Chicago Theater Review and Commentary: ONE NAME ONLY (A DIFFERENT KIND OF REALITY SHOW) (Black Ensemble Theater)

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by Tony Frankel on October 9, 2012

in Theater-Chicago

ONE TIME ONLY FOR ONE NAME ONLY
WAS ONE TOO MANY TIMES

Yes, America’s got talent. And the performers on stage at Black Ensemble Theater’s beautiful new digs are packed to the gills with charm, powerful voices, and boundless stage presence. But I can’t remember being this shell-shocked and mortified at the stupendous waste of talent in One Name Only (A Different Kind of Reality Show), one of the most insipid outings in years. What upsets me about One Name Only is that the premise, the dialogue — the whole kit-and-kaboodle — is juvenile to the point of insulting. Writer/director Rueben Echoles’ mash-up is a composite of popular Reality shows — namely Big Brother and American Idol — in which 8 core female contestants go from auditions to elimination rounds until one is chosen by two judges to win $100,000 and a recording contract. And, as we are constantly reminded with all the subtlety of Chinese water torture, only one name will be chosen.

Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema review of Black Ensemble Theater’s One Name Only (A Different Kind of Reality Show) in Chicago

The purpose of a mash-up is to create something completely new out of pre-existing artistic or technological forms. By melding records, for example, DJs gave birth to a new form of rap and hip hop. One Name Only is not a mash-up, as it merely splices together the most compelling parts of Reality TV, such as bitch fights, horrible auditions, surly judges, confessionals, and sad good-byes. Neither is it a parody or an insightful examination of this popular phenomenon. By stealing the exact same structure as American Idol (except that the contestants live together), Echoles has created a jukebox musical as manipulative and unreal as Reality TV; it is merely an excuse to perform covers of popular songs by the Ladies of Soul, most performed quite well, which is the reason that the target audience will forgive the ridiculous shenanigans. For me, the inclusion of soul music doesn’t give the show a soul.

And the characters in this bland and tacky outing are mostly stereotypes, with plenty of the “talk-to-the-hand” attitude — this from a company whose mission is to eradicate racism and its damaging effects upon our society. The mind-bogglingly simplistic dialogue is only partially redeemed by the sparkling diversity and distinction of the actresses’ personalities. My favorite was Lisa Beasley as the staunch single mother Tanika.

Except to throw laurels at the actors and musicians, this excursion is essentially unreviewable. But there are some serious curiosities:

Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema review of Black Ensemble Theater’s One Name Only (A Different Kind of Reality Show) in ChicagoA host named Sam (the suave Rashawn Thompson) tells us that One Name Only is the top reality show in the nation, but he never explains why only black females are allowed to participate.

Why would Broadway Star and diva Marylin (Candace C. Edwards), who is an unholy bitch for no good reason, get into a physical catfight with another contestant ON-AIR? This from a woman who desperately needs to jumpstart her career?

Did April (sweet, sweet Deborah Spencer), one of the final few contestants, really drop-out of the competition because her husband, John (Terry Francois) showed up to apologize about cheating on her? Did she really believe that it was necessary to give up her own dreams to save her marriage to this weak-willed man? And why would April’s friend call her to gossip about the cheatin’ husband just as April was about to sing with Gladys Knight (a funny and precise rendering by Katrina V. Miller)?

Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema review of Black Ensemble Theater’s One Name Only (A Different Kind of Reality Show) in Chicago

In the only other (but equally lame) side story, a parentless contestant is called by her grandfather to inform her that “Gran” had a heart attack, but not to worry, Gran’s in the hospital, you just go be a star; why deliver this info if there’s nothing to worry about? What’s with the insensitive family and friends? Later, Gran returns from the hospital feeble, and yet has the energy to sing an amazing duet with Grandpa — Aretha Franklin’s “I Knew You Were Waiting For Me,” backed up by Music Director Robert Reddrick’s hot, hot, hot, smokin’ hot band.

And, really, why are some of the scenes only a few seconds long?

I feel sorry for black audience members who are so desperate to see themselves represented on the stage that they’re willing to shell out $65 a ticket for such an enterprise. I’ll be the first to admit that Dawn Bless lit up the house performing an outrageously good rendition of Patti LaBelle’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” but must we slog through the ridiculousness to get to this eleven o’ clock number?

Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema review of Black Ensemble Theater’s One Name Only (A Different Kind of Reality Show) in ChicagoI understand that the ulterior motive for Black Ensemble productions is to incorporate a showcase for actors to impersonate — or rather, pay tribute to — famous black singers. But I couldn’t help wonder, with all the money poured into this show, why Black Ensemble Theater isn’t also dusting off all-black musicals such as Raisin and The Wiz, or adding its own spin to other classics of American Musical Theater. Obviously, founder Jackie Taylor has a system in place that is working for her Ensemble, but it begs an inquiry:

I rarely — and I mean rarely — see black patrons in the audience when I attend the theater. Whether this is a socio-economic phenomenon or African-Americans are uninterested in theater in general is uncertain. No doubt, at Twist, A Raisin in the Sun, Memphis, and Jitney, the audiences were predominantly black, so I can only assume that this particular minority is starved to see themselves represented on the boards.

Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema review of Black Ensemble Theater’s One Name Only (A Different Kind of Reality Show) in ChicagoWhether Jackie is in tune with her audience’s needs or she is simply a master fundraiser is also uncertain, but I would be fascinated to know how this company managed to fund this magnificent new space while cutting-edge storefront companies such as Remy Bumppo and The House and The Hypocrites (to name but a few) operate on a wing and a prayer.

Time and time again around the country, I have seen minority companies, whether Latino, Asian, or Black, receive grants  that are disproportionate to the work that they actually create. When is America going to reward great theater, great storytelling and visionary work instead of granting money for skin color? Why are gay companies, such as the magnificent storefront enterprise The Celebration in Los Angeles, cancelling productions for lack of funding? Is it Politically Correct for Corporate America to hurl bucks at Companies of Color, but not at homosexual troupes?

Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema review of Black Ensemble Theater’s One Name Only (A Different Kind of Reality Show) in ChicagoAnd how did it happen that it is verboten to tell the truth about minority companies and productions when they don’t work? (I can’t wait to see what the other opening night reviewers say about One Name Only.) I am astounded at so-called critics who toss cheerleading reviews to theater that celebrates the dumbing-down of America, just because the company is comprised of people of color; somehow, it’s become insensitive to tell the truth about the inanity that is on stage — as though it may somehow offend the creators, whose people have known naught but prejudice and a lack of opportunity. It is the superficial positive feedback from audiences and critics towards mediocrity in the arts which is perpetuating the sophomoric culture in America. Americans, black and white, are starved for intelligent and nutritious theater, but they’ll attend light-hearted, inane pablum if that is what they are accustomed to or can afford (need I remind you that McDonald’s sales are soaring during this recession?) Is it wrong of me to wonder why BET isn’t expanding their vision beyond “Tributes” and educational outreach to nurture the next poetical playwright of color in the vein of a Lynn Nottage or Lorraine Hansberry?

I, for one, am holding Black Ensemble Theater, and the incredible array of talent therein, to a higher standard; meeting such a  standard will require that BET formulate a vision for the next generation of black theater.

Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema review of Black Ensemble Theater’s One Name Only (A Different Kind of Reality Show) in Chicago

photos by Danny Nicholas

One Name Only (A Different Kind of Reality Show)
Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center
4450 N. Clark Street
Thurs at 7:30; Fri at 8; Sat at 3 & 8; Sun at 3
ends on November 11, 2012
for tickets, call 773.769.4451 or visit Black Ensemble Theater

{ 28 comments }

etan Johnson October 10, 2012 at 12:30 pm

Is this a review or some lame attempt to justify why the theaters you like aren’t being funded? If you don’t like the show fine, but don’t insult people by suggesting the reasons we like the show. This shouldn’t be a piece about minority theaters versus homosexual theaters. Jackie Taylor has been in business since the 70’s and has worked through the political BS in Chicago while marinating who she is and giving for the most part quality shows. Shut the hell up and do the same instead of using this as a platform to complain.

And are you really putting “Remy Bumppo and The House and The Hypocrites” in the same category as BET? Start your own theater group and figure out how to get funding, meanwhile become a real reviewer instead of carrying around a pass to get in to shows for free, only to add to your ridiculous rant.

maria October 10, 2012 at 1:19 pm

this critic is an idiot!

Bob Richardson October 11, 2012 at 8:58 am

This critic is white!

He’s got a white name, anyway. Etan, fight the power. You know better than he what he ought to be writing about, so why don’t you write it for him? In fact, shut him up rather than give him voice. I remember the FBI saying similar things to Fred Hampton in the 70s, and it just about worked. But by the way, son, I think you might have missed something there: he’s not saying “Remy Bumppo and The House and The Hypocrites” are in the same category as BET. He’s saying they’re better, partly because they do work that doesn’t pander to an audience of Toms who would rather eat their own stereotypes than real food.

Maria? Girl, you all that. Why is it that this Frankel can take a thousand words to thoughtfully give you his message, and you can just take him down in five? Why did God grant you that amazing power of insight, and not him? I can only imagine the wise, reflective commentary you would have made if only you had bothered. But don’t worry, sugar; my imagination is running wild.

