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INTERVIEW: Director Lydia Fort On Bringing "A Raisin In The Sun" To Bay Street And More

T.J. Clemente

Director Lydia Fort. (Courtesy Photo)

The most wonderful element of conducting interviews is you get to experience how people think, talk, laugh, tell a story and who they are. Some are guarded, some are less open, while others are totally fascinating. Lydia Fort, the Director of the play, A Raisin in the Sun, to be presented at Bay Street Theater is beyond fascinating. She has that rare, wonderful kind of talent that makes every one of her words and sentences penetrate your own mind to provoke deep thought.

Young, but with an old soul, Lydia Fort speaks of our nation's 1960's Civil Rights struggles that us older people lived day to day as if she was right there too. Her verbalization and communication skills augment her storytelling. You never know what you are going to get in an interview, but a Lydia Fort is the gold standard.

When asked to tell me about herself and who her mentor was, Fort said, "I am from New York City. I grew up in Washington Heights (Upper West Side of Manhattan). My mentor is Valerie Curtis Newton who is in Seattle, based at the University of Washington."

When asked what has she learned while doing this project, A Raisin in the Sun, Fort responded, "It is interesting that you asked that question because the stuff I am learning is sort of like when you are cooking and read the various ways you can make a dish, but when you then get into the kitchen and you really start cooking on your own, for me that's like the rehearsal part of it. So it all comes to fruition or comes to a place of clearer understanding when I get to use it in rehearsal. Right now I am learning about the South Side of Chicago, how the communities were divided, and that's all history and really interesting things for me to learn about. But, then in rehearsal, a question comes up and you get to use the research knowledge and talk about the people and it has an importance in a different living way. So, right now I feel like a budding historian."

About the play, she said, "I always thought our hero [Walter], in the play, was a little bit self-centered and it was actually seeing this film about Martin Luther King Jr. called King in the Wilderness and that film was about the last few months before he passed. It was a very different time for him, when he felt that his supporters and people he knew and trusted were starting to shift their thinking from what he wanted to be doing and the whole "I am a Man March" kind of fell into focus for me in a new way. When I went back to the script yet again, I saw Walter in a new way. In a completely different light, and for the first time, I could see his struggle in trying to be the man that society had told him he should be, in the community, in his family. So, it was a new awakening about Walter and his struggle in the play."

When asked what should the audience be highly attentive to? Fort responded, "There are so many different themes in this play. It will be easy to hear or find the themes you are interested in and resonate with you. Dreams are a huge important thing for me and I hope that is something we can really highlight in this production, what it is to have a dream and to feel like you can never attain it, ...especially when Walter tries to get his liquor shop and is deceived by the very people he feels he should be able to trust. "

Then Fort expressed about what is the importance "of family, what is it to be a family, and to support those that we love and want the best for them, even knowing our own limitations."

This will be Lydia Fort's first effort for the Bay Street Theater. About that, she said, "I can't wait to get in there and work. I have never been there. I have heard amazing things about the people there. I am very excited."

Lydia Fort will be directing Lorraine Hansberry's classic play, A Raisin in the Sun, as the Theater's yearly Literature Live! presentation. Now heading into its second decade, this BOCES-approved program celebrates classic American literature and Bay Street is thrilled to produce this landmark piece of theater during its sixtieth anniversary year. The play explores the unforgettable members of the Younger family as they experience both tragedy and triumph in 1959 Chicago. Literature Live! is a free program for student audiences and creates compelling drama from the page to the stage bringing together professional theater artists.

The A Raisin in the Sun Bay Street cast will feature Chauncy Thomas as Walter Lee Younger; Cooki Winborn as Lena Younger; Erin Margaret Pettigrew as Ruth Younger; Cassia Thompson as Beneatha Younger; Jonathan Farrington as Joseph Asagai; Michael Chenevert as George Murchison; Justin Jorrell as Bobo; Joe Pallister as Karl Lindner, and Kaden Amari Anderson as Travis Younger.

Fort, who earned a BA from New York University and an MFA in Directing from the University of Washington, was a Time Warner Foundation Fellow of the 2012-2014 Lab at Women's Project Theater, 2010-2012 Drama League Fellow, and 2008 Directing Fellow, New York Theatre Workshop, and earned a 2007 NYC Theatre Communications Group New Generations Future Leaders Grant.

A Raisin in the Sun is presented by special arrangement with Samuel French, Inc. The production can be seen Thursday, November 14 through Sunday, December 1, with shows on Thursdays at 7 p.m., Fridays at 7 p.m., and Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. There will be a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. on the final weekend. Tickets are $20 to $45.

Bay Street is located at 1 Bay Street in Sag Harbor. For more information, call 631-725-9500 visit www.baystreet.org.

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