Tate was a commanding presence in Hartford and its theater scene. Together with Julia Rosenblatt and Steve Ginsburg, he founded HartBeat Ensemble. Their mission – to write and perform theater that asks questions, raises public consciousness, and rouses audiences into action – was something that Tate lived every day. He strove to record the joys, beauty, suffering, and injustices in the city; and then shape that into public performance.
Tate was born on January 26th, 1952 to Oscar and Bertha Tate in the Woodlawn neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois. He was the 5th of 6 children and the last boy to be born. He grew up closely with all his siblings, but because of their ages, he developed a particularly close relationship with his younger sister Desiree and his older brother Pete (Oscar). Tate was a proud product of the Chicago Public School system, graduating from Sexton Elementary School in 1965, and with honors from Lindblom Technical High School in 1969.
Growing up on Chicago’s South Side, Tate quickly learned his street smarts. He would often accompany his sister and Aunt Velma (also fondly given the name Bim by Tate) to the Woolworths lunch counter, dressed in his Sunday’s finest. Desiree and Tate didn’t know the significance of their visits to Woolworths until they grew older and learned that just years prior, Aunt Bim was unable to freely go to those lunch counters. So she would proudly take them there regularly. Once Tate’s father passed away, he and his older brothers quickly stepped up to the plate to become patriarchs of the Tate Family. Tate was preceded in death by his brothers Fred and Bob, and he took on the role of a father figure to all of his nieces and nephews, especially Michael, Jennifer, and Ashley. His creative spirit grew restless in the Midwest and he ventured to the West Coast to continue his education.
Tate received his BFA from the University of Southern California in 1979. After spending several years creating theater and wreaking havoc in Napa Valley, he moved to San Francisco to work at the Eureka Theater. Following several successful projects there, he was warmly advised by his supervisor to go to the San Francisco Mime Troupe where his opinions would be more appreciated. He spent thirteen years (1988-2001) developing his craft with the Mime Troupe, the oldest collectively run theater company in the U.S. During this time, Tate also traveled to South Africa to work with the Soweto Youth Drama Society on a play about the AIDS epidemic.
But it was in Hartford that Tate made his home and where his work culminated in memorable performances, such as Graves, Ebeneeza, and, most recently, Flipside, which he directed to critical acclaim. While with HartBeat, Tate also taught at the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts from 2003 to 2009 and at UCONN from 2010 to 2011. He served as vice president on the board of the Network of Ensemble Theaters from 2007 to 2009. Perhaps, above all else, Tate will be remembered for the scores of youth (and adults) he mentored in using the arts as a form of self-discovery and consciousness raising.
Tate did not separate his life from his work. He, Steve and Julia moved to Hartford to form not only a theater company but also a meaningful community. Tate lived in a collective household now known simply as “Warrenton.” Just as he was Uncle Greg to many fantastic nieces and nephews in the Midwest, he became Uncle Tate to the grandchildren of his Rosenblatt family here in Hartford, including of course his beloved Tessa and Elijah.
Tate was a big man, whose passions resembled his stature—whether it was watching the Chicago Bears or old films, arguing the politics of class, race, and gender oppression, eating “lairuppin food,” or spending time with his life partner, Karen Kessler —Tate lived fully, and wonderfully.
The loss of Gregory Raynard Tate is, as poet Chris Brown put it, “a deeper poignant sort of blues.” No doubt Tate would expect all of us who mourn his life to find our way forward with renewed commitment to making the world a better place, or, to again to quote Brown, “to do right by our brother in that sweet by and by.” Some might imagine him looking at us with his kind eyes and that damned mischievous grin, and simply leaving us with one of his favorite refrains: “Well blow my hair back!”