January 28, 2020

Chicago Inclusion Project staff members Arti Ishak and Abhi Shrestha alongside Kaiser Ahmed, Rom Barkhodar, Tina El Gamal, Martin Zebari, Gloria Imseih Petrelli and Abbas Salem have formed a collective and organized an event to gather actionable solutions for the community:

When: February 16th, 2020 at 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Where: Steppenwolf Theatre Garage Space: 1650 North Halsted St., Chicago, IL

MENASA MidWest is a newly formed collective of Chicago artists and organizers dedicated to amplifying, representing and advocating for the MENASA artist community.

We will be organizing a community forum at the Steppenwolf Theatre Garage space on Sunday, February 16th to facilitate an open, structured and brave discussion by and for MENASA folks regarding aspects of fair and transformational representation in our theatre, film and television communities in Chicago and the surrounding region. Although this conversation impacts artists of all backgrounds, the organizers have chosen to focus on a MENASA only community forum first.

The forum is open to performing artists, tv/film/theatre makers, and storytellers who identify with and claim heritage from South West Asia, Middle East, South Asia, North Africa and mixed-race descendents of the diaspora. This event has risen from a need for individuals in our emerging community to identify, organize and hold to account not only ourselves, but the institutions and organizations that have over the years both intentionally and unintentionally constructed an unsuccessful, inaccurate and often times damaging veneer of MENASA people.

The evening will be hosted by Ian Martin, Haven Theatre’s Artistic Director and Program Manager with Enrich Chicago, and will be borrowing from “The Circle Way,” a facilitation strategy created by Ann Linnea and Christina Baldwin that reaffirms the essential practice of taking a seat on the rim and turning to one another to uphold racial, ethnic, gender, economic, and environmental justice. Utilizing this structure and a neutral moderator we aim to conduct a safe and constructive atmosphere to explore solutions to questions like: What constitutes transactional vs transformational representation? What actionable steps can companies take to produce MENASA work successfully and respectfully? How do we actively combat the myth that all folks from the MENASA region are monolith? What actions can we take to advocate for our community within our respective fields and for each other’s fields?

It is our goal to facilitate a brave and forward moving series of questions and solutions regarding the intersection of our professional and cultural identities in which we are often required to wrestle with alone when we work in the industry. We operate in the belief that we are stronger together and that singular consensus is not a requirement of intercultural allyship.

Doors open at 6:30 pm with some food and drink available before our discussion begins at 7:00 pm. The organizers include Kaiser Ahmed, Rom Barkhodar, Tina El Gamal, Martin Zebari, Arti Ishak, Gloria Imseih Petrelli, Abbas Salem, and Abhi Shrestha.

CONTACT MENASA MidWest: menasamidwest@gmail.com

MENASA: The Middle East, North Africa and South Asia 

January 1, 2020

The Chicago Inclusion Project has seen a lot of growth and change -- as our community has --  and as we continue to learn from the challenges set in front of us, we thought it fitting to meditate on the last 12 months as artists and as members of this organization... 

I'm grateful for the kinds of artists I am lucky enough to connect with.  I am grateful for opportunities to get my

artist friends to engage with life outside of the art they make; just humans connecting as humans and not talking about our art.  I had a lot of that this year, and I think it's important for our sanity to be intentional about that.

I'm looking forward to directing my first show with Interrobang, writing, more of the above, more TCIP trainings and being surprised by life.                            - Elana Elyce, Chicago Inclusion Project Business Manager

This year I was thankful for:

  • The generosity of our community: their spaces, their time, their energy, their thoughts, their resources and their talents

  • The opportunity to fail

  • The love and space to learn from those failures

  • Rooms where marginalized artists and leaders could find each other, breathe, share and reassure that we are not alone

  • The brave and inspiring teachers and students who inspired us this year during our professional training series

  • The expanded definition of what accessibility in the arts can mean and the passionate, sometimes difficult conversations that surround it

  • The reminder that we all know so little and that that’s what is so exciting about truly listening to one another

                                                                    - Emjoy Gavino, Chicago Inclusion Project Executive Director

This year, I was tremendously heartened and thankful to see more and more theatre artists of all backgrounds embracing the power of "no" as a tool for change-- refusing to indulge and cater to the machinations of privilege (obstinately and wilfully wielded by leaders so convinced of their own allyship that they cannot see the forest for the trees). The glorious sound of "NO" has been ringing out in many forms all over Chicago these past few years, growing in volume and scope, in venues big and small: from the lone artist demanding the protection of union oversight before addressing abuses with leadership of an artistic juggernaut; to the creative team driven to call out repeated institutional racism on social media and in the press; to the artist unwilling to remain complicit in allowing antiquated, destructive depictions of their marginalized community to persist in theatrical portrayals, and calling upon fellow community members to lift up their own voices in celebration of their own stories. 

