Chicago theaters say they stand in solidarity with protesters


In a cascade of online statements,

Chicago theaters say they stand in solidarity with protesters

Protesters march along 71st Street on June 1, 2020 in South Shore. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune)

In the wake of the protests sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and with their own stages silenced by COVID-19, many Chicago theaters have used their social-media channels to decry racism and support the protest movements.

The statements vary in tone and content but, as these samples reveal, expressed many common themes.

“We are witnessing the effects of institutionalized racism all over the country and the fires, looting, anger and self-hatred that has materialized bears witness to the fact that we must destroy institutionalized racism or it will destroy all of us,” wrote Jackie Taylor, the founder, CEO and president of the Black Ensemble Theatre, a 44-year-old theater with a consistent mission to “eradicate racism.”

Taylor also wrote that: “to be treated fairly and with dignity is the essence of our human spirit and we must protect the human spirit – without it, we will not survive.”

Taylor ended her statement with the following admonition: “the human spirit and need for justice, fairness, and equality will never die, no matter how long you continue to keep your knee embedded in its neck. You cannot kill the human spirit. The human spirit will rebel. It will fight. It will rise up and it will, eventually, win.”

The Goodman Theatre, which saw the glass of its lobby doors in Chicago’s Loop both defaced and shattered during the weekend’s unrest, referenced the Langston Hughes poem “Harlem,” the same work that inspired the playwright Lorraine Hansberry’s masterwork “A Raisin in the Sun.”

 

 

The Goodman Theatre as photographed Dec. 2, 2014 in Chicago.
The Goodman Theatre as photographed Dec. 2, 2014 in Chicago. (Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune)

 

“As an organization whose mission, core values and art celebrate diverse voices and stories,” the Goodman wrote, “we seek to build bridges between communities to facilitate understanding and empathy. In these uncertain and unsettling times, we remain steadfast in our commitment to producing works of art that help to connect, challenge and restore.”

“As artists and theatre makers we are currently inhibited by our inability to gather audiences and community to process, to grieve, to rise up against generations of oppression and dysfunction but we will not be silent,” wrote Steppenwolf Theatre, saying that it planned to be a “voice of action.”

“Every day we are watching the senseless murders of Black people in our country – the illegal and immoral silencing of our fellow citizens," the theater wrote. “Every life lost to this ongoing, soulless racism reduces us all. We denounce these despicable acts.”

Victory Gardens Theater, itself the target of protestors critical of its hiring of new artistic leadership without a national search, said that it “stands with those in Minneapolis and around the country seeking justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and the countless others we have lost to the pandemic that is racist violence.”

Court Theatre posted a black screen with the words “IN SOLIDARITY” on its Facebook account. “We at Court Theatre stand in solidarity with the artists, community members, and our South Side neighbors engaged in the struggle for justice in Chicago and across the country,” the theater wrote. “Black lives, Black stories, and Black voices are essential, because they are the lives, stories, and voices of our nation.”

“The violence being perpetrated against Black people in our country is senseless, despicable, dehumanizing, institutional,” wrote A Red Orchid Theatre, a small company in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood, “and we are all complicit in its continuing.”

American Blues Theater said it “stands in solidarity with those fighting for Black lives across this country” and referenced a recent statement by former President Barack Obama calling for a “new normal” without bigotry or unequal treatment.

Chicago Shakespeare Theater quoted James Baldwin: “It is a terrible, an inexorable, law that one cannot deny the humanity of another without diminishing one’s own: in the face of one’s victim, one sees oneself."

“We hear your cries for justice,” the theater wrote. “We bear witness to your sorrow. And we stand with you.”

Below BLACKS LIVE MATTER in white text on a dark background, Second City quoted Martin Luther King, Jr.: “There comes a time when silence means betrayal.”

 

Gwendolyn Brooks in 1986.
Gwendolyn Brooks in 1986. (Associated Press photo)

 

Lookingglass Theatre quoted Gwendolyn Brooks: “We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.” And Lifeline Theatre quoted Audre Lorde: “When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.”

Sideshow Theatre Company criticized the media as part of its lengthy online statement: “this ensemble acknowledges the hypocrisy of the media’s portrayal of protesters in this country which places blame for violence upon those who seek to challenge it,” the theater wrote. “The Irresponsible and one-sided coverage ignores the immediate harms perpetrated by the State. It ignores the full history of a nation founded on principles of white supremacy, built with the tools of genocide, violence and the free labor of enslaved people.”

Chicago Tap Theatre said that it had hope that future tap-dance artists would look back on this time “and they will note, we fervently hope, that the tap community came together in this time, condemned what we saw, pushed for change, and did what we could to make things better.”

Many theaters, including (but not limited to) Northlight Theatre, Broken Nose Theatre, Griffin Theatre, Raven Theatre, the Rivendell Theater Ensemble and the upcoming commercial production of “Be More Chill” at the Apollo Theatre, added a list of suggested resources to their similar statements of solidarity and support, referring people to fundraising sites, educational non-profits and civil rights organizations. House Theatre, saying it stood alongside the protesters, announced that its ensemble was making a donation to the Chicago Freedom School. Strawdog Theatre Company said its ensemble was supporting the Chicago Community Bond Fund.

Definition Theatre Company, a growing multi-cultural theater company in Chicago with a long-standing slogan of “Stay in it,” chose to post the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

 

 

CJones5@chicagotribune.com

Chris Jones

Chris Jones


Chris Jones is chief theater critic and culture columnist for the Chicago Tribune. He also serves as Broadway critic for the New York Daily News and a critic for WBBM-Ch. 2. His latest book is "Rise Up! Broadway and American Society from 'Angels in America' to 'Hamilton.'" He has a Ph.D. from Ohio State and lives in Chicago with his wife and sons.