Skip to main content

African-American issues, theater explored

October 21, 2003 By Barbara Wolff

An emerging African nation hovers on the edge of revolution. Within its tense borders, servants, journalists, missionaries, immigrants, native born and others struggle to assert themselves and their complex cultural histories.

Such is the backdrop of Lorraine Hansberry’s last work, “Les Blancs.” The play is one component of the Lorraine Hansberry Visiting Professorship in Dramatic Arts at University Theatre. A national symposium on Saturday, Nov. 8, also is part of the festival.

The cast consists of 23 actors; about half are undergraduate and graduate students. Four are professional actors: Bill Hall from Seattle, Kevin Douglas from Chicago, and Ruth Schudson and Patrick Sims from Milwaukee.

As the ensemble’s manager, Kristin Hunt, a Ph.D. candidate specializing in Greek tragedy, endeavors to provide consistency for all the various factions.

“I attempt to keep the cast and crew, particularly the talent we’ve brought in from around the country, happy and connected to each other so that they can focus on the show and not the stresses of living away from home,” Hunt says.

Tim Bond“Les Blancs” guest director, Tim Bond of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, is a lifelong aficionado of Hansberry, who briefly attended UW in 1948. Bond, who holds the Lorraine Hansberry Visiting Professorship, says the writer has a good deal to tell students of any generation and time.

“She gives all the characters in her work an argument, but she doesn’t make decisions for the audience. She’s not looking for solutions. Instead, she’s asking, “Where do you stand on these issues, and what are you going to do about it?'” Bond says.

Consequently, the play is leaving no one associated with it untouched, he says.

“Right before my eyes, students are changing the way they think,” he says. “To witness that is extremely enriching for me as an artist.”

Les Blancs” runs Friday-Sunday, Nov. 7-9; Thursday-Sunday, Nov. 13-16; and Thursday-Saturday, Nov. 20-22, at 7:30 p.m. A matinee will be Sunday, Nov. 23, at 3 p.m. All performances will be in Vilas Hall’s Mitchell Theatre. Tickets, $16 and $12 UW–Madison students, are available through the Vilas Hall Box Office, 262-1500.

Symposium lends perspective to playwrights’ achievements

Playwright Lorraine Hansberry once attended a meeting with Bobby Kennedy and James Baldwin.

“She found the proceedings too bureaucratic to accomplish anything, so she got up and walked out,” Tim Bond says. “She was very good at calling white liberals to task.”

As part of his residency, Bond, who is Lorraine Hansberry Visiting Professor, will teach a seminar course, Unfolding Plays by African-American Women, through which his students explore talented and influential artists of the last 60 years.

A symposium of the same name on Saturday, Nov. 8, in the Mitchell Theatre in Vilas Hall will gather playwrights and scholars from around the country to offer fresh insights and historical perspective about the plays and the playwrights.

Two authors will read from their work as part of the symposium. At 10 a.m., Kia Corthron will present excerpts of her canon, which includes “Breath, Boom,” commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Theatre; and “Force Continuum,” commissioned by the Atlantic Theatre Company.

Lynn Nottage, author of “A Walk Through Time,” “Crumbs from the Table of Joy,” “Mud, River, Stone,” “Por’knockers,” “Poof!” and more, will read from new works at 3:40 p.m.

A full symposium schedule is available at


Tags: arts