I was also very very thankful for the new and growing generation of casting directors who have taken up the mantle of inclusion and run with it, such that I am personally able to take a step back from casting in pursuit of my own artistic endeavors, with the full knowledge that there are now many qualified casting directors doing the work we have championed here at The Chicago Inclusion Project from our inception. 

Looking ahead, into the here and now of 2020, I'm excited to see how the growing multitude of voices in our artistic communities will help us evolve into better listeners, better friends, better artists, better humans.

                                                                                        - Stephanie Diaz, Chicago Inclusion Project Grant Writer

There are many things that I am thankful for this year, and many things I’m excited for in 2020 – most of these things fall under these two categories:

Instead of “is this good or bad?” I’ve been reframing that question to “What can I learn or unlearn from this experience?” We often situate our thoughts into various binaries, but this binary of learning/ unlearning has provided me a space for reflective consideration that challenges me to refract thoughts beyond a binary and towards movement and action. Unlearning has been a very healthy tool to engage my past, present, and future in an active way. I am grateful for this new practice, and excited to bring it into a new decade.

Damage v. Desire in narrative frameworks –
This framework around damage v. desire first came into my world through an amazing open letter that Indigenous scholar Eve Tuck penned called “Suspending Damage”. The abstract of the letter states,

         “Eve Tuck calls on communities, researchers, and educators to reconsider the long-term impact of                       “damage-centered” research—research that intends to document peoples’ pain and brokenness to hold   

          those in power accountable for their oppression. This kind of research operates with a flawed theory of     

          change: it is often used to leverage reparations or resources for marginalized communities yet

          simultaneously reinforces and reinscribes a one-dimensional notion of these people as depleted, ruined,

          and hopeless. Tuck urges communities to institute a moratorium on damage-centered research to

          reformulate the ways research is framed and conducted and to reimagine how findings might be used by,

          for, and with communities.”

This letter challenged me to consider the stories we tell on stage. How can we push to have a nuanced conversation around damage and desire in the stories we tell? I understand the importance of pain in representation, as it offers an antidote to the isolation that we can often times feel in our pain. But I am also curious if damage centered narratives provide a one-sided portrait of various communities. As an educator, I am uninterested in the only representation young people of color or young queer people have being tied to pain and brokenness. I am excited to explore this more in 2020 and to consider for myself my participation in the proliferation of damage-centered narratives.

                                                                         - Abhi Shrestha, Chicago Inclusion Project Community Organizer

I am thankful for growing through rough times and finding joy in those times and the family and friends  who made me laugh and got me through one of the hardest parts of my adult life! 

                                     -  Jessica Vann, Chicago Inclusion Project Facilitator

I‘m thankful for the amount of times folks said “no” this year. I’m grateful that actors are feeling empowered to speak up and leave dangerous performance situations for their own well being, and I’m grateful for the times the community had their back.

I’m hopeful we can continue to foster a community with more transparency, prioritize each other’s humanity over the product, and honor the immeasurable power that truth & authenticity in storytelling has. Most importantly, I’m hopeful we realize we each individually have the power to make our industry one where none of the above is actually at odds with the ability to turn a profit or move a career forward. 

                                                                                                  - Arti Ishak, Chicago Inclusion Project Facilitator 


October 23, 2019

Continuing our support of productions that embrace inclusion for artists and audiences, below are shows open or opening soon in Chicago that we feel are moving our community forward.  As a staff, we have not necessarily seen all of these shows but are really glad they are happening.

We are excited to list shows that offer some or all of the following:
- Non-traditional casting

- Accessible storytelling

- Variety of perspectives on the design and production teams

- Playwrights/Directors from underrepresented communities

- Diversity in season programming

Buy tickets to shows that celebrate inclusion. Then write to producers and tell them you want more of it. Decision makers are led by numbers and this is one way you can make a difference.​

Teatro Vista presents HOPE: Part II of a Mexican Trilogy 

Written By Evelina Fernandez
Directed by Ricardo Gutiérrez & Cheryl Lynn Bruce

through October 27

at The Den Theatre 1330 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Hope follows the voyage of the Morales family through the turbulent, transformational ‘60s, a time marked by a young new president, the dawn of the sexual revolution and the rock ‘n’ roll explosion. Filled with nostalgic ballads, fantasy sequences and strong doses of humor, Hope pops with keen visuals and poignant storytelling as it offers a glimpse into the life of a Mexican American family in ‘60s America.

