THANK YOU, COLONEL SANDERS
The year was 1987.
Prime timing for a man destined to turn the griot world of storytelling on its’ head.
“I arrived in Chicago in 1987. Immediately, I was introduced to theatre through Dracula,” said William, the ultimate method actor who pushed the iconic role and experimental theatre to the limit. “My Dracula was butt naked when he fed. He reverted to an animal.”
Tearing up the stage by night and walking among mere mortals in the light, William got a day job working in the mailroom of The Burrell Advertising Agency. The gig, he admitted, was a win-win at first. Not only did it allow him to deliver mail to beautiful women everyday, but the undemanding work also gave him just enough financial stability and freedom to perform in plays.
Eventually, though, the grind of performing all-night and working all day began to wear on him. That’s when William – who ironically delivered mail about commercials – received a life-changing message from one.
“There was this Kentucky Fried Chicken commercial that said ‘We only do one thing and that’s why we do chicken right,’” said William. “What that said to me was find your gift. God has given every single one of us a gift and it’s our job to apply that gift to make the world a better place when you leave it.”
THE ADVICE OF ELDERS
Walking away from a job was not the smartest thing to do in the late 80s/early 90s. Especially in Chicago. Yet, William – molded by the wisdom and advice of his elders – didn’t hesitate to put one foot in front of the other.
Sam Greenlee – author of the contentious masterpiece, The Spook That Sat By the Door – was one of his first teachers.
“Sam let me sleep on the floor of his apartment,” said William. “We’d get up at 5 o’clock in the morning and he would mentor me.”
Another sensei was singer/playwright, Oscar Brown, Jr. Partnered with him through a masters apprentice grant program, William had the unique opportunity to soak up his skills as a storyteller.
“Oscar was a master in the art form. He sat me down and shared,” he said. “For him to do that for me was amazing.”
Armed with the knowledge of how to live and perform as an artistpreneur, the only thing left for William then to learn was how to work as one.
“Don Harper showed me how to work in Chicago. He introduced me to Urban Gateway and Chicago on the Move,” said William, who learned how to apply for and eventually received fellowship awards from the Illinois Arts Council. “That experience birthed We Speak in Rhythm, which became the script for my non-profit, JustUs, and we started getting bookings. I was able to sustain myself.”
Merely surviving, however, wasn’t enough for William. On Monday nights, when theatres were dark, he said he still felt a yearning.
Little did he know that a fledging jazz bar not far from Chicago’s Gold Coast would be just the salve he needed.