And Frankel, take heed. You better recognize that the time to not criticize minority showcases has come and stayed. Nobody wants to hear your opinion except people who want good theater to lead the Israelites out of the Egypt of show-business bottom-feeding oppression to the promised land of mainstream legitimate theater recognition, and how is a Jew gonna help do that?

Jackie Taylor October 11, 2012 at 2:06 pm

Dear Tony:

I usually don’t respond to critics reviews but you sir are no critic. If you don’t like the production – that’s fine. It’s not for you. You didn’t have to buy a ticket so I think you having to sit through it is a fair exchange.

Who the hell are you to tell me what I should be producing? Black Ensemble Theater produces new works period. If you want to see the classics, go see them – they’re being produced all over town.

And who the fuck are you to be setting standards for Black Theater? What kind of racist arrogance is that? Am I really suppose to care about your standards? Black Ensemble Theater was able to build a 20M dollar theater based on our standards, so I don’t think we need your input at all in that regard.

Lastly, your views are coming from a highly negative and racist place. Racism is based on ignorance and your words are a very valid demonstration of that. Your arrogance is astounding. I feel sorry for you. However, this is America the land of the free and the home of the brave – so we both have a right to say and do as we please, and our views can be as diverse as the two comments that came before me.

As a professional, I respect you as a human being, but I feel compelled to tell you to please not put yourself through the torture of attending another show at the Black Ensemble Theater.

And now speaking as Jackie Taylor, just as a regular person I would like to tell you to kiss my Black ass.

Sincerely,

Jackie Taylor

Jason Rohrer October 11, 2012 at 6:46 pm

So, the difference between Jackie Taylor the professional and Jackie Taylor the regular person is what, exactly? Neither Jackie has the class or moral character to address any of the questions Mr. Frankel posed in his piece. It appears that both Jackie Taylors are more interested in pulling the race card, first and last, while simultaneously mounting a series of modern minstrel shows, than in the civil discourse of which she has proven herself either uninterested or incapable.

Jackie Taylor October 11, 2012 at 6:51 pm

None of this bullshit is worth the effort! Have a good day!

Chuck Skinner October 11, 2012 at 9:50 pm

Jackie, is “None of this bullshit is worth the effort” your take on this discussion, your theater company, or the prevailing African American relationship to civility, citizenship and culture which seems to be hamstringing “your people” both economically and politically?

Seems to me you have mounted a successful show, which has elsewhere and otherwise been positively reviewed- albeit (according to my sources) such reviews being born from the instinctual and real fear of criticizing anything “of color” in Chicago lest one be accused of (the no longer relevant and utterly laughably and overused charge) “racism” thrown out when ever a black person is held to task. (Your response being a PERFECT example of this.)

Nonetheless, in spite of your bonafides, both theatrically and professionally, you revert, instinctually, to the internet equivalent of a knife-fight, neither dissuading your critics of the the veracity of their opinions, while simultaneously undermining your own position and painting yourself as – at best – a huckster – and, at worst – a shamelessly racially partisan agitation.

Congratulations, I guess, if this was your goal.

If not, shame on you.

So no, I won’t “kiss your black ass,” I’ll just ignore it, as being juvenile and irrelevant and unworthy of serious consideration on the Chicago theater scene, as most people have, since your company’s inception, and not for no good reason.

Grow up.

Jason Rohrer October 11, 2012 at 7:36 pm

Your calling a man racist for critiquing your work, and society, not worth talking about? I hope you live to wish it weren’t.

Michael M. Landman-Karny October 12, 2012 at 12:18 am

Tony is not a racist. He is despairing at all the mindless entertainment that passes for theatre all across America. I wish that non-profit theatres, of all stripes, would stick to producing quality intelligent theatre and leave the sitcoms and jukebox musicals to commercial producers.

Using the race card to attack Tony is to completely miss out on the conversation about the state of American theatre. I would be interested to know what Jackie Taylor’s views are about the state of American theatre. Does she think that thought-provoking works by African American playwrights such as Tarrell Alvin McCraney, Robert O’Hara and Lynn Nottage have a place in a major regional African-American theatre such as BET? Or does she feel that her theatre’s main job is to entertain and to provide jobs?

Dawn Bless October 12, 2012 at 3:07 pm

My name is Dawn Bless. I played Pattie Labelle/Tiff/Gran/Aretha Franklin in the production One Name Only. This one review by Mr. Frankel is interesting. While many many reputable critics have given the thumbs up, and our audiences are continuously pleased, I just had to respond to Mr. Frankel.

