December 30, 2016

Stephanie Diaz, The Chicago Inclusion Project casting associate discusses this past year's brightest moments and her wishes for the new year.

Listen, kids, there’s no doubt that 2016 was a world-class shitshow. But even I can admit there were some real bright spots, and here are some of mine, in the order in which they occurred to me:

1.  Casting for Will Davis at ATC. My God, what a gratifying process for any casting director who champions inclusivity. The experience of having a gifted, accomplished director so willing to truly consider each and every actor you bring before them is, sadly, all-too-uncommon (or has been in my experience). The result of this collaboration is two tremendous, exciting casts that I simply can’t wait to see in action, not only for their collective talent, but for the impact they will make on the Chicago theatre landscape. Welcome, Will!

2.  Sitting around the table with Sean Graney as he laid out his vision for The Hypocrites moving forward, and how The Chicago Inclusion Project would figure into these plans. Discussing the dismantling of the still-prevailing, white-by-default model of season selection and the casting thereof with a bona-fide, white cis-het man leading the charge was thrilling, and an excellent example of using one’s privilege for the greater good. With this in mind, I know The Hypocrites will re-emerge, fortified, and resume their position at the vanguard of Chicago storefront theatre. ¡Adelante!

 3. The brilliant casting (featuring a lot of Chicago talent!) on my favorite new network show of the season, FOX’s The Exorcist: diverse and packed with top-notch artists, from producer Charise Castro-Smith to Mexican lead Alfonso Herrera to guest stars like Michael Patrick Thornton, James Meredith, Kirsten Fitzgerald and Mouzam Makkar. If you weren’t watching this show, you can still catch it online (and I will try not to hate you if it doesn’t get a second season, but I can’t promise).

 4.  Speaking of Michael Patrick Thornton… participating as an actor in The Gift Theatre’s annual anthology of new plays, TEN. Performing a solo piece by Jacqueline Lawton, gorgeously and simply detailing one refugee’s experience, in a cast of more than thirty performers of all stripes, was, to put it plainly-- a gift. TEN is one of the best things going in Chicago, and lucky for us they do it every year!

5.  The day a well-known, respected Chicago AEA actress came into my audition room and announced to us that despite how she’d been classified in the past, and despite her somewhat-ethnic-sounding name, she was not a POC and would not feel comfortable letting us believe she was (for the record, I knew, but deeply appreciated her refusal to participate in whitewashing and brownface). In fact, I can think of several such actors who have begun declining auditions for which they are not suited, because they understand that accepting these audition slots can often result in someone actually qualified for the role not being seen, simply because they don’t yet have the same kind of name recognition these fine actors may have (and for many other reasons too numerous to list here-- look for a whole ‘nother blog post on that!). I am proud to call them friends and applaud them in all their endeavors, and look forward to more of our colleagues following suit because of their example.

Now, looking forward to 2017, I’ve got a few wishes.

It’s always been my practice, on New Year’s Eve, to make a list of things I dearly wish for myself in the coming year rather than draft a resolution. I read about this practice one year in one of my mom’s nightstand magazines (Better Homes? Good Housekeeping? One of those) and it has served me well ever since-- going back at least a decade! So in that spirit, here are my wishes for Chicago theatre in 2017:

1. White actors-- for the love of little green apples, I wish for you to PLEASE stop trying to pass for brown. Just stop it. I know for a fact that there are white actors, working right now, in some of the biggest houses in town, who are being repeatedly cast with the understanding that they are POC --and are classified as such in casting files-- because they have allowed casting personnel to believe as much in a bid to remain employed. These actors are benefitting from creative teams trying to do the right thing by diversifying their casting, while simultaneously undermining that goal. (Please note that this is different from a creative team knowingly hiring a white actor, who has not actually misrepresented themselves, to assume a role intended for a POC. That is not what I’m talking about here, and it’s been discussed at length elsewhere, so don’t even try to come for me with that discussion in relation to this item. Just don’t.) Also-- if I have to sit through another round of auditions with white actors coming in to read for, say, Latinx roles, assuming cartoonish accents and adding Speedy Gonzalez ad libs --yes, this really happened this year-- I will lose my everloving mind. Y’all, it’s about to be 2017. Let’s put the minstrel show to bed, shall we? And then let’s just go right ahead and burn the bed.

