Local artistic director brings in 11 award nominations, broadens theater’s diversity


Marcel Bollag/The Daily Northwestern

Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre, 927 Noyes St. The theater received 11 nominations for the 2017 Black Theatre Alliance/Ira Aldridge Awards.

Ryan Wangman, Development and Recruitment Editor

When Tim Rhoze joined the Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre as its artistic director seven years ago, his goal was to engage “the four corners of Evanston and beyond” in the theater. Now, his vision is finally coming true.

On Sept. 14, the city announced the theater received 11 nominations for the 2017 Black Theatre Alliance/Ira Aldridge Awards, founded in 1995 to recognize black individuals who achieve excellence in theater, dance and other artistic areas. Rhoze said this is the most nominations the theater has received during his tenure, adding it was a “brilliant thing” that there was public recognition of the work he and fellow artists are doing.

Still, Rhoze said the best way the theater has contributed to the Evanston community is through increasing audience diversity in an intentional effort to be more inclusive and to make all people feel welcome in the theater. Fleetwood-Jourdain’s plays, he added, “literally have a 50-50 audience of blacks and whites, young and old.”

“We’ve always done phenomenal work,” Rhoze said. “This season, for many, was exceptional. The play selection was just speaking to a wider audience than what we’ve had before.”

Rhoze directed all three of Fleetwood-Jourdain’s summer plays and designed their sets. He received nominations for best direction of an ensemble for “Yellowman” and best set design for “Sweet.” The third play, “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill,” was put on after the deadline for this season’s awards, and won’t be eligible to be nominated until next year.

“Yellowman” is a tragic love story set in the South that follows the relationship between a light-skinned man and a black woman as they transition from adolescence to adulthood. “Sweet” depicts the lives of three black teenagers in 1960s Kansas. This version of “Sweet” is only the second time the play has been produced since its premiere at the National Black Theater in New York last year.

Rhoze said he used social media and selected pieces to attract a wider audience, emphasizing that his main focus has been giving Evanston residents the opportunity to see “excellent theater in their backyard.”

“It’s been a learning process,” Rhoze said. “Once you think you know what you’re doing, something will bring you back down to earth. You’ll find yourself starting from scratch again in some area of producing (or) some area of directing.”

Shadana Patterson, nominated for best actress in an ensemble for her role in “Yellowman,” said one of the most challenging parts of the play was having to act as several different characters. She said she wanted to be able to tell the story of the play honestly and to fully realize each character.

“When you have to be four or five people in the same play, I always think that’s more challenging because you have to really think about what makes that particular person different,” Patterson said.

Jelani Pitcher was nominated for best actor in an ensemble and most promising actor for his portrayal of one of the three black teenagers in “Sweet.” Pitcher, who is only a year removed from college, said a lot of research went into his role, from watching Vietnam War documentaries to playing 60s music on his drives to rehearsal.

He said even though the time period seems different from today, he focused on the similarities between himself and his character to best connect to his role.

Pitcher said he was humbled to be nominated for the awards alongside some “incredible names” and that he was honored and surprised by the distinction. He credited Rhoze with making the theater environment comfortable for actors and encouraging young talent.

“(Rhoze) wants his theater to be a light for generations to come,” Pitcher said. “He’s setting the groundwork for that and it’s very exciting.”

Email: ryanw@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @ryanwangman