Black Ensemble Theater’s new $16-million arts facility

Main Stage 2010-07-27 B

On Friday, September 10th

Black Ensemble Theater Breaks Ground on

 

New $16-million Performance Arts Facility

The 50,000 Square-Foot Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center expected to open in September 2011, will be Permanent Home in 34-Year History

With its expanded and enhanced capabilities, the Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center is designed to engage the community and encourage more holistic, positive critical thought about how African-Americans are seen and presented. The new facility will include amenities such as:

  • 300-seat main stage theater (double the capacity of the current venue)
  • 150-seat stage to serve niche audiences and smaller-scale productions
  • Classroom space that can be used by the community
  • Rehearsal hall and dance studio that will feature scene, costume and wardrobe rooms
  • Seven (7) dressing rooms
  • Work space for musicians
  • Expanded front lobby space with two concession areas
  • Indoor parking garage

The Black Ensemble Theater will mark the groundbreaking of its new $16 million performance arts and cultural facility, the Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center, at 4440 N. Clark Street, Sept. 10,  at 2 p.m. The ceremony, which is open to the public, will feature performances from popular Black Ensemble productions and include remarks from founder and executive director Jackie Taylor. Invited guests include: Governor Pat Quinn, Mayor Richard M. Daley, and Alderman Eugene Schulter. Actor Harry Lennix will chair the ceremony.

 

Scene from "My Brother's Keeper" Scene from "Nothing But The Blues"
Scene from "Nothing But The Blues" Scene from "My Brother's Keeper"

Chicago native Taylor founded the Black Ensemble Theater in 1976 with a mission to eradicate racism, merging her roles as actress and educator to build awareness and foster greater understanding of the African-American contribution to the cultural fabric of American history through theater. This charge is realized through outstanding, award-winning productions that attract highly diverse racial audiences as well as effective educational outreach programming that reaches more than 10,000 youth each year.

This is an exciting time in our history, as a new building will help to facilitate the resurgence of the theater as an authentic space where a great people can exist and thrive with autonomy while tearing down barriers and building bridges through storytelling,” Jackie Taylor said.  “Our Board of Directors and capital campaign committee have been diligent in raising more than 80 percent of the funds needed to build the Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center and we look forward to working with our patrons, community leaders and supporters to secure the $3 million needed to complete this important  project.”

Exterior 2010-08-06 B

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Jumping on the Blago bandwagon

blago Second City (and its TV spin-off “Saturday Night Live“) has always capitalized on current events, but it’s amazing that Second City was able to create an entire show, songs and all, in just a few wekks..  This super-funny and super-successful troupe birthed the show “Rod Blagojevich Superstar” – and when the first skit’s opening with the lyrics are:

“Rod Blagojevich Superstar, are you as nuts as we think you are?”,

you know you’re in for an evening of knee-capping and wise-cracking fun, all courtesy of our state’s coo-coo ex-governor.   

Created by Ed Furman (book writer) and T.J. Shanoff (music/lyrics), …Superstar has immediately fostered some great reviews.   For info and tickets, click here.

Review – "Hizzoner" at Beverly Arts Center

[This review submitted by Michael Fielding, editor of SouthwestObserver.com]

Hizzoner_button “This is a city of neighborhoods,” barks Neil Giuntoli, the man who has resurrected this city’s first big Daley, Richard J. “I can’t go changing the way people think.”

So begins Giuntoli’s production of “Hizzoner,” now staging an encore run at the Beverly Arts Center through Sunday.

The two-hour memory play chronicles the second half of the elder Daley’s 21-year run as mayor – a time that saw the rise of both Jesse Jackson and Jane Byrne, of his legendary bouts with the press (namely the late columnist Mike Royko), of the taut 1968 Democratic convention and of the rise and fall of the neighborhood pals invited into Daley’s inner circle.

It’s a portrait of the ethnic street gangs all grown up and inhabiting the penthouse of municipal politics – City Hall – at a time when the city’s Irish, Italians, Czechs, Polish and the rest found solace in their shared backgrounds and rewarded loyal behavior with honest-to-goodness patronage.

“Hizzoner” opened at Prop Thtr on the North Side nearly two years ago, but despite the city’s fascination with the Daley dynasty as a whole, there’s no doubt the production is at home in Beverly. In this city of neighborhoods, there’s only one place where they don’t ask what neighborhood you grew up in but what parish you grew up in. That’s right here on the South Side. Giuntoli’s characterization of Daley as the prolific altar boy no doubt is appreciated here more than anywhere else in Chicago.

He is at home in the heart of the city’s 19th Ward, where, to this day, there are politics behind the politics, and anyone who knows what’s good for him doesn’t miss Sunday Mass.

