Illinois Artists

ENDALYN: Dance has recently gone through the argument of, “Is it a sport or is it an art?” The physicality is so deceptive in ballet. You often are in tutus or corsets that suck
you in, and you can barely breathe. And you have to dance for long stretches of
time and not appear to be exhausted and have this air and this illusion of, “This is really
nothing.” ENDALYN: More time in the air. That’s better. You got it. ENDALYN: I would say that I was an athlete
in many, many ways. NARRATOR: As a child growing up in Chicago,
Endalyn Taylor was born to dance. LILLIE: She was always trying to tell me something,
even then, by the way she would move. She would walk on her toes all the time, so
her dad thought something was wrong with her, because she would walk around on her tippy-toes. ENDALYN: My mom had a dear friend whose house
we would go over to, and this particular evening, she had on The Tonight Show. And Tiny Tim was the guest, and he was singing
his famous song, “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.” So, I got on top of her table and I started
dancing. LILLIE: She was so good that we stopped watching
the television, and we would watch her. ENDALYN: And she said to my mom, “You need
to put her in ballet, because the dancing she’s doing � it looks very specific.” My mom took her advice, and that was kind
of the beginning of my journey. NARRATOR: Endalyn joined Mayfair Academy of
Fine Arts on Chicago’s south side, and fell in love with ballet. LILLIE: As she got older, we decided to take
her to Ruth Page Studio, because someone suggested she needed a better school. ENDALYN: There it was a little different. I was suddenly isolated, in a way, because
in many of my classes, I was the only, if not one of two or three, kids of color. Mikhail Baryshnikov, a very famous ballet
dancer, he was the artistic director of American Ballet Theatre, and they would also take class
at Ruth Page. He saw me dancing, and he saw me jump, particularly,
which is my specialty. He came over to me. He thought I was a very talented dancer and
wanted me to audition for American Ballet Theatre the next time they held auditions. That made some of the other students who had
been a little resistant to me being there welcome me in, but it was also a moment that
let me know, again, “You’re on the right track.” So, when they came into town, the gentlemen
who did hold the audition, he kept me until the end, and then pulled me over to the side,
and he said, “You’re a beautiful dancer.” But he said, “You’re type, you should really
stick to modern or jazz.” Which was crushing to me, because I could
only imagine that he was talking about the color of my skin. He didn’t see me do modern or jazz, so he
wouldn’t know if I was proficient at it or not. So, to have that moment of joy and affirmation
kind of dashed with this cold water of racism � yeah, that was a moment. I started auditioning, and Dance Theatre of
Harlem came to Chicago, and it was absolutely amazing. (BALLET MUSIC)
ENDALYN: For me, it was the first time I saw brown ballerinas, on pointe, in tutus, doing
a repertoire that ranged from the extreme classical to contemporary works. And now I had role models to look up to, where
it was not just accepted to be a black dancer, but it was the norm and it was the expectation. NARRATOR: She eventually became a principal
dancer with the legendary Dance Theatre of Harlem. It gave her a chance to travel the world and
inspire others through dance. (MUSIC)
ENDALYN: So, I came up to Dance Theatre of Harlem today to work with Ingrid Silva, who
will be working on a project with me entitled “Counterpoint” and who is currently a principle
dancer with Dance Theatre of Harlem. INGRID: I met Ms. Taylor in 2008, here at
Dance Theatre of Harlem. I was just arrived from Brazil. She has so many special things that she shares. She has experience as a professional in principal
dancing with the company. The way she explains about the history � and
to me, that’s one of the most grateful things, because when I started dancing, I had someone
to look up to, to understand more about classical ballet, about having more brown ballerinas. So, what a change! Having someone that can explain to you all
those details to become a professional dancer, and a better human being, as well. ENDALYN: As Mr. Mitchell would always say,
picture! You know. NARRATOR: After years of touring with the
company, Endalyn got married and had a child. Wanting stability for her young family, she
decided to take her talents to Broadway. LILLIE: She just went and auditioned for Broadway,