2. Another one for actors-- I wish for as many of you as possible to get in on the casting process in any way you can. This might mean volunteering to be a reader in auditions, or being an intern at a casting agency, or offering to assist the CD at your favorite storefront theatre. If you’ve never participated in the casting process from the other side of the table, I GUARANTEE (as an actor myself) that doing so will provide you with a sense of perspective and insight that can only boost your skills the next time you get in front of a casting team. Even if you’re “just” helping out with scheduling generals, managing those spreadsheets will give you an appreciation of what actually goes into organizing auditions-- and this will help you to understand your place, as an actor, in that ecosystem. Being in the room and watching other people audition from a hiring perspective can be nothing short of a revelation. The result of taking the time to give yourself a glimpse into how your profession works from another angle is the demystification of a process to which you’re not ordinarily privy-- and that demystification will help you to prepare better, perform better and possibly even feel less fear/anxiety. Give it a try-- you miiiiight even find yourself drawn to a second career!

3.  Directors-- I wish for you to give the people that we, your faithful Casting Directors, suggest to you, a chance to audition. You don’t have to hire them! Just SEE them, even if you think you already know them. Let us bring them into the room. After all, you’ve invited us to your table because you want our input, yes? So please let us provide it! Allow yourself to be pleasantly surprised. We get to be surprised all the time; it’s one of the perks of the job, and I promise-- it’s fun! And who knows? Your show may be all the better for it!

4.  Casting directors-- I wish for us ALL to get out there and see more shows. I am no longer willing to be the go-to person for Latinx talent (and diverse talent in general), providing the same list over and over again, simply because we can’t be bothered to get out of our comfort zones. I know! Seeing a bunch of plays can be hard, especially when you are a working artist yourself! I totally get it, because if you ask me to call in a bunch of young white folks… I will look at you like you just asked me something related to calculus (which I never took because I was careful to avoid it). We all have our blind spots! So how about we identify what those are, and then choose what shows to attend accordingly? I’m down if you are!

5.  ALL OF US -- I wish for us to try and receive the art we’re so blessed to witness here in this great city with a spirit of wonder and acceptance, with eyes primed to appreciate. I firmly believe there is something to love in every show. I wish for us to find that something to love, not only in the shows we see, but in the art we create. Let’s find the joy. The joy will keep us alive and kicking in the coming storm.

December 30, 2016

Jeff Trainor, The Chicago Inclusion Project program coordinator, offers his favorite moments in theater this past year and his wishes for the next...

In No Particular Order:

1) 100 Hauntings / Free Street Theater

An incredible play about Ghosts, Mental illness, Chicago's City Structure, and the effect we have on each other.  

2) Octagon / Jackalope Theater Company

Damn, this show was incredible.  The rhythm and intensity alone was enough to draw an audience member but then the performances, writing, and direction were so strong, you couldn't help leaving the theater feeling charged.   

3) You On The Moors Now / The Hypocrites 

The Hypocrites brought together an incredible group of actor's and designers led by director Devon de Mayo.  The show was funny, strong, and moving.  Nice one everybody!

4) The Secretaries / About Face Theatre

My cheeks hurt from laughing during this play.  The soundtrack was spot on, the performances and direction were dynamite, and everyone was costumed by Mieka van der Ploeg, so you know they looked great even when they were covered in blood.  

5) The Arrow Series / The Neo Futurist

There were four parts to The Arrow Series this past year.  A bunch of different artists, writers, performers, dancers, and people were brought together for each Section.  For the most part, there was only 1 performance of each Arrow.   Do your best to catch one of The Arrows in 2017.

