Windy City Media Group Frontpage News
Celebrating 30 Years of Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Trans News
home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2020-05-27
About WCMG Publications News  Entertainment Features Donate Bars & Clubs Calendar Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage



Willa Taylor showcases Goodman Theatre's original behind the script talents
by Melissa Wasserman

facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

Goodman Theatre's Director of Education and Community Engagement Willa Taylor is a woman with a wide variety of projects. Whatever the project, social justice and education is always intertwined. On Aug. 11 and 12 at Goodman Theatre, Taylor leads the 8th annual General Theater Studies ( GTS ) showcase.

Taylor is well-known in the Chicago LGBT community, and is married to longtime Chicago feminist and LGBT activist and filmmaker Mary Morten.

Raised in Dallas, when the south was still segregated, Taylor live with her mother and father. Her grandparents lived down the street and while waiting for her parents to come home from work each day, she developed a close relationship with her grandmother, who she is named after.

"She had a very radical social justice streak, so a lot of my sense of justice and equity in the world were shaped by her," Taylor said of her maternal grandmother, who was a missionary and college history professor.

Taylor's interest in the arts began at a young age. During the school day, she had art classes and music classes everyday and gym class including dance. Attracted to the uniforms and half-time shows, she took to the band where she played clarinet and then percussion upon getting braces. She still plays piano and blues harmonica, she laughs, "badly, but enthusiastically." Her college days at University of Texas brought about her love for the theater in an unexpected way.

"I fell in love with the production and the technical side of theater," said Taylor. "I was never really interested in the acting and being on stage. Nobody ever really talks about the back of the house stuff and that to me is the most fascinating part of the job. To really be able to guide an audience emotionally because of the kind of lighting that you use and where you place it, or because of the color of the gel or because of how you use sound—that to me is just amazing."

Starting her work experience in the theater, she began as a stage manager and worked in the crew for both theater and concerts in Washington, D.C. In the '80s, Taylor explained, there was a push to have actors of color be capable of performing more than roles written specifically for actors of color. The New York organization The Non-Traditional Casting Symposium did workshops across the country and when the symposium came to D.C., the Martha Knight, Arena Stage's stage manager asked Taylor to work on that project.

"Zelda's [Fichandler, Arena Stage artistic director and co-founder] idea was that it wasn't enough just to have actors of color on stage if you had an all-white administrative staff," said Taylor of her mentor. "So, she had this idea of trying to develop a program that would train early career professionals of color in an intensive way and then get them placed into positions of administration and management. She asked me to develop that and run that program. It was a fluke of the fact that I was in the right place at the right time."

Making the transition into an arts education career, she established the Allen Lee Hughes Fellows, which is one of the first theater-run apprenticeships designed to increase participation of people of color in professional theater. Her career moved on to New York City's Lincoln Center Theater, where she created The Urban Ensemble—a multidisciplinary project focused on at-risk youth.

Her experience continues as she also consulted for New Victory Theatre where she designed the arts and education program for their inaugural season. Taylor credits Goodman Theatre's Student Subscription Series ( SSS ) as the model she used for the programs she established at Area Stage and Lincoln Center. The Student Subscription Series trains teachers how to use artistic practice to differentiate instruction and create authentic learning opportunities for their students.

"I believe in social justice work and I believe to those to whom much is given, much is required—not something subtly that I learned from my grandmother," she said of her passion to give back. "So, the responsibility that I have, not just in this job, but because of the privileges of my education and my life experience, requires me to open doors and make a way available for people who don't have that kind of access and privilege. That essentially is and has been my life's work. Here at the Goodman, that really manifests itself in a myriad in the kinds of programs that we run, the access we try to provide for people who may not necessarily think that the Goodman is an environment in which they are welcome."

That requirement she believes in to give back comes in different forms. Taylor has also served as cultural director for Gay Games IV in New York. For 12 years she was a Russian and Arabic linguist in the U.S. Navy. In that time she oversaw productions for the United Service Organization in Greece and managed Armed Forces Radio and Television in Turkey, where she conceived the "Profiles in Black" history series. Taylor also expanded into the culinary arts as she opened Taylor-Made Cuisine, a gourmet catering company and neighborhood bistro Home Café in Chicago. She also helped in opening and was catering chef for Chicago's EatZi's Easygoing Gourmet.

In her 7th season at Goodman Theatre, the education and community engagement programs Taylor manages at Goodman includes: GTS, SSS, Cindy Bandle Young Critics, Youth Art Council, GeNarrations, CONTEXT: Discourse and Discussion.

"That program is very special to me because you can see manifest how the arts can transform students and student voices," said Taylor of GTS.

