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If you like Lloyd Richards's story, you might also like:
Edward Albee,
Benjamin S. Carson,
Jeremy Irons,
James Earl Jones,
Quincy Jones,
Audra McDonald,
Trevor Nunn,
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and Twyla Tharp

Lloyd Richards also appears in the video:
Passion, Creativity and the Arts: A Mirror on Society

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Lloyd Richards in the Achievement Curriculum section:
From Dance to Drama

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Lloyd Richards
 
Lloyd Richards
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Lloyd Richards Interview

Tony Award-Winning Director

February 15, 1991
New Haven, Connecticut

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  Lloyd Richards

You've had such an extraordinary career, directing the original production of Raisin In the Sun, and the first plays of August Wilson. None of these were safe choices at the time. It sounds to me that taking chances, risk, is built into your life and your profession. How important is that?


Lloyd Richards: It's built into your life. If you aspire at all, you're taking a risk. If you aspire as a young black person to something where there is not a beaten path, you're taking a risk. So risk is nothing new in your life. But then, some risks cost more than others, and I guess those are the ones that you recognize as risks. But all of life is a risk. You try and achieve whatever you as an individual human being can achieve. To make that attempt is a risk. I guess I never decided to take risks with my life, I just had no choice.

[ Key to Success ] Courage


You take risks, whether they be small ones or whether they be large ones.

Was A Raisin in the Sun a risk? Was that taking a chance?


Lloyd Richards: Raisin in the Sun was a big risk. Not necessarily for me, it was for a lot of other people. Of course, I was putting a lot on the line. Raisin in the Sun happened in a strange way. As a struggling actor, you meet many other struggling actors. I do remember Sidney Poitier as an actor you meet making the rounds, when you're both quite broke. I recall sharing a hot dog with Sidney, because neither one of us could afford to have a whole one by yourself. He had come to study for a while where I was teaching. I was teaching with Paul Mann at his actor's workshop. I assisted him for quite a while, and then began to teach with him and Sidney came. He said to me one day, "If I ever do a major Broadway show, I want you to direct it." That's something said in the middle of the night -- which would have been over a beer if you could afford one, but it only was fantasy or an aspect of a dream. And some dreams come true. I remember getting a call from Sidney which was at a time when Sidney had begun to make it, he was making films. That's the difference between Sidney and I. Sidney was six feet-something tall, a thin, attractive man. He could play leading roles. I was always a character man and had to accept the fact that my future was in the future, that I would probably get to do some of the roles that I had done in college when I got to be 62 or 70 years old, or whatever. I was short. I wouldn't say that I was unattractive, no one would say that. I guess I had a certain amount of charm. But there were no roles for young character black people at that time. Sidney had gone ahead and made it, and I was teaching and doing what I could do to stay alive in the theater. That's what I found. I have to stay alive in it. That's why I went back to directing, and I did all the other things that I could do, as well as act off-Broadway.


Lloyd Richards Interview Photo


Lloyd Richards: I did get the call from Sidney. He said he had read a wonderful play, which had been submitted to him that he wanted to do. And he wanted to suggest me to direct it. He sent me a copy of the script, which was A Raisin in the Sun. My wife and I read it that night, and we howled, and we cried; we had a wonderful time reading it. I told him I was interested. He said, "I'll arrange for you to meet the producer," which I did, Phil Rose. We hit it off. He arranged for me to meet the playwright, Lorraine Hansberry, and that was a wonderful experience, we hit it off. We decided, okay, let's do it. Well, that was an adventure. It certainly was an adventure, because that was not a good investment for anyone to make. We started out to try and do A Raisin in the Sun. Lorraine and I were rewriting the play, so we met once a week and talked about it, and Lorraine would work on it. I would challenge her to things, and she would top me in what she wrote. It was a wonderful year in that respect. It took that long to work on it. We weren't working on it simply because we wanted to work on it, we just could not get the money to produce it.