and she got it! I knew that Endalyn’s that type of person. She’s just going to go. NARRATOR: She appeared in the Tony Award-winning
productions of Carousel, Aida, and The Lion King. It was during The Lion King where she used
her ballet training to balance a wide variety of characters. ENDALYN: I had sixteen costume changes. As a ballerina, you do portray a number of
different things. But you are really stretched when you’re wearing
the animal on your body. (MUSIC)
AMY: For tonight, we’ve got Kid’s Night at The Fabulous Fox. With Disney’s The Lion King, we have 1,000
free kid’s tickets to give out the community. So, a bunch of kids coming to the theater
for the first time. We are thrilled to have Endalyn Taylor here,
doing a dance demo. With her being one of the original lionesses,
we thought it would be a great asset to bring her to share with our community some of the
choreography, and have all the kids acting like lions with her. So it should be really fun. ENDALYN: Alright, so you might take cover
and jump up. Jump up! And take cover! ENDALYN: If more kids could experience this,
I think it would change their perspective about what the arts can do, and maybe make
them aspire to do it, or just become avid show-goers. I think that would be the best result. (MUSIC)
NARRATOR: Endalyn continues to strive to make dance accessible to audiences of all kinds. ENDALYN: It is a great opportunity for us
to use our gifts as a platform. Many times, you can talk about or introduce
a subject that may not be so easy for people to welcome into their world, verbally, because
it can be hard. NARRATOR: Endalyn is using the power of dance
to shed light on important issues, such as her recent work, Chalk Lines. ENDALYN: Chalk Lines is a piece about the
proliferation of violence in the African American community. And this focuses more on the persevering spirit
of people of color, and the determination to continue to live, rather than dwell on
the fear of these things happening to our children on a daily basis. (MUSIC)
NARRATOR: In 2017, Endalyn returned to New York to perform Chalk Lines at the American
Dance Guild Festival. The piece included fellow dance professor
Kemal Nance and several of their students from the University of Illinois. ENDALYN: The feedback has been amazingly powerful. Unfortunately, the relevancy of the piece
is still here. But, people have responded to it with gratitude,
and it just gives people pause for thought. (MUSIC)
NARRATOR: Back at Illinois, Endalyn Taylor is training the newest generation of performers
who share the same dream she once had as a young dancer in Chicago. ENDALYN: Never underestimate the power of
you. I’m my best competition. I’m my greatest strength. So, obviously, you train hard, you work to
master all of the skill sets, but never forget that what you have, that no one else has,
is your unique perspective. (MUSIC)
TYRONE: I feel like all of us could honestly say that theater saved our lives. And so, Definition Theater is my chosen family. There’s no ensemble that has looked like us,
that has the passions that we have, and I just feel like we were really born to do this. KELSON: Yes. NARRATOR: Most theater graduates focus on
getting a start in the cutthroat world of acting. But the members of Definition Theater Company
focused on changing the world. MERCEDES: When we say we want to change the
world, that’s not a joke. That’s not a clich�. That is an actual fact. KELSON: We’re not fully established yet. We have absolutely nothing to lose, and we
have everything to gain for so many types of people that aren’t represented at all. TYRONE: It’s still an issue. The issue of being not represented, not seeing
yourself on stage, is still an issue for me, even though I know I can do this and I have
my own path, I still � I go to other theaters around town, and I don’t see the programming. I don’t see the plays. It’s a weird thing, and I still don’t know
why, but for some reason, you just have to see it to know that it’s even possible for
you. TYRONE: In our mission, it’s very important
that everyone on stage and everyone back stage look different, and we hope that our audience,
in turn, will look that way as well. MERCEDES: So that you can see different kinds
of people on stage. Because you see different kinds of people
in life. NARRATOR: In just five years, Definition Theater
Company has been making a mark in Chicago. They have staged a dozen productions, written
their own plays, and received critical acclaim. TYRONE: There are over 260 theater companies