Once upon a time, spirituals/gospel, jazz, quilt making, minstrel shows, blues, hip hop music was considered “N I G G E R” art, low brow, and simplistic. Today, these art forms are examined and valued in universities all over the world. However, it seems that the tradition of devaluing black art still continues and is pervasive.

I will never understand why art can’t be truly appreciated for what it is. IT IS ART. A beautiful, unique expression of a vision and message.

To me, art is also ministry. Ministry is something that meets the needs of a people. If this form of art at the Black Ensemble Theater does not meet your needs, ok.

So…you can’t connect with this play. Guess what, I can’t connect with some things Shakespearen. (Its the language. I got straight A’s in College in Shakespeare courses. I’m a poet so I appreciate the clever use of iambic pentameter, but at the end of the day, I just don’t like it. Also, I’m a fine artist, but to this day, quite a few Picasso and Andy Warhol creations I just DON’T LIKE OR GET.) However, if you don’t like something, it does not mean it wasn’t intelligent. It simply means it wasn’t for you. (How many operas have I gone too and the people next to me were in tears, while I wondered what the HECK was happening. lol)

The thing that is MOST disheartening to me is the spirit in which this “review” was written. To suggest that a group of people are desperate to see themselves so they will put up with “shenanagins” is a limited, biased, and uninformed view. Also, to suggest it is mindless is very arrogant. I would even say it is elitist. Is it racist? In my opinion, just a tinge. (Oh boy, I just told the truth using the R word….I’ll await the attacks 🙂

Black Ensemble theater in my opinion does a unique splicing of a musical and a review. Now quite a musical…not quite a review. Its dang near a new form and brand. Its unique. Hey, I’ve even heard that productions such as JERSEY BOYS have even borrowed it. Mr. Tony Frankel, It works. It entertains. It touches. and like hotcakes….IT SELLS. In the famous words of Mr. Frankel’s favorite character from One Name Only….YOU MAD? (How interesting that your favorite character in the play is the loudest and most ghetto character in the play)

Why doesn’t Jackie revive classics like Raisin, Dreamgirls, etc? Because that is the job of Repertory Theaters, not Black Ensemble. I think its refreshing that instead of rehashing what has been done before a thousand times, Ms. Taylor presents something new. A new work. A new play. A new experience. What a novel idea.

It would be nice if critics would… I don’t know….CRITIQUE the play and not rant. Besides…one day just like jazz, blues, hiphop, etc….not only will the terrible chitlin circuit Tyler Perry be examined in universities and in books of critique………(wait for it…..I hope your sitting down)so will JACKIE TAYLOR. GASP!

Jason Rohrer October 12, 2012 at 4:42 pm

You got an A in English?

dawn bless October 12, 2012 at 5:50 pm

No Mr. Jason Rohrer, but I think you got an A in being surly. Lol. Interesting, you mention my English, but can’t dispute the points I made. And that’s fine. Because this is not an argument to be argued. We both have opinions. I hope you are adult enough to see the difference. By the way….I said I got an A in my Shakespearean course, not English. Unfortunately Mr. Rohrer you don’t read as thoroughly as you attack.

And now I must retire. Like the very successful entrepreneur Jackie Taylor said, “None of this bullshit is worth the effort! Have a good day!”

Its funny how the truth is always the truth. I guess I should now shiver and wait for grown men to continue foolishness. Have a ball. I won’t respond any longer.

Michael M. Landman-Karny October 12, 2012 at 5:47 pm

To reply to Dawn’s posting, art is in the eye of the beholder.

Tony didn’t like your show. His job as a critic is to provide his opinion, not to provide a consensus on audience reactions. BET may not revive a classic musical or stage even one of Tarrell Alvin McCraney’s plays but fortunately there are still enough theatres in the United States that will stage intellectually challenging works by playwrights of all races.

I have met Tony Frankel on various occasions. Tony and I have had spirited discussions about theatre . I have often strongly disagreed with Tony in my opinion of various productions and various playwrights. Tony’s reasons for panning the production were well articulated. You may disagree with them but to call him a racist would be to deny his well formed opinions.

I am openly gay but I absolutely hated over 90% of the gay-themed films that I have viewed. Does that make me homophobic?

Cheryl Snodgrass October 13, 2012 at 2:46 am

I think what got weird here, Michael, was that this review turned into something other than a review of this show and became a general response to the state and funding of American Theatre.

And Mr. Frankel is clearly unhappy with the state and funding of American Theatre (I can’t argue with him about that).

His unhappiness turned the review of a show he didn’t like by a company he doesn’t like into a something much bigger than “I hate this show” and into “I hate this kind of theater and it shouldn’t have an audience or funding”.

