The Black Ensemble Theater in Chicago announced it will break ground on a new $16 million performance and cultural facility on Sept. 10. The new space will include a multitude of amenities and will finally provide an established place the theater company can call home.
“Owning anything is vital to the survival of the product,” Jackie Taylor, founder of the Black Theater Ensemble told the AFRO in a recent interview. “Black Ensemble Theater is an institution and in order to solidify that institution, you must own where you live or you’re putting the organization at risk. It’s vital that in building the Black Ensemble Theater in generations to come, we provide an asset that can be utilized. It’s vitally important.”
Taylor, a native Chicagoan, founded the Black Theater in 1976 with a mission to eradicate racism, fusing her roles as an actress and educator to promote awareness and greater understanding of African American’s contribution to the cultural fabric of American history through theater.
The Black Ensemble Theater has been situated in Chicago’s Uptown community at the Uptown Center Hull House for the past 24 years. After the theater began to thrive and a growing worldwide fan base emerged, it was evident that the theater needed its own, singularly affiliated space. Its recognized contributions includes outstanding award-winning productions and an effective educational outreach program that reaches more than 10,000 youths annually.
The new facility will include two theaters, (one of which is double the capacity of the existing venue), classrooms, rehearsal halls and dance studios, among a variety of other amenities. However, despite their previous conditions, Taylor said the Ensemble has always boasted excellence and will continue to do so after settling in the new space.
“We do great work no matter where we are,” Taylor said. “I don’t think it’s the building that will enhance the performances—we perform all over the country. Wherever we perform, our philosophy and standard is ‘excellence.’ But will…help us to increase our educational outreach program and it will also provide two theaters that will allow us to give the audience our historical musicals that we are so well known for as well as experimental work that will allow us the ability to reach new audiences to grow. “
Following the opening of the new facility, the Black Ensemble Theater will be one of less than eight Black theater companies across the country with its own venue. Taylor explained that while she is proud of the Ensemble’s achievements, something needs to be done to foster the growth of other Black venues around the nation.
“There needs to be more,” Taylor said. “I’m very happy about our achievement, but I do feel that as African-Americans, the more control that we have of our own destiny, the stronger we are as a people. We need more facilities and organizations that can provide and sustain itself through ownership.”