us and our age bracket: Do you think something like the Under 30 Pass would appeal to you?
KH: I think that’s great because it does give you a level of responsibility once you become and adult to invest in theatre. It allows us to really take responsibility for the fact that this is good art, and we are going to pay for it. Maybe I was under 20 and I got in for free, and now I’m 21 and I want to invest in this art form, I want to invest in the fact that this is a good thing. It allows us to take ownership of it.
What do you see as the importance of being exposed to plays like RAISIN or art in general at a young age?
TDW: It’s always a new opportunity for someone to see a representation of themself or quality of themself in someone else and be able to connect across that bridge and allow them to use their brain. Because we live in the era of instant information, instant data, instant art. We don’t have to think, we don’t have to postulate, we don’t have to work for the answers — you just get them. I think it’s very important in helping bridge the generations, where in the past, that was something that was expected, whereas this future generation coming up, they see it and they can disregard because they can just go online and see it.
KH: I think that it also connects us to the foundation of what it means to be a human being and what we were created to do and to be. Especially with this show; I feel more of a human being on that stage than in real life because it connects me so much to what it feels like to have emotions, to have a want. And not just performing arts, but visual arts, like when you look at something and it connects you with something that is innate in you. I think that everyone needs to reconnect with that every now and then — for me it’s every single day — but you know, people who are not theatre goers or museum goers, you need to have something stop you and say “Wow.” And then keep moving.
What do you see as the primary challenge preventing younger people from seeing theatre? From your perspective, what do you think would be helpful?
TDW: Honestly? Seeing people like me. Extending beyond the skin tone, we need more contemporary writers willing to write for young people. So much of our American canon is based on people having mid-life crises, or in their later years of life. Very little of our canon focuses on people in their prime. I feel a lot of people our age want to see people that look and feel like us, not us in ten years. So the fact that we can see a show that has people our age, or in that range, or even younger, allows us to find some connection in now. We want to have that connection to our humanity now.
KH: When you come to the theatre, when you are really engaging with art as it is, it makes you stop, and our generation isn’t very good at stopping. We go go go go, we always have our phone in our hands, we’re always doing something, we don’t know how to quiet our minds. When you’re in the theatre you have to quiet your mind. We’re not very good at sitting down and allowing ourselves to just focus on the story at hand, and I think that the way to improve is to get people doing it more often. The more that you sit down and stop your brain and say “I’m going to focus on the story,” the easier it becomes. How do you do that? You allow things like the Young Americans Initiative, so that I can come as many times as I want.
With plays such as THE ROYALE and MARJORIE PRIME, especially compared to RAISIN, what do you think the future of American theatre looks like? What changes, what stays the same?
TDW: In the past, theatre was about language. And what’s happening now is we’re facing language in theatre versus visuals in movie. So what we are now starting to see, particularly in musicals, is the melding of those mediums. Or things like Sleep No More, where it’s innovative and the audience participates in the story, and even though it’s three hours long, it’s three hours where you’re on your feet and interacting with the story. I think we’re going to see more of that, we’re going to see more movement-ography pieces, more visually stunning theatrical pieces, to bridge this new generation of theatre to this new audience.
KH: I feel like technology is the way to go. I was talking to a friend of mine about set design, and I was telling him about how much I would like to see “Parent Trap: The Musical”, and he was like “You know what would be so cool? If when you go to the other house, the house itself starts to turn; like the wallpaper turns, the bannister of the stair turns into the other bannister…” I think that where we’re going now, it’s going to be all about technology, all about bringing that stuff up to speed. I think we might suffer with language — hopefully not for long — but I think our minds are so brilliant with technology and computers and science that we’re about to go to another level as far as set design and light design goes.
What do you see as the importance of live theater? What makes it worth keeping around?
