The Black Ensemble Theater's Fight Against Racism
Living The Black Renaissance (A Musical Resistance Against Racism) delivers a powerful, compelling message
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DURING its celebrated history, the Black Ensemble Theater has been at the forefront in sharing the African-American story through theater presentations designed to entertain, educate and communicate its mission of eradicating racism. While capturing the spirit of the black community and generating conversation about its experience, Black Ensemble has been among the best––if not the best––as a vehicle to deliver a compelling message about the struggles, trials and tribulations of a people.
The theater is not only continuing that legacy but it is taking it a step further with the world premiere presentation of Living The Black Renaissance: A Musical Resistance Against Racism, a musical and historical depiction of what African Americans have gone through in a country where racism has long been and continues to be a part of its fabric.
Written and directed by Jackie Taylor, Black Ensemble’s founder and CEO, and running through November 19, the presentation––from slavery to Obama to Trump––is, Taylor says, one step toward the healing process that hopefully will lead to understanding, respect and the view that differing cultures must learn to live together as one race––the human race. “Living The Black Renaissance is funny, musical, educational, historical and it gives me great pride as a black woman; it gives me great pride to be a human being,” she says. “It gives me great pride that we at Black Ensemble are able to infiltrate, communicate and bring together people of all colors and kinds so that we can understand and respect each other. That’s what Living The Black Renaissance is going to do. It’s going to help us focus on the fact that we are all human beings and we need to be working together.”
Working as part of this groundbreaking presentation is a skilled cast that features Michael Adkins, Brian Boller, Jana’ah Coates, Rueben Echoles, Lemond Hayes, Wendell Jackson, Dwight Neal, Linnea Norwood, Rhonda Preston, LeKeya Shearrill, Henri Slater, Lynn Solar and Levi Stewart. In this historical movement through song and dance, the production also features live musicians, including musical director Robert Reddrick, (drums) Adam Sherod (piano), Mark Miller (bass) and Gary Baker (guitar).
Living The Black Renaissance is Black Ensemble’s continuation of focusing on the fight against racism. As part of the momentum leading up to the Living The Black Renaissance premiere, Taylor, Black Ensemble and Steppenwolf Theatre came together days earlier for “Highlighting Racism,” a night of programming at Black Ensemble to “fight the isms” and try to understand the systemic process of racism and oppression. The evening of theater and performance and exchanges of ideas brought together representatives from Teatro Vista, About Face Theatre, Black Ensemble Theater, Her Story Theatre, Firebrand Theatre, A-Squared Theatre and several black corporate executives.
Since it was founded in 1976, Black Ensemble’s mission has been to eradicate racism through theater because theater, Taylor says, is a transformative method of communication that can impact individuals in a way that can facilitate their emotions, their thought process and their ability to understand how much more alike we are than we are different. “[Theater] shows us how we can respect those small differences and celebrate our sameness as human beings,” she says. “But solving the racism problem is going to take way beyond my lifetime to happen.”
Perhaps Living The Black Renaissance will accelerate that process by uplifting, inspiring and motivating individuals to, first, recognize the atrocity of racism and then begin to work to create a world where racism cannot exist. That’s Taylor’s hope and mission, one that she knows will not come easily, but she’s encouraged by some apparent changes she has seen in people’s attitudes.
Jackie Taylor is nothing if not persistent. She exhibited that during her extensive, nonstop campaign to generate funds that led to the November 18, 2011, opening of The Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center. Not surprisingly, she is just as committed to the fight against racism and, she says, Living The Black Renaissance is an important part of that fight. “Because of the climate within in our society today, now is the time! Living The Black Renaissance has difficult moments because the racism pill is a very difficult pill to swallow,” she says. “In order to solve our societal issues, we must be able to confront those issues. And that is the purpose of Living The Black Renaissance (A Musical Resistance Against Racism”).
"There are people who give me hope every day––those people who are joining in this mission of eradicating racism, those people who already understand that we have to recognize our greatness as human beings and embrace the strength of who we are. As I see the devastation that racism has caused, I also see the other side of it, with people having a new attitude of not wanting to be a part of this whirlwind of negativity."
–– Jackie Taylor
Jackie Taylor's new play at Black Ensemble Theater tackles the continuing problem of racism in America with hopes of eventually eliminating it.
Cast members in Living The Black Renaissance (A Musical Resistance Against Racism).
Tickets are available at the Black Ensemble Box Office located at 4450 N. Clark Street in Chicago, or online at www.blackensemble.org, or by phone at (773) 769-4451. Tickets are $45 for previews; $55 (Thursdays and Saturday matinees) and $65 (Fridays, Saturday evenings and Sunday matinees). There is a 10 percent discount for students, seniors and groups.