The cast features Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel (Elena), Eddie Martinez (Charlie), Ayssette Muñoz (Gina) and Tommy Rivera-Vega (Rudy), with Janyce Caraballo (Betty), Andrea Cañizares-Fernandez (Mari), Nick Mayes (Johnny) Victor Maraña (Enrique) and Joaquin Rodarte (Bobby). Designers are Jose Manuel Diaz (set), Sanja Manakowski (costumes) and Joe Burke (lighting and video design). Stage manager is Alden Vasquez. Sylvia Lopez is Managing Director. 

Tickets are $25-$35 and can be found here

Some free tickets are available: https://www.freetix.org/get

The Gift Theatre presents Kentucky

Written by Leah Nanako WInkler

Directed by Chika Ike

Through November 16

at Theatre Wit 1229 W Belmont

When her sister, a born-again Christian, decides to marry at 22, NYC-transplant Hiro, takes it upon herself to return home to Kentucky to stop the wedding and salvage her sister’s future. Identity, religion, and love collide in this unique coming of age story.

The cast and production team includes Paul D'Addario, Martel Manning and Hannah Toriumi with Maryam Abdi, Ian Voltaire Deane, Emjoy Gavino, Helen Joo Lee, Michael E. Martin, Emilie Modaff, Ana Silva, Jess Vann, Graham Carlson, Kim Fukawa, Tamarus Harvell, Gabrielle Maalihan, WIl Ann Whedbee, Harmony Zhang, Ryan Emmons (scenic design), Rachel Sypniewski (costume design), Rachel Levy (lighting design) and Alex Oparka (stage manager)

Tickets are $24-42 are can be purchased here

Some free tickets are available: https://www.freetix.org/get

There will be a captioned performance on Sunday, November 3.

Aguijón Theater presents Exquisita Agonía

Written by Nilo Cruz

Directed by Marcela Muñoz

through November 24

at Aguijón Theater, 2707 N. Laramie Avenue, Chicago

World famous soprano Millie Marcel is unable to return to her elegant jet setting life after the death of her equally sophisticated and famous composer husband. An obsession with knowing exactly who received her husband's heart leads Millie on a relentless pursuit to meet its recipient and, inadvertently, uncovering devastating truths within her own family.

The cast and production team features Rosario Vargas, Israel Balzandor Menedez, Elio Leturia, Victor Salinas, Andrea Leguizamon, Marcopolo Soto and Oswaldo Calderon.

All tickets are $10-30 and can be purchased here

First Floor Theatre presents Sugar in Our Wounds 

Written by Donja R. Love

Directed by  Mikael Burke

Through November 23

at The Den Theatre 1330 N. Milwaukee Ave.

On a plantation during the Civil War, a mystical tree stretches toward heaven. It protects James, a young slave, while he reads newspapers about the imminent possibility of freedom, as war rages on. When a brooding stranger arrives, James and his makeshift family take him in. Soon, an unexpected bond leads to a striking romance, and everyone is in uncharted territory. The award-winning SUGAR IN OUR WOUNDS is part of playwright Donja R. Love’s trilogy of black love at pivotal moments in history, helmed by Mikael Burke, director of last season’s acclaimed production of HOODED, OR BEING BLACK FOR DUMMIES.

Cast and production team include Ashley Crowe, Renee Lockett, Grainne Ortlieb, Londen Shannon, Michael Turrentine, Joy Ahn (scenic design), Madeleine Rose Byrne (costume design), Eric Watkins (lighting design), Sam Clapp (sound design), Sana Selemon (dialect coach), Ian Maryfield (violence and intimacy design), Caitlin McCarthy and Cole von Glahn (co-production management), Emma Franklin (stage manager) and Julia Toney (assistant stage manager)

Tickets are $35 can be purchased here.

Some free tickets are available: https://www.freetix.org/get

Urban Theater Company presents Back in the Day

Written by Miranda Gonzalez

Directed by Raquel Torre

Choreographed by Breon Arzell

Through November 2

at Urban Theater, 2620 W Division

Back in the Day follows three Northside Chicago dance crews, The All Stars, led by Jose "Gringo" Echevarría and their frenemies, The Culitos and Imported Taste when African-American, Latino and LGBTQ dominated the 1980's after hours scene in such legendary local juice bars as Jenal's and Medusas. Back in the Day is much more than the memories of one man about an era in Chicago's history of urban dance and music. It is a fun, poignant portrait of that period, enriched by the voices of dozens of members of those dance crews who shared their experiences and stories with the play's cast and crew during its initial run. It is now part of the collective history of a forgotten aspec of Chicago House music.

The cast includes Christian D. Wilson, Sofia Tew, Isaly Viana, Omar Fernández, Adriel Irizarry, Matty Robinson, Gabriela Castillo, Mateo Hernández, Jermaine Robinson, Jr., Brittany Harlin, Nathaniel Andrew and Angelíca Grace.