in Chicago, but there are only a few of them that you know of, and luckily, we’re starting
to be one of those. CHUCK: Definition is � they’re young, they’re
full of energy, and they’re going to change the world. And God bless them. TYRONE: In theater, you’re supposed to hold
a mirror up to the world. And we just find that most people aren’t doing
that. (MUSIC)
TOM: For many years, the theater produced plays by a fairly limited stable of writers,
many of whom were white men. In the last twenty years, contemporary theater
altogether has faced that fact and is diversifying. And so, they’re entering into the theater
right at that time, and they’re contributing to that change. NARRATOR: Definition’s quick success may seem
amazing, but members say there is no secret. KELSON: We are not afraid to try. We’ve been told “no” to do certain shows,
and we go, “Alright, we’re going to go do it over here then.” MERCEDES: I didn’t want to just go out and
audition for roles because so many times, I got told, “You’ll be perfect for this when
you’re older,” until I was like, “Well, I don’t want to wait until I’m older. So, if that role doesn’t exist for me by your
standards, then I’ll just write it. I’ll write it for myself.” So, we wanted to just be in charge of our
own destiny. Because you cannot drive a car if you don’t
take the wheel. NARRATOR: At Chicago’s Goodman Theater, the
company is holding auditions for their latest production, which will be staged by award-winning
director Chuck Smith. TYRONE: As a small company, we go to the bigger
companies like Goodman, like Steppenwolf, and we ask them for things, and the answer
usually is yes. CHUCK: We know, you can’t cut off your children. You’ve got to feed your children and the smaller
companies are our children. NARRATOR: Smith is working with Definition
on the Chicago premiere of Brandon Jacob-Jenkins’ An Octoroon. The play kicks off Definition’s residency
at the Victory Gardens Biograph Theater. TYRONE: We used to be itinerant, which means
we moved around from theater to theater. And we have a place for our audience to come
to and know that our work will be done here. That, alone, is enough. But then to be doing this play. And we beat out a lot of other theaters actually
in Chicago to do this production. CHUCK: Goodman has had their eye on An Octoroon,
and we figured this would be a good mix � a good fit for the two. NARRATOR: An Octoroon opens with a monologue
by actor Breon Arzell. BREON: Hi everyone. I’m a black playwright. I don’t know exactly what that means, but
I’m here to tell you a story. NARRATOR: The work plays with our notions
of race as we watch Arzell put on whiteface to play both the hero and the villain in the
production. CHUCK: Black individuals are playing white
roles, vice versa. It’s a racial farce. You have to be able to laugh at it. NARRATOR: Most of the play is set on a Southern
plantation in financial ruin. ACTRESS: Terrebonne for sale! ACTRESS: Terrebonne for sale! TYRONE: An Octoroon forces everybody in that
room to look at the ugliness, and hopefully, learn from it. But it also pokes fun at it. ACTOR: The Negro race is so quaint and vibrant
and colorful, most like the landscape. CHUCK: Hopefully when you leave the theater,
it puts something on your mind. And that’s what theater’s all about. ACTRESS: Of the blood that feeds my heart,
one drop in eight is black. Bright red as the rest may be, that one drop
poisons all the rest, for I am an unclean thing. I’m an octoroon. TOM: The theater is one of those few places
where people of all different backgrounds come together in a room and feel, and that’s
what actors, in particular, bring to the work. They bring experience of what it is to be
human in our world. NARRATOR: Definition’s founding members learned
how to convey their human experience on stage at the University of Illinois. KELSON: When I went to U of I’s audition,
it was by far the most comfortable I’ve ever felt, just because the professors were just
so � they knew where I was at as soon as I came in. They knew what I was capable of, what my weaknesses
were, almost immediately, and they really kind of fostered me and made me feel like
I was capable of doing it. MERCEDES: The allowed for us to be vulnerable,
and I don’t think that that is something you can get at a lot of other places. They pushed for it. It was at the height of what they wanted,
was for you to expose yourself in the most amazing sense, on stage, so that you can find
yourself. NARRATOR: In their senior year at Illinois,
