A Raisin in the Sun

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A Raisin in the Sun is a play that addresses family relationships and the American dream through an intimate look at an African-American family in Chicago of the 1950’s. The story still resonates today – reality, hope, and dignity are universal – and that dreams, whatever they may be, are essential to everyone.

573 Magazine met up with Bart Williams, co-director of the production who is an assistant professor at the Southeast Missouri State University River Campus.

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My name is Bart Williams. I am the former Managing Director of the Michigan Shakespeare Festival, an Artistic Associate of UK based Sell-A-Door Theatre, and an honorary member of the Chicago Associates of The Stratford Festival of Ontario. My MFA is from Wayne State University’s Hilberry Theatre, an MA from the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts (LIPA) and a Master of Performance in Musical Theatre from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS). I do maintain an active professional career as both a director and a performer in regional theatre, Canada, and London.

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I have taught Stanislavsky-based acting theory at LIPA and worked closely with R.C. Annie fight school in London. I am an instructor with Dueling Arts International Stage Combat based in California, and worked with the Young Vic’s Genesis Director’s program. I’ve also taught at Roosevelt University’s Theatre Conservatory at the Chicago College of Performing Arts. I was mentored by Stratford’s former Head of Movement, John Broome, and current Head of Voice and Movement, Jeanine Pearson – as well as former Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino. I am a member of Voice and Speech Teacher’s Association (VASTA), and my research interests include New-Work Devising, Violence Choreography and Vocal Health, and Shakespeare and the Classics for modern audiences.

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry, is one of the American classics. I have the great honor of co-directing this with Tyla Abercrumbie, a Chicago-based director, and actress, who is taking the reins in the rehearsal room, so my duties are much more behind the scenes in making this all run smoothly. It is her favorite play. Southeast has wanted to do it for years, and we are so lucky to have the opportunity. What both Tyla and I love is that it’s so focused on family relationships and the American Dream of owning a house and moving up in the world – despite all the odds. And it’s extremely funny! People tend to forget that when they see the title, but if you’ve ever had a nosy neighbor, or wanted to get a better job, or just wanted to make a better life for your kids, this is a play that will speak to you – and make you laugh, too. While many people remember it from the movie in the 1960’s, people forget how groundbreaking it was at the time. The writing influenced generations of writers and producers from Norman Lear (who created All in the Family and The Jefferson’s) to Winnifred Hervey (writer for the first three seasons of The Golden Girls).

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When directing a play, the prep work is very important. You don’t always get it. When I started, I was most often a fill-in, so I walked into focusing someone else’s prep work. This work is about multiple reads of the text, looking at possible translations, basic dramaturgy, and researching the world of the play. Working on Shakespeare is also about working on heightened text and the Elizabethan/Jacobean mindset. Working on A Raisin in the Sun, which is now over 50 years old, the research is more specific – to Southside Chicago around Hyde Park. It’s about breaking down the script and making logistical decisions based on budgets and labor constraints, and potential audience engagement. It’s about brainstorming with creatives and looking at possibilities.

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AFTER RAISIN, I am helping our graduating seniors showcase in New York City. I’ll be running Southeast’s Conservatory Acting Intensive Camp for high schoolers and helping with the summer’s production of Little Shop. I will also be holding super-hero and light-sword day camps for elementary and middle schoolers, running a professional Fight Directors Workshop with Dueling Arts International. Lastly, I will be involved in another theatre gig in NYC which I can’t talk about yet. Its shaping up to be a busy year. Okay, I gotta run.

A Raisin in the Sun will be performed April 18-22 in the Rust Flexible Theatre at the Southeast Missouri State University River Campus.

Tickets for A Raisin in the Sun may be purchased by contacting the River Campus Box Office, located in the Cultural Arts Center, 518 S. Fountain St., weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., by calling (573) 651-2265, or online at RiverCampus.org.

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