Scene Study: Black Theater in Chicago

61 3Arts supporters
$10,160 raised of $5,000 goal
0 Days 0:00:00 LEFT
Funded on May 29, 2017
    • 203% contributed

Throughout my 15-year acting career, Chicago has been my home and its theater scene my greatest support network. Many of my first roles were performed for theaters whose missions are committed to honoring the Black aesthetic in theater. Now I would like to make a documentary film that pays tribute to the legacy of Black theater in Chicago. I plan to interview the pillars of this community, but the hope is to capture portraits of them that offer perspectives beyond common knowledge. Much like theater offers intimate explorations of its characters, the goal of this project is to share deeper insight into the hopes, experiences, and challenges of people we may already know and respect. I’m interested in engaging newer members of this community to explore their ideas and perspectives about identity in American theater practice today. Beyond my desire to pay a personal tribute to the Black theater scene in Chicago, this documentary will also raise awareness about the contributions this community has had on the American theatrical art form. With this campaign, I invite your support to help celebrate the rich history and continuing legacy of Black theater in Chicago. 

About This Project

When I began acting in Chicago, I worked at Black Ensemble Theater, ETA, and MPAACT.  These theaters gave me a chance to introduce myself to the theater community and lay a foundation for my professional career. For some time, I’ve wanted to offer something back to this community that has nurtured me and so many other artists.  This documentary would allow me to pay tribute to the people who strive to preserve a space for Black culture and artists in our city’s performance community.

In August 2016, I participated in a reading curated by Ron OJ Parsons, directed by Cheryl Lynn Bruce, and cast with Ernest Perry Jr. among others. These artists are greatly imbedded in the fabric of Chicago theater, but I didn’t realize how much so until they began reminiscing about a time the rest of us at the time knew little about. The way they spoke with each other revealed an intimate knowledge of a shared and little-known history. It was like hearing my uncles tell me a story that I didn’t know about my dad when he was my age. There are many respected figures I know in the theater community, very much like I know some of my own family members. I know what they’ve accomplished and what they’ve sacrificed in order that others may thrive, but I’ve never had a conversation that helped me know more about who they were as they lived between the well-known facts. From that enticing glimpse into these personal and intertwined stories, I decided to pursue an opportunity to capture what I might not be able to learn from written history.

With help from The Steppenwolf Theatre Company and the incredibly talented director of photography, Jason Chiu, two interviews for this project have already been filmed. Jason and I filmed Chicago legend Jackie Taylor, founder and CEO of Black Ensemble Theater, and Tyrone Phillips, an emerging leader and the artistic director of Definition Theatre Company. In my interview with Jackie, I learned things I am ashamed I didn’t know, like the number of Black theater organizations that preceded the community we are now familiar with. For those already familiar with the Black Chicago theater scene, I hope to offer something unexpected. To those unfamiliar, I hope to reflect its beauty in a way that invokes a sense of pride and support for its continued strength and evolution.

I am a documentary novice, but I have quickly learned that it is very expensive to make films. Your support would give me a greater chance at procuring professional artists to create an end-product worthy of its subjects. Please consider helping me make a contribution to Chicago’s history!

Thank yous

Contribute any amount or choose from the levels below.

  • $10
    Personal thank you on social media ($10.00 is tax deductible.)
  • $50
    Above, plus a handwritten note of thanks because I’m old school :-) ($50.00 is tax deductible.)
  • $100
    Above, plus your name listed as a supporter in the printed program for the film’s premiere ($100.00 is tax deductible.)
  • $250
    Above, plus a pair of tickets to any show in the 2017-18 Steppenwolf Theatre subscription season (limited to 5 pairs). ($100.00 is tax deductible.)
  • $500
    Your choice of 2 tickets to either “The Doppelganger” w/post-show toast with Alana (limit to 1 pair) or “The Minutes” w/pre-show cocktails with Anna Shapiro (limit to 1 pair), plus VIP invite for you+guest to the film premiere and your name in the program ($350.00 is tax deductible.)
  • $1000
    Your name listed in the film credits and in the program for the film’s premiere screening, plus four tickets to the premiere and personal thanks on social media, handwritten note, and a signed production still. ($1000.00 is tax deductible.)

