JACKIE TAYLOR: I’m not a quitter. I do not give up
JACKIE TAYLOR: My mother at sixty finished uh, school to become a nurse. She never gave up and it just wasn’t an option. And I never allowed it to be an option. To me, that’s the easy way out. And life is not easy. It’s hard no matter what it is that you want to do. It’s hard.
JACKIE TAYLOR: America is, is a very racist society. Everything is based on race and it’s also a very anti-women society. The thing about America that’s different is that it pretends that it’s not.
JACKIE TAYLOR: My first film was called, Cooley High, and that propelled me into American, International pictures and uh, uhm, the film industry. I thought that films were going to be like “Cooley High”. Have a positive message. Have a strong anti-violence message. This was the black exploitation era and women were totally degraded, African Americans were totally degraded. Violence was totally amplified and I did not want to participate in that message. So, I decided that I was not going to stand on the sidelines, and I wanted to be part of the solution, and not part of the problem. So I decided to come back to Chicago and to start a theatre company that could make a difference.
JACKIE TAYLOR: I started the theatre in 1976. The mission of the theatre is to eradicate racism. First, our name uh, was a problem. People wanted me to change the name of the company because they said, well, white people aren’t gonna come to something that’s called black”. I said, “ Well you know, that’s the beginning. We’re gonna keep our name because we are black, I’m black, you know I can’t call it nothing else.” I’m the Black Ensemble Theater. And then people told me that the mission was crazy. They said it was impossible. I should say, “cross-cultural boundaries”, “bringing people together”, and I said, “No, that’s not what the mission is. The mission is to eradicate racism.”
JACKIE TAYLOR: My first budget was twelve-thousand dollars. and I went to a bank. They refused me. And I said, “ Well, what would you give me the money for?” and they said, “ Well, we won’t give you the money for theatre, but we’ll give it for your furniture, your house...” and I said, “Well, thank you very much.” And I went across the street to the other bank. And I filled out the same forms and did the same thing, but this time when they said, “ what do you want the money for?” I said, “ I want it for furniture for my house.” and that’s how I got that first loan.
JACKIE TAYLOR: I grew up in one of the roughest areas in Chicago, which is the Cabrini Green Housing Projects, so I learned courage at a very young age, ‘cause if I didn’t have it, I’d get my behind kicked. My mother locked us out of the house one day. There was a group of kids coming after us, that’s me and my brother and we ran to the house. And she peeked open the door and said, “What do you want?” and we said, “ these kids are after us.” and she said, “Well, handle it cause this is where you live.” and she shut the door. So we had to handle it. We kicked their ass.
JACKIE TAYLOR: I grew up not loving myself. I grew up as not thinking of myself as worthy. I was taught and trained that I would not amount to anything. I was less than, and I did not have good sense. And when people tell you that over, and over and over again, you believe it. Until somebody tells you differently and that’s the key. So, self -love is the most motivating instrument in the world, because the only way you can learn how to love other people is to love yourself.
JACKIE TAYLOR: In grade school, I was lucky enough that my teacher saw that if I was writing, and directing, that I was a better student and a stronger student. So they allowed me, as long as I got good grades, to take a group of kids into the gym and direct them. And my first play was in the seventh grade. It was called, The Black Scrooge, and um, I directed my kids and I starred it, and it’s something that I’ve always done.
JACKIE TAYLOR: John Houston was a drama instructor at the Park District, at Seward Park. And uh, we were having fun one day throwing bricks in a window and he came out and, and everybody ran faster than me and I got caught, and when he caught me he said, “Well you know, when you destroy property you can go to jail.” And at the time I was eight. He said, “So I give you two choices. I can call the police and they can take you in or you can come upstairs and have drama class.” and I was like, “ I’m gonna come upstairs and have drama class.” I didn’t know what drama class was and I didn’t care. I just knew I didn’t want to go to the police. If it wasn’t for him, I don’t know where I would be.
JACKIE TAYLOR: And then my other favorite in the whole wide world is Sidney Poitier. I was able to uhm, actually work with Mr. Poitier, two times in a couple of films, where he was the director and just viewing the world from his eyes, and his wisdom, and his knowledge, and his experience, was one of the most amazing and most fantastic times of my life.
“THE POWER OF MUSIC”
JACKIE TAYLOR: I started thinking about, Ok, what-what already transcends boundaries?
JACKIE TAYLOR: And we’re gonna do that on strings and period music, because the play takes place in the 1800s, late 1800s. So, we’re gonna create that environment, where there is music.
JACKIE TAYLOR: Music is already a facilitator for change. So I said, “ You know, let’s try producing musicals.” And we started with, um Muddy Waters. And the transformation happened overnight. All of the sudden, the theater was filled with a diverse audience. So we produced our next, Otis Redding. It worked. So I said, “OK, we have our niche.” Everything is gonna have music.