Tickets are $25-30 and can be purchased here

October 22, 2019

A month ago, a group of Chicagoans met in the glorious Hyde Park Arts Center, noshing on delicious food from The Nile, to read the words of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie. As part of our salon reading series, we sought to unpack and explore the well known text by casting a few of our favorite actors to breathe the roles anew: Terri Lynne Hudson as Laura, Abbas Salem as Tom, Lars Ebsworth as Jim, and Haley Bolithon reading stage directions. Tamara Rozofsky was originally cast as Amanda, but unfortunately had to step down last minute so our managing director Elana Elyce heroically cold-read the role.

We arrived at this play when we began discussions in rebooting our salon reading series.  I reached out to a few of our favorite actors with the simple question: What are you dream roles? What's on your actor's buck list?  Terri Lynne Hudson put Laura on the top of her list and all of us as a group collectively gasped -- WHY HADN'T THIS HAPPENED YET?!  We sat down with Terri to talk about her journey with this story, what was important to her about the retelling and cast the reading from there.  What transpired in September was several dreams in the making.  

 Once there was time to catch their breaths, we asked the artists and our staff a few questions about their experience...

How, if at all, did this experience change your understanding of the play and the characters within?

"There is SO much of a difference between "here is what I think it would be like if the world perceived me as ___" and "he is what my life is like because the world perceives me as ___" and although there is a lot that can be achieved by actors via craft and exercise, getting a Laura whose characterization and subtext just live in her body because that's her body, and getting a Tom whose sexuality isn't just implied by the lack of women in his life makes the play more visceral and more real to me. Also, having the family not be white speaks to the lived stories of southern black wealth and class structure culture, which is real and documented but not discussed or portrayed very often at all."

                                                                                                                         - Terri Lynn Hudson, actor - Laura

Since I had never seen or fully read it, it was pretty much just a new play for me.  The only thing I ever had full knowledge of is Laura, her disability and that she had a caller who wasn't that into her. And the menagerie of course.  Everything else, brand new.

                                              - Elana Elyce, Chicago Inclusion Project staff member and actor - Amanda

To be honest! That was the first time I actually payed attention to the script. I had always surpass the script or half-assed was engaged in it to the point I would forget what the actual show was about. This experience kept me engaged and I walked away thinking “I’d see THIS production of the show.”

                                                                           - Jess Vann, Chicago Inclusion Project staff member

"Jim is so totally into Tom, cause why wouldn't he be - Tom is a damn dreamboat (this was my first time realizing that). I bet those shoebox poems are GOOD. Jim is also a self-centered egomaniac who wants everyone's attention all the time. "Look at my shadow across the wall" has never had any meaning for me and this time I was just like, UGH. JIM. OF COURSE. YOUR SHADOW IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING HAPPENING RIGHT NOW. Jim is also super sad and sympathetic in his disappointed high school hopes, but mostly I was like COME ON JIM, THIS ISN'T ABOUT YOUUUUU. Somehow I always just thought the guys at the factory didn't like poets, since Tom has always been a sexless automaton, and this time I finally understood he's up against homophobia. I love Amanda and want her to stop absolutely everything she's doing and do other things, but I also kind of get what she's saying. She looks for every flipping avenue to find a path through for her family, and I was legitimately worried for Amanda and Laura when Tom left- how were they going to keep the lights on? Keep the apartment? What options do they have?"

                                                                                                - Meg Harkins, Salon Reading producer

Stay tuned for details about our upcoming readings and events...!

September 23, 2019

All of us at The Chicago Inclusion Project are thrilled to bring back our salon reading series. This month we will present an informal reading and discussion of THE GLASS MENAGERIE by Tennessee Williams in collaboration with The Hyde Park Art Center and their current exhibits of "Black and Brown are Beautiful" and "Intersectional Touch."

We are so happy that Haley Bolithon can join us to deliver the dark, hopeful and poetic words of Tennessee Williams' stage directions.

Haley is so stoked to be working with the inclusion project! She is currently in The Grey House at A Red Orchid Theatre. Past theatre credits include The Haven Place at A Red Orchid, Hatfield & McCoy and The Nutcracker at The House Theatre of Chicago, A Christmas Carol at the Goodman Theatre, Herland (u/s) at Redtwist Theatre, Spring Awakening at Blank Theatre Company, and Pinocchio at Chicago Children’s Theatre. Film and TV credits include Knives and Skin and Work in Progress. Haley is a graduate of School of Steppenwolf and is represented by Stewart Talent.

Come see Haley and the rest of our wonderful cast next Monday, September 23 at The Hyde Park Art Center.

September 20, 2019

All of us at The Chicago Inclusion Project are thrilled to bring back our salon reading series. This month we will present an informal reading and discussion of THE GLASS MENAGERIE by Tennessee Williams in collaboration with The Hyde Park Art Center and their current exhibits of "Black and Brown are Beautiful" and "Intersectional Touch."