The program draws in 80 Chicagoland teenagers for a comprehensive intensive designed to further critical thinking, literacy and storytelling skills. Taylor, along with teaching artists Bobby Biedrzycki, Kevin Douglas, Khanisha Foster, Tony Sancho and Paul Whitehouse introduce the 14-18 year-old students to theater using storytelling, ensemble building, object work and writing exercises in two three-and-a-half hour sessions per day, four days per week.

"GTS, without a doubt, is the best six weeks of my year," said Taylor.

GTS' 2014 showcase, "Heartscape," reflects the participants' ethnographic research with family, friends and members of their communities. The performance is built around the question, "When was a moment you had to fight for love?"

Since its launch in 2007, more than 600 students have participated in GTS. GTS is concurrent with InterGens, which involves 13 teens who have previously participated in the Goodman's education programs plus senior citizen participants of GeNarrations—they engage in a weekly storytelling session around the same theme of fighting for love. The groups will also perform a final piece at the Aug. 11 and 12 showcases.

"I would say the thing I'm most proud of is actually not programmatic, but philosophical," said Taylor. "That is sort of the whole-hearted embrace of the philosophy of inclusion and community that's woven into the fabric of how the institution performs as a whole. From the top down, from Bob Falls, who is the artistic director, and Roche Schulfer, who is the executive director, all the way down to all of the staff, everybody is committed to the ideas of diversity and inclusion and community in the work that we do. It's not something that I have to constantly explain; it's not something I necessarily have to fight for. It's very, very rare for an institution to really walk the talk around diversity and inclusion."

For more information, visit: .

facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

Windy City Media Group does not approve or necessarily agree with the views posted below.
Please do not post letters to the editor here. Please also be civil in your dialogue.
If you need to be mean, just know that the longer you stay on this page, the more you help us.


Gay News

THEATER Larry Kramer (1935-2020), polemicist and playwright 2020-05-30 - Larry Kramer was an angry man and he made sure people knew it. The language of his public discourse—the hundreds of articles he ...

Gay News

Jeff Awards Nominee Night cabaret concert online June 1 2020-05-29 - The Non-Equity Jeff Awards Nominee Night concert, a version of the annual event at Sidetrack to showcase Jeff Award nominees, will be broadcast ...

Gay News

Chita: A Legendary Celebration to stream May 29 2020-05-27 - Chita: A Legendary Celebration , Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS' one-night-only evening of song and dance celebrating the legendary Chita Rivera , returns this ...

Gay News

Artemisia, A Chicago Podcast, features Julie Proudfoot interviewing Tracy Baim 2020-05-27 - On Artemisia, A Chicago Podcast #103, Julie Proudfoot interviews Tracy Baim, award-winning journalist and publisher, about her work in Chicago as an openly-gay ...

Gay News

Red Stars part of Challenge Cup, which starts June 27 2020-05-27 - The National Women's Soccer League announced May 27 that the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup, presented by P&G and Secret, will mark the return ...

Gay News

THE AMAZON TRAIL Is there a doctor... 2020-05-27 - It's that time again. I need to find a healthcare provider. I live in a rural community where there is a large turnover ...

Gay News

SHOWBIZ Rufus Wainwright, LGBTQ films, Billy Porter, Janelle Monae 2020-05-27 - Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright unveiled the latest single from his eagerly anticipated new pop album, Unfollow the Rules, a press release noted. "Alone ...

Gay News

NATIONAL 'Drag Fest,' eating disorders, journalist attacked, NCLR event 2020-05-27 - Political activist/New York City drag staple Marti Gould Cummings and The Only Productions announced the largest digital drag festival during Pride 2020, a ...

Gay News

THEATER Pride in Place Festival brings LGBTQ theater to stay-at-home audiences 2020-05-26 - The upheaval of the Stonewall riots had barely settled before the weekend preceding Independence Day was set aside to honor the right of ...

Gay News

BAMtheatre starting virtual classes 2020-05-26 - In response to the stay-at-home and social distancing orders implemented by the COVID-19 pandemic, BAMtheatre has reimagined its musical theatre-focused programming through a ...


Copyright © 2020 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.







About WCMG Publications News  Entertainment Features Donate Bars & Clubs Calendar Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage

About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots      OUT! Guide     
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Subscriptions      Distribution      Windy City Queercast     
Queercast Archives      Advertising  Rates      Deadlines      Advanced Search     
Press  Releases      Event Photos      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Post an Event      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam      Outguide Categories      Outguide Advertisers      Search Outguide      Travel      Dining Out      Blogs      Spotlight  Video     
Classifieds      Real Estate      Place a  Classified     

Windy City Media Group publishes Windy City Times,
The Bi-Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.