Chicago's Black Ensemble Theater sets sights on national stage with expansion plans

A local Black-founded and operated nonprofit theater is shooting for the stars with plans to revolutionize the arts on the North Side of Chicago and beyond.

In a FOX 32 special report, Jake Hamilton takes a look at their expansion plans and their next big hit for the stage.

"We are taking the next step in our mission. This is going to be a national model," said Jackie Taylor, founder of the Black Ensemble Theater.

Taylor has big plans for the future of the Black Ensemble Theater.

"We’re building the economic community. And more importantly, we’re bringing people of all colors and kinds together as a community to relish in these opportunities and the artistic endeavors that we’re going to provide," Taylor said.

The organization plans to break ground next year on a major expansion project, a campaign they’re calling Free To Be.

"The purpose of Free To Be is to create a community where everyone is free to be. It’s an artistic community. It has a performing arts and education center. It has a film technology center. It has a wonderful restaurant. And it has affordable housing for artists," she said.

"It blows my mind to just think about and see where we’ve come and where we’re going," said Daryl D. Brooks, the theater’s producing managing director.

Brooks has been with the organization for almost 24 years. He said the possibilities for the future are exciting.

"And it’s just going to be important because it’s going to connect to the theater so people will be able to come and then become actors on the stage. Maybe we may find more staff members," Brooks said.

"I think that’s why we’re so successful at having such a diverse audience, because we perpetuate the human issue," Brooks said.

Taylor founded the theater 47 years ago with an ambitious goal in mind - eradicating racism.

"Theater is definitely a uniter, a communicator, an educator. And it’s vital to delivering the important voices," Taylor said. "We are educating people about our wonderful culture and our history. But people can also see themselves within our culture and our history."

Staff say they’re making it happen through their work on the stage.

"I want people to have a good time and learn a little something along the way. People leave they feel like, especially kids, they feel like they are being represented on the stage," Brooks said.

"Our productions are all world premieres. They are written in house," Taylor said.

The topics vary, but all look to educate. Most recently they featured a Cinderella story and next up, a show all about the 80s.

"Teenage kid has to write a paper about the 80s. His uncle is an inventor, has created this time machine and takes him back to the 80s and he realizes just how important the music of the 80s is," Brooks said.

Taylor said each show is about moving a step closer to their goal.

"I would be crazy not to feel some kind of trepidation because this is huge and it’s going to make a difference in this world," Taylor said.

"It’s really just going to fulfill the dream and fulfill the vision of what the Black Ensemble Theater and the Black Ensemble Cultural Center is and what it’s going to mean to not only the community here in Uptown, but also the city of Chicago and throughout the United States. The arts will save the world. Absolutely, I believe that 120%," Brooks said.

The current estimate on construction for the theater’s expansion is three to five years.

The Time Machine: A Tribute to the ‘80s opens March 3.