Writer and director, Crowns
When Regina Taylor revived her ten-year-old musical Crowns at the Goodman Theatre this summer, the playwright, director, and Golden Globe–winning actress could have stuck to the script. Instead, wanting to speak directly to Chicago audiences, she reworked the play so that it began on the South Side and revolved around Yolanda, an Englewood teen struggling to cope with her brother’s murder. “Theatre should be vital to the community that comes to see it,” insists Taylor.
As she rewrote Crowns—a celebration of African American women and their hats—Taylor, 52, who moved to Chicago in 2010, talked with people from the city’s most beleaguered neighborhoods. “I started to imagine a collaboration that might be rare,” she says. She held open auditions and cast undiscovered locals in key roles, huddled with students from the dance department at Columbia College to update the choreography, and workshopped verses with the young slam poets of Louder Than a Bomb. And before each show, she turned the Goodman lobby into a stage for gospel choirs, milliners, and spoken word performers.
In the end, everyone involved—actors and theatregoers alike—experiences a life-changing journey, just as Yolanda does when she travels down south for the year. “Art can transform people,” says Taylor. “Words can be liberating, and creativity can be a survival tool. It can enliven your life and open up so many doors.”
Photograph: Taylor Castle