When You Become the Chicago Story

Sunday, October 23rd 2016, 4139 N Broadway Ave Chicago Illinois. The space black boxed with red audience seats to the front and back of the theater. Broken Nose Theater and Pride Arts Center presents Bechdel Fest 4: Boiling Point, 8 new plays by Chicago playwrights. I stood in amazement, as my director Samuel Roberson directed me and another performer on how opening night will go. Yes, this was my first performance in Chicago. My very first adventure out the south loop since I landed back home. I starred in a ten-minute play by Nambi E. Kelly called ‘’Fabienne’’


Moving into the opening night the theater filled with many Chicago actors, and directors. Smiles and laughter, pure passion and fire. The stage manager Rose possessed a calm chaotic tone as we approached open house. From many corners of the room I could hear lines from the Chicago plays. I thought ‘’ This is what it feels like to be a part of a Chicago story’’ Briefly running through how the night will flow, the actors began to move and speak differently.


There was something captivating about the space as we sat as artist. The Pride Arts Center was not always this safe for the actors. The Pride Arts Center was a previous space for ‘’Profiles Theater’’ After 28 years and 81 productions this theater is closing. The previous actor Darrell W. Cox. One of Profiles’ leading actors and directors was reported to the union, and non-equity protectors for the abuse and harassment he inflicted on young women and some men in the theater. The Chicago Reader quoted from Sara, an actor and Cox’s former girlfriend ‘’[Cox] would systematically break people … to the point that was hard to even do any acting on stage.’’ Reading The Chicago Reader and realizing, that the Pride Arts Center use to be a space that a lot of young, new Chicago artist was attracted to. One because of Cox and his talent, and two because of the opportunity to perform. I began to think how blessed I was, the performers of that space decided to not keep quiet about the abuse. Took a stand to protect themselves and performer to come.


However, back to opening night of the Festival. We moved to the green room, and the actors’ rituals began. Some actors prayed, others stretched their bodies, and lots of them bellowed, roared, and many other things I cannot describe. My body filled with goosebumps, I sat on the floor of the green room looking over my script. ‘’This is it! I am starting the journey to my dreams’’ I thought. Nambi’s play ‘’Fabienne’’ is about a young Haitian woman that loses her leg in the 2010 Haiti earthquake. I started to meditate, pray to God and my ancestors to give me the strength and courage. I then hummed my grandmothers lullaby. Opening my phone, and looking at pictures of the aftermath of Haiti’s earthquake. My heart began to pound and the green room is now darkness. A heaviness falls over me, and the repetition of my lines start. As I walk to the theater, I feel every inch of my body. My mind is running wild and my pits drip with sweat. I enter the theater, all seats filled with faces from the Chicago streets. I take my seat stage left, the African drums releasing my body over to Fabienne’s story, lights up.


In conclusion my experience at the Pride Art Center was life changing. I would argue that is was also life changing for any audience member filling the seats. This theater not only played a huge role in protecting Chicago’s actors and directors from abuse within theaters. It continues to give Chicago playwrights, directors, and actors an opportunity to know each other in an intimate way outside of larger theaters. Pushing out work written from writers right here in the City. Feeding the visions of directors from right here in the city, and most importantly building Chicago’s actors, for Chicago’s theater scene. I am truly blessed and humbled to be a part of a Chicago story. (Eshay Brantley/ Cos Student)


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