Alana Arenas

Originally from Miami, Florida, Alana traveled to Chicago to study at DePaul University's Theatre School, receiving her BFA in 2002. In 2007, Alana was invited to join the Steppenwolf Theatre Ensemble where she created the role of Pecola in THE …

View Alana Arenas's profile
  • Update 1: Immense Gratitude!!!!
    Posted on April 18, 2017


    Well, team, CONGRATULATIONS!  We've done it, we've reached our initial goal of $5,000!  My deepest thanks to "Scene Study's" very first supporters:  Erin Cook, Tarell Alvin Mccraney, David Schmitz, John Ekpenyong, Norman Teague, Derrick Sanders, Quenna Barret, Cat Tries, Michael Smith, Brad Jayhan-Little, Jason Delane Lee, Allison Semmes, Behzad Dabu, Audrey Francis, Erica Daniels, Aaron Todd Douglas, Tina Landau, Christopher Harris, Will Allan  and Molly Regan!  This could not have happened without you and all those offering their moral support by promoting the project.  We reached our goal in record time and sooner than I could ever anticipate.  I cannot express just how grateful I am for your swift action and vote of confidence.  Because there are still 41 days left in the campaign, and the costs of film production are extremely high, I am now opting to attempt a “stretch goal” of $10,000.  For those of you who gave already, thank you from the bottom of my heart. For anyone who has not but would still like to get involved, contributions are greatly appreciated and will increase our capacity to make a high-quality, professional film that this subject deserves. If you know anyone interested in supporting this effort, I hope you’ll consider sharing this project campaign with them. Abundant thanks to everyone!

    Update 2: Thank you to all of my supporters!!!
    Posted on May 29, 2017


    Happy Memorial Day everyone!!  Today is the last day of my campaign and I want to say a great big THANK YOU to all of you!!!! I am deeply grateful for your great show of support and incredibly inspired that you made it possible for me to reach my stretch goal.  On April 29th, I was able to acquire two more interviews for the film and on May 16th, I participated in the city wide initiative "On The Table" organized by The Chicago Community Trust.  I hosted an "On The Table" conversation with eight professionals in the black theater community that I intend to interview for the film.  I used the opportunity to make my intentions for the film known, seek wisdom and gauge various perspectives on the state of black theater in Chicago.  I feel so honored to have received so much positive affirmation for the project.  I'm sure none of you know this but when I acquired the first two interviews for the film, I wasn't actually able to watch the footage on my computer because it is too outdated.  Infact, I haven't seen the footage for the two newest interviews.  I bought my current laptop when I was awarded a 3Arts grant in 2008.  I explained this bizarre news to the project's director of photography, Jason Chiu and kind man that he is, he found a way to help me see the footage, which was no small gesture in that he's a very busy professional and it cost him valuable time to give me that gift.  Because of all of you, especially those who decided to help me reach my stretch goal, I can actually buy a newer computer on which I can watch the footage we acquire for the film!!!  Thank you again and please know, it is my sincere desire to make you all proud!  With your email contact information, I will definitely keep you updated with the film's development! Best to you all, Alana Arenas

    • Thank you to the following for contributing to 3Arts with the recommendation that we support this project.

    • Erin Cook

    • Tarell Alvin McCraney

    • David Schmitz

    • John Ekpenyong

    • Norman Teague

    • Derrick Sanders

    • Christina Fleming

    • Quenna Barrett

    • Cat Tries

    • Michael Smith

    • Brad Jayhan-Little

    • Jason Delane Lee

    • Allison Semmes

    • Behzad Dabu

    • Audrey Francis

    • Erica Daniels

    • Aaron Todd Douglas

    • Tina Landau

    • Christopher Harris

    • William Allan

    • Moly Regan

    • Nikki Romain

    • Tiffany Oglesby

    • John McGinty

    • Laurie Metcalf

    • Lili-Anne Brown

    • Mercedes White

    • Anna Barford

    • Samantha Corn

    • Tracy Letts

    • Lupe Garcia Quiles

    • Dustin Whitehead

    • Carol Phillips

    • Hallie Gordon

    • Kristin Millikan

    • Jasond Thomas

    • malcolm ewen

    • Deborah Minor Harvey

    • Tamara Todres

    • Cheryl Graeff

    • Arnetia Walker

    • Jeff Perry

    • Elizabeth Foster

    • Justine Stock

    • Eric Evenskaa

    • The Michael & Mona Heath Fund

    • Jocelyn Prince

    • Mark Larson

    • Andrew White


    • Linda Garrison

    • Fabiola Ramirez

    • Anjali Bidani

    • Anna Donnell

    • Megan Shuchman

    • Daniel Kerr-Hobert

    • Eva Breneman

    • Douglas Brown

    • Ellie Kaplan

    • Richard Powell

    • Julian Parker

make it work


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 Additional support provided by: 

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