the friends produced The Brothers Size at a student run theater on campus. TYRONE: And we literally had to cast it. We had to find designers. Looking back, it’s how we learned how to produce. NARRATOR: Definition members often come back
to their alma mater to direct plays and to coach current students. TOM: Many of the students who are here today
look up to them. They recognize Definition as a group of U
of I alums who are really successful and are recognized in Chicago. That’s what they want to do. So, to have them back, working with students,
is ideal. MERCEDES: Anything you want to work on in
your monologues? Where you feel like, “Man, this feels kind
of iffy, I’ve been struggling with it.” We would love address it. TYRONE: The next generation connect with us
in such an authentic way. They look up to us, and it’s exciting, but
we’re working on ourselves still, too. And I think that’s what’s most important. PAT: I want people to look at me and think,
“Wow, look at that guy.” MERCEDES: When you play it in this very honest
state, and allow yourself to discover these questions and to just be in it, and to feel
how you’re feeling, then you can make the audience feel something. PAT: They helped me realize that it’s not
as hard as we all think it is � that it’s just going up there and being you. MERCEDES: Okay start from the top, great job. And keep breathing. Say it again, Tyrone. TYRONE: You going to be alright? MARLENE: We’re going to be alright. TYRONE: Yeah. MERCEDES: Start over. Again
TYRONE: You going to be alright? MARLENE: We’re going to be alright. How? MARLENE: The thing they were really encouraging
me to do is to let go, and so that’s really what we were focusing on, was just getting
me to go there, and push myself. MARLENE: You think you’re more tired of being
out here on these streets than me but you ain’t. I don’t want this. I never wanted this. PAT: They know what they’re doing, and it’s
a powerful presence that you just kind of feed off of. ACTRESS: Quiet. Girl, even the white folk quiet. NARRATOR: With more plays in production, Definition
Theater Company has no plans to slow down. TYRONE: And at the same time, there are days
that we wake up and we quit. We quit every day. Sometimes you wake up and you’re like, “I
actually don’t want to do this anymore today.” But then you have to remind yourself not only
what you’re capable of, but who you’re setting an example for. KELSON: But as long as we’re doing shows that
are having a bigger impact, that’s all that matters. TYRONE: Our motto is “Stay in it.” And again, that’s about looking at all those
heroes, at all those people we put on a pedestal. How do you � how did they get there? And the answer is: they stayed in it. (MUSIC)
(CLAPPING) CHIP M: Thank you very much. That was fun. We are the University of Illinois Jazz Faculty. CHIP M: I love what I do. I love making music. That’s the best part of the day. That’s always the best part of the day. (JAZZ MUSIC)
CHIP M: The only thing that keeps our great American indigenous art form, jazz, going
is the ability to show that to young people and students so that they can reach out and
touch it. JOEL: Everyone on the faculty is a very strong
player, and that’s what we bring to the table, and that’s what students are interested in. They’re interested in, as a teacher, what
have you done as a professional performer. (JAZZ MUSIC)
PAUL: There’s a buzz in the jazz world as to the quality of the jazz program here at
the University of Illinois. This is one of the top ten jazz programs at
the university level. RON: We’re carrying on a legacy from all those
greats that went before us. CHIP S: Yep. (JAZZ MUSIC)
CHIP S: When I got on the Woody Herman Orchestra, my audition for the band was George Bush,
Sr.’s presidential inauguration. (JAZZ MUSIC)
RON: I was at Nixon’s inauguration. (LAUGHTER)
CHIP S: Right on. (JAZZ MUSIC)
ANNOUNCER: Joel Spencer at the drum set. JOEL: People ask you: “How did you choose
music?” Well, I listened to it, and I think it ended
up choosing me. And so, this is something I had to do. This is a lifestyle. This is why you’re here. (JAZZ MUSIC)
JOAN: I didn’t start playing jazz until my senior year of college. (JAZZ MUSIC)
JOAN: It was like love at first hearing. I literally went to the record store with
my records, traded them in, and then bought all jazz records. It was that cut-and-dry. (JAZZ MUSIC)
LARRY: Let’s talk about bass players and drummers. Bass players and drummers are the heartbeat
of the jazz group. There’s a sense of teamwork and awareness
of what each other’s doing, but at the same time, an awareness of what the whole band
