Godsil. You just suggested we use the concept “theater with a surviving mind” to provide our readers with a capsule description of Andre Lee Ellis. I’ve known you as Milwaukee’s leading platwright and the organizer of great public moments like Garfield Days or Junetenth Day Pageant. What do you intend by a description like Andre Lee Ellis, “theater with a surviving mind?”
Andre Lee Ellise, picture from “Riverwest Currents
Ellis.Growing up in an African American family, the 9th of 14 children, we were always told that children should be seen and not heard. And in the performing that I do,you’re seen and heard. I believe, my feeling, my theater, will help raise the consciousness of the people that view it. A lot of us would have a more open, creative, and loving mind, if we can see the way others live, the way that life is for others. Theater allows me to do that!
Godsil.Was there anything about your life as a little guy, that would have predicted your becoming not only a renown playwright, but also a kind of transformational personality. You are looking to change our culture with your work. You have already made a huge local mark, perhaps beyond, in that direction.
Ellis. When my father died, my mom was pregnant with me. She married another man when I was one years old. Ironically, he had the first name as my real dad, Arthur, but for some reason my step-father did not like this little kid, i.e. me. He was extremely abusive to me. And because my Mom worked to protect me, he was also abusive to her. He was an alcoholic. As I got a bit older, about 7 or 8, I would catch the city bus downtown. I would go to the arena and look for things to do. I would ask the the people of national acts if I could help them move things, clean up, or what could I do to make some money. This kept me away from the house, so that when I came home it was close to bedtime. I could spend some of my money on something to eat. Anything to avoid my step father. When he saw me there was always some kind of drama. I was the only one of 14 kids to whom he was abusive. I think he was amazed by my mind. He could not deal with my mind and my power. This little bitty kid who could always create these scenes and stories. As abstract as they could be, they made sense. he would use those stories when he had to deal with bill collectors and other real-life situations. My Mom would come to me for answers to real life questions. I had to learn how to fill my empty spaces, because I needed to be tired at the end of the day. At bedtime, I wanted to avoid my step father. “I did not know how to compete with you for your Mom’s love.” My Mom wanted to give me extra because I was in my Mom’s womb when she died. My siblings thought Mom treated me as a favorite.
Andre Lee Ellis Building 2431 N. Holton
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No men in grade school, only women. In high school, no! I began to know the importance of being a man after high school. Prior to that, the woman. Like my 5th grade teacher Dorothy Dale at 9th Street School, taught me my first song. It was “Let It Be” by the Beatles. I sang it in the school concert. She also promoted me from the 5th grade to the 7th. To this day she says she regrets that. We’re still friends. “When I find my self in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom…Let it be.” I started singing all of the time after that, Church, everywhere. I thougth I was going to be a big super star singer because of her. She has 2 kids, Avis and Stephen.
“Riverwest Currents” Story on Andre Lee Ellis’ March on Milwaukee
MKE Interview with Andre Lee Ellis