Jessi Johnson Joins R-MC cast for A Raisin in the Sun

The domestic tragedy, A Raisin in the Sun, has been gracing Broadway stages since 1959. The Randolph-Macon College Drama Department recently had three showings of the play as a senior directing project for Jasmine Shepard ’15.

The play follows the Younger family as they try and build themselves a better life as a result of a $10,000 insurance policy they receive from the death of patriarch Walter Younger before the play begins. As an African-American family in the 1950s in Chicago, the Youngers show how to combat discrimination and pave the way for future generations of African-Americans.

Last year, actors at R-MC presented a staged reading of the play. While Shepard was not able to attend the staged reading, she was able to present the play in a very realistic and authentic representation, “Unfortunately, I was unable to see the live reading of Raisin that was done last year because I was traveling abroad. I heard that it was very well done however, this play is very realistic and I feel that you would not be able to grasp the true themes and meanings behind the lines of characters when the actors have a script in their hands,” said Shepard. “It is very similar to a comparison of reading the play together as a class and viewing a film of it afterwards. There are very different feelings being captured through the readers in the class compared to the characters on the screen for each rendition.”

For this year’s production, the Drama department brought on a professional actress to perform with students, Jessi Johnson. In an email sent to R-MC students about the production, Professor Foster Solomon said he was very excited to have Johnson in the production in the role as Mama, “Jessi’s a wonderful actor who has played a wide variety of roles; most recently, she portrayed Maggie Walker in

The Maggie Walker Storyfor Virginia Repertory Theatre. She’s a multi-talented performer, who sings, write and acts. We’re thrilled to have her join our cast,” said Solomon.

Johnson herself has been singing since she was five years old and took a special interest in theater when she started schooling,

“I study theatre performance at Longwood University and began my professional career with Virginia Repertory Theatre,” said Johnson. “I’ve been acting professionally for about 5 years now, and I’m very blessed to have had the opportunity to work with such great theaters as Virginia Rep, Cadence Theatre Company, and TheatreLAB.”

Johnson was very excited to work with R-MC students and faculty on the production and had some words of advice for students currently pursuing theater, “Other my own college performances, this is my first experience working with another college/university. It’s been a very exhilarating experience that I’ve learned so much from,” said Johnson.

“My favorite part of working on this production has been my interaction with the students. These individuals are truly talented and it’s amazing to see the growth and innovation put into every single performance! My advice for students currently in theatre programs would be to keep your head up! Dig deep, do good consistent work, and your work ethic will speak volumes for you,” said Johnson.

Shepard for her part enjoyed working on the production, even during the stressful times, “working with A Raisin in the Sunwas challenging and exciting all wrapped up together. It was my first experience directing a production as large as this and I feel that I have grown and gained a great deal of knowledge from the experience,” said Shepard.

Shepard was also thrilled to work with Johnson during the production, along with the other actors, “Working with Jessi was such an interesting experience! I really enjoyed having the opportunity to work with an individual that knew more about how theatre works outside of the educational setting. I feel that my actors really benefited from her presence on the set and I believe that we have become very close friends through the process.”

Johnson also had a vision of what she hopes viewers will take away from the production, “I’m hoping that people will take away from this production the unending message of hope. No matter what your circumstances are, who you are, or where you come from, there is always hope to progress and make a better tomorrow for yourself.”

-Naoko Branker ’15, Editor in Chief

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