KH: It’s now. I think Peter (the director of RAISIN) said it: when you’re watching a play, you’re breathing the same air as those people. They’re breathing the same air as us, as we’re in the 1950s and they’re in 2018. It’s now, it’s a certain immediacy you don’t get when you’re in the movie theatre. You are in our living room, you are sitting there right with us, you feel everything we feel, we can’t hide behind anything. You’re going to see everything that’s going on. And, at least for me, that makes me excited. And I think the more people see it, the more they will be excited, too.
TDW: I think the importance is discussion. There have been very few films that I have left where I’m like “I want to talk about this. Let’s unpack this.” Whereas with plays and musicals, you leave the theatre buzzing, like, “I want to talk about this, who can I talk to about this?” But also the fact that it is now — like, we close this week. It’s gone. This production is gone.
KH: Yeah. It stays with the hearts of people who saw it.
TDW: Whereas with a movie, I don’t even have to buy a DVD anymore, I can stream it off of my iPad. Once this production is gone, it’s gone. Even if we did revive it somehow, it wouldn’t exactly be this production at this time, at this moment in American society. It would be a different moment in American society, and the message would reflect differently at that time than it does now.
All right. Awesome.
KH: I just want to say I love theatre.
Final statement: Kiki loves theatre.
KH: And I think it’s great. And it’s changed my life and I’d love to see more young people getting involved in it because it’s so important.
You got one for us, Troy?
TDW: Live. Live in the moment. There’s a reason we say theatre is live. Live is live.
Way to drop the mic on us, Troy. We hope you got a chance to see our stellar production of Lorraine Hansberry’s A RAISIN IN THE SUN, and that you’ll join us for our next show, MARJORIE PRIME. For more information about the Young Americans Initiative, head on over to americanstage.org/ya.
When you think of home, what comes to mind? Upon contemplating the dreams you wish to achieve, what fills your head? These questions grip the imaginations of the characters in A RAISIN IN THE SUN, and their struggles with answering them physicalized on stage. You can almost see the better life Walter Lee is pursuing right before his eyes, as if he is painting it onto a canvas. Many elements make an American theatre classic like RAISIN resonate with audiences today; our new American Legacy series is all about picking up the classics of past decades, dusting them off, and seeing our society reflected within them. But, sometimes, it is these universal truths that keep us coming back to a play. We don’t revive Shakespeare plays simply for the language, after all; often, we wish to recall that first feeling of falling hopelessly in love. What makes art of any form so powerful, however, is that whether it is love, dreams, or home, these universal truths come in intensely personalized packages.
Home is a shifting, sometimes ephemeral concept to me. I think it will largely be like that for much of my generation: millennials have proven to be quite rootless as they attempt to pick themselves up out of economically depressed areas and find new ones to flourish in. Similar to what our stellar chair of the board, Michael Alford, states in the Dinner Conversations video above, home usually manifests itself for me as a feeling. I remember when I first went to college, I came home nearly every other weekend. Thankfully, I was part of a tightly knit residential community inside a small residence hall on campus. A little over halfway through the semester, I had a strange sensation stepping back into my dorm after one of these trips: I was actually coming back home. I started going home-home much less, mostly just on breaks (sorry, mom). My campus, my dorm, my department, the people around me, and eventually my job had created a home for me. College had become a place in which I felt welcomed and valued. Back then, I was only about 92 miles from mom’s. Now, I’m about 649 miles away, but I have still managed to find a way to feel at home everytime I walk inside the theatre at American Stage. Of course, I still ache for those beautiful Blue Ridge mountains (and a Bojangles cajun filet biscuit combo). But, I know that down here, I have found a family, while also actively pursuing my dream.
Dreams are a crucial element to the story of RAISIN as well. They almost feel like a currency between the characters: Mama sells hers to create a better life for her children, Beneatha squirrels hers away for freedom, and Walter gambles with his in order to change the game. Jerid Fox, our Production Manager, sagely states in the video that we have grown up being told what the American Dream is supposed to be. Sadly, that house with the white picket fence and 2.5 children is a reality fewer and fewer people will be able to accomplish, and so there has been a democratization of the American Dream, as well as the path to get there (which is what I find most exciting). More and more, people are having the freedom to forge their own dream, and personalize their path to it. Honestly, thinking about that dream scares me sometimes, and I should investigate more ways to make it concrete. However, it is exactly the kind of people that work at American Stage, and that I get to meet through our productions here, that help me realize that what I am working towards is not only possible, but worthwhile.