Members of our casting team have been huge fans of Lars for awhile and cannot see what he will bring to the role of Jim, the gentleman caller.

 "I am thrilled to take the stage with The Chicago Inclusion Project to give The Glass Menagerie a well-needed update."

Recent credits for Lars Ebsworth: Male performer in I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change Goes LGBTQ (CTW), Aiden in TEN (The Gift), and u/s of every non-cis male in the Chicago trial of Albert Cashier The Musical (Permoveo Productions). He is also the artistic director/lead producer of Trans Voices Cabaret CHI. Proudly represented by Gray Talent Group.

Come see Lars and the rest of our wonderful cast next Monday, September 23 at The Hyde Park Art Center at 6pm.

September 19, 2019

All of us at The Chicago Inclusion Project are thrilled to bring back our salon reading series. This month we will present an informal reading and discussion of THE GLASS MENAGERIE by Tennessee Williams in collaboration with The Hyde Park Art Center and their current exhibits of "Black and Brown are Beautiful" and "Intersectional Touch."

We were thrilled to finally get to work with Abbas Salem, a Chicago theater treasure, and long time friend of The Chicago Inclusion Project. We're so thrilled he is our Tom.

"As a person who's been in charge of his own theatrical education, I chose what plays I read and I always assumed that The Glass Menagerie was a world I would never be invited into, so I didn't bother exploring it. However, it's all about wanting to change the present, and what could be more relatable. Tom can't accept how mundane his life is but feels trapped, unlike the magician in the coffin. I feel trapped by my life all the time and sometimes it hurts to see how free others can be. I've felt the need to grasp at change for no reason other than making things different and I've felt just as lost within it."

Omer Abbas Salem is a Chicago actor and writer and he's so thrilled to finally work with the Chicago Inclusion Project. His Chicago work includes Pinocchio (The House), Linda and Earthquakes in London (Steep Theatre), Merge and Even Longer and Further Away (The New Colony), INVASION! (Silk Road Rising), Princess Mary (Bailiwick Chicago), In to America (Griffin Theatre), Le Switch (About Face), and Washer/Dryer (Rasaka Theatre). Regional work: Angels in America I & II, A Christmas Carol, and You Across From Me (Actors Theatre of Louisville). Off Broadway: Eddie and Dave (The Atlantic Theater) and I am Going to Change the World (Roundabout Theater). He is a proud core ensemble member of The New Colony and Acting Apprentice at the Actors Theatre of Louisville 17/18. He is represented by Shirley Hamilton and more at www.omerabbassalem.com.

Come see Abbas and the rest of our wonderful cast next Monday, September 23 at The Hyde Park Art Center.

September 17, 2019

All of us at The Chicago Inclusion Project are thrilled to bring back our salon reading series. This month we will present an informal reading and discussion of THE GLASS MENAGERIE by Tennessee Williams in collaboration with The Hyde Park Art Center and their current exhibits of "Black and Brown are Beautiful" and "Intersectional Touch."

Our selection of THE GLASS MENAGERIE was inspired by a conversation we had with actor and TCIP friend, Terri Lynne Hudson who told us that Laura was one of her dream roles. We cannot wait for the heart, intelligence grace we know she will breathe into the text...

 "I love the dreamlike, otherworldly way this play feels while dealing with very real, very human emotions and situations. As a disabled adult, I feel like the play captures some of the complex dynamic between non-disabled parents and their disabled children; what they expect of and hope for us and how their intentions can yield very different results than intended."

Terri Lynne Hudson is an actor and interdisciplinary performance artist living in Chicago. She has most recently appeared in Stage Left Theatre's reading/workshop of _The Volunteer_ and Pop Magic/Global Hive Laboratories' _Medusa_.

Come see Terri and the rest of our wonderful cast next Monday, September 23 at The Hyde Park Art Center at 6pm.  RSVP here (https://www.facebook.com/events/400093897571392/, as space is limited.

August 26, 2019

As our friend Josh Sobel concludes his tenure as Artistic Director of Haven Chicago, he offers what he's learned, how he's grown, and wisdom others may find useful.  We're thrilled to be able to share this insight with you!

With this closing my time as an Artistic Director and subsequently Associate AD is done. KISS was the final show I was involved in programming at Haven, and I know I've been a broken record about this but what Monty Cole and this intrepid cast crew and production/producing team created is one of the best things period I've ever seen and/or worked on, full stop. This is the kind of note I feel lucky to have been able to go out on.

