AUD + Black Theater Nerd at Theatre Memphis: A Raisin in the Sun

AUD + Black Theater Nerd recently had the privilege of orchestrating a takeover at Theatre Memphis during the second day of tech for their production of Lorraine Hansberry's "A Raisin in the Sun."

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Something AUD happened in the Memphis theatre scene. This event was not just a first for the over 100-year-old institution known for its exclusivity, but also a symbol of evolving narratives in the world of theatre.

In this AUDicle:

  • AUD's Unconventional Approach in a Traditional Space
  • Navigating New Terrain with Respect and Insight
  • Casting a Spotlight on Black Talent
  • Behind the Scenes: A Study in Collaboration and Respect
  • Resilience & Reward
Trey Oliver (Walter Lee Younger) & Sherronda Johnson (Lena Younger) in tech rehearsal

Our venture through this theatre was eye-opening from the dressing rooms to the stage every corner was tended to with passion and dedication. The cast and crew were in the beginnings of tech rehearsals, a sacred week in hell when you can almost taste the pot roast of creation as you are cooking under stage lights. To be there, in those moments of vulnerability and craft, was an honor we did not take for granted.

As a new collective, AUD faces the challenge of navigating conventional spaces with an unconventional approach. Our goal is to serve artists and advocate for inclusivity while maintaining our roots in the community.

Navigating New Terrain with Respect and Insight

Acknowledging the possibility of some actors' discomfort, we took care to ensure that our presence was unobtrusive yet insightful. This sensitivity was crucial, not just for maintaining the sanctity of the creative process but also for building trust within a space where change is still a budding concept. The reception from Theatre Memphis officials and the cast was heartening, with openness, setting a tone of mutual respect and collaboration.

Hats & Wigs | Costume Designer - Marsena Sellers

Casting a Spotlight on Black Classic Talent

The casting of "A Raisin in the Sun" at Theatre Memphis features familiar faces known for their consistent performances on Memphis stages. Actors like Trey Oliver (Walter Lee Younger), Donita Johnson (Ruth Younger), Mariah Mitchell (Beneatha Younger), and Marvin Holt (George Murchison) shine in this production. We even get young, gifted, and Black talent in this production with Braxton Gibson (Travis Younger). Standout Sherronda Johnson, typically known for her administrative work and artistic advocacy, shone in her role, bringing a depth of knowledge and empowerment to her character, Lena Younger (Mama). This focus in casting and marketing, deviating from the usual emphasis on the male lead, Walter Lee, was both striking and appropriate. It was a refreshing take on representation, acknowledging the power and presence of Black Women as cornerstones in our lives and in theatre.

The ensemble is harmonious and the work they have done is shown moment to moment in their choices and the way they show up on stage. Shoutout to Fatima L. Gray (Mrs. Johnson), what a spot-on nosey neighbor - very excited to see where you take her.

Sherronda Johnson (Lena - Mama) & Fatima L. Gray (Mrs. Johnson) in tech rehearsal

It was a real treat to witness you all and we appreciate the opportunity. If you're reading this, go see them for yourself!

Director, Jared Thomas Johnson, has done a beautiful job of capturing a house without walls effect for this classic production. Jared's work is always a visual masterpiece. This work is no different, in fact, he takes it further. He has painted beautiful viewpoints and pictures using the cast, the ensemble, the set, and the lights. The soundtrack is nostalgic and in tune with the show. We won't give it all away. We encourage audiences to pay attention to all parts of the stage. There are precious moments of reflection happening hidden throughout the set. It was a nice touch.

More on this after they open, but if they are anything like they were day 2 of tech, we think we are in for a treat.

Left - Sherronda Johnson (Lena Younger) in tech rehearsal
Right - Trey Oliver (Walter Lee) in tech rehearsal


Behind the Scenes: A Study in Collaboration and Respect

Observing the award winning production team at Theatre Memphis was enlightening, especially in their handling of a historically significant Black work. Their attention to detail in set design and lighting, particularly in the portrayal of Black people and experiences, was commendable. This experience highlighted the importance of research, respect, and authenticity in presenting stories deeply rooted in cultural and racial contexts.

The set, designed by the masterful Jack Netzel-Yates, was a marvel of innovation, capturing the essence of the time and culture the play represents. He fully captured Jared's "if these walls could talk" concept. Nicole Northington, the lighting designer, showcased her exceptional skill in illuminating the stage, creating an ambiance that seamlessly transitioned from day to night, indoors to outdoors. Her dedication to lighting Black people beautifully was a poignant reminder of the thoughtfulness needed in theatre.

"Everyone deserves to be lit beautifully." - Nicole Northington

We also had the pleasure of speaking with Justin Raynard Hicks, the assistant director. His journey from performer to director over 15 years was not only inspiring but also reflective of the changing dynamics in theatre – where opportunities are gradually opening up for Black talent.

We want, deserve, and need more.

Assistant Director Justin Raynard Hicks in tech rehearsal.
Resilience & Reward

The energy of commitment to making this production meaningful was palpable. Despite the challenges of snow and a delayed opening, the team’s spirit remained undeterred, proving that art and resilience go hand in hand. Special thanks to Randall Hartzog, Director of Marketing and Communications, for an enlightening conversation and CEO/President Debbie Litch for the warm reception. And as always, to Courtney, THEE Black Theater Nerd.

Go see A Raisin in the Sun at Theatre Memphis opening January 25!

Tell them AUD sent you! We'll see you there!

A Raisin in the Sun Flyer

A Raisin in the Sun

JAN 25 - FEB 4, 2024

Lohrey Theatre

Moving and Powerful. A Chicago South Side black family struggles with decisions that are meant to improve their station. However, deceit derails them as they battle back through racial tension and family dissention as they try to find their place within their heritage and their place in what may be unwelcomed territory.

By Lorraine Hansberry / Director Jared Thomas Johnson

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