I also think a statement like “When is America going to reward great theater, great storytelling and visionary work instead of granting money for skin color?” in a review about a specific show implies that he believes the company only got its money because of their skin color. I don’t think there’s any other way to read that sentence in a review about a show. It’s dismissive and I think would be better placed in an article versus a review. And it offers nothing like a well formed opinion.

Kim October 12, 2012 at 7:06 pm

You are very quick to come to the defense of Jackie Taylor. In reading her response to Mr.Frankel’s review, I cannot imagine that you do not question her yourself. I imagine, as an artist, you continuously question and challenge all perspectives and decide what is most valuable to you, as an artist. Your caustic stance against Mr.Frankel, is not only confusing but worrisome. You have missed much of Mr. Frankel’s review. I would go back and read it again.

Cheryl Snodgrass October 13, 2012 at 11:57 am

I’m sorry, Kim, but I can’t really tell to whom you are addressing the question. Is it me? Dawn? I’m happy to answer you but I just can’t tell. Thanks.

Cheryl Snodgrass October 13, 2012 at 2:22 am

I must admit that as a theatre practitioner, critics scare the hell out of me sometimes. They can make or break a show and many of us have been cowed into remaining silent by our own fears. Not that a good critic would seek revenge but arguing with a critic just never seems like a good idea.

With that being said (and as I’m merely an audience member on this one) I did want to mention a couple of things in this review that threw me.

First of all, it seemed somewhat inconsistent for Mr. Frankel to suggest that Jackie Taylor “dust off” Raisin or The Wiz but only moments later state that he is holding the company to a higher standard which “will require that BET formulate a vision for the next generation of black theater.”

I’m assuming that Mr. Frankel doesn’t believe that dusting off a Broadway musical from 1978 is formulating a vision for the next generation of black theater but rather just wished he’d seen that or Raisin instead of One Name Only.

Mr. Frankel also asks “Is it wrong of me to wonder why BET isn’t expanding their vision beyond “Tributes” and educational outreach to nurture the next poetical playwright of color in the vein of a Lynn Nottage or Lorraine Hansberry?”

I actually do think it is wrong of him to wonder because that’s exactly what BET is currently doing. Their Black Playwrights Initiative has existed for 6 years now. I have seen no less than 3 plays per summer for 4 years and there is a Playwrights Festival every December. It is a week long festival with a different play each night. In addition, I’ve attended dozens of readings produced by BET and the BPI throughout the years.

BET and BPI offer developing artists mentors as well as access to professional directors and actors. Some of these plays will soon be performed in venues outside of BET.

Additionally, the new facility has a black box theater that will be opening when construction is completed. This is where the vision for the next generation of black theater will be nurtured.

No, I haven’t responded to the review element because I wouldn’t argue with his experience at a show. I did, however, want to clarify the above points regarding BET’s mission.

And hopefully it will make Mr. Frankel (as well as Michael M. Landman-Karny) feel better knowing that some of the funding he seemed angry about is actually being put to the great use he suggested and that the grants for BET are actually proportional to the work they create.

P.S. I have seen many works by Remy Bumppo, The House and The Hypocrites. Great theater companies, all.