Giuntoli, a burly veteran actor and Prop founder, is startling in his bits of “Da Mare’s” legendary outbursts. He clenches his mouth, frowns and slams a fist or points willfully at his target. He turns red – intensely red – and explodes. It’s a superb, inimitable performance. Royko himself is said to have written that Daley exhibited a “blend of smile and scowl,” and Giuntoli has resurrected Daley’s mannerisms to near-perfection, almost eerily, in fact.

The ghost of William J. Daley still lingers in the shadows of the city’s high rises and in the dark corners of Machine offices. He haunts Chicago from City Hall to Cabrini-Green. And he comes alive every time Giuntoli emerges into the spotlight.

Giuntoli interprets well the contradiction between Daley’s no-nonsense South Side values and his belligerent encounters with his adversaries.

The result is a portrait of a man who is flawed and complex but remains bigger than life. And although I’m convinced that Giuntoli has created a drama sprinkled with bits of comedy, Friday night’s Beverly Arts Center audience disagreed, punctuating much of the performance with fits of laughter that were broken only briefly by moments of solemn silence. (Seriously, there was even laughter after the shoot-to-kill order during the riots following the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.) But let’s agree to disagree.

Daley himself was a man of contradictions, at once stoic and unpredictable, gregarious and introverted. Yet he was far from the tyrant his critics have long suggested, Giuntoli suggests. Rather, Daley himself was burdened by the anxiety of not completely being in control of his city.

Giuntoli doesn’t feign the tears that well up behind the thick spectacles when he relates to an audience member the nights he spent with his sons at Comiskey Park. They’re real, those tears. And so are the trivial outbursts that pop like firecrackers throughout the performance.

Although Giuntoli’s renowned performances have attracted admirers from across the country, the play as a whole – and a couple of its actors – need some work. It is set almost entirely in the mayor’s office, which is fine, but it lacks a cohesiveness, a flow, that might move it along more efficiently between scenes.

In particular, Gordon Gillespie, who plays Earl Bush, Daley’s press secretary, adds too many theatrics to his performance, coming off more vaudevillian than anything else and seeming oddly out of place. Yet William Bullion (City Clerk Matt Danaher and Daley’s patronage coordinator) and Whit Spurgeon (Ald. Tom Keane) turn in notable performances as the Daley loyalists eventually charged with corruption. “Hizzoner” is a play whose characters should be understated. Let the motives of the characters speak for themselves, the philosophy goes, and act as if you’re performing in a closet with an audience of three.

Most of Giuntoli’s cast understands that – and that likely is the reason the production still has plenty of gas.

Giuntoli also cleverly uses multimedia effects (including audio clips and raw video footage) that, when paired with his full use of the stage and house (actors playing reporters during press conference scenes pop up in the aisles), make for an intelligent production.

You might love him, or you might hate him, but if you don’t understand Richard J. Daley, you’re probably not from Chicago.

“Hizzoner” –  written by Neil Giuntoli and directed by Stefan Brun – runs through June 29th, and seats are still available. For ticket information call (773) 445-3838 or visit www.beverlyartcenter.org.  For general info regarding the play, visit www.hizzonertheplay.com.

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For WGN Radio – My summer picks…

Chicago - My Kind of Theater Town - cropped

For Kids and Families:

  • Lyle, Lyle, the Crocodile, Lifeline Theatre
    • June 13th -July 13th; Friday-Sunday at 1pm
    • Tickets: $10
  • Cirque Shanghai: Gold ; Navy Pier outdoor theater
    • Runs all summer through Sept. 1st
    • Performed at outdoor theater at Navy Pier (just east of Ferris Wheel), so take in the show, then experience the huge fireworks display every Wednesday and Saturday evening.
    • Tickets: $12.50-$30
  • Willy Wonka, Chicago Shakespeare at Navy Pier
    • July 8th – August 17th
    • Tickets: $18-$23
  • Blue Man Group, Briar Street Theatre
    • Super-fun for kids of all ages
    • Tickets: $49-$59 (box office: 773-348-4000)

For Teens (and the young-at-heart):

  • Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, Neo-Futurists
    • Experience Chicago’s longest running play – 20 years and counting!
    • Days/Times: Friday-Saturday, 11pm, Sunday 7pm
    • Price: $6 plus the roll of a dice (so $7-$12 – is that cool or what?!?)
  • That’s Weird Grandma, Barrel of Monkeys
    • Monday nights, 8pm
    • Adults: $9 // Kids: $4

Broadway In Chicago (the big downtown shows):