I was sort of surprised at the number of critics who saw the show and then chose to not write about it (its all good, not throwing shade just genuinely stating surprise), because IMO this piece - and Monty's iteration of it - is REQUIRED VIEWING for our current moment, and deserves to be talked about as widely as possible as a political statement. Its about every conversation I read on the news and social media right now. Its about owning what you think you know but actually do not, and where one falls into traps as a result. Its about owning one's blind spots, and the consequences of them on others. Its about cultural (mis-)understanding in a moment when that is pervasive in this country and world, with dire impact. And its not fucking easy. As a white cis male artist/person-in-the-world, this thing humbled me in ways I didn't expect and sorely needed. Thank you - THANK YOU - to everyone who was a part of building and sharing this show.

This moment of change also has me reflecting on some of what I experienced and learned from this position, especially as I observed and conversed with other cross-generational cis-white-male ADs. And here's some of what I learned:

1) If you feel like you aren't getting young/queer/POC/"next-gen"/etc audiences to give a shit about - let alone come to - your theatre and see an aging audience base, LOOK AT WHAT THOSE PEOPLE YOU WANT ARE ENGAGING WITH AND LET THAT GUIDE WHAT YOU PRODUCE. Maybe its that those people aren't necessarily electrified by your standard-fare Arthur Miller. Maybe when they see your season announcement of mostly-white couch plays, they think "well, there's nothing for me here." Meanwhile pro-wrestling (WHICH IS THEATRE) is selling out 11,000 seats in 30 minutes for live performance and is currently filled with ALL of those demographics you want (wrestling is going through an amazing moment of progressivism). The Fly Honeys is one of the hottest tickets of EVERY summer for a decade now. And I'm not saying there isnt a place for meat-and-potatoes realism and whatnot. But if you want those new audiences, a large portion of them (myself included) sees the monotony and antiquated-ness within seasons as "take your theatre medicine, its good for you." (And that works...) Look at what next-gen audiences are consuming between live events, concerts, TV, movies, and maybe recognize that if you aren't letting that influence what is on your stage, then you can't really act surprised when those audiences don't feel at home in your place.

2) On a related note, yeah, you're gonna lose audiences along the way. Get over it and find new ones already, and stop just talking wistfully about it. Its achievable. It really is. When I took the reigns at Haven, we were producing quintessential Chicago realism, with touches of theatricality. And the work was FUCKING GOOD, please let me be clear, and I would work with every single one of those artists and people again in a heartbeat. But I definitely pulled the company in a very different direction over the years. And as is always discussed, we lost people who were invested in that previous brand of work. I even had a fellow AD once look me in the eye and say "well, maybe there just aren't audiences for that kind of work in Chicago." But guess what? We found them. We found new people, and of the demographics we say we "cant get to show up", too! We did a horror play, so we reached out to horror-genre publications and message boards and Pilsen and Latinx groups and sold out the show. We did an existential pop-punk rock concert, and marketed to the music community and sold out the show. We did THE TOTAL BENT - a show so many people told me would NEVER succeed in Chicago - and ended up selling out, extending and breaking some financial records along the way. STOP BEING AFRAID OF LOSING AUDIENCES. We are in the era of the niche, as it were - "find your tribe" applies to audiences as well. They are out there. Stop playing bullshit "appeasement" games with audiences (and critics for that matter) - its condescending to them and harmful to your work and growth as an organization.

3) I continue to hear the narrative (almost exclusively from white-cis-het arts leaders) of "well, cultivating inclusivity within an organization both in staff and creative is really hard." You know what? IT HASN'T BEEN THAT HARD. It hasn't been easy by any means, and the work never ends, but we've done pretty well in terms of staff, casting and production over the past several years. You know why? Because we made it a priority value of the company from jump. That's all. That's really all we did. We made it a priority value. And if you're going to SAY its a priority but not actually make it an active priority with accountability, then no, it isn't, so stop lying about it. By making it an actual priority we hold ourselves accountable to that value with every choice we make, and must own our mistakes along the way while working to improve. As our current Casting Director Nik Whitcomb recently said, the secret to doing the work is doing the work.

4) The first full show I directed in Chicago featured a workshop where the AD said to me "just remember who here is the employer and who is the employee." LOOK. I get it - we've hired you under a contract, we are paying you, there are expectations we have from you, all that jazz. But, when we hire you, YOU ARE ALSO A GUEST IN OUR HOME. And while we will not let someone take advantage of us in our own home, nonetheless a two-way-street exists where an independent artist has EVERY RIGHT to expect to be treated well, to be listened to when issues arise, and to have the company at least TRY to rectify such issues as they come, ensuring that at minimum the artists working under our roof know that they will always be listened to and heard. And if a company does not understand and respect this at every level of their organizational structure, then don't be a company.