With respect,
Cheryl Snodgrass

LaVonna Williams October 14, 2012 at 7:30 am

I have seen “One Name Only,” and I must admit that I was not impressed. The only thing worth seeing the night I went was Ms. Dawn Bless as Patti Labelle singing, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Now, in regard to Mr. Tony Frankel’s review, I wholeheartedly agree with him and his review is not racist. I am an Educated African American Woman with an MFA in Acting from Julliard and an MFA in Directing from New York University and I wish my Black People would stop pulling the “Race Card” every time someone not of color reviews a show and tells the truth. With my education and credentials put out there, I am more than qualified to say what I am about to say. The purpose of theatre is to educate, entertain, and raise consciousness. And theatre, just like any other art form, is learned through craft. It’s just like learning your ABCs, 123s, and so on. We may (teachers, etc…) develop different ways to teach children their ABCs but the intent and objective is for them to learn their ABCs. Therefore, when you study theatre, just as when you study music, dance, and art, you study it so that you can learn the tricks of the trade, so you can grow as an artist, and ultimately, become better. There’s a lot of raw talent on BET’s stage but that talent has not been honed. Acting is just like a plant. In order for it to grow, it must be nurtured, given sunlight, water, and love. The actors on BET’s stage look amateurish or simply like beginners. I don’t say this to be rude, but I am comparing their acting to that of professional companies such as: Goodman, Steppenwolf, LookingGlass, and so forth. There’s something to be said about why BET actors rarely make it onto “Big Name Houses” such as the aforementioned. It is because they’re not being introduced to theatre and plays that have all of the mechanics of good, quality theatre. Majority of the scripts done on the BET stage lack good dialogue, plot development, and three dimensional complex characters. If you are putting up a play that is “supposed” to be embedded in realism, you must HAVE those things. I had a student of mine from the west side tell me, “August Wilson is boring. I would rather see a play at Black Ensemble.” This floored me, because I knew the problem was that she had not seen a high quality August Wilson production. But more importantly, the only plays she had seen up to this point were plays by Tyler Perry (chitlin circuit) and BET. So when this collegiate year started, I took my acting class to see “Jitney” by August Wilson at Court Theatre. You would not believe how many of my students that were from the west, south sides, and projects of Chicago that absolutely loved “Jitney.” They had never seen good quality, thought provoking theatre and it moved them. They wanted to come back to see it again and were planning on bringing their families to see it. The point is this: How can we elevate our people, if we keep doing and exposing them to only chitlin circuitesque theatre. I have the utmost respect for Ms. Jackie Taylor as a businesswoman and what she has accomplished which is nothing short of a miracle, but being as successful as you are and coming from Cabrini Green, don’t you feel you have an obligation to help elevate your people to the next level, to challenge them intellectually, artistically, and produce theatre with good quality acting, singing, dialogue, plot development, and so forth? Theatre encompasses all of this but on the BET stage, all I see is good singing. This is what Tony Frankel is talking about. Good singing is not good theatre. All of the elements MUST mesh together and become one cohesive whole. This is not evident on the BET stage. With a brand new $20 million dollar facility, I expect more. You are doing an injustice to your own Black People when you have the resources to create and put out theatre that is thought provoking and challenges to take a look at ourselves and the situations going on around us and in life in general and you make no effort to do so. Many Black People think that acting a fool on stage and making people laugh is good theatre. But it is not. Theatre is more than a few hours of laughter. It is a holistic experience. It is happiness, drama, sorrow, pain, laughter, anger, joy, and many other human emotions that must be portrayed truthfully and honestly on the stage. I don’t see this all of the time at BET. And part of the reason I don’t see it is due to the writing lacking those crucial elements I stated previously. Yes, Ms. Jackie Taylor has built a $20 million dollar enterprise. But at what expense? Lupe Fiasco has a song called, “Dumb it Down.” In the song or rap he says, “You goin’ over niggas’ heads Lu (Dumb it down)
They tellin’ me that they don’t feel you (Dumb it down)
We ain’t graduate from school nigga (Dumb it down)
Them big words ain’t cool nigga (Dumb it down)
Yeah I heard Mean And Vicious nigga (Dumb it down)
Make a song for the bitches nigga (Dumb it down)
We don’t care about the weather nigga (Dumb it down)
You’ll sell more records if you (Dumb it down).
The final lyric, “You’ll sell more records if you dumb it down,” is what resonates volumes to me. Essentially, this is what BET has done. BET has dumbed down their productions to make a quick buck. Is this right coming from an intelligent, talented actress and businesswoman from Cabrini Green who made it out of the projects to be one of the most successful Black women in Chicago? I beg to differ. It is your duty and you have an obligation to elevate your people and the only way that can be done is by exposing them to higher quality theatre. And yes, it is your theatre and you have a right to run it just as you want to. This is the Land of the free and the home of the brave. But I will leave you with this to think about. America was built on the back breaking labor of Black or African American People. Our ancestors were slaves- owned and operated by White slave masters. They made tons of money off of the work our ancestors did. But was it right?

Lisa B. October 17, 2012 at 4:03 am

Hello,

I too am edumacated with a couple of degrees under my unhoned belt. I think it is absolutely splediforious that you got the opportunity to study at these prestigious institutions to discover the trifold purpose of theatre. Are you currently in any shows at The Goodman, Steppenwolf, or LookingGlass? I would live to love to come check you out Sista Girlfriend.

All I will say is this. I am an actor paying my bills and making people laugh along the way. At the end of each show we greet our audience and shake every hand that wants to greet us. Here’s some embedded realism and examples of how we elevate people EVERY SINGLE NIGHT.

I play Tanika. That loud, boisterous girl from the hood.

“You’re not going to believe this but my niece is JUST like you,” a proud aunt says with tears in her eyes.

“You know, I’m fifty years old and during that final closing number, I felt like you were talking directly to me. You reminded me that it’s not too late for me to follow my dreams,” another tearful patron tells me.

“Daaaammmnn girl you did yo thing girl,” a young lady tells me. In my eyes and in my performance, she sees herself. “You betta keeps it real sheeeiiiiiit”

“I have seen Hair in the 1960s in London,” the older gentlemen said with a thick dialect, “and your energy is superb and was better than the entertainers of Hair.”

