It may be a surprise to some that Tim Rhoze, Artistic Director at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre, began his career in the business world.
Though he had had experiences in theater since he was a child, his path turned toward business when he was a young man.
“I trained and did an apprenticeship in a tool and die [steel] stamping company and they trained me up to be a prototype engineer, which is a really fancy way of saying a salesperson with engineering knowledge,” said Rhoze. The company made parts for Ford, Chrysler and General Motors and hired Rhoze for a “suit-and-tie” job.
“It involved me going to the headquarters of these companies and working with their design team. That became my daily routine, my Monday through Friday, get-up-and-go,” said Rhoze. “It was very good pay for me at the time. It wasn’t something I had any passion for, I just happened to kind of stumble into that area.”
Rhoze’s dad was in theater
Rhoze’s father was a part-time theater artist and a full-time postal employee who worked the midnight shift in Detroit.
“At an early age – at 7, 8, 9 – I would be in that world with my father who would go to rehearsal and sometimes even take me. And so, I was always aware of it, but I wasn’t aware of it in the sense of a career,” said Rhoze. “It was something you could do. You can go bowling on the weekends, but you don’t become a professional bowler.”
As a teenager he took some acting workshops at the Detroit Repertory Theater.
“At the time I was having a lot of trouble … at school, in the streets, with law enforcement. But there are two things that I became good at. One was boxing and then theater. I would always look forward to that Saturday morning workshop … I really began to dig this whole theater thing.”
Rhoze continued: “It was reading a play that helped me understand that I was not stupid [because I struggled with reading comprehension.] It helped me understand that there was a path for me in this world.”
The book that changed things, was Of Ceremonies in Dark Old Men by Lonne Elder III.
Eventually Rhoze, who was still working for the tool and die firm, auditioned for a play and got a role. During the run of the play the company’s owner asked Rhoze to travel over the weekend for a meeting.
“I was like, well, I can’t go this weekend because I’m doing a play. … He was like, well that’s cute, but I need you to travel to the East Coast. I said, ‘I really, really can’t do this. I have a play, I have an obligation.’ It was coming out of my mouth and I didn’t realize what was happening.” Rhoze wasn’t fired, but his boss told him that he’d have to make a decision about his career. He chose the theater.
After performing in Detroit theaters, earning enough to “put a little money in [my] pocket to pay the rent,” he studied improvisation. The social setting excited him.
Some years later, he began auditioning in Chicago theaters, including Steppenwolf Theater, Victory Gardens Theatre and Goodman Theatre. He would audition and then drive back to Detroit to work on productions, doing everything from hanging lights to building sets to acting in the shows.
When he got a callback from the Goodman for a role in the Cheryl West play Puddin ‘n Pete, he was asked to return for a second audition on a Sunday. But he had a matinee performance, so he had to turn them down. “I was really devastated.”
Rhoze said: “That following Wednesday, the business manager from Goodman called and asked if I would accept the role.” The Goodman director had called well-known Detroit director Woodie King, Jr., who gave Rhoze a good reference. “So they took a chance.”
It was theater’s people, process and discover of his voice
Rhoze has been in more than a dozen productions at the Goodman, as well as many other theaters in Chicago and around the country.
“It became a really exciting thing … I don’t think I’ve had a job in theater that I would consider to be work,” he said. ‘It’s always been a very joyous thing for me. And so coming from a very sort of business world in my early adulthood, in my early twenties, suit and tie going to the office every day, I fell in love with not only the process, but all the people because it’s such a collaborative effort …
“It was that social energy that drew me in and then as I began to get more and more drawn into theater, the world of theater began to open and I realized that I actually had a voice, literally and figuratively.”
Rhoze has been with Fleetwood-Jourdain, which was founded in 1979, for the last 12 years.
“Our mission is to tell the stories and have the events that tell and share the Black and African American experience and the legacy of the African diaspora,” said Rhoze.
The theater does this work not only through performance, but via community engagement programs, such as:
- YSTEP (Youth and Senior Theater Ensemble Project) brings together young people, mostly in their teens, and older adults, over the age of 65. Together they devise and create short one-act plays, bringing about their own experiences.
- Prime Time Players, is an older adult club that meets once a week throughout the year. Participants read plays, write plays and act.
Rhoze said: “We’re always looking for different avenues for reaching the community and getting them involved in the theater arts to heal some of the wounds that have been created in our community because of various things, whether it be racism or violence. We can use theater as a way of helping people grapple with those things.”
He would also like the theater to bring in more young actors from programs at local universities. He hopes Fleetwood-Jourdain will have an active relationship with Northlight Theatre when it returns to Evanston.
Asked what’s ahead for him personally, Rhoze said: “I would love to direct more, if not around the world, then around the country.
“I have written several plays that have been produced, but I would love to continue to find stories that are of interest to me. I would like to be able to put them into script form, and see them produced.”
After decades of work as a theater professional, Rhoze is still finding new possibilities as an artist, that theater is what keeps him moving forward, along with being a father and being engaged. He and his fiance will marry in September.
“I was very fortunate to find something that I was very passionate about. That became the common thread, whether it was the social aspect of the theater or the artwork. … It was from learning and creating the lines and the character to eventually becoming a director and having my hands inside the overall look and feel of a play,” said Rhoze.
Rhoze directed Fleetwood-Jourdain’s current production, Home, by Samm-Art Williams, which will run through June 19.