Let's Talk About It: Here's your chance to join the cast of 'Raisin in the Sun'

All it takes to get involved in community theater could be a 'gentle push.'

LaSonya Natividad
LaSonya Natividad.
Contributed / Jonathan Robinson

Greetings everyone. Miss me? I sure missed sharing with you all. Life gets busy.

As you may have read from previous articles, I attended a HBCU (Historically Black College and University). During my time at Grambling State University, I was introduced to some amazing art, poetry, music, culture and theater that enriched my life in ways I cannot even began to explain.

I have seen many changes in this community in my 20-year tenure, however I still see and feel gaps in the arts community when it comes to Black representation. I remember how challenging it was for me to break into the arts and do not want others to have those same struggles.

At one of my first performances, a Black male patron came to me and said, I think you are really talented, but the problem is, no one knows who you are. He was right. I set out to change that. I began to show up at any place where art was occurring when time permitted. I met more people. After some time, I forged friendships and later people began to recognize who I was.

I am reminded of a portion of Sheryl Lee Ralph’s 2023 Emmy speech when she said, “To anyone who has ever — ever — had a dream, and thought your dream wasn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t come true, I am here to tell you that this is what believing looks like. This is what striving looks like.”


Fast forward … Let’s talk about how "A Raisin in the Sun" is coming to the Rochester Repertory Theatre.

During my time at Grambling State, I did not have an opportunity to be involved in any extracurricular activities because I had to work. However, one of favorite things to do when I did have an evening off was to take in a play. One of the first stage plays I saw was "A Raisin in the Sun." I was blown away by how the actors seemingly became one with the characters they played. Before this time, I had not experienced a play, let alone seen one live with an all-Black cast. The title was adapted from a poem by one of the Black pioneers of poetry in America, Langston Hughes:


What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

"A Raisin in the Sun" was first performed on Broadway in the 1950s, starring Sydney Portier and Ruby Dee, and it later became a movie. The movie production has been remade twice, once starring Esther Rolle and Danny Glover and the other starring Sean “Ditty” Combs, Sanaa Lathan and Phylicia Rashad. Lorraine Hansberry was the first Black woman to author a play to be performed on Broadway.


I do not have a theater background, so imagine my anxiety when first asked to participate in one because a friend could no longer be a part of it. (It was "Home of the Brave" by Katherine Applegate, directed by Jerry Casper Rochester Community and Technical College.) I had very few lines in that play but what I learned about the process was so valuable. The beauty of this moment was, a few weeks earlier I had attended a showing of "Dream Girls" at the Orpheum Theatre in the Twin Cities and thought to myself, gosh one day I want to try my hand at acting.

The theater environment was a bit different from music in that each person had to bring a piece of themselves yet transform into another person to create this cohesive piece of art. Watching the process of folks becoming more familiar with their lines coupled with the mix of those with experience and without was so very fascinating. Not many folks came to this production to witness my debut.

My next involvement with theater was by a local writer-director Willie Tipton. It was called "Another Mouth To Feed." I played the sister/aunt. In this role, I had the opportunity to sing as well. The show was performed at the historic Capri Theatre in Minneapolis. More people came out to this production, which was such an amazing feeling. This was an all-Black cast by first-time director. A very different experience altogether, but beautiful nonetheless.

Fast forward to one day while working I hear a familiar voice coming up behind me suggesting that I audition for a play, "The Syringa Tree" by Pamela Gien, to which I responded, I have very little experience from 10 years ago. She said, “Oh just do it.” Very pushy of her, I thought. I did it anyway the day before I was leaving town. I had no idea what to do because in my previous experiences people reached out to me to participate. I find that sometimes we need people to push us to get out of our comfort zone.

In this play, directed by Misha Johnson of the Rochester Civic Theatre, I played seven different characters, sang in a few different languages, changed my accent and worked with two amazingly seasoned actors who encouraged me along the way. This play was put on in 2020 after the George Floyd murder. The raw emotions I had during this production were unlike anything I had experienced, but what came from it was powerful. I cried real tears, felt real anger and fear. More people came to see this one and there was a streaming option.

The last production I participated in was at the recommendation of a good friend — "Head over Heels," the musical by Jeff Whitty (adapted by James Magruder) and directed by Tommy Rinkoski (Calliope Theatre Company). I was late to the game and filled in last-minute in the role of non-binary Pythio. Wow was that a whirlwind. I was super nervous because I had so much going on that I could not for the life of me remember my lines, but yet the production went forward and was very rewarding.

I became a board member of Calliope Theater Company and the Rochester Repertory Theatre shortly thereafter. Some of the board’s responsibility is to determine what the next season’s shows are to be, read the scripts, discuss and pick a season. During my involvement with the last two theater productions, I was often asked about the Black community’s non-involvement in community theater, to which I responded — folks are not participating for several reasons including: no experience, lack of outreach, lack of exposure, lack of representation, fear and required time commitment.

Imagine my excitement when we picked the first theater production I had ever seen, "A Raisin in the Sun," for the summer show. I thought how amazing, a predominately Black-cast show in Rochester. This is very rare! History will be made in 2023! I need your help, Rochester In Color…


I shared my theater journey to encourage any of you to get involved, because the only way you will learn is to get out of your comfort zone. Consider this your gentle push.

The showing of this production is timely in its subject matter when we are discussing not talking about or teaching the long-term effects of systemic racism in this country. Again, lets make history and talk about it!

Lasonya Natividad is a musician and health care professional in Rochester. Send comments on columns to .

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