Honorable Mentions:

The Fly Honeys:  Moving, Sexy, Strong, and Confident.  The show reflected the performers.  

Not In Our House:  This wasn't a show, but it needs to be known that what Not In Our House did this year was remarkable.  They are a force in the theater community.   This group looks for monsters, drags them into the light, and gives support to anyone who needs or wants it.   

Ending words:

I want to quote The Jungle Book:

Now this is the law of the jungle , as old and as true as the sky, 

And the wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the wolf that shall break it must die. 

As the creeper that girdles the tree trunk, the law runneth forward and back; 

For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack. 

In 2017:    Together, we can make change, we can make art, and we can strengthen each other.

Take care,


December 30, 2016

Business manager of The Chicago Inclusion Project, Elana Elyce offers her favorite things that happened in Chicago theater this year as well as her wishes for next year...

So long 2016!  Many people are so pissed at you!! You weren’t all bad.  You showed promising signs of growing in Inclusion in the Arts.  Here are some of my fondest reflections:

1. United Flight 232 directed by Vanessa Stalling with The House Theatre of Chicago- I lived and breathed this project for several months. I still live the experience every day.

​2. How We Got On directed by Jess McLeod with Haven Theatre Company- this small cast of four toes the line a bit regarding Inclusion, but showcasing three young people who are making serious waves with their talent, professionalism and just plain likability, gives promise to the future of Chicago theatre.  

3. Roundtables and panel discussions aplenty- although I was not able to attend all of the events popping up to address casting issues in the city, just knowing they occurred is encouraging. People are serious about change and are putting time and energy into making the noise that will lead to long term change. 

4.  A different kind of outreach- I am used to being contacted as the only black person a company’s producers may know and as a result am asked to do or recommend folks for various projects.  In 2016, I have started to be asked to meet to discuss how to go about me not being the only point of contact. (It’s not been said that way, but meeting to chat about what a company/producer can do versus them just asking for referrals is a step in the right direction.)

5. The Nutcracker directed by Tommy Rapley with The House Theatre of Chicago- even tho I only saw this only days before writing this, it was Inclusive, it was moving, it was funny and just a delightful piece of theatre to end the year with.

6. Along with six amazingly talented incredible  humans, I was welcomed as a company member of The House Theatre of Chicago.

Here comes 2017!! Things can only get better.  Right?

In the new year I hope for:

  1. More underrepresented actors to show up to auditions they may have felt unwelcome to in the past. Get in the room. Be seen. We are fighting for you and need your help!

  2. Broader thinking in casting. This is on repeat and will be until it is no longer necessary. Try something different. It’ll probably be awesome.

  3. More honest open dialog that results in action. We’ve talked long enough.

  4. A collective recognition that underrepresented actors can be cast in roles that are just humans; that an actor in a wheelchair can play a person and a human of color can, y’know, portray a person. Let us not create limitations where there are none.

  5. The broad understanding that the work we are doing towards Inclusion is about creating opportunities-not taking any away from anybody. There is enough art for all of us, if we allow and nurture it as such.

  6. Chicago theatre to start to have more Inclusion OFF stage: casting folks, stage managers, designers, house managers, board members. The impact of this is only positive and guess what? Having that will influence production and casting choices going forward. Think "be the change you want to see."

December 26, 2016

If you’ve seen any of The Avenger movies that have come out in the last couple of years you’re familiar with the character of Hawkeye. If not, then let me paint you a picture. In a crime fighting team involving a literal super soldier, a Norse God, an ex assassin who was trained by the KGB, Robert Downey Jr, and The Incredible Hulk, Hawkeye has a bow and arrow. He has no real super powers and we rarely see him in hand-to-hand combat. Hawkeye isn’t exactly the most memorable person on the team. Sure, he’s really good at what he does, but doesn’t Thor make him a little superfluous? Do The Avengers really need him?

