Culture & Entertainment Notebook: Showtime, NBC actress to direct River Campus' 'Raisin in the Sun'

Friday, April 13, 2018 ~ Updated 6:58 AM
Tyla Abercrumbie directs a rehearsal of "Raisin in the Sun" in the Rust Flexible Theatre at Southeast Missouri State University's River Campus on Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Cape Girardeau.
BEN MATTHEWS

Actress Tyla Abercrumbie -- star of Showtime's television series "The Chi" and NBC's "Shrink" -- has journeyed to Cape Girardeau to direct Southeast Missouri State University's performance of "Raisin in the Sun" April 18 through 22.

Abercrumbie is well versed in the world of show business and aims to share her experience with students at the River Campus for the next few weeks.

She currently is featured on the popular dating show "Easy," which she says is "doing really well" with it entering its third season -- but has found time to visit Southeast Missouri.

Abercrumbie has always been intrigued with show business but came from a financially poor family, so she says the arts "never entered" her household.

"I have friends whose parents exposed them to the arts, but mine never did," Abercrumbie says.

Jay Wade plays Walter Lee Younger during a rehearsal of "A Rasin in the Sun" in the Rust Flexible Theatre at Southeast Missouri State University's River Campus on Tuesday in Cape Girardeau.
BEN MATTHEWS

Abercrumbie would instead spend her time writing and reading. "Raisin in the Sun" was one of the first pieces she read. Her oldest sister, who was in high school at the time, would have Abercrumbie read her books, which is where her career began.

She never enrolled in drama classes in high school because theater "just wasn't a reasonable career choice" for Abercrumbie.

"Then when I got to university. I decided that if I was going to attend school and pay for it, I may as well do what I want," Abercrumbie says. "So for a hot minute I registered for accounting, then dropped all of that and changed schools, because that would've been a nightmare."

Soon after, Abercrumbie said she began participating in community theatre in college. Once she acquired an agent, she started doing commercial, TV, and print work "and it just started unfolding" from there.

Abercrumbie says when she attended Wayne State, a friend invited her to University of West Florida as a guest artist to perform with the students and work with them on their production of "Raisin in the Sun."

She now she has the privilege of coaching students once again -- on the campus of Southeast. Her mentor, Ron Parson, who is also a friend of Southeast assistant professor of theatre Bart Williams, brought her to Southeast.

"And Ron is a stage director. He and I have worked on 'Raisin in the Sun' several times," Abercrumbie says. "A couple times, me as an actor, then once as his assistant director."

About 'Raisin'

Jay Wade, junior at Southeast, has been involved with theater since freshman year and portrays Walter Lee Younger -- son of "momma Lena Younger" -- in the play.

"He's trying to make a better life for his family and himself," Wade says. "He kind of falls into that middle class ideology where money and materialism is the way that you achieve happiness."

Wade says his character goes through the struggle of "trying to achieve that happiness" out of desperation.

"Whenever it's in his grasp, it's suddenly taken away from him," Wade says.

Wade relates to the play through the portrayal of family ties. He also finds that the thought of money being "sadly an important thing to achieve happiness" and strives to debunk that throughout the entirety of the play.

And be sure to "expect a lot of realness," Wade says.

"These characters are real, living people. It's all about life and more life and having eternal life," Wade says.

Southeast sophomore Alexia Buchner -- who portrays Benetha Younger -- has worked with the River Campus and its productions for the last two years.

"I got involved with theater my sophomore year of high school. I've been doing it for about six years now, Buchner says.

Buchner describes her character as "a very strong willed, activist during the entire show," and attributes that to the story being set in the late 1950s, which she says, "is borderline '60s, when civil rights activism was on the brink of happening."

"That makes me very outspoken, energetic and unafraid to really speak for the cause," Buchner says.

Buchner says that correlates with her life because as a society, "we're still dealing with some of those same issues right now."

She says it's really great to portray someone in a college environment where they feel like they always have to be a part of something. She "channels" that same energy, excitement, urge and desire to make change and funnels that into her character on stage.

Buchner says it's very important to understand how people of color were living at the time versus the "middle-class, white, affluent families."

"It's very real, and I appreciate that we can just kind of crack that can open because it's not just glittery, glamorous effects; there's humanity to it," Buchner says.

Aalayah Norwood, Southeast sophomore who portrays Ruth Younger, says she "wants to be an actress."

"I just want to get my creativity out there," Norwood says.

She labels her character as the caretaker of the family and "the person who basically tries to make sure everyone stays calm and collected."

One thing Norwood hopes audiences take away from the production is that "black people are people just like everybody else."

"We are normal, we have our ups and downs, and that shouldn't change anything, really. We should just be able to live our lives," Norwood says.

"Raisin in the Sun" will be performed at the Southeast River Campus April 18 through 22 and tickets may be purchased by calling (573) 651-2265 or at RiverCampus.org.

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