Written by Jimalita Tillman and directed by Boaz McGee, King Of The Policy, is a musical about a time when Black communities nationwide were thriving from the numbers racket.
King Of The Policy runs February 9-14 at the Harold Washington Cultural Center, located at 4701 South King Drive in Chicago’s famed Bronzeville neighborhood.
Set in the 1940s just after prohibition, the show features big singing and dancing numbers as it takes us on a journey though Black Chicago, Kansas City, St. Louis, Detroit, and New York City.
It chronicles what life was like for men and women who were the Kings and Queens of the policy wheel, such as The Jones Brothers, Theodore Rowe, The Reynolds Sisters, and more.
N’DIGO recently sat down with Tillman and McGee to learn more about the musical and the inspiration behind it.
N’DIGO: What was the inspiration behind writing King Of The Policy?
Jimalita Tillman: It was inspired by walking around my neighborhood seeing remnants of what used to be. I talked to my mother, Dorothy Tillman, about how can we return the community back to the way it was. Not just Chicago, but throughout the country. Connecting the dots on historic wealth of our communities.
How did you research the time period when writing the play?
Jimalita: I immersed myself in research at the Harold Washington Library and Columbia College Center for Black Music archives. I also went through lots of archived news film footage from the Chicago Defender and Time Magazine. Getting the fashion and slang right was very important to me.
How did you get into directing? What was the catalyst for you?
Boaz McGee: First of all, I want to thank Mrs. Dorothy Tillman for having this historic institution. I began volunteering with the Harold Washington Cultural Center as a stagehand and then was promoted to stage manager. Over time I was engaged as an assistant director and then Jimalita gave me an opportunity to direct their holiday production of Ebony Scrooge.
What struck you about the play when you first read it that made you want to sign on to direct it?
Boaz: I was fascinated with the rich history of it all and how my family had people who knew all about policy wheel houses, as well as about the great wealth amassed by Black people during that time.
Did you immediately know how you’d approach directing this piece or did you have to think on how you’d tackle it?
Boaz: The cast is an amazing team of hardworking professionals who translate genuine energy on the stage. The writing made the transition from page to stage easier than it usually would be. Even though I’m the director, it’s a team of people that create the vision of what the final product will be.
What if anything do you want people to take away from the play after seeing it?
Jimalita: Essentially that we need to tell our historic stories. These are the stories that unite our families and will begin to heal our community.
Best advice for those aspiring to make a mark in the world of theater?
Jimalita: Don’t be silent. Write, rewrite and be bold. Do not be monolithic with your creativity. Know what trade associations and legislation affects our industry. Be active and engaged.
Boaz: Be professional. Work ethic, being on time, and being present in the moment while on stage. Always take notes – with a pencil, listen, and ask questions.
Favorite quote or affirmation?
Boaz: “I write the Black experience in America, and contained within that experience, because it is a human experience, are all the universalities.” That’s from August Wilson.
Jimalita: “The time to sing is when your emotional level is just too high to speak anymore, and the time to dance is when your emotions are just too strong to only sing about how you feel.” That’s from Bob Fosse.
What’s next for you both?
Jimalita: More advocacy on Capitol Hill for performing arts. I’m a part of a team drafting legislation in Washington D.C. that is about to bulldoze the door of opportunity. The best is yet to come!
Boaz: Being able to teach the next generation of leaders in theater both on stage and behind the scenes. Broadway, here we come!
(For more information, visit www.broadwayinbronzeville.com.)