Renowned actor Cheryl Lynn Bruce with her husband, contemporary artist and MacArthur fellow, Kerry James Marshall.

Cheryl Lynn Bruce: Forty Years of Theatre Excellence

by Melda Beaty

The Hyde Park Art Center in Chicago, Illinois is a haven for creativity and community. So, how be-fitting to talk with the consummate actress, writer and director, Cheryl Lynn Bruce, in a place that epit-omizes her extensive professional theatrical work. The night before our meeting, she received the Spirit Award by the Actors' Equity Association's Equal Em-ployment Opportunity Committee at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, honoring her four decades in the industry. Yet her longevity and success had a humble beginning.

Long before her professional credits, Bruce per-formed on stage in grade school at St. Columbanus Catholic School in Chicago. There she, along with thirty other Black children, learned dances like the fox trot, the waltz and square dancing for the all-school performance. She describes that time as "magical," adding, "I remember standing at the edge of that stage, a little bit nervous, but mostly con-fidant that I would do the best anyone had ever done." There is no doubt that she did.

Her theatrical confidence followed her into Aquinas Dominican High School, where she auditioned for every play. Later, as a student at the University of Illinois at Chicago, she took theatre classes as elec-tives and worked in every aspect of theatre from staffing the box office to striking shows. Ultimately, she switched from her original pre-med major to theatre.

These early-life experiences prepared her for a professional career in theatre. The 1979 production of Death and the King's Horseman, written and directed by Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, at the old Goodman Theatre in Chicago, was her first professional acting role....(continued)


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Melda Beaty is an English professor at Olive-Harvey College in Chicago and a playwright. Her play, Front Porch Society, had its world premiere at Ensemble Theatre in Houston and was produced at the 2019 National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, NC. Beaty is also the performance review editor for Continuum: The Journal of African Diaspora Drama, Theatre, and Performance and author of two books, Lime and My Soul to His Spirit: Soulful Expressions from Black Daughters to Their Fathers. Both are available on Amazon.

 

Summer 2019

This article is featured in Vol. 25, No. 2

Also in this issue:

  • Black Colleges (HBCUs) and Black Theatre

  • Erosion of Authenticity: Black Theatre's 21st Century Challenge

  • Editor's Notes: Get on Board

  • In Memoriam: Camille Billops

  • Arts Hotline

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    Cheryl Lynn Bruce as Auntie Ann in Steppenwolf Theatre's 2018 production of Danai Gurira's play, Familiar.