Photo by Jason Hawkes
Clybourne Park explores the evolution of racism and gentrification over the past half-century in America by imagining the conflicts surrounding the purchase of a house in a white neighborhood in the 1959 by an African American family, and then the re-design of that house in “post-racial” 2009. While Clybourne Park is an actual neighborhood in Chicago, the play makes no direct reference to its geography. Woolly believes Clybourne Park is highly reflective of the changes happening to neighborhoods throughout DC and across the metropolitan area (and urban America).
Are we right? That’s what we’d like to know—from you.
The theatre has created a variety of opportunities for audiences and the wider community to investigate the social and political issues Clybourne Park tackles and wrestle together with the implications to the changing urban landscape in our home city.
Join us in the conversation.
- Cookie Questions
- Program Notes
Audience Exchanges & Mammoth Forums
Woolly has enhanced and expanded its regularly scheduled discussion series to engage in more intimate dialogue with its audiences. We’ve invited special guests from across the Metro area working in fields like urban development, conflict resolution, and cross-cultural dialogue to serve as “Community Catalysts” for our post-show discussions. Guests join a Woolly facilitator on stage immediately after a performance to jump-start an audience-wide conversation by sharing their personal reflections on the show and its themes.
Woolly invites you to wrestle with the social and political issues Clybourne Park tackles following select performances during the run. A collection of special have been invited to share their expert perspectives and insights around the topics of urban development and racial language. Guests join Literary Manager Kristin Leahey on stage immediately after a Sunday matinee performance and engage in focused exploration of a topic. The floor is then opened to the audience for questions and comments. Attend the matinee performance and then stay for the Mammoth Forum, or come that afternoon just for the Forum.
- Wednesday, March 17 following the 8:00pm performance
Audience Exchange featuring Michele Norris, host of NPR’s newsmagazine All Things Considered
- Wednesday, March 24 following the 8:00pm performance
Audience Exchange, featuring Lou Giezsel, Deputy Director of the Maryland Mediation and Conflict Resolution Office
- Thursday, March 25 following the 8:00pm performance
Audience Exchange featuring Gayle Wald, Chair of the Department of English at George Washington University
- Sunday, March 28 following the 2:00pm performance
A Mammoth Forum – Urban Space: Massive Change
Featuring: Dr. Howell Baum, University of Maryland’s School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation;
Christopher B. Leinberger, Metropolitan Land Strategist & Developer, The Brookings Insitution; Harriet Tregoning, DC Director, Office of Planning; Ellie Walton, documentary film Maker “Chocolate City.”
Spaces perpetually change. Massive changes that occur to physical spaces illuminate aspirations and limitations of growth, as well as the ethical dilemmas that arise from making these "changes." How is race, class, and urban development influenced by these changes? How does gentrification manifest both utopian and dystopian possibilities on spaces and their inhabitants?
- Sunday, March 28 following the 7:00pm performance
Audience Exchange featuring Monique Holt, story artist, sign master, ASL Consultant for Clybourne Park
- Tuesday, March 30 following the 8:00pm performance
Audience Exchange featuring DC Neighborhood Bloggers: Veronica Davis, Life in the Village; David Garber, And Now, Anacostia.
- Wednesday, March 31 following the 8:00pm performance
Audience Exchange featuring Charniece Fox, Straight, No Chaser
- Thursday, April 1 following the 8:00pm performance
Audience Exchange featuring Angelyn Mitchell, Associate Professor, Department of English Director, African American Studies, Georgetown University
- Thursday, April 2 following the 8:00pm performance
Audience Exchange featuring Bob Mondello, NPR, Washington City Paper
- Sunday, April 4 following the 2:00pm performance
A Mammoth Forum – The Power of Language to Race
Featuring: Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC); Natalie Hopkinson, Media & Culture Critic for The Root; Charniece Fox and Nigel Daryl Greaves, Straight, No Chaser
We are at a racial crossroads in the United States: how are the boundaries associated with language changing at this complex American cultural intersection? What is the power associated with language? And in turn, how has language regarding race changed in our contemporary American consciousness? How has it not?
- Thursday, April 8 following the 8:00pm performance
Audience Exchange featuring David Snider, Producing Artistic Director of Young Playwrights Theater, and student playwrights
- Sunday, April 11 following the 2:00pm performance
Audience Exchange featuring Amy Lazarus, Executive Director of Sustained Dialogue Campus Network, and Chris Wagner and LaTia Walker, staff facilitators
Post-Show PBR Happy Hours
Keep the night going at Woolly during the run of Clybourne Park. On Thursday nights March 25, April 1, and April 8, concessions will be open late and the bar will feature $2 PBR Tall Boys.
Saturday, March 6 at 4:30pm
Atlas Center for Performing Arts (1333 H Street NE, Washington DC)
Woolly hosted a community read of Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun, the American classic that initially inspired Bruce Norris to write Clybourne Park. Community members attended with their own scripts and could sign up to read sections of the play. The reading, held in partnership with the Intersections New America Arts Festival, was followed by a facilitated dialogue. More information available at Intersectionsdc.org or contact Rachel.