5) On a related note, if you don't actually want to build an institution, don't start a company. Its such a Chicago thing, people starting "Yet Another Theatre Company, NFP". And I have ZERO issue with that in itself. But when I hear horror stories, 85-90% of the time its from companies that are built around cults of personality, or leadership that really just wants to make their own shit and find people to help them make their own shit and (whether explicitly or implicitly) fuck everyone else. So, GREAT! Make your own art! Self-produce! Partner up! But as a company, as a non-profit, you are a service organization. Vision is essential, but leadership is about EVERYONE ELSE, from audience to artists to staff. If you start a company, make sure you actually WANT TO RUN A COMPANY - which means putting yourself second a lot of the time because your artists and audiences come first. If you're not ready to do that, try a different model. (I HIGHLY recommend researching 13P as a great case study in alternative models to getting one's own work made.)

6) I am SHOCKED at the number of companies that don't have - and don't value - post-mortems. And look, not every note we get can/should get incorporated for any number of reasons. But that is irrelevant. We have a post-mortem after every show, and every time we learn a TON that we are able to incorporate for the future. And the key? We sit and listen and take notes. That's our job in that moment: to listen. Post-mortems show that you care about listening and growing and getting better. And if you aren't interested in that, don't run a fucking company.

7) Lastly, on-boarding a new AD through hiring them as AAD, then switching roles so they could get a running start while still having the former AD next to them for institutional memory to then subsequently step away, REALLY WORKED in my opinion. Thinking a lot about such a process and how it can be evolved to be better and also apply to companies of various size, as I have seen many transitional nightmares over the years...

I know I have fallen short of my own standards along the way. I've made many mistakes and will undoubtedly make more. But I am grateful to the circle I have been able to surround myself with who have held me accountable and made me own those shortcomings, challenged me to be better, and pushed Haven to keep evolving into the Future. Ian Damont Martin and Angela Christine Salinas and this intrepid staff are taking it to a whole new level, including fresh looks at creating more intentional processes across the board. And that alone is everything I dreamed of for this company.

I am grateful to all of those who gave me space in various ways to figure out who I am, and to Carol Leitz Cohen for fearlessly letting Haven grow as it has grown. I'm grateful to have learned more clearly who I am and what I want. As I embark on this next journey in pursuit of my Masters in Directing at California Institute of the Arts, I would be lying if I said I’m not looking forward to focusing on my own creative voice for a bit. Such is the beauty of graduate school. However, I also challenge myself to find the intersection of my vision and my values - how I can be more fully and more fiercely myself, advocate for my ideas and invest in my voice, while maintaining accountability to the values I hold dear. And I expect it to be a challenge. But, for me, it’s worth the effort.

August 8, 2019

Continuing our support of productions that embrace inclusion for artists and audiences, below are shows open or opening soon in Chicago that we feel are moving our community forward.  As a staff, we have not necessarily seen all of these shows but are really glad they are happening.

We are excited to list shows that offer some or all of the following:
- Non-traditional casting

- Accessible storytelling

- Variety of perspectives on the design and production teams

- Playwrights/Directors from underrepresented communities

- Diversity in season programming

Buy tickets to shows that celebrate inclusion. Then write to producers and tell them you want more of it. Decision makers are led by numbers and this is one way you can make a difference.​

Babes With Blades Theatre Company presents

Women of 4G

Written by Amy Tofte

Directed by Lauren Katz

Through September 14

at Factory Theatre, 1623 W Howard St Chicago

This is the Babes first adventure into the world of science fiction as this production takes place 75 years in the future. In Women of 4G, an all-female crew and their male captain depart on what appears to be a routine mission to Mars until the captain is murdered and the real mission comes to light. Part murder mystery, part space thriller, Women of 4G uses a science fiction world to ask questions about women in power as well as their leadership, responsibility and, ultimately, sacrifice.

The cast, artistic and production team include Jillian Leff* (Ensign Pierce), Ashley Yates (Stark), LaKecia Harris (Nataki), Jazmin Corona (Wollman), Catherine Dvorak+ (Baston), Renee Lockett (Dr. Cava), Judi Schindler (Dr. Toulle), Samantha Price (u/s Pierce/Baston), Tehilla Newman (u/s Cava/Toulle)STAFF: Sarah West (Stage Manager), Stephanie Mattos (Assistant Director), Kate Booth (Assistant Fight Director), Anika Jones (Production Manager), Jessica Baldinger (Scenic Designer), Jeremiah Barr (Technical Director), Elle Erickson (Costume Designer), Gabrielle Strong (Lighting Designer), Hannah Foerschler (Sound Designer), Auden Granger (Props Designer)

Tickets are $15-28 and can be purchased here

The Gift Theatre presents 

Wolf Play

Written by Hansol Jung

Directed by Jess McLeod

Through August 18

at The Gift Theatre 4802 N Milwaukee Avenue

An American couple decides to ‘un-adopt’ their young Korean son because they have a newborn at home. After an internet chat room search for the right family, the father ‘re-homes’ the boy with a lesbian couple, where one half is desperate for a child and the other half is fighting for her career. As the boy – who thinks he’s a wolf but is really a puppet – adjusts to his new life, he forms bonds with the unlikeliest of culprits while the rest of the adults squabble about what is best for the child.