Don’t miss your chance to see the Younger family grapple with their journey to a new dream in Lorraine Hansberry’s A RAISIN IN THE SUN — now extended through February 25th!
Last week we heard from Tarilabo about her experience as a directing apprentice for A RAISIN IN THE SUN. It was so interesting we decided to split it up into 2 entry posts. We present part 2 of that interview.
As a performer, do you think it is important to have directing experience of some sort? How has this process informed you as an actor?
Before coming here, my mom would say “I think you’d be a good director,” and I’d be like “I don’t know, I think acting is the way.” But now that I’ve done it, now that American Stage made me do it, I see how much I would’ve missed out if I would have kept on with that mindset of not wanting to try it. It’s really changed the way I think about the director and the production crew. I’ve always had a lot of respect as an actor for the production team, but when you direct — when you are in the production crew as much as I am right now — it adds a depth to that appreciation. You realize they’re thinking about each and every thing. Nothing happens on stage by accident. The audience will see it and be like “Oh, three hours of beautiful work!” and never know the amount of time and effort that gets put into it to ensure each moment is solid and reads well.
Simpler question this time. What’s your favorite line from the play?
At the end, when Walter Lee says “That’s my sister, she’s going to be a doctor, and we are very proud.” That line breaks me every time. It’s the first time in the play it’s no longer about him and his dream. It’s about hope, about how Beneatha is the person who can achieve all the things he couldn’t. That acknowledgment, “we are very proud”, is big, and I love the way Enoch King delivers that line.
What do you think is the importance of telling this story right now?
It’s still one of the most produced plays in the theatre. And it’s old. I think it still gets produced because of the words. They’re strong, powerful, and to the point. They mean something and they get you every single time. Every single time I watch the play, there are moments, and those are my moments, and they get me every single time and it doesn’t matter how many times I watch the play, those moments are still so strong. It shows the relevance of the words, and how it resonates in our society. And I think as a black woman or a minority in this country you can relate to that, that desire for normalcy, that you want to be normal but they don’t let you be normal. But then Hansberry comes with this play and takes you into the world of a normal person. She really narrows it down for you. They’re no longer watching the surface stereotypical black person, you’re watching a human. I think this story really reminds people of where we were, where we are going, and where we should be going.
Give me your favorite story from the rehearsal hall.
I think Peter thinks he’s funny. Yes, I said it. I think Peter thinks he’s funny, and I DON’T THINK HE’S FUNNY, AND I WILL NOT LAUGH AT HIS JOKES! There, I said it. I will not laugh at his jokes. And everyone who laughs at his jokes in that rehearsal hall is a LIAR! They’re all liars. You’d probably laugh at his jokes. But not me!
A great director, but not a comedian, perhaps.
Not a comedian! But honestly, it’s been an amazing journey with everyone, and I hope I get to do it again. And I hope I get to do it again with a director that allows me the freedom that Peter has. I appreciate that. And getting to give notes, and that acknowledgement from your director that you know what you’re doing, that you’re brilliant at your job and not just a pretty face —
[Quietly] That’s me…
*rolls eyes* Is really great. And I appreciate him for that. For not just making me a pretty face, for actually using my mind.
Finally, what was your favorite segment to work on, and what do you look forward to audiences seeing the most?
Definitely Asagai’s accent and Beneatha’s dance. I enjoyed working on that and shaping that. And I want to say thank you to my sister. She’s amazing — we were short on materials, Nigerian materials for Beneatha’s dress — Ankara — and we didn’t know what to do. They were going to use Ghanaian kente. Misrepresentation! Oh lord, thank god I was here. They were going to use Ghanaian kente, can you believe it?