The DC Metro area is home to numerous local blogs, in which residents chronicle daily life in their distinct neighborhoods and enclaves. Content varies from blog-to-blog, but in the end these social-media tools allow for increased community awareness and interconnectedness in a region known for its unique mix of long-term residents and frequent transients.
Woolly invited close to 50 of these independent writers to attend an early performance of Clybourne Park, and blog their reflections on the play and its implications to their neighborhood and the changing urban and cultural landscape of DC.
Check out what they had to say at: woollymammothblog.com
Also check out these participating bloggers:
Radio Woolly is Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company's very own radio station. Listen to interviews with playwrights and artists, thematic stories in conjunction with our work, and information on upcoming productions and seasons.
How do Americans get in their own way of attaining the ubiquitous “American Dream”? Production Dramaturg Kristin Leahey reflects on the big ideas explored in Bruce Norris’ Clybourne Park, directed by Howard Shalwitz.
Kate and Augie took it to the streets in this podcast to meet some of the Pay-What-You-Can line people. Guitars, chairs, tailgaters and down the street the circus was in town. Listen in for some of the mayhem that occurs before the first previews of a Woolly Mammoth show.
Woolly offers Pay-What-You-Can tickets for the first two performances (usually Monday and Tuesday) of every main stage subscription series production. Tickets are sold at the theatre those evenings 90 minutes prior to showtime. Two per person, cash or check only.
How does a story of one family’s specific experience in a distinct location and period of time resonate with so many for so long? In this Radio Woolly podcast, Gayle Wald and Jennifer Nelson reflect on the inspiration, structure, and significance Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun – an influence for Bruce Norris’ Clybourne Park.
Gayle Wald is the Chair of the Department of English at George Washington University. Jennifer Nelson is the Director of Special Programming at Ford’s Theatre and directed African Continuum Theatre’s 2006 production of A Raisin in the Sun.
Why would you move into a neighborhood where everyone looks different from you? As Woolly prepares to open Clybourne Park, staff members Augie and Rachel speak with Rachel’s neighbors about the changing faces of their community in DC’s Petworth neighborhood.
Visit this page throughout March and April for the complete Radio Woolly series for Clybourne Park. Podcasts will address topics from the culture and economics of home ownership, to the design concept for the production, and feature candid interviews with District residents, activists, artists, developers, and entrepreneurs. Partners in production and featured speakers include: DC Historical Society; Gayle Wald, George Washington University; Ellie Walton, Co-Director of independent film Chocolate City; Mark McInturff, McInturff Architects; Jennifer Nelson, playwright, director, current Director of Special Programming at Ford’s Theatre actress, and former Artistic Director of African Continuum Theatre Company; Jefferson Russell, Baltimore-based actor appearing in Clybourne Park.
During the 30th Anniversary Season, we're serving free fortune cookies at all our show in our lobby. Inside each of them is a question about what the play means to you. For Clybourne Park, we’re breaking out these questions in advance.
Who keeps the peace in your community?
How well do you know your neighbors? How well do they know you?
Which surroundings make you feel uncomfortable?
Which differences are hardest to transcend: Race? Class? (Dis)ability? Politics?
Why did you decide to live where you do?
What history is contained in your home?
Got some thoughts to share on these now? Email us now your honest, uncensored, imaginative response to email@example.com. We'll anonymously post our favorite ones on the website and on our blog. The most unconventional responses will win Woolly Mammoth T-shirt or tickets to a Woolly show!
Check out our patrons' answers on our cookie page.
Program Note: Raisin’s Children
Kristin Leahey, Production Dramaturg
During the cool Chicago summer of 1937, the Hansberrys moved to 6140 Rhodes Avenue. Upon their arrival a mob of white neighbors greeted the black family in an attempt to convince them to leave. At dusk, in response to the all but genial welcoming from the “improvement association,” Mrs. Nannie Hansberry fired a P08 pistol into the temperate Chicago sky. The crowd dispersed – at least for that evening. Shortly thereafter, a neighbor hurled a rock through the Hansberry’s front window, which nearly hit one of the family’s four young children. Although the rock missed Lorraine Hansberry’s skull, the incident propelled the NAACP and Carl Hansberry, a leading civil rights litigator and the family’s patriarch, to file a lawsuit to combat legal segregation in the north. In 1940, the Supreme Court ruled in Hansberry’s favor on a technicality, while declining to publically address the housing issues in America’s most segregated city: Chicago.
As a result of Shelley v. Kramer (1948), the Court openly declarednorthern residential segregation unconstitutional. Perhaps the 1946 occurrences of twenty-seven bombings and a demonstration of over 5,000 people to keep blacks out of a Chicago public housing project contributed to this ruling. Violence attributed to racial discord continued to ravage the Windy City. Between 1956 and 1958 alone, the Chicago Tribune reported 250 incidents of racial violence, a total that included at least thirty-eight arson cases. Yet, in 1959 the first Broadway play by an African American female graced the New York stage. Mirroring the many traumatic events she experienced and witnessed as a child in Chicago, Lorraine Hansberry introduced the world to her world – with A Raisin in the Sun.