When people ask me what I do in theatre I tell them, “I’m a young casting professional, who wants to be Chicago’s first openly transgender casting director.” I know: long winded, right? While I won’t technically be the first, I want to be the first who works full time for an equity Chicago theatre. I’ve been steadily working towards this goal for the past year (since I’ve been out of the closet), and I like to think this is attainable for me.

No one has ever told me my dream is impossible or that it’s unnecessary. Most people seem enthusiastic about the idea of a trans casting director. However, when I ask folks in the theatre community how a casting director can find a permanent job, most people tell me, “by getting lucky.”

It’s not uncommon for theatre companies to pay their actors and designers, but not their administrators. I’ve held casting positions where the majority of my job was database creation and management. If I’m creating a tool that the company will use for years to come, shouldn’t that warrant a stipend of some kind? If it’s not a project that will serve the company, then why even ask me at all?  Many administrators are putting in years of work for Chicago theatres and not seeing a cent.  

Since I came out of the closet I’ve encountered an increasing amount of directors who have asked me to help them hire trans actors, but are hesitant to hire me for long-term positions. No matter what your relationship to the subject matter is, everyone in the Chicago theatre community has “diversity” on their minds. More and more projects are including characters that fall under the trans umbrella and I am profoundly grateful for that. Meanwhile I’ve listened to cisgendered administrators sing the praises of actors in the trans community, while consistently misgendering them.  This isn’t necessarily malicious, but it is a problem.  It often feels as if theatre companies want their stages to look more diverse, but not their offices. Most casting directors feel responsible for the actors they recommend. I feel this particularly strongly about talent from the trans community. At this point in my career, I am expected to network, advocate, protect, and teach trans 101 to anyone who asks, all while being unbearably pleasant. 

I was able to come out of the closet because during one of my internships someone in a leadership position told me that the theatre company would stand behind me if I chose to live authentically. One small conversation gave me courage and I’m never looking back. Although my goal has not yet been achieved I’m getting closer to it everyday.  This year, on multiple occasions directors have exceeded my expectations for not only what they would pay me, but also how they would treat me.

The question is what’s next? How can we make this the norm?

If you’re someone who hires theatre administrators…

If you’re paying your designers and actors, find ways to pay us as well. Consider us members of your design team and collaborators. Our time is valuable, and much like Hawkeye, we have families to feed. Don’t be afraid to take a chance on an administrator who might not have had the advantages of someone from a more “privileged” background.

If you’re an actor from a minority community…

If you feel comfortable advocating for us, please do so. I promise we are advocating for you.  I’m not asking you to lecture the person who hires you, but talk to your director friends about who they pay to assist them. The more of us there are in leadership positions, the more inclusive theatre can become.

If you’re a young theatre administrator…

I wish I had more concrete advise, but I’m new on my journey as well. I’ll say this: know your worth. I’ve heard of the triangle theory when it comes to actors, “the perfect gig is artistically satisfying, you’ll get to work with great people, and it pays well. Any two of these should be enough for any actor.” Let this be true for us as well.  You are not expected to starve and your passion should bring you joy.

Keep your eye on the target, my fellow Hawkeyes.

Charlie Hano is a freelance casting professional. Most recently they were the casting director for BRUJOS, produced by OpenTV, and the assistant director of [Trans]formation with The Living Canvas. Charlie has worked in casting with Oak Park Theatre Festival, Victory Gardens Theater, The Runways, and many others. They graduated from Columbia College Chicago with a B.A. in Theatre in 2014. 

December 23, 2016

Continuing our support of productions that embrace inclusion for artists and audiences, below are shows that you can buy tickets to this week that we feel are moving our community in the right direction. Let your wallet do the talking. Buy tickets to shows that celebrate inclusion.​ Then write to producers and tell them you want to see more of it. Decision makers are led by numbers and this is one way we can all make a difference.

