A collaboration between BlackC.A.S.T. and HRDC points to the possibilities of diversity and inclusion.
By Olivia Munk ‘16
Though successful spin-offs of beloved plays and movies are notoriously difficult to achieve, Clybourne Park, based on Lorraine Hansberry’s classic play A Raisin in the Sun, is the rare exception to this rule. Written by Bruce Norris, the 2010 play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2011 and the 2012 Tony Award for Best Play. Even rarer is the chance to see two complimentary productions – Raisin, about a black family living in Chicago in the 1950s, and Clybourne Park, set in the 1950s and modern-day Chicago, and based on the same family – on the same day. However, thanks to sophomore directors Carolina Ribeiro ’18 and Darius Johnson ‘18, theatergoers have the chance to travel back to the 1950s with Johnson in matinee performances of A Raisin in the Sun, and to see Ribeiro’s interpretation of Clybourne Park in evening shows. I spoke with Ribeiro and Johnson about how their collaboration developed into two, simultaneously rehearsed, built and produced full-scale productions, and what they hope audience members take away from seeing their shows in tandem.
Ribeiro knew that Clybourne Park was a show she wanted to produce in her time at Harvard.
“I read Clybourne just a few weeks after reading Raisin for a class I was taking, and it was incredible reading the two of them back-to-back,” said Ribeiro.
She approached the Harvard Black Community and Student Theater Group about the possibility of pairing a Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club production of Clybourne with a staged reading of A Raisin in the Sun produced by BlackC.A.S.T. With the productions ideally going up simultaneously, Ribeiro hoped audience members would have the chance to hear both texts in one full-day theatrical experience.
BlackC.A.S.T. agreed to the partnership, and Johnson, the vice president of BlackC.A.S.T., signed on to direct the reading of Raisin. The staged readings of Raisin would happen as matinees during the day, they decided, while performances of Clybourne would happen in the same space in the evenings. Together they successfully applied for space in the Loeb Experimental Theater.
However, since that initial meeting, Raisin evolved from a staged reading to a full-scale production, meaning that both shows share a space and a production team. Despite the logistical challenges this presented during the technical process, Johnson noted that it ultimately strengthened the comparisons the directors hoped viewers would draw between the two shows.
“Seeing the shows together will be this really powerful experience, because Raisin's cast is almost entirely black, and Clybourne Park's cast is almost entirely white,” said Johnson. Given the themes of the two texts, such as gentrification, racial tensions and the comparisons and contrasts of how the issues were approached in the 1950s when Raisin was written, and how they continue to be approached today, as in the second act of Clybourne Park, audiences are “going to get a conversation about race,” regardless of whether they are able to see both shows or just one, said Johnson.
Ribeiro hopes that audience members “see themselves onstage” when they watch her production of Clybourne Park. “One of the hardest things in talking about issues of race is this instant reaction of, ‘Oh, but I’m not racist, I’m not involved in this,’ ‘This doesn’t implicate me. I’m a ‘good white person’,” said Ribeiro. “The thing Clybourne shows is, well, no, you’re not. You’re a part of this. We’re all a part of this problem.”
Both Ribeiro and Johnson hope the collaboration between BlackC.A.S.T. and HRDC will bring more diversity to the Harvard theater community in the future, in terms of both the students who are involved in theatrical productions and the works that are being produced.
“The biggest barrier, I think, to the arts scene at Harvard, is access based on institutional knowledge,” said Johnson.
“My freshman year, the only BlackC.A.S.T. production that happened was Negative, for which I was the stage manager. This is the first BlackC.A.S.T. production I've seen since my freshman fall. Within our small community, we're scrappy,” he said, speaking to the fact that BlackC.A.S.T. turned what would have been a staged reading of Raisin into a full-scale production while sharing resources with Clybourne. “It’s good to know that when we eventually break down these access barriers into the community, it's good for the black community here, because we won't have to struggle to pull things off. It’ll be normal.”
Johnson foresees more work from BlackC.A.S.T. being produced within the Harvard theater community in the coming years. “I'm excited for this to be happening early on in my Harvard career, so I have time to develop it,” he said. “Our goal is to be recognized as a group that does theater, and as a community that is a resource.”
“I really think that diversity and inclusion are going to be key,” said Ribeiro about the future of Harvard theater. “It’s [about] making it accessible for people who didn’t necessarily do theater in high school, or [about] trying it out for the first time in their senior year. Also diversity in the kinds of works that we do as well is really important in terms of style,” she noted, speaking to the importance of producing the work of more women and playwrights of color. “We’re definitely going to see that in the next few years.”
A Raisin in the Sun will have a final performance 2 p.m. Dec. 10 and Clybourne Park will have performances 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 10 and 11. All performances are in the Loeb Experimental Theater in the Loeb Drama Center, located at 64 Brattle Street. Click here for information about free tickets.