- By gentleguide
- On Thu 09 Mar 2017
This week Grand View University presents their production of Clybourne Park, an examination of how social attitudes change over time, and how different groups handle the issues of race and gentrification. Clybourne Park was written as a response and companion piece to another play, A Raisin in the Sun. And Grand View is fortunate to have a special point of view on both shows from Clybourne Park's director, Des Moines favorite Aaron Smith.
Aaron starred in the Pyramid Theatre production of A Raisin in the Sun last summer. The events of Raisin are directly referred to in Clybourne Park, allowing a unique perspective for Smith and his cast in relation to the events of both shows.
Point of View
"Clybourne Park is a wonderful, unsettling piece," says Smith, "that uses biting commentary and humor to shine a light on ugly societal norms. It will make the audience laugh, and wonder if they should be laughing. At times it will make them uncomfortable. But my greatest hope is that it will make them think."
"There is no star or lead character in the story. The focus is us, society itself. So hopefully the audiences will walk away looking at their own lives, their values and beliefs, but even more so at those of 'Others'!"
The actors in the show actually play multiple parts, as the events of the second act take place a generation or more later than the first. Clybourne Park details the effects and attitudes of residents when the first African-American family moves into the neighborhood... and then revisits the same place when the idea of "gentrification" leads to a white family wanting to move into what has become a predominately minority area.
Although we don't get to see that first African-American family actually move in, Smith has a special vision on those events... since it's his character from last year's Raisin in the Sun that actually moves in to the neighborhood. That perspective is one of the reasons that Kristin Larson, who is in charge of the Grand View theatre department, wanted Smith to direct this show.
Leading the Way
"Coincidentally, the first play that I remember seeing as a child was a high school production of A Raisin in the Sun." Aaron continues, "I was enthralled by the experience, and knew that I wanted to do what I saw the students doing on stage."
"I had never really wanted to be on the other side of the stage. I was so in love with being on it. I have worked in an elementary school for the last 22 years, and for awhile I coordinated a drama club for 4th and 5th grade students. We did small productions, that required very little in terms of staging. That really was the extent of my directing experience."
"Being asked by Kristin to guest direct Clybourne Park was a surprise, a challenge, and a blessing. As an actor, you focus on bringing a character to life. As a director you bring life to an entire story."
"The director's vision is all encompassing. Your eyes, ears, and hands are involved in all facets of the production. It took me out of my comfort zone, and I'm sure that this experience will enhance my passion and insight as an actor."
That passion and insight are also being transferred to a new generation of student-performers at Grand View, hopefully in the same way that Aaron himself was once inspired. "The big turning point for me was being seen in Ain't Misbehavin' by the (then) Grand View Theatre Dept. Head, Douglas Larche. He encouraged me to come to Grand View and finish getting my degree. This changed my life! The exposure and experience under his guidance opened doors to many opportunities in film and stage that otherwise would not have been available."
Now it's Aaron's turn to be that inspiration, and he's up for the challenge. "It has been amazing working with these great young actors. I hope that something I have given them in this process will enrich their lives in the theatre half as much as they have enriched mine."
Clybourne Park plays this weekend (March 9-11 at 7:30pm and Sun March 12 at 2pm) at the Viking Theatre at Grand View College. Tickets available at the door.