JACKIE TAYLOR: And then we’ll put our message underneath. So that it’s like medicine with sugar. You know, it’ll go down and it’ll do what it needs to do, but they won’t know that it’s medicine. Because music is a very, very communicative art form that changes societies and lives.
JACKIE TAYLOR SINGING: I’ve seen no mountains and I’ve seen no seas, but I’ve seen the sunrise - felt the rain come down on me. I’ve seen, no angels, but I’ve felt spirits, and they’re inside of me.
JACKIE TAYLOR: For every one of my productions, I write music.
JACKIE TAYLOR: I’ve always heard music. Whether it was physically there or not. I hear it all the time. It’s motivational, it’s transparent, it crosses boundaries, it brings back certain feelings, certain emotions, certain environments. Music can change how we look at the world.
"THEATRE IS A BUSINESS"
JACKIE TAYLOR: Theatre is a business. It’s, it’s an art form but OK, if you don’t think of it as a business then you need to do that art form in your house. Because if it’s a business, it has to operate financially, and it was to be successful.
JACKIE TAYLOR: Theatre in general has a difficult time, because it’s a form that the masses do not support. So, it’s not only African American theatres that have difficulties and challenges, and problems building an audience. All theatres do. But African Americans have been disenfranchised. We have to understand that we have a great cultural contribution to the greatness of this society, and we have a commitment to ourselves, as African Americans that we have to preserve our cultural heritage. We have to preserve our greatness. It’s very important that we see ourselves as cultural beings because that’s what human beings are.
JACKIE TAYLOR: If we want to be successful artists, we gotta know how to financially make ourselves independent, we gotta know how to raise money, we gotta know how to manage money, we gotta know how to balance budgets, we gotta know how to read audits, and those things are very capable even with our artistic and creative side.
JACKIE TAYLOR: We built a 50,000 square foot theatre that cost us twenty million dollars to build. We’re building a second theatre. We’ve got long range plans to bring in a restaurant to have a school, we’ll achieve all those things. And the reality is simple. You have to bring in more money than you spend.
JACKIE TAYLOR: Wow! Congratulations!
STAFF MEMBER: That is good, we just got it done.
JACKIE TAYLOR: YES! Wooo! That’s great.
STAFF MEMBER: Yea, so we actually, our expenses were lower this year. And of course, revenue was higher this year.
JACKIE TAYLOR: Wow! That is perfect. Well, congratulations. You did a great job.
ANOTHER STAFF MEMBER: Yes ma’am.
JACKIE TAYLOR: Congratulations! I’m so proud of you!
ANOTHER STAFF MEMBER: I do what I can.
JACKIE TAYLOR: I know you’ll do it again. That’s why you make the big bucks. I understand.
“A TEACHER AT HEART”
JACKIE TAYLOR: I always was, and always will be a teacher. Education transforms. Education makes a difference. And being an actress, being highly emotional, being able to express and understand myself and other people, I can get through and find a key. And turn on whatever it is that I need to turn on. And that’s the role of a teacher.
JACKIE TAYLOR: We have several youth programs, uh seven thus far and we work with young people from the ages of two up to the ages of twenty-one.
JACKIE TAYLOR: We’ve transformed at least ten thousand young people a year through our non-violent programs. We have about fifty-five thousand people a year who come to the theatre. They don’t come to the theatre uhm, for the productions, they come to the theatre for the experience. Because they’re comfortable, they know they’re going to feel good, they know they’re going to learn something, they know that they are welcomed, and they know that at the end they’re going to be uplifted.
JACKIE TAYLOR: Because that’s what the Black Ensemble Theater is about. It’s about uplifting us as human beings. Helping us to understand that even though we are different, we are basically the same and we need to understand and recognize our differences while respecting the sameness of who we are.
JACKIE TAYLOR: This just is not about Jackie Taylor. This is about a spiritual movement that must happen.
JACKIE TAYLOR: And in building this, I’ve had to think about, OK, what is going to continue past me. I don’t want to create an organization that once I die, my organizations dies. Because it’s gonna take many, many, many generations for us to eradicate racism. Somebody else is gonna pick up this mission and they’re gonna move it forward. But it’s not gonna happen in my lifetime. The measure has to be, have you made a difference? Uh, have you transformed people? Change doesn’t happen overnight for anything. It happens one pebble thrown in the water at a time. When you get a big wave, when, when you get any kind of storm, that storm doesn’t start all of the sudden. There’s something that happens that’s very small that might not even be noticed. So, the world has changed, because Black Ensemble Theater has transformed people. We educated people, which is the bases of racism. Ignorance is the bases of racism. Once you eliminate ignorance, you can eliminate racism. If you can think it, it’s possible and it can happen.