Like Evans, the ever-ebullient Jackie Taylor, Founder and Artistic Director of the Black Ensemble Theatre, has been writing, producing, directing, and starring in her own works for a long time--in her case, 24 years. Like Evans and many of Chicago's other self-producing playwrights, Taylor is not in the business of creating vanity projects. In fact, the work of the Black Ensemble tends toward joyful musical biographies. Taylor has scripted words and new music for a host of energetic productions that tell the stories of such luminaries as Otis Redding, Muddy Waters, and Mahalia Jackson.
"It never even occurred to me to send my stuff out," Taylor explains. "The scripts I've written have copyrights and have been successful and make money. I have a whole library of them. In the future, maybe that's something I'll take up, pursuing other producers, but right now, it's not a priority."
What is a priority, Taylor says, is "educating and entertaining," with equal emphasis on both. For example, she has of late been immersed in Moms: The Life and Times of Moms Mabley. After that, Taylor's on to a biography of Nat King Cole. The prolific nature of Taylor's work is not as impressive as the fact that she has been able to maintain her output and keep the Black Ensemble a viable cultural institution for almost 25 years. "Burn out?," Taylor asks with incredulity. "I can't even imagine that. I'm having fun."
Fun may be the end result, of course, but for many a theatrical outing, it's seldom the genesis. For example, Susan Nussbaum started out as an actor, but was seriously injured when she became the pedestrian victim of a freak auto accident and now uses a wheelchair. "When I started writing, there was no disability movement or consciousness at all," Nussbaum recalls. "There certainly weren't many parts for me as an actress. I decided I'd have to start writing my own things, so I could cast myself."
That she did. Today, Nussbaum is the author of seven plays, all of which have been staged by theaters around the country. Her Staring Back won a Joseph Jefferson Citation for Playwriting and went from the Chicago stage to a television production. Her latest work, No One As Nasty opens at the Victory Gardens Theatre this spring.
"What I realized after I started writing and after I was injured was that there is this very rich vein of black humor that exists among people with disabilities," says Nussbaum. "And there is a very strong sense of being a marginalized minority group, a group that is seething with its own resentments and angers and ambitions. Many minority characters I've seen in plays are symbols--pathetic creatures or creatures of this great nobility. That kind of view has no meaning to actual disabled people but it seems to strike some kind of mythical chord with the non-disabled. I am hoping to contribute a new kind of voice."
A voice to be added to the multitude of new voices that may well be redefining the entire Chicago scene.