is doing. JIM: I was actually one of the last generations
of people that came to New York where there was sort of a set up path you followed. I went on a road band. I came to New York, I got a little bit of
notoriety on that. Close to 20 years, I’ve been playing with
Steely Dan. (JAZZ MUSIC)
JIM: And there’s nights when we’re standing on stage and I just sit there and think, “Man,
am I lucky.” Just to be here. There’s a couple high points like that. TITO: I’ve had way more than that, so. JIM: Yeah, well there actually is � what
Tito is saying � there’s actually a lot more. TITO: Carnegie Hall. That’s one of those feelings. When you play Carnegie Hall. I think you would agree. You’ve probably played Carnegie Hall fifty
times. But every time you play there, it’s special. (JAZZ MUSIC)
TITO: Playing with Tito Puente. That was one of those moments. Being able to tour — including getting to
record a CD, a Hot Night in Paris, with Phil Collin’s Big Band. Our faculty has played with some of the greatest
musicians in the world, and yet, each of us loves to teach. (JAZZ MUSIC)
TITO: As long as I’m able to perform music that I love, to teach, to be a mentor to students,
I’m ecstatic. CHIP M: All the jazz faculty are really vested
in this place, in the University. RON: Every one of us has a gift, and sometimes
that gift coincides with our passion. And it took me a long time to find out where
my gift was. CHIP S: I think there’s one thing that you
bring to the faculty that is invaluable. Ron is a really neat marriage between the
contemporary, modern, but also the history and the lineage. (JAZZ MUSIC)
CHIP S: When you hear him play, there’s just so much history in his playing. (JAZZ MUSIC)
LARRY: Musicians have to go through life with a kind of optimism that’s just going to bring
a little more positive energy to the world, so that’s what I tend to focus on with my
students. (JAZZ MUSIC)
CRYSTAL: Larry has all these different tools that he’s gained over his years, and started
passing that to me. He’s really open to what I was interested
in, and didn’t have this preset plan, like “You’re going to do this, this, and this.” Which isn’t bad, but it kind of gave me more
freedom to explore what I wanted. (JAZZ MUSIC)
JUSTIN: I was living in Chicago before I came here, and the trumpet community there is real
tight. And that’s where Tito kind of came up in. Heard him play a couple times, and when it
came time to decide getting my doctorate, I knew I wanted a great teacher. TITO: That’s pretty good. (LAUGHTER)
TITO: I like that. (JAZZ MUSIC)
JUSTIN: The most important thing that Tito’s taught me is to love everything that I put
out into the world, as long as it comes out sincerely. (JAZZ MUSIC)
JIM: Players like Reggie that are thinking the way he’s thinking are going to be the
future of this instrument, and it’s very exciting. (JAZZ MUSIC)
JIM: It’s robust, but with a whole lot of musical knowledge behind it. It’s � you are very dangerous now. REGGIE: Thanks, man. That’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said
about me. TITO: The Iron Post Jazz Club is our jazz
laboratory. (JAZZ MUSIC)
PAUL: The Iron Post is a sanctioned room for recitals for the University of Illinois jazz
program. Plus, every Thursday, throughout the school
semester, the University of Illinois jazz program plays here. TITO: I can’t tell you how important this
is, with our students, in terms of learning how to play jazz, because you can only go
so far learning this music in a practice room. LARRY: We have nineteen jazz ensembles here
at University of Illinois — a combination of big bands and small groups. So, having this club gives a real constant,
steady balance to everything that’s going on over on campus. (JAZZ MUSIC)
JIM: Every ensemble gets to play in a bona fide jazz club. MELISSA: Jim Pugh, I hear him say once, “This
is just like a jazz club in New York.” JIM: I usually make more money here than I
ever made in a club in New York. I remember doing some big bands in New York
where I’d go home with thirty-eight cents. MELISSA: Downbeat Magazine recognized the
Iron Post for the past couple of years as one of the world’s top jazz venues. PAUL: What makes me feel best about what we’ve
done here is having the students who’ve graduated, who are out playing professionally, come back
and play. CHIP M: One, two, a-one two
(JAZZ MUSIC) CHIP M: The Illinois jazz program is different
because of the vesting of the faculty � the amount of time our faculty is going to actually
spend with students. (MUSIC)

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