Over 3,300 students and teachers from schools across Connecticut, as well as New York City and Springfield, Massachusetts, will see Lorraine Hansberry's landmark drama, "A Raisin in the Sun," directed by Tony Award winner Phylicia Rashad at Westport Country Playhouse, during a series of six sold-out student matinee performances from Tuesday, October 23 through Friday, November 2. Students range from grades five through 12. As part of The Playhouse's commitment to make live theater more accessible to young people, one-quarter of the seats in the theater for every student matinee have been made available to schools that need assistance in bringing their students to The Playhouse.
The student matinee program is a facet of The Playhouse's educational and community engagement initiative, "What Happens to a Dream Deferred: Lorraine Hansberry and 'A Raisin in the Sun'," designed to explore the playwright and her creation – the historical context, contemporary relevance, and lasting influence. The initiative takes its name from the poem "Harlem" by Langston Hughes, which includes the lines: "What happens to a dream deferred?/Does it dry up/ like a raisin in the sun?"
To engage the student audiences, The Playhouse created a video study guide, "'A Raisin in the Sun': An Introduction," distributed in DVD format to teachers, and available as well to the general public on The Playhouse's YouTube channel. Through interviews with scholars of Lorraine Hansberry, Phylicia Rashad, director, and actors working on The Playhouse production, students will gain an appreciation for the enduring legacy of Hansberry's work. In most cases, teachers will show the video to students in class prior to their Playhouse attendance.
"We're so grateful to the artists and scholars who shared their passion and contributed their insights to this video," said David Kennedy, Playhouse associate artistic director. "The context they provide for students is invaluable. It's like listening in on one of the smartest conversations on Hansberry that you can imagine. That we can provide this experience for every student who comes to The Playhouse is of such vital importance. It's at the very core of what our educational programs are about."
Although "A Raisin in the Sun" is a standard part of the curriculum in many school districts in Connecticut and across the country, some schools elected to study it specifically because of The Playhouse's production and its student matinees. In addition to reading the play prior to attending, students are using The Playhouse's video guide and written study guide as a starting point for conversations about the issues that Lorraine Hansberry alludes to and addresses in her work. After attending the performance, many teachers plan to engage students in follow-up discussions regarding the ongoing state of these issues in the United States.
Angela Marroy Boerger, Playhouse education and community programs coordinator, commented, "The enrichment materials we have developed in concert with our student matinee performances aim to excite students, give them a rich perspective, and enable them to approach the play with thoughtful questions before attending a matinee performance. The video guide and written study guide form a crucial aspect of our goal to encourage deeper conversation around 'A Raisin in the Sun.' We hope they act as an impetus to explore those issues that compelled Hansberry: how far America has come, and how much more remains to be accomplished."
Prior to bringing their students to "A Raisin in the Sun," several teachers attended Playhouse-hosted, free-of-charge professional development workshops for educators, including "Techniques and Resources in Teaching African-American Literature: Lorraine Hansberry and Other Artists," presented by Professor Lois Brown of Wesleyan University; and "Teaching Matters of Segregation and Race: Finding a Context for 'A Raisin in the Sun,'" a workshop by Facing History and Ourselves. According to Carole Laskey, a teacher at Seton Academy, "The instructional aids and workshops are phenomenal."