A Raisin in the Sun at Kent State Theatre, 1966
A Raisin in the Sun, written by Lorraine Hansberry, debuted on Broadway in 1959. It tells the story of a Black family aspiring to move beyond segregation and disenfranchisement in 1950s Southside Chicago. The New York Drama Critics' Circle named it the best play of 1959, and publications such as The Independent and Time Out have listed it among the best plays ever written. A Raisin in the Sun was the first play by an African American woman to be produced on Broadway.
Just a few years after its Broadway debut, Professor Louis O. Erdmann selected A Raisin in the Sun to be performed by the Kent State University Theatre as part of the 1965-1966 season. It would be the first Kent State Theatre production, in its thirty-five-year history at that point, to have a predominantly African American cast. As reported by Tony Walsh in his review in the student newspaper, the Daily Kent Stater, “Louis Erdmann dived in headfirst in choosing this play. It was a difficult undertaking of a serious and troubling topic.”
Advertising campus-wide, the KSU School of Theatre put out a call for auditions. Donald Brown, who was selected to play the lead role of Walter Lee Younger, had acting experience; he was a graduate student in theatre from Cleveland. However, for several of the cast members, this would be the first time they were involved in a dramatic production of this scale.
Younger’s wife was played by Lillian Lehman, a deaf-education major from Los Angeles, California. Tiny Reed, a sophomore majoring in speech from Springfield, had the role of Younger’s mother. Two cast members were music students: Carol Moses and Gordon Pinkney Clark. The role of Bobo was played by Bill Stallings, a freshman physics major from Sandusky. One cast member was selected from the local community; the role of Travis was played by Shawn Watkins, a fourth grader at Holden Elementary School in Kent.
Special Collections & Archives holds a group of photographs taken of this groundbreaking Kent State production. These images document what a powerful and moving performance of A Raisin in the Sun was held here on campus over fifty years ago. The Daily Kent Stater review provides another clue; Walsh called it “…the best show of the year.”
Kent State University
Special Collections and Archives
KSU School of Theatre and Dance Records [unprocessed addition, accession no. 2021.42]
5 photographs, 1 program ; Supplemented by 2 articles from the Digital Daily Kent Stater
This digital object is owned by Kent State University and may be protected by U.S. Copyright law (Title 17, USC). Please include proper citation and credit for use of this item. Use in publications or productions is prohibited without written permission from Kent State University. Please contact the Department of Special Collections and Archives for more information.
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archive (mixed materials)
Curated by Kathleen Siebert Medicus with guest contributors