[Perplexed] No, I… can’t believe it. I just can’t. What were they thinking? You gotta use the… not Ghanaian kente.
What were they thinking! So, I really want to say thank you to my sister, Doubara. And I’m looking forward to the audience seeing the Lindner scene — I think he comes in with so much intention and really he’s not the villain of the play, so I’m really looking forward to the audience getting to see what Peter did with that scene. I thought it was extremely brilliant that we did not vilify him. And then, that other scene… You know the one I’m talking about! That Walter scene where he drops down to his knees… I’m really looking forward to the audience reaction to that scene every night.
It’s a great scene.
Yes. And that’s that, and my last word is… Kody, thank you so much for interviewing me, because one day, I’m going TO BE ON VOGUE MAGAZINE AND I’M GOING TO BE VERY RICH, AND FAMOUS, AND HAVE AN OSCAR, AND IT’S ALL GOING TO BE THANKS TO… ME! And American Stage. Those are my last words.
Make sure to come see A RAISIN IN THE SUN at American Stage! And don’t forget: this show marks the start of our YOUNG AMERICANS PASS. So if you’re under 20, or know someone under 20, you can get FREE tickets to this production. Head on over to americanstage.org/ya for more information.
With the opening of A RAISIN IN THE SUN this week, American Stage sees the return of legendary director L. Peter Callender. American Stage fans may remember his masterful touch on two of our previous August Wilson Century Cycle plays: JOE TURNER’S COME AND GONE and JITNEY. Mr. Callender has returned to give his expertise to the inaugural production in our new cycle — the American Legacy Series — which aims to bring back American modern classics of the theatre that still bear relevance to the events of today while also illuminating our cultural past.
One of our apprentices, Tarilabo Koripamo, was selected as the directing apprentice for this production. I sat down with Tari to talk about her experience working with Peter, the show, and what she has learned.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
It looks like Peter has really been using you as a resource in the rehearsal hall. How have you been spending your time as directing apprentice with Peter?
Primarily taking notes (acting notes, blocking notes), suggesting to him what might or might not work… Really just being the best assistant that I can possibly be. And learning from him, I think, is the most important duty, not just to myself but to him. Because that’s why I’m here: to learn from everybody, every department I’m thrown into.
Do you feel like you have a bit of a thumbprint on the play through your notes and the freedom he has given you?
Absolutely. I got to work with Patrick A. Jackson, who plays Asagai in the play, on his Nigerian accent since that is where I’m from and I know the speech pattern. I also shaped and choreographed Beneatha’s yoruba dance scenes. Having the freedom to direct that section was humongous. And really, it’s sections throughout the whole play. I’ll be like, “let’s try it this way”, and Peter would take into account my observations and opinions and suggestions. That trust has been important to me, and I would love to work with him professionally again.
What is one of your biggest takeaways from this experience? What have you learned working alongside Peter? Especially in terms of what it takes to be a director?
That’s a very good question, especially because when we got into the space, it wasn’t just about acting and blocking notes anymore. You’re thinking about light notes and tightening and unnecessary movement. It’s little things that don’t even have to do with acting that I learned. For instance, as an actor, when you’re doing a production, there’s always this period where the director and the team are like “from here it looks good!” and the actor — or at least I know I’ve felt like this — is like “I don’t believe it…” But now, being on this side, I can finally see it. Now I have that distinction between what they’re seeing and what I’m seeing, because I’m not just seeing them as actors anymore, I’m seeing them as characters. The way their body moves, what they’re wearing, how it comes to life, how sound and light and costume come together. There’s this one scene where, originally, there was a different sound cue at the end. And I felt like something’s missing, it’s not quite right; but I didn’t know what it was because I’ve never been in this position before. I remember Peter saying “We need a stronger cue for that.” And it was such a difference when Peter worked with Rachel Harrison on the sound and Joseph P. Oshry on the lights and we get the cue that we have now. It’s the little things that stay in your head, that keep you in the show. From the production side, I now see what they are seeing, whereas I’ve always been on the acting side. And I know acting — I mean, I don’t KNOW acting, but —
You’re not Lupita N’yongo… yet.
