Lorraine Hansberry’s classic 1959 play A Raisin in the Sun hits the intimate Bay Street Theater stage this fall as part of the Literature Live! educational theater program. The new production will be directed by Lydia Fort, longtime director and Emory University assistant professor of directing, acting and African American theater.
A staple in American schools, the well-known play follows the Younger family as they each make plans to pursue their own version of the American Dream after receiving an insurance check for $10,000. “It has this place of speaking truth to the black experience like nothing had before, with such a huge reach,” Fort says of A Raisin in the Sun, describing Hansberry as a “trailblazer.”
Fort sees the play as an opportunity for students to learn about the struggles that people, specifically African Americans, faced and continue to face, but also to feel inspired knowing that they can dream big and achieve those aspirations. With Long Island students varying drastically in terms of background, she believes this production will bring about many conversations between students and teachers and a greater understanding among classmates. “Some [students] are very clear that they have dreams but may not be aware of others’ situations or their circumstances—they may not understand why it’s hard for them to go after what they want. I think it’s terrific if we’re able to have a mixed group of people. Then even richer conversations can come out of that,” she says. “My function is to be able to give [educators] a product that’s worthy of the conversation they want students to have.”
The Literature Live! program’s free-to-schools performances offer a deeply enriching way for children and teens to engage with the curriculum in a way that simply watching a recording of a play production does not. “The actors are there breathing and hearing you and responding to you, so there’s an interaction that isn’t palpable even when you’re in a big group seeing something that’s prerecorded,” Fort says. “In that way it forces us to participate in a more active way—rather than sitting back and being passive—receiving and being acutely aware that what we’re giving the actors is being received, sort of like a conversation.” That active involvement goes even deeper during the program’s post-production talkbacks, at which Fort says she’s eagerly looking forward to meeting and engaging with the middle and high school students.
As an educator, Fort loves not only helping students learn and connect with history, but also the chance to continue to expand her own knowledge and perspective. “Directing allows me—because I get to delve into so many different environments, communities, stories and issues—to continue to learn,” she says. “The beauty of being able to direct African American plays is that it gives me a chance to work on myself. Being able to look at so many amazing writers’ works and how they discussed issues and their perspectives on those issues gives me a chance to recalibrate what I’m thinking, doing and considering.”
While weekday performances are strictly for schools, weekend shows of A Raisin in the Sun are open to all adults and children and offer vital lessons in history and empathy to people of all ages, races and backgrounds. “[It’s important] to know what the struggle has been in a way that isn’t a fact in our brains, but something that we can feel with a sense of empathy—not sympathy—but real empathy for other people’s struggle,” Fort says, adding how rewarding it is to impart these ideas on theatergoers. “You have no idea what could grow from it or when it’s going to grow, and that’s the beauty of doing these kinds of programs, because you’re planting seeds that could take shape way far down the line.”
Literature Live! Presents A Raisin in the Sun from November 14 through December 1 at Bay Street Theater (1 Bay Street, Sag Harbor). A screening of the 1961 film will be held on Sunday, October 20 at 2 p.m. For tickets or more information, visit baystreet.org or call 631-725-9500.