Have you ever been evicted? Embedded realism
Has your husband ever cheated on you while a baby was growing in your belly? Embedded realism
Have you ever been scared? Of anything?
Have you ever had to fight for respect?
Have you ever hit rock bottom and the only way out was your voice?

If you’ve answered yes to any of those questions, then you got a little Tanika Jones in you. If none of them are applicable to you, welcome to the life of everyday people you pass on the street. Embedded realism.

Have you done your research to know where BET actors have worked after they left Jackie’s stage? You might want to google some names or visit New York to check out a Broadway show or two.

Have you ever started somewhere? Have you ever been an amateur at anything? Or were you born at Hospital Ivy League?

Have you seem Hair in London in the 1960s?

MY purpose of theatre is to be that mirror to the world. In each character I’ve ever taken on, people see themselves and that’s what matters. My experience and hundreds of stories that I hear from BET theatre goers EVERYDAY has qualified me to write what I just wrote out of passion for my craft, my current role onstage, as a actor in Chicago, and as an Africam American woman, and as a human being.

Additionally, I watched gymnastics all the time and I can barely do a cartwheel.

Lisa Shari Beasley

LaVonna Williams October 17, 2012 at 9:20 am

Ms. Lisa B,
When I refer to realism, I am referring to how things are acted out- that is, being acted out realistically, truthfully, and honestly. If you say everything acted on the BET stage is and has done this, you are sadly mistaken. And as far as BET actors being on Steppenwolf, Goodman, and other top notch stages and so on, you can count the number of actors on one hand from BET that have made it onto those stages. Chester Gregory is on Broadway, and I saw Crowns at the Goodman and the guy that played Jackie Wilson was in it. But, he was an ensemble member. How many BET actors get leading or principal roles on the Steppenwolf, Goodman, Lookingglass stages? You can not count more than five. When you can, get back to me Ms. Lisa B. And I have acted at Goodman and Steppenwolf theaters; as well as have done countless commercials and voice overs. Currently, I am cast in the new film, Cloud Atlas with Tom Hanks and Halle Berry that goes to theaters this 26 of October. So yes Ms. Lisa B, I am a working actor and professor of acting and directing.

Lisa B. October 14, 2012 at 6:07 pm

Heeeeeeeeeeeyyyyy! Heeeeelllll nawwwwlll. Detroit in da house!!! Where dey do dat at??????

~Tanikà Jones

Guy October 15, 2012 at 11:45 pm

Mr. Frankel said that Black Ensemble has a series of MINSTREL SHOWS. Is he basing that off of one show?

To say feels sorry for black audience members who are so desperate to see themselves represented on the stage that they’re willing to shell out $65 a ticket for such an enterprise, is absolutely insulting to me as an audience member of color. I’m not desperate. I’m intelligent, and I enjoyed the show.

Tanika, a character in One Name Only, was a stereotype. A ghetto and boisterous hood chick and struggling single mother. Turns out she was a Howard University Alum, and she won the contest and record deal. (Voted by the audience) That was as refreshing twist to me. That the play took a stereotype, and added depth.

Mr. Frankel asked why Black Ensemble Theater isn’t dusting off all-black musicals such as Raisin and The Wiz, or adding its spin to other classics of American musical theatre. This theater only does new works. But I’ve heard that more experimental pieces will be done in the 150 seat black box theater that will open next year in the same building.

He asked, how does this company manage to fund this magnificent new space while cutting-edge storefront companies such as Remy Bumppo and The House and The Hypocrites (to name but a few) operate on a wing and a prayer? WELL, Jackie gives quality theater. If people didn’t like it, it wouldn’t sell. Full seats for 36 years don’t lie.

He asked, “When is America going to reward great theater, great storytelling and visionary work instead of granting money for skin color?” How nasty to suggest that after watching ONE show at Black Ensemble, that the theater is only granted funding because of skin color. That undermines the 36 years of successful and thoughtful work that this theater has done.

I’m black. My mother and I saw the show and actually agree with some of the actual critiques of the play. But its the commentary that was ignorant. He asks, “Is it wrong of me to wonder why BET isn’t expanding their vision beyond “Tributes” and educational outreach to nurture the next poetical playwright of color in the vein of a Lynn Nottage or Lorraine Hansberry? Well, BET has a group named BLACK PLAYWRIGHTS INITIATIVE, that fosters new voices of various styles and disciplines.