Not YET. I’m young, but I know what I’m doing. But now, I’m no longer just an actor. I had to step out of that shell and think big, think all around. You’re not thinking about yourself as just an actor anymore. You’re thinking about every character in the play. I can’t just think about acting notes anymore. You’re also thinking about “if you don’t move when you should move, you miss the light”, you know, little things like that.
This interview had so many interesting tidbits, we decided to break it into two posts – so be sure to tune in again next (and every) Friday!
Make sure to come see A RAISIN IN THE SUN at American Stage, starting TONIGHT, January 26th! (Tickets at americanstage.org/RAISIN)
And don’t forget: this show marks the start of our YOUNG AMERICANS PASS. So if you’re under 20, or know someone under 20, you can get FREE tickets to this production. Head on over to americanstage.org/ya for more information.
Check out this footage from our BEHIND-THE-SCENES Artist Conversation with L. Peter Callendar, Enoch King, Fanni Green, and Patrick A. Jackson!
By Alexandria Crawford, American Stage 2016/2017 Acting & Production Apprentice Alumni
Former Apprentice Takeover! & Why we need RAISIN now; January 12th, 2018:
Hello, everyone! My name is Alexandria Crawford. Last season here at American Stage, I was a member of the inaugural class of Acting and Production Apprentices at American Stage. You may remember me as Martha Loomis Pentecost in the last August Wilson Century Cycle Play, JOE TURNER’S COME AND GONE. Since finishing up the apprenticeship in August, I was blessed to be asked to stay with the theatre as a teaching artist. It has been an absolute joy teaching theatre to young artists and being apart of their creative endeavors. For me it all comes full circle; when I was a child, my love for theatre began here taking classes with American Stage Education. It’s pretty cool how life works out that way.
Currently, the theatre is in rehearsals for A RAISIN IN THE SUN by Lorraine Hansberry. It is the first in their new American Legacy Series. I am so excited for this production, as it happens to be one of my favorite plays. So much to the point, that last season when our Artistic Director mentioned the possibility of doing this play next season, I became one of its biggest advocates. The play, whose title comes from a line in the Langston Hughes poem, HARLEM, is about the Younger family living in the south side of Chicago in the 1950s. They are about to receive a $10,000 life insurance check after the death of Mr. Younger. Each family member has a different dream in how they would like to use the money. As the play progresses, you see how those dreams clash with one another and how it affects them all as a family. For audiences, It leaves open the question that Langston Hughes asks in his poem HARLEM “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?”
Producing this play here in Saint Petersburg is so important because like all communities in our country, we have our own history when it comes to race and gentrification. Conversations about these topics are rarely held in mix company and if they are, they are very surface level. If ever we are to make real change in our communities it is important that we get to the root of the topic and face it head on. Only then can we truly grow and do better. By producing this play, it opens a door to these conversations that we normally wouldn’t have.
This play is also one that is often required reading for high schoolers in English classes (at least it was in mine). What is great is that American Stage has just started a new Young Americans initiative for people under 20 to see live theatre for free and for those between 21-30 to see it at a discounted price (for more info check out www.americanstage.org/YA). So to any high schooler’s who may be reading this blog and have to write a paper on this play, seeing the live show would be super helpful for you!
American Stage’s production of A RAISIN IN THE SUN runs January 24th- February 18th. It is directed by L. Peter Callendar (who directed the last two plays of the August Wilson Century Cycle for American Stage) and features an incredible cast! In fact, one of the boys who is playing Travis Younger, (Elijah Jordan) was one of my students this past summer during American Stage Education Summer Camp (check out the classes we offer at www.americanstage.org/education). There goes that full circle thing again! Buy your tickets now for this is a show you don’t want to miss!
Check out some footage from our First Rehearsal!