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  • Angela Allyn


Black Ensemble Theater’s Founder and CEO Jackie Taylor announces the 2022 Black Playwrights Festival from April 26-30, 2022, featuring works by Viola Bennett, Jill Ross, Lillian Mitchum, Reginald Williams, and Dwight Neal, curated and directed by Black Ensemble Producing Managing Director Daryl D. Brooks. The Black Playwrights Festival features the scripts written by the members of the Black Playwrights Initiative (BPI) and is sponsored in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Tickets, $25, are available at, (773) 769-4451, and at the Black Ensemble Theater box office, 4450 N. Clark Street in Chicago.

“This year's Black Playwrights Festival is an incredible collection of staged readings that celebrate icons and trailblazers in music, movies, and comedy. The festival highlights the lives and music of Phyllis Hyman, Hattie McDaniel, Tammi Terrell, Sylvester, and comedian Flip Wilson. These performers were not only known for their talent but also leaders for civil rights in the fight for equality, comments Daryl D. Brooks. “The festival promises to enlighten, entertain, as well as give a possible sneak peek into what Black Ensemble may be producing in their soon-to-be-built studio theater.”

The live band is Music Director Robert Reddrick (drums), Adam Sherrod (piano), Jasper Stone (piano), Gary Baker (guitar) and Mark Miller (bass). The creative team includes Denise Karczewski (lighting design), Dj Douglass (sound design), and Kaitlyn Souter (stage manager).

The 2022 Black Playwright’s Festival includes:

Tuesday, April 26 at 7:00 pm

More Than a Maid: Hattie McDaniel Past and Present

by Viola Bennett

What does it mean for a black actress to play a maid today? For struggling actress Jocelyn Gerald, the answer lies in looking at the life and career of the first black woman to win an Oscar for playing a maid, Hattie McDaniel. To Jocelyn’s annoyance, Hattie McDaniel visits her and is intent on proving to Jocelyn that she is a strong black woman. Featuring a mix of jazz, blues, and modern R&B music, More Than a Maid, shines a light on the many accomplishments and hardships Hattie McDaniel endured while making a name for herself in Hollywood.

The cast of More Than a Maid: Hattie McDaniel Past and Present is: Renee Lockett (Hattie McDaniel), Lynn Solar (Joclyn), Emily Pate-Some (Michelle/ ensemble), Maureen Azzun (Louise Beavers/ ensemble), Colleen Perry (Katherine Hepburn/ ensemble), Brandon Lavell (FP Yober/ensemble), Nick Stockwell (Clarke Gable/ ensemble), Tamarus Harvell Walter White/ensemble), Deverin Deonte' (Paul Robeson/ ensemble) and Takisha Benson (ensemble).

Wednesday, April 27 at 7:00 pm

What You See is What You Get: The Flip Wilson Story

by Jill Ross

It's been said that comedy is born out of pain, and Crelow "Flip" Wilson Jr., had his fair share of both.

Born into poverty in Jersey City, his mother abandoned the family, which began a tortured history of abuse as he was placed in numerous foster homes, ultimately landing him in a reform school. This story of triumph, overcoming the odds, hard work, and how one man pushed past his pain to become the consummate entertainer. Flip Wilson evolves from the "Chitlin' Circuit" to having a prime-time television variety show. We also meet some of the talented people he met and worked with along the way.

The cast of What You See is What You Get: The Flip Wilson Story is: Brandon Lewis (Young Flip), Donn Harper (Older Flip), Kawana Williams-Blonell, Tashika Benson-Elenor/ensemble, Michael Ashford-RJ/ensemble, Nick Stockwell-(Monte' Kay/ensemble), Brian Boller (Johnny Carson/ ensemble), Vincent Jordan (Cab Calloway/ensemble), Kelvin Davis (Redd Foxx/ensemble), Rhonda Preston (Moms Mabley/ ensemble), Deverin Deonte' (ensemble), David Simmons (ensemble), Brandon Lavell (ensemble), Tamarus Harvell (ensemble).

Thursday, April 28 at 7:00 pm

The Tammi Terrell Story, Her Trials and Triumphs

by Lillian Mitchum

Tammi Terrel inspired to become a bigger-than-life star. She loved to sing and perform ever since she was a little girl. One of the most important people in her journey was Marvin Gaye who helped her to achieve her goals. Although her life was short lived, she accomplished her dream and became a star.

The cast of The Tammi Terrell Story, Her Trials and Triumphs is: Aeriel Williams (Tammi Terrell), Rhonda Preston (Jenny Montgomery), Kelvin Davis (Thomas Montgomery/ensemble), Emily Pate (Some-Ludie Montgomery), Lynn Solar (Aunt Alice), Deverin Deonte' (Marvin Gaye/ensemble), Tamarus Harvell (Dr. Ernest Garrett/ensemble), Davis Simmons (Jerry Butler/ensemble), and Tashika Benson (ensemble)

Friday, April 29 at 7:00 pm

The Phyllis Hyman Story

by Reginald Williams

The Phyllis Hyman Story is a musical journey through the career of an extraordinarily talented and gifted singer and performer depicting her musical triumphs, personal struggles, and untimely death.

The cast of The Phyllis Hyman Story is: Jessica Seals (Young Phyllis), Kawana Williams (Mature Phyllis), Nick Stockwell (Art/ensemble), Brian Boller (Clive Davis/ensemble), Brandon Lavell (Larry/ensemble), David Simmons (Norman Conners/ensemble), Deverin Deonte' (Michael Henderson/ensemble), Brandon Lewis (Kenny Gamble/ensemble), David Stobbe (Barry Manilow) and Alissa Castaneda (Glenda).

Saturday, April 30 at 3:00 pm

Disco Heat: In Tribute to the Queen of Disco Sylvester

Written by Dwight Neal

Before musical stars like Lil’ Nas X that came out as LGBTQ+, a musical genius named Sylvester paved the way as a leader in the LGBTQ movement. With Disco hits like “Mighty Real” and “Do You Wanna Funk,” this flamboyant international superstar made sure that not only did he lead the way but fought to make sure that others in his community felt safe and knew that they were not alone. We pay tribute to Sylvester who helped to create a style that incorporated disco and gospel while making it Mighty Real.

The cast of Disco Heat: In Tribute to the Queen of Disco Sylvester is: Dwight Neal (Sylvester), Rhonda Preston (Momma), Amber Chapman-(Martha Wash), and Sonya Sims (Izora Armstead)

Due to the challenges and uncertainties that have been brought about by the pandemic, Black Ensemble Theater is proceeding slowly, cautiously, and carefully. The readings are two acts with a short intermission. There will not be any food or drinks served. Masks are mandatory and must be worn at all times in the theater.

Black Ensemble Theater 

Founded in 1976, by the phenomenal producer, playwright and actress Jackie Taylor, Black Ensemble Theater is the only African American theater located in the culturally, racially, and ethnically diverse north side Uptown community. Through its Four Play Season of Excellence, The Black Ensemble Theater dazzles audiences locally, nationally, and internationally with outstanding original musicals that are entertaining, educational, and uplifting. The Black Ensemble Theater has produced more than 100 productions and employed over 5,000 artists. 

The mission of the Black Ensemble Theater Company is to eradicate racism and its devastating effects upon society through the theater arts. For more information on the Black Ensemble Theater Company, visit or call 773-769-4451. 

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