In the play, matriarch Lena Younger lives with her extended family in a cramped apartment on Chicago’s South Side. Following the death of her hard working husband, she receives an insurance check for $10,000 and surprises the family by placing a down payment on a house located in Clybourne Park, an affordable white neighborhood. Karl Lindner, a representative from the neighborhood association, visits the family and tells them that the association has offered to buy the house back at a higher price in order to prevent the black family from moving in. In the play's final scene, Walter Lee, the family’s son, explains to Lindner that he comes from a line of plain and proud people and that the Youngers will move into their new home because their father “earned it for us brick by brick.”
Critics and audiences alike lauded the play for its intimate and authentic representation of black life during the mid-twentieth century, as well as its universal appeal to multiethnic audiences. Americans could identity with the Youngers, the play’s central family, and their search for the American dream. In her creation, Hansberry first and foremost desired to expose audiences to the racial inequality found in the north spurred by endemic residential segregation. In an interview with Studs Terkel, Hansberry noted, “[N]ot only is this a Negro family, specifically and definitely culturally, but it’s not even a New York family or a southern Negro family. It is specifically a Southside Chicago [family].” The scholar and playwright Amiri Baraka contends that white America appropriated the play, rendering it a story of class mobility. Baraka urges for its reclamation as a work depicting blacks striving to defeat segregation. Even if the play’s universalisms clarify or overshadow Hansberry’s principal argument, the classic continues to resonate with generations of new audiences and artists, inspire questions of identity and community, and draw attention to the fact that racial conflict remains a part of the American psyche.
Nearly fifty years after the opening of Hansberry’s revolutionary play, the term “post-racial” entered the American consciousness with the 2008 election of the U.S.’s first African American President. Yet, in February 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder remarked in respect to the dialogue regarding race, “Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot in things racial, we have always been, and we, I believe, continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.” Similar to the Youngers, many families today scratch and claw to attain the American Dream, while many individuals, in part because of discrimination, fail to reach it. Although Hansberry stirs a universalizing sense of hope in audiences, she instills a portentous message delivered by Karl Linder: “I sure hope you know what you people are getting into.” Upon moving into a primarily white neighborhood the Youngers, the Hansberrys, and their new neighbors approach a precipice of uncertainty. As a nation, still struggling with racial tension, we also now meet at a threshold of both daunting and hopeful uncertainty.
Interview with Bruce Norris.
KL: Why write a play connected to A Raisin in the Sun?
BN: I was obsessed with that play when I was a kid. I especially liked the scene in which Lena slaps Beneatha. I liked anything with violence in it, particularly if it was violence around ideas. God. Religion. I first saw the play when I was 12, right around the time that I was starting to hate authority so I loved that scene. Even though the scene is the imposition of authority onto Beneatha, still I really loved the play. I was always regretful that I never got to play Karl Lindner so I thought I’ll just give him some more to do. That’s a way of getting to play that part indirectly.
KL: Could you talk about the location of the play?
BN: For designers, actors, and the director’s purposes, the play is set in Chicago in terms of being connected to the Hansberry play. Obviously there are cities all around the country where the exact same thing happened. Detroit. DC. I never wanted to write a play about the racial history of Chicago, that actually is a topic that is too specific and local and it doesn’t interest me.
KL: Can you talk about the power of language in your work?
BN: I think that this play, like a couple of other plays of mine, specifically The Pain and the Itch, has a lot to do with how people try to subtly manipulate language in order to persuade people to be on their side. Especially in the second act, it’s about the way that people stake out their territory by using certain kinds of rhetorical tropes and figures of speech that they think will work as code to persuade someone else to their point of view.
KL: How has growing up in Chicago and going to school there influenced your writing?
BN: I had my adulthood in Chicago, but my childhood was Texas. Chicago influenced me in a way as a writer because I tend to write things that are ensemble driven and I emphasize acting over larger literary considerations. I like to create situations in which it can feel as though the actors are spontaneously improvising something. It’s all strictly mapped out as dialogue, but I like to create that illusion because that’s what was modeled for me in Chicago by Steppenwolf, Organic Theatre Company, all of the companies that came and went or stayed were based on ensembles.
"According to Woolly's mission, we seek to 'ignite an explosive engagement between theatre artists and the community.' What would it mean to have a truly explosive engagement among our artists, our audiences, and our city at large? Theatre is not politics, morality, or social critique. But it is a form of entertainment that deals with all these - through language, story, metaphor, humor, horror. Western theatre began in ancient Greece as an exercise in democratic expression. How could we forge a deeper connection between theatre today and the democracy whose Capitol is just a few blocks away? This is our question for the next thirty years. Stay tuned."
-Howard Shalwitz, Artistic Director