Theater department premieres play revealing racist housing policies of the past

Theater department premieres play revealing racist housing policies of the past
The stage is set on opening night of “From Behind the Sun” at the Whitney Theater in Minneapolis on Friday, Feb. 21, 2019. The play is a co-production of Metropolitan State University and Minneapolis Community and Technical College. Photo by Margot Barry

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Across America, for decades, mortgage companies kept people of color from moving into all-white neighborhoods. A new play that delineates this old, ugly practice of redlining will see its premiere in a student production on the Whitney stage.

“It [the play] is timely, unfortunately, but hopefully it will lead to a larger conversation,” said Brian Grandison, director of “From Behind the Sun.”

He is leading the play as a joint production of Metro State’s Theater Underground and Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC). The play premieres February 21 at the Whitney Fine Arts Center at MCTC.

“From Behind the Sun” was co-written by Twin Cities playwright and musician Stanley Kipper, with Laura Drake. It was developed and workshopped at the Playwrights’ Center, a Minneapolis-based arts organization that promotes the creation of new plays.

The story is a personal one for Kipper, based on the experiences of Kipper’s family when they sought to move to south Minneapolis in the 1950s.

Center stage is the character Obie Kipper, the playwright’s grandfather. He finds the perfect house, only to have a racist redline drawn by the banks to keep him from purchasing it.

“Redlining is the practice of denying a creditworthy applicant a loan for housing in a certain neighbor­hood even though the applicant may otherwise be eligible for the loan. The term refers to the presumed practice of mortgage lenders of drawing red lines around portions of a map to indicate areas or neighborhoods in which they do not want to make loans.”

From “Federal Fair Lending Regulations and Statutes Fair Housing Act Consumer Compliance Handbook,” 2006

But the play is more than personal—it speaks to public policy too.

The script sheds light on redlining’s pernicious impact on American cities. Minneapolis still bears the marks of mortgagers who coded neighborhoods according to housing loan risk. It was just a mask for their true aim: keeping black families out of white neighborhoods.

The student cast participated in the script’s development and revision. They were guided by Grandison, MCTC theater faculty, and producer-dramaturg Professor Gail Smogard of Metro State’s theater department.

After casting in November, the actors and crew got right to work with regular read-throughs. They reviewed every detail, every word of the script, said Grandison.

“With this subject, it is particularly important to show the issues that stem from forced inequality,” he said. “If you redline, inequalities occur.”

By showing on stage—not simply telling in a textbook—“From Behind the Sun” conveys both the historical and human impact of redlining.

“This is an over-60-year old story about strong individuals, and the challenges they faced,” Smogard said. “It still resonates today.”

Evening performances of “From Behind the Sun” are Feb. 21-23, and March 1 at 7 p.m.; matinees at 1 p.m. Feb. 23 and Mar. 2 at the Whitney Fine Arts Center Theater at MCTC, 1424 Yale Place.

Admission is free. Audience members are encouraged to bring a non-perishable food item to donate to the food shelf.

Parking is available in the Hennepin Avenue ramp. Persons with disabilities who need reasonable accommodation to participate in the event should contact the Center for Accessibility Resources at 651-793-1549, TTY 651-772-7687 or email accessibility.resources@metrostate.edu.

For more information on “From Behind the Sun,” email anna.branstner@metrostate.edu

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