April 24, 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.​

Sideshow Theatre presents

The Ridiculous Darkness

Written by Wolfram Lotz

Directed by Ian Damont Martin

through April 29

at Victory Gardens Theatre

Sergeant Oliver Pellner has clear orders: to travel into the savage wilderness, to find a colonel who has gone rogue, and to kill him. The man’s gone native, as they say: has killed his comrades and disappeared into darkness. Pellner and his pilot embark with confidence, but soon nothing makes sense anymore, as the river turns to mountains turns to jungle turns to black. Civilization dissolves in Wolfram Lotz’ stunning and disturbing comedy: a fractured spin on Heart of Darkness, Apocalypse Now and our shared history of barbaric colonialism.

The cast, artistic and production team include:  Meagan Dilworth, Nichole Green, Kenya Ann Hall, RjW Mays, Lisa Troi Thomas, Jasmine Traylor, Brittani Yawn, Lauren Nigri, Noël Huntzinger, Simean "Sim" Carpenter, Michael Huey, Jonathan Berg-Einhorn, Tuesdai B. Perry, Liz Larsen, Ellen WIllett, Dani Wieder and Chad Hain.

Tickets are $20-30  and can be purchased here.

Victory Gardens Theatre presents

Cambodian Rock Band

Written by Lauren Yee

Directed by Marti Lyons

Through May 12

at Victory Gardens Theatre

This epic play/rock concert thrusts us into the life of a young woman trying to piece together her family history thirty years after her father fled Cambodia. Featuring actor/musicians who perform a mix of contemporary Dengue Fever hits and classic Cambodian oldies live, playwright Lauren Yee brings to vivid life the Cambodian rock scene of the ‘60s and ‘70s, a movement cut short by the Khmer Rouge’s brutal attempt to erase the music (and musicians) once and for all. Directed by Marti Lyons (Native Gardens) this story is about survivors, the resilient bond of family and the enduring power of music.

The cast, artistic and production team include Rammel Chan, Eileen Doan, Peter Sipla, Greg Watanabe, Aja Wiltshire, Hannah Todd, Matt MacNelly, Yu Shibagaki, Izumi Inaba, Keith Parham, Megan Turnquist, Mikhail Fiksel, Nova Grayson Casillo, Skyler Gray, Denise Yvette Serna, Kanomé Jones, Dana Nestrick, Erica Sandvig, Eleanor Kahn, Ellie Terrell, Collin Helou and Kirstin Johnson

Tickets are $40-60 are can be purchased here

Steep Theatre presents 

First Love is the Revolution

Written by Rita Kalnejais

Directed by Devon De Mayo

Through May 25

at Steep Theatre

Basti is having a rough go of it without his mom, and Rdeca is struggling just to make her first kill. When this 14 year-old boy and this young fox connect, the world just seems to make a whole lot more sense. Rita Kalnejais' First Love is the Revolution is a wild take on the timeless tale of star-crossed lovers - from different sides of the animal kingdom.

Cast and production team include: Isa Arciniegas, Jordan Arredondo, Lucy Carapetyan, Curtis Edward Jackson, Alex Gillmor, Destini Huston, Jose Nateres, Jin Park, Lauren Lassus, Arnel Sancianco, Heather Sparling, Jeffrey Levin, Mieka van der Ploeg, Emma Cullimore, Sarah Slight, Sasha Smith, Rachel Flesher, Zach Payne and Catherine Allen

Tickets are $15-38 can be purchased here.

The Jedlicka Performing Arts Center presents


Written by Sarah Ruhl

Directed by Lexi Saunders

through May 3

at The Jedlicka Performing Arts Center

Sarah Ruhl (who was born and raised in the Chicagoland area) reimagines the classic myth of Orpheus & Eurydice through the eyes of its heroine. It is funny, sad, dramatic, and surprising. All the elements of great theatre wrapped up in one play! Dying too young on her wedding day, Eurydice must journey to the underworld, where she reunites with her father and struggles to remember her lost love. With contemporary characters, ingenious plot twists, and breathtaking visual effects, the play is a fresh look at a timeless love story.

The cast features Jordan Marie Ford, Brandon Boler, Dominick Alesia, Gunner Bradley, Matthew Schufreider, Carolyn Waldee and Jimbo Pestano, and production team includes Rachel Rauscher, Simean Carpenter, Jeffrey Levin, Elle Erickson, Kyle Mayes, Nicholas Schwartz, Lauren Davis and Joel Garcia.

Tickets are $15-20 and can be purchased here.

