Chandler Browne, 22

Chandler Browne is a documentary theater maker, actor, storyteller, tap dancer, painter, and artist from Chicago, Illinois. She grew up with 826 CHI, a youth writing and tutoring center in Chicago, and it has been incredibly influential in her life thus far. 826 CHI gave Browne, a little girl with a hyperactive imagination, a pen, paper and a powerful vehicle through which to voice her truth.

Browne has performed at Beck Center for the Arts in Cleveland, Ohio, and is a 2014 graduate of American Theater Company in Chicago. At the age of 12, Browne was published in Thanks and Have Fun Running the Country: Kids' Letters to President Obama published in 2009 by McSweeney’s in conjunction with 826 National.


The Tap Project

By Chandler Brown

An original documentary play conceived by Chandler Browne, the Tap Project chronicles the stories and experiences of professional tap dancers. Through the format of a play, Chandler strives to preserve and present the largely oral history of tap dancing, a uniquely Black and American art form.  

This one-woman performance will give audiences the tools to begin to understand the neglected but complex history of tap dance in America, how it originated as a form of African liberation during slavery, was co opted by minstrelsy, and how that has effected the community through out history. The Tap Project is almost completely comprised of primary sources and verbatim interviews with 15 professional dancers. 

Conceived, written, and choreographed by Chandler Browne.



5 Scene 1.4 5



Baakari Wilder.



It’s hard because I’ve looked at books and a lot of times they talk about slaves getting up with the Irish indentured servants, you know, and, and, um, battling each other and through that and developing from one term called buck dancing into tap dancing. But, I-I-I I really think it came even earlier than that. You know, like African rhythms come from not having the drum to using one’s feet to make the patterns with the feet and so I’d, I’d, um, rather than sayin’ that, you know, rather than sayin’ two people came to the table and, um, created something, because they’re distinctly different in approach and body and and rhythm, I’d be more, um, I’d be more open to saying that um, our African Ancestors, you know, had to do a great deal with, you know,coming over here as slaves developing with their feet. Mhhm, but um, you know, sometimes you read books, and there’s a reason why people put things in books, to be safe. To make things sound a little easy and gentle and purposely hide the truth behind that for reasons like that. But um, no, it was always expressive. Physically, naturally expressive. Nothing contained.


Projection Start cue: Projection of Thomas Edison’s The Pickanninies (1894)



On October 6th, 1894 in West Orange, New Jersey, Thomas Edison made the first film to ever feature Black people, The Pickanninies, with Joe Rastus, Denny Tolliver, and Walter Wilkins.


The ACTOR sits SL and watches a part of film.


Projection End cue: Projection ends.


They put on the glasses. Live music: minstrel music mash-up.


Projection Start cue: Pat Paulsen "dancing," 1974.



The minstrel shows started with white people imitating Black people. And then somebody had the idea, the great idea of of putting Black people into the minstrel shows.


Projection End cue: Projection ends.


Projection Start cue: Show clip of The Three Eddies.


But put em in black face so that white audiences would think that it was white dancer imitating black dancers and not feel some type a way. So that in itself, I have nothin’ to do with Psychology but that in itself has to be a crazy psychology experiment. We gonna take the people we’re makin’ fun of and make them dress and act like us dressing and acting like them and then we’ll make money from us making fun of them, dress, like that’s, that’s crazy.


Projection End cue: Projection ends on its own.


Light cue: light changes signifying generational shift to vaudeville.


Live vaudeville music. The ACTOR takes off their glasses and is dressed by stagehands in a dress onto platform 2.



Introducing... the Queen of Taps... Alice Whitman!


Enters and does a flashy step.



How’s that, Daniel?



What is it?



I don’t know what you call it, but it sure feels good!

The ACTOR does choreography as Alice Whitman. Resembling "I make my exit to the shim sham shimmy, mostly from the waist down, along with more squeals, wearing a shawl and a little flimsy thing around my middle with a fringe and a bow in the back. If I ever lost that bow, they used to say, "I sure catch a cold!" I could swing a mean..."


The ACTOR swings her hips.


The ACTOR steps down onto the trunk.


Projection Start cue: Whitman sisters projection.



Dr. Jeni Le Gon.



She was the best there was. She was tops. She was better than Anne Miller and Eleanor Powell and me. And anybody else you wanted to put her to. She was just an excellent dancer. I mean,she just did it all.



Louis Williams.



The Whitman Sisters stood for something. They were the ones I was going to build a monument for on Broadway. They knew talent when they saw it and gave hundreds of dancers their first big break, including her son, Pops Whitman.


Projection cue: Whitman sisters projection.


Projection Start cue: Projection of Pops Whitman, Alice Whitman’s son picture and transition into flash tap montage.



Ivery Wheeler.



Said during montage.

On television we danced on tile, linoleum floor, it was real shiny, it was real shiny. That why I’m havin’ to have arthritic, I have arthritis in my hips right now, I had to have hip surgery on both hips, cuz of the tile, doin’ the splits on the tile, concrete, concrete don’t give, knee drops, on concrete.


Projection End cue: Projection ends.