Lloyd Richards Interview Photo


Lloyd Richards: I remember spending hours and hours sitting in the anterooms of the Shubert Organization, trying to get a theater. There were no theaters. Investors did not consider that a play about a black family was something that would return its investment. In the time which began in about November through that whole spring and into the summer, we had been unable to raise the money, or a small portion of the money, and Phil Rose thought he was going to have to give up the show because suddenly there appeared a white producer, another white producer, who was an experienced one, but he wanted to take over the show. Now that meant that our working relationship with Phil, which had been excellent, would be interrupted by somebody else coming in with the most money and taking control. I was conscious of the fact that it jeopardized my possibility as a director. I'm an unknown, who was I to be directing this show? And I recall a moment with Phil, when he was deeply disturbed about his possibly losing the show. And if he did cut me in as a secondary producer, would we still retain our relationship with him? Of course we would do that, we had a wonderful working relationship. If I remained, the relationship would remain. Phil finally turned that producer away -- couldn't accept that. We went on, having backer's auditions, trying to raise some money. Producing a show like that is like going to the top of a toboggan slide; you can resist up to a certain point, but once you go over that first hump, you're going to the bottom, one way or another, whether you smash up in a tree or turn over. You are going all the way, once you make that commitment. Well, there were some contracts that had been signed. Sidney had been signed, and had to be paid starting at a certain point. In September, when we were supposed to go into rehearsal, we couldn't go into rehearsal. Sidney was working on a film. He was supposed to be through, but we got the call that the set had burned down, and they were going to have a delay in the film. So we were going to have to delay. We very quietly rejoiced about that, because it gave more time to raise money which, eventually, we did.


Lloyd Richards Interview Photo
That show probably had more backers than any show previously produced on Broadway. We ended up a year later, in December, going into rehearsal, just having made enough. We had scheduled four days in New Haven, a week in Philadelphia, and had nothing past that. So the possibility was that we would go into rehearsal, we would open in New Haven, get to Philadelphia, and then have to close, because we had no theater. We didn't have the money to stay alive. So, we went to rehearsal. Had a wonderful rehearsal, had a great cast, a wonderful group of people. Sidney, Ruby Dee, Diana Sands, excellent actors were involved in that play.


Lloyd Richards: We did a lot of work on the play in rehearsal. Cut 45 minutes out, cut one character out, and we went to New Haven. I think the word started to float back to New York that possibly there was something that had some value there. We got to Philadelphia, opened to a little bit more than half a house, and by the fourth day, we were a sell-out. The Shuberts came and saw the show in Philadelphia, and said they did not have a theater for us in New York, but if we would go to Chicago for eight weeks, they would underwrite the show against loss, they would have a theater for us in New York, the Barrymore. I was just to the Barrymore, and saw another show there. It was wonderful to walk in the Barrymore, because some of the ushers, or some of the people who worked in the theater who'd been to the Barrymore a few times, they'd come up to you, and they'd say, "Oh, you're back." There is a family in the theatre and "How wonderful to have you back." It was wonderful to be in that theater again, because there is so much history in those theaters. It was an adventure. Well, in Chicago, for those eight weeks, Lorraine could only be there for opening. She was from Chicago. Her father was a real estate broker in Chicago, and evidently a very good one, a militant one, and he had taken the first restrictive covenant case to the Supreme Court, and won it. So all of the real estate interests in Chicago were against him. It was Lorraine's sense that actually that pressure had killed him, and she resented those interests for that. And of course, (she) inherited some property when he died. Well, when they found Lorraine was in town, there were all of these warrants that started to appear, and she had to leave town. We did our work on that play over the phone for eight weeks. I would work on the play, it would perform at night, and I would talk to Lorraine, make suggestions. She never saw that work, during that period, until we got back to New York. When we opened in New York, it was quite an exhilarating opening.


Can you tell what that felt like, opening in New York?


Lloyd Richards: Oh, I can recall Sidney calling Lorraine and I to the stage at the end of the show. And there was a large ovation. I remember going to Sardi's afterward, walking into Sardi's, and suddenly hearing applause. I looked around to see who the applause was for. And it was for me. Your peers acknowledging your work. And that was an accolade, a very moving experience.


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