It’s easy to think of the Westport Country Playhouse as one of the nice perks of living here: a renowned, venerable theater providing entertainment and enjoyment in comfortable surroundings.
Easy, but wrong.
The Playhouse is far more than that. During every run,there’s thoughtful, provocative auxiliary programming that adds so much more to the experience.
With the current production of “A Raisin in the Sun,” though, the Playhouse has reached new educational and contemplative heights.
The show — which since its 1959 Broadway debut has stirred audiences with its passionate, emotional portrayal of a black family striving for its piece of the American dream — is the springboard for a series of speakers, panels, educator workshops, student projects and other special events.
TEAM Westport — the town committee on multiculturalism — developed programming that began even before the first curtain rose. It runs through the final performance, on November 3.
Last month, a half-day workshop provided teachers with important techniques and resources to engage students in the rich tradition of African American literature. A feminist author spoke at the Westport Library, analyzing race, class and gender in the drama. The Unitarian Church hosted a discussion on its relevance today, and the Westport Arts Center exhibited powerful Chicago street photographs.
The show opened to great reviews, and many more events lie ahead.
- Director Phylicia Rashad talks about her long history with the play as an actor, director and African American woman (Sunday, Oct. 14).
- Steven R. Carter, author of a book about playwright Lorraine Hansberry, discusses the evolution of her life and art (Sunday, Oct. 21).
- There’s a post-matinee conversation on the theme of community (Oct. 28), and a talk-back with actors (Nov. 1).
- The film “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” will be screened on Oct. 29.
- A series of civil rights films — all made by Westporters Bill Buckley and Tracy Sugarman — are being shown on Wednesdays this month at the Senior Center.
- Before the show on Thursday, Oct. 18 and Nov. 1, the Playhouse will host family communal dinners. That’s on top of special pre-performance receptions for the LGBT community (last week) and young professionals (Oct. 19).
A collaboration with the Westport Arts Center and McGivney Center in Bridgeport features a student photo project that explores the power of autobiography, and the unique ways in which people experience the world. Images — taken with disposable cameras — are exhibited in the Playhouse lobby, and online.
The Playhouse is also working with students in an after-school program at the Carver Center in Norwalk on a creative writing project. The youngsters will attend a show, and see their work published on the Playhouse website.
There’s even more. But you get the idea.
The Westport Country Playhouse is far more than just a handsome theater. TEAM Westport is far more than just another town committee.
And the impact of the partnership between the two ripples far beyond the usual autumn audience, sitting comfortably in their familiar red seats.