A Theatre’s Place in the City

It is 8’clock pm on a Saturday night. As I walk with my friend through the dimly lit parking lot, I think to myself, ‘I am so happy I was able to get a ride here.’ I feel uneasy as we walk down an ally between two houses to finally arrive at the theatre doors. I breath a sigh of relieve as I finally enter The Palace Theatre to see A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry.

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A view from my seat and the program for ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ at The Palace Theatre.

A Raisin in the Sun presents the Younger family, an African American family living in a worn down small apartment in Chicago. Each member of the family has a dream, but the main focus of the plot is the dream of both Ruth Younger and her mother-in-law, Lena Younger (Mama), for the family to move into a house. The play begins with the family inheriting insurance money after the passing of Mama’s husband (also Walter and Beneatha’s father). Mama uses some of the money to buy the family a house in Clybourne Park. The problem is, as Ruth points out, “[T]here ain’t no coloured people living in Clybourne Park” (Hansberry 93). Hansberry touches on themes of race, identity, family and the challenge African Americans face while pursuing the American dream.

I saw the performance of A Raisin in the Sun for a drama class. After seeing the performance, my professor handed out a participation assignment. One question on the assignment asked about the location of The Palace Theatre. How did we feel going to this location? How did the location of the theatre align with the feelings of the Younger family’s move to Clybourne Park? These questions made me think, but not in the way my professor was looking for. I began reflecting on a striking moment of my experience, which comes from what Jen Harvie discusses in Theatre & The City as the concept of cultural materialism.

In Theatre & The City, Jen Harvie lists examples of cultural materialism in relation to a theatre’s “space, institutional structures and practices, money and people” (24-25). Harvie quotes Marvin Carlson to further explain elements of cultural materialism: “‘The entire theatre, its audience arrangements, its other public spaces, its physical appearance, even its location within a city, are all important elements of the process by which an audience makes meaning of its experience’” (24). Carlson suggests that an experience with theatre is about more than simply the performance.

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The exterior of The Palace Theatre in London Ontario (from lfpress.com).

My experience of unease walking up to The Palace Theatre doors is an example of Carlson’s description. The Palace Theatre is located in a low socioeconomic area in London, Ontario, and students are warned not go there during the night. The stigma around the area known as “east of Adelaide” is not discussed in great detail but is simply known; it can hinder a student’s opinion of the Palace Theatre. I will note that The Palace Theatre has deep historical connections to the city of London.
However, as Harvie mentions, “the signification of locations can shift” (26). On the other hand, the centrally located Grand Theatre in London is positioned on what students call ‘Richmond Row.’ The juxtaposition of The Grand Theatre’s central location in comparison to The Palace Theatre’s location creates favouritism for students when they are deciding where to see local London theatre.

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The exterior of The Grand Theatre in London Ontario (from London Tourism Media).

Nevertheless, it is The Palace Theatre that offers the London Community Players, whereas The Grand Theatre often hosts travelling productions. The Palace Theatre offers a true London-run theatre experience, while The Grand Theatre cannot always promise a local London experience for students new to the area. As a theatre lover and student, my hope is for students to visit The Palace Theatre where classic and important plays such as Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun are performed. Apart from my class attending A Raisin in the Sun, there were not many students in the audience at the Palace. I hope with time ‘the signification’ of The Palace Theatre’s location will shift, building students’ comfort level so they can visit a theatre rooted in London’s history and with local actors onstage.

Works Cited

Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun. Vintage Books, 1994.

Harvie, Jen. Theatre & The City. Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

Sarah Gilpin is a fourth-year English Language & Literature and Theatre Studies student at Western University and is pursuing a career in education.

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Taking my passion to a new destination

During this time of heart shaped chocolates, flowers, and romance I feel compelled to reflect on my lifelong partner. My appreciation post this Valentine’s Day is for a companion of mine that has been part of my life since 2000: theatre. I was first acquainted with theatre in Toronto at a production of The Lion King. Since then theatre and I have had a strong relationship. No matter where I go I will always make sure to see theatre. While my passion has continued to flourish in university, as a fourth year student I feel it is now time to expand beyond my comfort zone by experiencing theatre in a new culture, with new friends and as a global citizen.

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I first met theatre with my mom and aunt in 2000.

Since that first encounter in 2000, I have experienced theatre in many different roles. I am always an avid audience member, of course. Every year at Christmas time my family and I see a production at Theatre Aquarius in Hamilton. After the production we have dinner and discuss in detail what we saw, from stand-out actors to interesting props or costume choices. At Western, I continue to develop my analytical skills as a student in the Theatre Studies program.

 

My time at Western has also given me opportunities to be a hands-on part of many productions. In high school I did participate in theatre performances; however they were not as frequent as the shows that are put on at Western and in the overall London community. I have had the pleasure of working on two productions for the English department at Western. For the 2015 production of Women Beware Women I was the Assistant Stage Manager, Props Mistress, and I played small character roles of a servant, citizen and lord. Last fall I was the Stage Manager for the production of Q1 Hamlet. I am currently working on the Arts and Humanities Students’ Council production of Antigone as an Assistant Stage Manager.

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The costume warehouse at the Stratford Festival Archives in Stratford, ON.

 

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Me with the cast of Women Beware Women, backstage at the McManus Theatre in London, ON.

 

Although my relationship with theatre began in 2000, my love for classical Shakespearian theatre began last year in the classroom. In affiliation with Western, this past summer I took courses at the Stratford Festival in Ontario. The classes gave me the opportunity to tour the Stratford Festival Archives, costume warehouse, meet iconic Stratford actors and of course see a lot of Shakespeare. My interest in Destination Theatre comes from the opportunity to explore famous Shakespearian sights, such as the Globe Theatre and in Stratford-Upon-Avon, and to witness a production by the Royal Shakespeare Company. I also hope my time in England will allow me to engage with new types of theatre that, like my experience with Shakespeare, will help me grow as an engaged audience member who, as Helen Freshwater says in her book Theatre & Audience, “‘link[s] what they see with what they have seen and told, done and dreamed’” (17). Likewise, I want to see how Canadian productions of Shakespeare are similar to yet also completely different from the shows we will see in England.

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Trying on costumes during our warehouse tour of the Stratford Festival Archives!

I will admit my biggest fear is the long plane ride to England. I have never experienced a plane ride longer than two hours! However, I know the destination will be well worth the fearful journey. I have also never travelled outside of North America and cannot wait to experience a new culture. I look forward to the moments England will challenge my comfort zone and help me grow as an individual seeking adventure in the name of my passion: theatre.

Sarah Gilpin is a fourth-year English Language & Literature and Theatre Studies student at Western University and is pursuing a career in education.