A Red Orchid Theatre presents The Haven Place

Written by Levi Holloway

Directed by Steven Wilson

Seven kids must travel across a country unmade by the Elder Gods in a 1988 Winnebago SuperChief Motorhome to find what may be the last safe pocket of Humanity: a small town in northern Canada.

Note: THE HAVEN PLACE will feature American Sign Language as part of the show. “The show has a heavy focus on Deaf and hearing integration. It will feature one Deaf actress and seven hearing actors. The development of this work has been an amazing opportunity for real-time, ground floor accessibility,” notes playwright Levi Holloway. “We are teaching our hearing actors to sign, to lean into each other and discover new ways to approach storytelling. No one will be voicing our Deaf actress. It’s a real world application of what Deaf and hearing integration looks like.” There will be fully captioned performances on December 22 & 23.

Ensemble includes: Sam Blin, Haley Bolithon,  Sarah Cartwright,  Julissa Contreras, Ada Gre, Eden Strong, Aria Szalai-Raymond,  Nicole Rudakova

Performed at A Red Orchid Theatre

1531 N. Wells Street

Through December 30

TICKETS $15-25

Reserve your tickets HERE

The Second City presents The Winner...Of Our Discontent

Written by  Shantira Jackson, Paul Jurewicz, Kelsey Kinney, Martin Morrow, Rashawn Nadine Scott, Jamison Webb

Directed by Anthony LeBlanc

The Second City’s latest revue The Winner… of Our Discontent asks if it’s broken, should we fix it? Chicago’s premier sketch comedy troupe finds big laughs in the country’s collective disappointment and fears. If you’re scared for the future of America, guess what? So are we! From pot smoking moms to Russians targeting Altoona, Iowa to a few suburban dads who are sure they have it all figured out, this show sifts through all of the divisiveness to find a winner. (Spoiler: It’s the Cubs and that’s it.)

Ensemble includes: 

Shantira Jackson, Paul Jurewicz, Kelsey Kinney, Martin Morrow, Rashawn Nadine Scott, Jamison Webb

Performed at The Second City Chicago Mainstage

1616 N Wells St,

Open Run

TICKETS $19-46

Reserve your tickets HERE

Silk Road Rising presents Christmas at Christine's

Written by Christine Bunuan

Directed by JR Sullivan

This new holiday musical revue puts a Silk Road spin on the Christmas season. Chicago favorite Christine Bunuan invites you into her world with Christmas at Christine's. Journey from California to Chicago to the Philippines to a Catholic-Jewish household, as Christine sings her way through the holiday songbook and a lifetime of yuletide memories.

Starring Christine Bunuan and guest Sean Patrick Fawcett

Performed at Silk Road Rising

77 W. Washington St, Lower Level

Through December 23

TICKETS $20-25

Reserve your tickets HERE

Barrel of Monkeys Productions presents That's Weird Grandma, The Holiday Special Returns

Written by students of Chicago public schools

Directed by Joseph Schupbach

That’s Weird, Grandma is a variety show of short sketches and songs adapted from stories written by students in Barrel of Monkeys’ arts education programs. The weekly show, now in its 16th year, runs the gamut from clever and funny to touching and poignant, and includes live music, original song-and-dance numbers, wigs and props galore, and a rotating cast of talented professional actors who celebrate the imaginations of children through this raucous performance.

You probably already knew that the show changes every week, as we adapt new stories and audience members vote on their favorites. But did you ALSO know that we divide the show into “Rounds” with special themes, in order to keep the show fresh and exciting for you?

Ensemble includes: 

Deanna Meyers, Mari Marroquin, Linsey Falls, Brandon Cloyd, NIck Hart, Kate Staiger, Spencer Meeks, Benjamin Ponce, Ash Bland, and Elisa Carlson

Performed at The Neo-Futurarium

5153 N. Ashland Ave.

Through December 26

TICKETS  $6-12

Reserve your tickets HERE

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