Barbara October 16, 2012 at 7:51 am

We see over 100 plays and musicals every year in Chicago, New York and London. We are big supporters of Black Ensemble because the purpose of our going to theatre is TO BE ENTERTAINED. We always leave Black Ensemble with a smile on our faces. We bring many people who are also ENTERTAINED.

We support Live Theatre and we will continue to support Jackie Taylor. For the first few years of BE, there were very few whites (including us) and now the word has spread and the audience is sometimes 1/2 white BECAUSE people regardless of color enjoy being ENTERTAINED. We have never walked out of a BE production at intermission nor do we see empty seats during the second act. What does that say for the quality of their productions? It says a whole lot.

Keep on doing what you are doing, Jackie. It works for us.

Stefon Glover October 16, 2012 at 11:08 am

Mr. Tony Frankel,
I loved The Amen Corner at eta. If you’re looking for good theater, please go there and review it. Awesome show! It hasn’t gotten the reviews it should have in my opinion.

Anthony Wilson October 21, 2012 at 12:38 am

I’m not a historian on theater. Nor am I a person who has an extensive education in this field to be critical of anything. I’m just an old fashion father who works hard and has a love for music and the arts. I believe sometimes when we expose ourselves to new ideas, venues, restaurants or anything we’ve never experienced before, we would come away with a more objective opinion when we enter with the idea of what they are and embrace such, rather than what we would like them to be. I’ve read every post and I’ve went through every published critique. I’ve been to this show with my family and we enjoyed it. Simple as that. We enjoyed it. We didn’t walk away comparing it to Broadway or any other setting. I believe most of those who do come are similar to me. Would I go again? Yes! It was entertaining and for those of us who love those artist it was quiet refreshing to listen to their music live. It was my first time going to the Black Ensemble Theater and I was pleased. I wish I had been more aware of venues like this on a regular basis. I wasn’t raised in the arts I was exposed to them through others that invited me and my desire to be apart of more grew from there. I have supported other small theaters (SteppenWolf and the George) over the past three years and I will continue to support the Black Ensemble Theater from now on. Reviews are what they are…..I listen to those who don’t get paid to give their opinions. They seem to be more genuine. I also would like to add that racism is a learned behavior. Even if taught at an early age, at some point that person will be exposed to the knowledge of doing better and if they choose to continue with such behavior then that’s when I label them a racist. I’m not sure if I what I read of Mr. Frankels comments were racist. I believe in his mind what he said was his opinion. He may not realize that some of his comments were as or would be taken as offensive as they were. I’m not trying to feed excuses, but in my line of work I have had to realize that many of my patients REALLY THINK THE WAY THEY TAKE CARE OF THEMSELVES IS NORMAL. What I can say is this. Ms Taylor I see how easily it can be to get offended when others step out and say things that are challenging against the hard work you and your staff have accomplished. Remember, he is paid to speak. No one said it had to be accurate. It’s an opinion and there is nothing to support it’s the majority. Although, I understood your response, you are at a level in your life your work speaks for itself. It is best to let your enemies ponder what you are thinking. It will leave them with uncertainty of how to deal with you in the future. You continue to put the work in and create more opportunities for great gifts to emerge and your blessings will continue to overtake you. Remember God takes the foolish things of this world to confound the wise. Let those who don’t understand your blessing waist thier time trying to figure it out. They never will. It’s not for them to do so. God bless you and your work. Forgive me for being lengthy.

Tony

Juanita T. November 5, 2012 at 9:39 am

I SMELL HATERS! One Name Only was the bomb! Congrats to Jackie Taylor, Ruben Echoes, and the entire BET Cast and Members! Job well done. I am a fan, and i will remain a fan for the duration of my life! Looking forward to the next production! LOVE YOU GUYS!!!

Juanita T. November 5, 2012 at 9:41 am

3 Words…… Jeff recommended baby!

Bobby G August 7, 2017 at 11:20 am

WOW! I came across this crazy conversation googling another show at B.E.T. — Last Dancer Standing — which I saw yesterday. The music and dancing were hot, the book so-so. Was I entertained by the show? Sure.

What I don’t get about these comments is the racism hurled against the critic, who clearly isn’t racist in this piece. He’s called “homosexual,” “Jew,” “white,” “an enemy” and more. And the theater’s founder says, “You Can Kiss My Black Ass”??!! This from a woman whose company’s mission is to “eradicate racism and its devastating effects upon society through the theater arts.” Wow! I mean, Wow! What could have been an enlightening conversation (such as the professor’s comments) turned into defensive and ugly rants.

But I can substantiate that the critic is accurate: five years after this review and Black Ensemble Theater is continuing its’ “Tribute Shows” — I saw nothing at the theater about other productions or plays being done besides outreach and initiatives, with some new plays getting two-night readings outside of the theater.

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