Appropriately enough, my first memory of Greg Tate was his stage entrance during HartBeat Ensemble’s play “News To Me”. It was a commentary about the education system in the United States, the No Child Left Behind act, and aggressive military recruitment of urban teens. Tate performed the role of the military recruiter, playing the character as a severe disciplined militant, cunningly luring his teenaged victim to enlist in the military. Fierce. Disciplined. Stern. I was intimidated by his performance as it was the first time I was filming HartBeat Ensemble. After the show, watching him laugh and joke around with his ensemble members, Julia Rosenblatt and Steve Ginsberg, along with the rest of the cast and crew, his stage performance was all that more powerful, the stern mask revealing one of the warmest smiles I’ve ever known. The hard commanding voice that helped create the character gave way to one of the greatest laughs to echo through my life.
And yet, he was just as much about discipline as his military recruiter character. Documenting Tate instructing the first Youth Play Institute in the consensus process that HartBeat Ensemble uses, he was as much the instructor as he was a part of the high school students. Listening to them, guiding them, encouraging them, while keeping them on task to create their play. He would provide guidance to craft the piece while embracing the students’ themes and lines, never discouraging, always encouraging their ideas. He was exuberant when they would take initiative and push their play to be the best they could be. Along with Julia and Steve and their assistants, they brought together students from disparate backgrounds in the city and the suburbs, and over weeks, created a small community via theater.
Much will be said about Tate. Nothing I can add to it will do justice to him. He was a progressive rabble rouser, protesting the injustices in our community and the world. He was a Chicagoan, transplanted to this upstart little city through the love he bore for his friends and colleagues. Here, he became a champion of community and of arts in the community. He was a hero to many of us in this community. He was a friend to all. He was a hero and a mentor to me at a time I needed most.
Julia Rosenblatt and Tate (because I always called him Tate… we all do) called me in to work with them on creating a series to document the process of Flipside which Julia had written and Tate would direct. For us, it was a new opportunity. We hadn’t worked together in a few years and this was a unique opportunity. It would allow people to see how HartBeat Ensemble crafts a play, from start to finish. For me, it would allow me to work with a group I respected, who were always contributing to the community. It would allow me the chance to give back to them, to hone my craft, to see how Julia and Tate craft their work first hand. More than that, as someone that wants to direct actors, to see how a professional theater director like Tate works with actors and learn from that.
The last time I saw Tate. I was having brunch at The Half Door and he came in with his niece and nephew and their mom, and with his love, Karen. It had been a month since I’d seen him at the benefit and he was beaming, his voice was back to normal. He was still hurting from the treatments but there he was expressing hope for the future as Flipside had been accepted to NY’s Fringe festival.
As they were leaving, Tate and Karen stopped by to say goodbye. Tate put his hand on my shoulder and thanked me for creating the DVD the submitted that got them into the Fringe festival. It was the least I could do, I said. I thanked him, thanked him on taking a chance on me and giving me the opportunity to film HartBeat crafting a play. And, more importantly, thanked him for the opportunity to work with him and to learn from him. The opportunity to be part of the community. Seeing him direct taught me how a director should work, how they should respect their craft and their partners.
I asked him if he was excited to direct it in New York. He smiled. “We’ll see.” And we said our goodbyes. He passed away on June 3, 2012.
Julia Pistell in her touching tribute to Tate, discusses being a supporting character in his life and how we are all supporting characters in each others lives. As I’ve learned from Tate and HartBeat, we are all an ensemble, needing to work together through consensus to create the story we want our lives to tell. As Julia Rosenblatt often mentioned, consensus isn’t easy for many of the performers but HartBeat would bring it together. Watching them work together, Tate at the center of a round table guiding the creation of the play, I realized how small groups of people can create something that matters. We are all players, each with roles, and eventually, there comes a time when we have to take the lead, not necessarily the spotlight, but we have to pick up the story and move it along to make our partners look good. Tate always made his partners, his actors, his friends, look good.
Thank you, Tate, for dedicating your wonderful life to those you taught, those you directed and shared the stage with, and to this community. You showed us that we are all part of an ensemble that needs to work and play together.