 Piven Theatre presents

Hopelessly Devoted

Written by Kate Tempest

Directed by Abby Pierce

through May 5

at Piven Theatre

Hopelessly Devoted tells the powerful story of Chess, a woman in prison facing a lengthy sentence, the pain of separation from her daughter, the loss of her cell mate, Serena, when she is given parole, and the feeling of total isolation. When prison authorities suggest she work with Silver, a music producer, Chess begins to find her voice, her strength, and her ability to face the most difficult thing of all – her past. Featuring award-winning poet and musician Kate Tempest’s trademark lyrical fireworks and live music, Hopelessly Devoted is a story of love and redemption.

The cast features Nicole Michelle Haskins, Christine Vrem-Ydstie, Kate Staiger, Genevieve VenJohnson and Alexis Ward 

Tickets are $20 and can be purchased here.

The House Theatre of Chicago presents


Adapted for the stage by Joseph Steakley and Ben Lobpries
Directed by Chris Mathews

through May 19

at The Chopin Theatre

The House brings to life the classic fairy tale of a wooden boy who wishes to become real. Carved from an enchanted stump from a charred Forest, toy-shop owner Geppetto's puppet child flourishes. The growing Pinocchio devours books and the complex worlds they reveal. He relishes musicals and the emotional ride they offer. And he longs to sink his adolescent teeth into real relationships and conversations beyond the walls of his storefront home. There must be more out there! But his protective father keeps Pinocchio's wild branches trimmed back, and forbids venturing out. A method sure to inspire rebellion in this precocious, curious not-quite-real young man. 

The cast and production team include Molly Brennan, Karissa Murrell Myers, Sean Garratt, Tina 

Muñoz Pandya, Kevin Stangler, Carley Cornelius, Christine Mayland Perkins, Omer Abba SAlem, Mike Mzzocca, Brandon Rivera, Joe Schermoly, Matthew Muñiz, Marika Mashburn, Alexander Ridgers, Tom Lee and Chicago Puppet Studio, Brian DesGranges, Anna Wooden, Kasey Foster, Kevin O'Donnell, Jamie Karas.

Tickets are $15-20 and can be purchased here.

Goodman Theatre presents

Lottery Day

Written by Ike Holter

Directed by Lili-Anne Brown

through April 28

at The Goodman Theatre

Ike Holter concludes his acclaimed seven-play “Rightlynd Saga” by assembling his vibrant characters for a raucous theatrical bash. Long the matriarch of a quickly gentrifying neighborhood, Mallory invites the lonely residents, hardcore activists and starving artists of her block to what she hopes will go down as a legendary barbeque—thanks to a special surprise. But her mysterious plan to revitalize the community may be the very thing that tears it apart.

The cast, artistic and production team include Aurora Adachi-Winter, J. Nicole Brooks, Sydney Charles, McKenzie Chinn, Robert Cornelius, James Vincent Meredith, Tommy Rivera-Vega, Tony Santiago, Michele Vazquez, Pat Whalen, Arnel Sancianco , Samantha C. Jones, Jason Lynch and Andre Pluess and Nikki Blue.

Tickets are $20-60  and can be purchased here.

Hello, friends! Welcome to The Other Side of the Table, a place where industry professionals share tidbits, insights and experiences related to the wonderful world of casting, and our process in particular. Please remember that casting directors are as varied and individual as actors, so the sentiments contained herein are in no way intended to serve as a catch-all for some kind of universal casting intel; rather, this series will provide a glimpse into the minds, hearts and processes of casting people who want to share our wisdom. We hope you will enjoy and find it valuable in some way. Happy auditioning!

This week, Stephanie discusses the role of the actor in a responsible casting process.

“But what if they called me in?”

“Don’t blame the actors! They didn’t cast themselves!”

Sound familiar? These are typically the most common lines of reasoning we see/hear when it comes to actors auditioning for or playing roles for which they’re clearly not appropriate --whether it be white actors in brownface or abled actors playing characters with disabilities-- and they’re two sides of the same coin. Ironically, it’s a coin which actually depletes an actor’s most valuable currency: agency.

There is a long-held and widespread belief that actors are essentially powerless in the hierarchy of theatre, film and television. This way of thinking, ingrained so deeply in most of us that we’re scarcely aware of it, renders us so utterly expendable that we become convinced that not only must we pursue and attain employment at all costs, but that our individual drive to become and remain employed trumps any sense of principle or community we may otherwise claim to espouse. We have been conditioned to believe that the most important thing an actor can do for the health of their career is to KEEP WORKING… even if that means going in for (and taking!)  jobs we’re pretty sure we’re not right for.

