This has been a year of tremendous changes at the top for Chicago theaters, with Susan V. Booth taking over at the Goodman after Bob Falls’s 35 years as artistic director and Braden Abraham, formerly the artistic director for Seattle Rep, poised to take over as AD at Glencoe’s Writers Theatre in February. Cody Estle, formerly the AD for Raven Theatre, just moved to Next Act Theatre in Milwaukee; a search for his successor will be underway shortly. And we’re awaiting news for who will be replacing Chicago Shakespeare founder and artistic director Barbara Gaines (who plans to depart mid-2023) and longtime executive director Criss Henderson, who leaves at the end of this year.
Redtwist Theatre is also making some staff changes. Founded in 1994 as Actors Workshop Theatre by the husband-and-wife team of Michael Colucci and Jan Ellen Graves, they changed their name to their current moniker in 2001 and moved to their storefront home at 1044 W. Bryn Mawr (smack-dab in the center of the Bryn Mawr Historic District and just down the street from City Lit Theater) a year later. The company has mostly focused on American classics (Arthur Miller and Edward Albee have been particular favorites) alongside contemporary writers like Lucas Hnath and Lauren Gunderson.
Colucci and Graves stepped aside in 2019 and Charlie Marie McGrath took over as AD—just in time for the COVID-19 shutdown to put a screeching halt to live theater. McGrath steered the company into virtual productions and helped pave the way for reopening shows after COVID, but she too decided to step aside in May of 2022.
Longtime ensemble member Brian Parry has served as interim artistic director for the past few months, but now the board has announced that Dusty Brown will be the new AD. Brown, a nonbinary director from Atlanta whose resume includes work with Georgia Shakespeare and Georgia Ensemble Theatre, has an MFA in directing from Ohio University and directed Macbeth for Three Crows Theatre at Redtwist earlier this fall.
Brown will be joined by Eileen Dixon as community director and Michael Dias as development director. Dixon’s background includes acting and directing with a particular focus on new play development, and Dias is an actor and mime with deep experience in independent production.
Redtwist will be announcing its next season shortly.
Steep Theatre wins major city grant
Big news for another Edgewater theater company: Steep Theatre, which lost its longtime rental home on Berwyn Avenue in 2020, and then bought a former Christian Science reading room down the street, has been awarded the largest grant in the company’s 21-year history—a $2.988 million Community Development Grant from the City of Chicago.
The funds will help the company build out what is currently a pretty raw space in their new venue into a black-box theater and enhance public space for community engagement projects. (The company ran the Boxcar, a bar and performance space adjoining their former home, and frequently made that space available for other artists and neighborhood organizations for a couple of years before losing their lease.)
In a press release, Steep’s artistic director Peter Moore said, “We recognize that this is an investment not only in our company, but in our Edgewater community and our theatre community, which has been hit so hard these last two years by the pandemic. We take those responsibilities very much to heart. Chicago isn’t Chicago without its theatre, and we’re proud that our city recognizes theatre as both an indispensable cultural asset and an undeniable economic catalyst.”
Steep is also searching for a new executive director; Kate Piatt-Eckert, who held that role for nine years, left the company last month.
Jenn Freeman (Po’Chop) in Litany. Freeman is one of five Chicago artists receiving a fellowship from Dance/USA this year. Credit: Jordan Phelps
Chicago artists recognized by Dance/USA
Each year, Dance/USA, the national service organization for professional dance, awards fellowships to artists. This year’s cohort recognizes 30 artists “representing an array of modalities rooted at the intersection of social and embodied practices. These include community-building and culture-bearing practices, healing and storytelling practices, activism and representational justice practices, and more.”
Of those 30, five are based in Chicago: footwork artist Jemal “P-Top” Delacruz; Jenn Freeman, also known as Po’Chop; cat mahari; Vershawn Sanders-Ward; and Anna Martine Whitehead.
Freeman’s work has focused on elements of storytelling, striptease, and dance, and she’s also the creator of the digital zine The Brown Pages. She’s collaborated on video projects with Jamila Woods and Mykele Deville and also created the dance-film series Litany in association with Rebuild Foundation.
Afrofuturism, body history, and exploring the “informal legacy of Blk liberation through documentation” are intertwined parts of mahari’s practice. A past recipient of the 3Arts Award in dance, along with other awards, one of mahari’s current projects, Blk Ark: the impossible manifestation, is “a multimodal reflective of marronage, anarchism, Hip Hop, and play to be completed [in] 2025.”
Sanders-Ward, the founding artistic director of Red Clay Dance Company, has also received numerous plaudits for her company’s work. In 2019, Red Clay opened its own community studio space in Woodlawn. Her upcoming site-specific choreographic project set to premiere in June 2023, Rest.Rise.Move.Nourish.Heal, was also selected for a 2021 National Dance Project Award from New England Foundation.
Martine Whitehead’s work, both collaborative and solo, has “‘embodied epistemologies of Black in FORCE! an opera in three acts, created with Ayanna Woods, Angel Bat Dawid, and Phillip Armstrong, the waiting room of a prison provides the setting for a piece that, as Martine Whitehead says, is “a structure for resourcing ourselves to dream of a world beyond the prison-industrial complex and all its impoverished tentacles that reach into our lives and make it almost or actually impossible to live.”
Each artist receives a $30,167 grant from Dance/USA (provided in partnership with the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation) to be used at their discretion.