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How We Talk About Race: ‘Raisin’ and ‘Clybourne Park’ Spark Discussions at ASU

By Kaitlan Morehouse

A month-long campus- and community-wide conversation entitled “How We Talk About Race in 2016” begins this weekend at Appalachian State with a performance of “A Raisin in the Sun” on Sunday. The series will conclude with performances of “Clybourne Park” Feb. 24-27.

“A Raisin in the Sun” will be read by the In/Visible Theatre group at 3 p.m. on Sunday in the Valborg Theatre, and the performance will be free for audiences.

“Clybourne Park” will be read by the university’s theatre and dance department, also held in the Valborg Theatre and free for audiences.

Between the readings of each play, students and on-campus departments will study each play through the Sustained Dialogue Initiative and discuss the central issues within each performance. Participating departments will include the Office of Arts and Cultural Programs; the Office of Equity, Diversity and Compliance; and the Office of Multicultural Student Development.

Why “A Raisin in the Sun”?

In/Visible Theatre Producing Director Karen Sabo said it is a renowned, classic American play and one that all students who study theatre will learn.

The play was groundbreaking when it was first debuted. Not only was it Lorraine Hansberry’s most important, but it was the first Broadway play to invite audience members of different races into the Broadway theatre.

“I think that, for our community here or any community, it’s a really great way to discuss some of our conversations here about race, especially white audiences who may not have thought about it before. It’s really entertaining in a non-threatening way, especially for white audiences to learn what they are going through,” Sabo said.

In/Visible Theatre Artistic Director Derek Davidson said the group is excited to be part of the conversation.

“It’s an opportunity for us to do a play that’s outside of our company’s mission,” he said. “So it’s a really great opportunity to do a play that we wouldn’t get a chance to do.”

Sabo said she is looking forward to finding out more about the each of the other events and attending.

The free reading is open to the general public on a first-come, first-seated basis, and the doors will open 30 minutes prior to the performance.

Why “Clybourne Park”?

This Bruce Norris play is a spin-off of “A Raisin in the Sun.” The two stories are told nearly 50 years apart, but address the same key issues.

The two pieces complement each other, each working to illuminate the audiences understanding of the other.

Sabo said the ideas present in the play are catalysts for how we talk about race, including gentrification, diversification, suicide, PTSD and the differences between each.

You can see “Clybourne Park” at $10 for students or $17 for adults at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 24-27 or at 2 p.m. on Feb. 28.

App State Chancellor Sheri N. Everts will attend the final performance.

Sustained Dialogue Initiative

The Sustained Dialogue Initiative will bring folks together across campus and the community between the performances of “A Raisin in the Sun” and “Clybourne Park” for post-show conversation, lectures in late February, historical exhibits in the theatre department and dozens of classroom studies.

Participating students will be meeting in small groups for the next eight weeks to discuss different social justice topics.

Appalachian Student Government Association President Carson Rich said students don’t always need professors around to talk about important issues, so the dialogue is open to all students who are interested in talking about race, gender or other topics.

“Clybourne Park” Director Keith Martin said the Sustained Dialogue Initiatives program on campus has been proactive.

Davidson said both plays are as much about social class as they are about race, which is also an important issue in the 21st century.

“In both of the plays, we have moved to polarized positions, regarding these matters,” said Davidson. “It’s very clear that these are extremely relevant issues.”

Students can use the plays as springboards for honing skills on talking a bout these ideas as mindful and purposeful members of the community. The plays and the related education and outreach programs also have been scheduled to coincide with the African-American History Month events on campus.

For more information, visit the ASU Theatre and Dance Department website, the In/Visible Theatre website or the In/Visible Theatre Facebook page.