At the same time, we may consider ourselves allies to marginalized communities and even campaign in other ways for things like visibility, inclusion and social justice. We love and respect our friends and family who are trans, who are POC, who are disabled… we may have even reached out to them for approval or support when preparing for roles portraying characters like them because we want to be sure we honor them with as much authenticity as possible. Because at the end of the day, we’re actors, right? Isn’t it our job to strive to portray the spectrum of humanity in all its dazzling incarnations?

I’m gonna go ahead and say yes, that is our job-- but sometimes that means taking a step back and letting our fellow humans have ownership of their own portrayals.

You may have dark curly hair and an olive complexion, or a name that non-Spanish-speakers think sounds Latinx… but are you actually Latinx? You studied ASL, but are you Deaf? Do you have the lived experience of a trans person? Do you actually identify as enby? And if not, are you so convinced that your skills are so superior to those of fellow actors who genuinely identify as such that you could legitmately be considered a more appropriate choice? Because when we put ourselves forward for roles clearly not meant for us, that’s essentially what we’re saying-- as well as tacitly supporting the dubious practice of assuming and discarding at will elements of humanity which are non-negotiable for many of our fellow artists, elements which have historically barred them from the comparatively obscene wealth of roles available to non-marginalized populations.

And if that weren’t enough… we are actually taking work away from underrepresented artists. As we all know, there are only so many audition slots, and while you’re in the room doing your best Lebanese accent, your Lebanese friend may not even be getting seen, because they’re new to town, or don’t boast your name recognition, or have as proactive or prestigious an agent as you do. Trust me, it happens. And it happens when we’re not forthcoming about who we are.

Because guess what? It’s actually illegal for casting personnel to inquire about ethnicity, nationality, age, gender or disability status. That’s right-- the casting agency that keeps calling you in for “ethnic” stuff either has no idea you’re actually white, or they themselves are ethically challenged. But you know. Which gives you, the actor, the power in that relationship. What will you do with your power?

Can I tell you what doesn’t happen when actors decline auditions for roles they’re not appropriate for? Their careers don’t end. They don’t get blacklisted. They don’t “miss their chance.” They move on to the next audition, and job, and things keep humming along, possibly even with the added respect of their peers and industry professionals who actually appreciate actors helping them do their jobs better.

But what does happen is that one more person, or creative team, or even institution, must look deeper, not only into the casting pool, but into the communities they’re purporting to represent with their portrayals of marginalized people. There persists, still, a notion that actors from underrepresented populations are likely to be less-talented-- frankly, just not as “good” as white/cis/het/abled actors. While it’s certainly true that less opportunity is naturally going to result in less experience… I’d still personally much rather watch, say, a greener neuroatypical actor in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time than a neurotypical one with a super-stacked résumé (and, for the record, I’d also much rather see your all-white community theatre produce The Music Man than Hairspray). Recently, Kiernan Shipka was criticized for playing a Deaf character, a decision which was defended in a variety of ways ranging from the nature of the character’s deafness (acquired at age 13) to her perceived status as an up-and-comer, a young actor not in a position to turn down a starring role: a girl’s just trying to work! Yet I can’t help but imagine how that role might have been cast if someone in her position --young, yes, but not without influence--  had declined, perhaps with the recommendation that an actor with acquired deafness be sought instead; they are definitely out there! Maybe the role would have simply gone to another young, A-list hearing actor anyway… but maybe not.

I’ll never forget the well-known actress in our community who began her general audition for us a few years back by stating, up-front, that she was not of the particular ethnicity that many believed her to be. She admitted that she’d taken roles over the years under that misconception, but that it didn’t sit right with her anymore and she wanted us to know that about her. And I personally know many other actors who are similarly forthcoming (including actors with agents who are aware, but persist in submitting them inappropriately): they will either graciously decline an audition they don’t feel right about accepting, or at the very least express their concerns to the casting director and begin a conversation. These actors do this out of respect for themselves and their community, and out of a deep understanding of what it means to contribute to the growth of an art form which is, by its very nature, collaborative and --at its best-- based on trust and respect. A good rule of thumb is: if you’re called in for something and it feels weird to you, there’s a pretty good chance you’re not right for the role. See how it feels to follow that intuition.

Actors have agency. And when we stop supporting the myth that less-visible equals less-worthy, we exercise our ultimate power: the power to shape what kind of art we participate in creating, and what kind of artists we want to be.

Now we’d like to hear from YOU-- do you have topics or questions you’d like to see addressed from The Other Side of the Table? If so, please feel free to comment below or send us a message. We look forward to reading your thoughts, and hopefully sharing an audition room with you sometime soon!



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