The cast, artistic and production team include Gift ensemble member Jennifer Glasse with Isa Arciniegas, Dan Lin, Tim Martin, AJ McGhee, Hayden Burke, Whitney Dottery, Jaegen Ellison, Zimbo Gessert, Gaby Labotka, Colleen Layton, Danielle Fraser, Sarah Choe and Ellen Hao (dramaturgy), Arnel Sancianco (scenic design), Stephanie Cluggish (costume design), Mike Durst (lighting design), Eric Backus (sound design), Stephanie Diaz (puppetry design), Emjoy Gavino (Casting), Amanda Herrmann (prop design), Rachel Flesher and Zach Payne (Violence and Intimacy).

Tickets are $25-50 can be purchased here.

** A captioned performance will be Thursday, August 15

Kokandy Productions presents

Head Over Heels

Conceived by Jeff Whitty, Adapted by James Macgruder

Co-Directed by Derek Van Barham & Elizabeth Swanson

Music Direction by Kyra Leigh

Choreography by Breon Arzell

through August 25

at Theatre Wit, 1229 W Belmont Ave, Chicago, IL 60657

Head Over Heels is the bold new musical comedy from the visionaries that rocked Broadway with Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Avenue Q and Spring Awakening. This laugh-out-loud love story is set to the music of the iconic 1980’s all-female rock band The Go-Go’s, including the hit songs, “We Got the Beat,” “Our Lips Are Sealed,” “Vacation,” Belinda Carlisle’s “Heaven is a Place on Earth” and “Mad About You.” A hilarious, exuberant celebration of love, Head Over Heels follows the escapades of a royal family on an outrageous journey to save their beloved kingdom from extinction—only to discover the key to their realm’s survival lies within each of their own hearts.

The cast includes Bridget Adams-King, Jeremiah Alsop, Emily Barnash, Frankie Leo Bennett, Caitlyn Cerza, Caitlin Dobbins, Britain Gebhardt, Connor Giles, Parker Guidry, Kaimana Neil, Liz Norton, Deanalis Resto, Shane Roberie, Roy Samra, Tiffany T. Taylor and Marco Tzunux, with swings Courtney Dane Mize and Patrick O’Keefe. The production team includes Chris Rhoton (scenic design), Uriel Gomez (costume design) G. “Max” Maxin IV (lighting design), Mike Patrick (sound design) Adam Borchers (props design), Patrick O’Brien (sound engineer), Emily Boyd (scenic painter), Nicholas Reinhart (production manager) and Hannah Cremin (stage manager).

Tickets are $35-40  and are currently available at kokandyproductions.com, by calling (773) 975-8150 or in person at the Theater Wit Box Office. Kokandy Productions will partner with TodayTix to offer $15 mobile Rush tickets beginning at 9 am each performance day. Tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis exclusively through the TodayTix app.

Haven Theatre presents 


Written by Guillermo Calderón

Directed by Monty Cole

Associate Directed by Abhi Shrestha

Through August 18

at The Den Theatre 1333 N. Milwaukee

Two couples meet for their weekly soap opera viewing party, but that standing double date quickly starts to feel like a soap opera itself when the friends unpack scandals, secrets and their heart-rending passions. Guillermo Calderón has written a bold and political theatrical experience that explodes the romantic drama and asks what it means to empathize with a culture and conflict that is not your own.

The cast, production and artistic team include Salar Ardebili, Monty Cole, Gloria Imseih Petrelli, Arti Ishak, Sami Ismat and Cassidy Slaughter-MasonUnderstudies: Nina Jayashankar. Ruchir Khazanchi, Joan Nahid, Kate Nawrocki, Ian Michael Smith, William Boles (scenic design), Emily Boyd (props design), Kotryna Hilko (costume design), Claire Chrzan (lighting design), Zach Gipson (technical director), Adam Goldstein (dialect coach), Gaby Labotka (intimacy direction), Katelyn Le-Thompson (associate lighting design), Jeffrey Levin (sound design), Liviu Pasare (projections designer), Marika Mashburn (casting director), R&D Choreography (Violence Design), Angela Salinas (production manager), May Truehaft-Ali (dramaturg), Corbin Paulino (production stage manager) and Mitch Ward (stage manager).

Tickets are $35 can be purchased here.

** A captioned performance will be Sunday, August 11

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