So we formed the Hoofer’s Club in the back room of a comedy club in Harlem on West 133rd Street between Lenox and Seventh Avenues.



That’s where it originated, improvising and going back and forth with somebody, like a language, just like the drum, you’re making rhythms with yah hands. Well we went to the feet you know and expressed ourselves with our feet. So the cypher, the circle I think about the trading and the challenging that you hear about even with Bill Robinson coming to town and beatin’ a couple cats. His particular style was different than other people’s styles. He bring something new to the table you know, bring something original to the table. That challenge that wanting to bring something new, that newness, everybody was sharin’ and one-upping each other you know, um, people keep doing that, um, now. It’s an important part of tap dancing and is different than any other dance form, you know the challenge part. Figuring out what you’re gonna do next based off of what you see, what you hear, and how you feel, you know.



Bunny Briggs.



She’d walk out


Projection Start cue: Projection of Cora La Redd portrait image.

with a red jacket and white pants and sing, "Look what the sun, has done, to me," and she was really black-- when I say that, I say that in a lovable way, because she was blacker than me--


Projection Start cue: Cora La Redd pose image.

that kind of black. And when she walked out on the stage and smiled, her teeth were like pearls. And she sang this song, "You Can’t Tell the Difference after Dark," and then she would tap dance. She would do a time step, that kind of stuff, she was a good one. She could really dance.


Projection End cue: Projection ends.


Stagehands dress the ACTOR as Cora La Redd. The ACTOR does choreography from Cora La Redd to Jig Time music.



Love gig time,


Have to give jig time please gimme ol jig time All the rest of my days

Oh, first yah get to go down get hot and goin down

Keep goin oh go down That’s the jig time! Break that rhythm!


Take a side, Drive em wild, make you cry like a child.

Make you say "Oh what’s stuff?"


(step, step)

dididdilly dididilly dididydilly. Jig time, got to have jig time.

Please gimme ol’ jig time All the rest a my days…

"Satin Doll" by Duke Ellington live music begins and plays throughout monologue. The

ACTOR puts on Spider-Man tie.



Martin "Tre" Dumas.



The vast majority of the musicians have been receptive. They you know they love a Duke Ellington, or a Tommy Dorsey, or a a Count Basie, they love, you know, they love those cats but at the same time they don’t realize in the days of those big bands they traveled with a tap dancer. That it was standard for them to have a comedian, a vocalist, and a tap dancer. Standard. (pause) Came with the band! (ACTOR starts dancing) You know, so at certain point this dancer is gonna come out and give you a number. At certain point, this singer is gonna come out and give you a tune or two. And that’s how it worked, they traveled with the band. And a lot of cats, I find a lot of musicians when I have conversations about tap, when I go to jazz clubs, you know there’s this connection. These cats worked together, they traveled together, they built together. Tap influenced the music, the music influenced the tap. They-they-they, it worked hand in hand (ACTOR taps something and the band responds) Bebop didn’t come out of nowhere. You had all these big band cats who were playing and all these tap dancers who were syncopating over the top of it. And then the next thing you know you hear the horn player is syncopated... you know. So, it goes hand in hand, it goes hand in hand. (the live music fully transitions into Charlie Parker, Ornithology)


The live band plays "Ornithology" and that leads into...


The ACTOR performs "How High the Moon."


6 Scene 1.5 6


Projection Start cue: Projected is Bill Bojangles Robinson’s famous stair tap piece.


The ACTOR gets a piece of paper that lists the names of the pallbearers and contains a Bojangles anecdote.



The church could only contain three-thousand of the thirteen-thousand people who attended Bill Bojangles Robinson’s funeral. Jimmy Durante, Bob Hope, Louis B. Mayer, Darryl Zanuck, Jackie Robinson, Joe DiMaggio, Lee Shubert, Duke Ellington, Alfred Lunt, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Joe Louis, Milton Berle, and Don Newcombe were among his honorary pallbearers. Ed Sullivan was in charge of his funeral arrangements.

Reverend Adam Clayton Powell Jr., member of the US House of Representative and Pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church spoke and said,


Reading from a piece of paper as if giving a speech.

In some way, the legend got around that Bill was an "Uncle Tom." Oh no. You didn’t know Bill if you hadn’t heard that story. I was talking to some of the boys in Duke Ellington’s band the other day and they were telling about a place they were playing in the Midwest and how they went around the corner on a cold day between shows to get some coffee and donuts. And the owner said, "We can’t serve you here." Bill was on the bill with them and they came back and told Bill the story. And Bill said, "What!" Bill grabbed his pearl-handled gold gun, and went around the corner. He said to Johnny Hodges, Laurence Brown, and Cootie [Williams], "Come on fellas." They went around the corner and packed into this place and sat down and Bill laid this pearl-handled gold gun on the counter and said, "Coffee and donuts." And they had coffee and donuts.


Projection End cue: Projection ends.


Projection Start cue: Projection of Bill Robinson’s portrait.


The ACTOR does choreography to (Opus One by Sy Oliver and choreographed by Harold Cromer).


The ACTOR ends the dance upstage, turns around, and bows to him.