  • Wicked, Ford Center for the Performing Arts (Oriental Theatre)
    • After 4 super-successful years,Wicked, has announced that it will officially close in January 2009.  So catch it while you can!
    • Ticket Price: $30-$95 (Box Office: 312-902-1400)
  • Jersey Boys, Bank of America Theatre (formerly Schubert Theatre)
    • Open run
    • Ticket Price: $30-$95 (Box Office: 312-902-1400)
  • Shout!, Drury Lane Watertower
    • Through July 20th  
    • Tickets: $45-$55 (Box Office: 312-902-1400)

For Date Night:

My two-pennies worth:

You haven’t experienced Chicago until you’ve ventured north to The Heartland Cafe in East Rogers Park.  First opened in the 1970’s, this earthy restaurant and bar jettisons you back to the late 1960’s and early 70’s (in a granola and incense kind-of-way).  The musical review, Lonesome Losers of the Night, is performed in an intimate coffee house down the street from Heartland, so first grab a bite to eat at Heartland, walk down the block to the performance, then mosey back down to The Heartland for drinks and nightly live music.

 

Comedy

  • Campaign Super Nova: or How Many Democrats Does It Take To Lose An Election?
    • Second City’s newest review
    • Open run, tickets: $19-$25 (Box Office: 312-337-3992)
  • Dead Man’s Cell Phone, Steppenwolf Theatre
    • runs through July 27
    • Tickets: $20-$68 (Box Office: 312-335-1650)
  • Co-Ed Prison Sluts, Annoyance Theatre
    • Annoyance Theatre brings back their raunchy long-running hit of the 80’s and 90’s.
    • Runs July 4th – August 29th
    • Tickets: $15 (Box Office: 773-561-4665)
  • Comedy Sportz – Comedy Sportz Theatre, Belmont and Clark
    • audience-interactive comedy competition between two teams of improv comedians, who perform a series of scenes and songs, all based on suggestions from the audience
    • Open run, now in their 21st year
    • Ticket prices vary, (Box Office: 773-549-8080)

Drama

  • A Steady Rain, Royal George Theatre
    • extended through Oct 5 (then on to Broadway?)
    • Tickets: $50 (box office: 312-988-9000)
  • Taste of Honey, Shattered Globe Theatre Ensemble
    • runs through July 5th
    • Tickets: $15-$35, (box office: 773-871-3000)
  • Hizzoner, Prop Thtr (performed at Beverly Arts Center)
    • Running for over 2-years, this play eerily depicts the infamous Mayor Richard J. Daley and inner-workings of “The Machine”
    • runs through July 29th
    • tickets: $40

Musicals:

  • Fiorello, Timeline Theatre 
    • runs through July 20th
    • Tickets: $15-$30 (Box Office: 773-281-8463)
  • Ain’t Misbehavin’, Goodman Theatre
    • running June 21st – July 27th
    • Tickets: not yet announced (Box Office: 312-443-3800)
  • Jekyll & Hyde, Bohemian Theatre Ensemble
    • through July 20th
    • Tickets: $20-$27 (Box Office: 773-327-5252)
  • Hunchback of Notre Dame, Bailiwick Repertory
    • composed by Dennis DeYoung of the band “Styx
    • runs through July 6t
    • Tickets: $25-$45 (Box Office: 773-883-1090)
  • Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, Drury Lane Theatre, Oakbrook Terrace
    • runs through July 27th
    • tickets: $28-$33

Miller’s “The Crucible” to be Chicago’s next book club selection

Chicago has chosen it’s next selection for the “One Book, One Chicago” program: Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible”.  This Tony Award-winning play about the 17th Century Salem witch hunts and trials was Arthur Miller’s response to his censorship during the McCarthy trials in the 1950’s.  In a statement, Daley rightly equates this same sype of witch hunt to the atmosphere in today’s administration. 

“After 9/11, a lot of people have looked at the Muslim community, the Arab community in a completely different way and that’s really unfortunate. Also, many people are looking at the immigrant community in a completely different way, which is really unfortunate. We can learn from our lessons in history-and maybe we haven’t,” Daley told a news conference Thursday at the Harold Washington Library.

Daley goes on to sweep the internet into this milleu, including blogs: 

Apparently referring to modern-day political witch hunts, Daley said, “In the electronic age, anyone can say anything. It’s remarkable. You listen to radio and TV and read [Internet blogs] and they’ll say anything without any justification. It’s amazing. It’s a completely different electronic age today. Home videos, everything. People say and do things. It’s amazing what can take place. That’s why we have to be very careful and review what’s happening in America.”

Hopefully he’s not including this blog in with that group!

For the complete story from the Chicago Sun-Times, click here.