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DEBUT OF THE MONTH - Crystal A. Dickinson of CLYBOURNE PARK

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Actress Crystal A. Dickinson is currently making her Broadway debut in the dual roles of 'Francine/Lena' in Bruce Norris' Pulitzer Prize winning play Clybourne Park. The production opened at the Walter Kerr Theatre on April 19, 2012.

Clybourne Park is the wickedly funny and fiercely provocative new play that explodes in two outrageous acts set 50 years apart. Act One takes place in 1959, as nervous community leaders anxiously try to stop the sale of a home to a black family. Act Two is set in the same house in the present day, as the now predominantly African-American neighborhood battles to hold its ground in the face of gentrification. Clybourne Park has been nominated for a 2012 Tony Award for Best Play.

Dickinson starred in Clybourne Park'S world premiere at Playwrights Horizons in 2010 and just completed a critically acclaimed pre-Broadway engagement at Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. Her other Off-Broadway credits include Lincoln Center's Broke-ology; Manhattan Theater Club's Ruined; Signature Theatre's The First Breeze of Summer (AUDELCO Nomination); Soho Rep's Born Bad (AUDELCO Nomination); Negro Ensemble Company's Sun Down Names and Night Gone Things (AUDELCO Nomination). On TV, the actress has appeared in Tyler Perry’s House of Payne.

In a recent chat with BWW, Dickinson explained how this poignant play manages to invoke a serious discussion about race relations in America while delivering a big dose of laughter at the same time. 

Congratulations on the huge success of Clybourne Park.

Thank you so much. I enjoy doing it for sure!

I'd like to start by asking how your passion for theater developed?

Well my oldest sister danced and I used to go to her recitals and I would watch her and think, 'Oh my gosh, it looks so fun!' and I wanted to just wear a costume. I remember thinking it would be so nice to wear a costume and people would clap. When I went to high school, I started to do plays there, mostly because I was a little shy and out of my element and thought it would be a good way to make friends. And so I did musicals but went to college still not thinking that I would like to study theater. But in college I met a professor, Deirdre Yates, who really got me excited about the theater and she coached me and that was it - I was off to graduate school for acting. I went to Seton Hall University for undergraduate studies. They have a surround theater, which is not a typical theater, so I basically went to graduate school not even knowing what 'Stage Right' was. (laughing) We were more like '12 o'clock, 2 o'clock …'

Well I guess you'd do well at Circle in the Square.

Yes! I'm very comfortable in all spaces now!

I understand you used 'Clybourne Park' in an audition workshop you taught at the University of Illinois. 

Yes. At that time I knew I had the part in Clybourne Park, but we hadn't worked on it yet - we hadn't begun rehearsals yet. I went back to my graduate school to do this audition workshop and I wanted to take some new plays with me. I thought 'let me take 'Clybourne Park'. Some of the scenes younger people could work on and it seemed like a play that the younger people could connect to. I also wanted to make sure the students were knowing what was going around New York City at the time. And I thought the play was good when I read it, but once I saw the students put it up, and actually say the words, I was like 'Man, this play is really funny and really good!' It's one of those plays that really comes alive on a stage. Seeing it is a treat.

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