American Blues Theater Announces 2011-12 Season


Producing Artistic Director Gwendolyn Whiteside of American Blues Theater (ABT), Chicago's second oldest Equity ensemble, proudly announces the Ensemble's 26th season. The season kicks off with Clifford Odets' "Waiting for Lefty" directed by Kimberly Senior (Sept. 1 - Oct. 2). Odets' masterwork will run in repertory with ABT's world-premiere short play festival "Ripped: The Living Newspaper Project" inspired by the news of the day. A special holiday presentation of the Ensemble's critically acclaimed "It's a Wonderful Life: Live at the Biograph" directed by ABT Artistic Affiliate Marty Higginbotham follows (Nov. 25 - Jan. 1). In spring 2012, ABT caps their season with the world premiere of "Love Me Some Amnesia" by Emmy Award-winner, two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist James Still, directed by ABT Artistic Affiliate Meredith McDonough (dates to be announced).

All performances will take place at Victory Gardens' Richard Christiansen Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue, Chicago. Performance schedules and ticket information will be announced at a later date. Season Memberships are available now. For more information and season updates, visit

"We are thrilled to mix these classic and contemporary stories of working people," says Whiteside. "Odets' classic one-act 'Waiting for Lefty' resonates as strong as ever. As for 'Ripped: The Living Newspaper Project,' ABT has been cultivating short-plays for this project since 2009. Our staged readings have been seen with the help of co-producers, Piven Theater, and the project is supported by a development grant by the University of Chicago."

After last year's nearly sold-out production run at the Biograph, the Ensemble is proud to celebrate their 10th annual presentation of the live radio play "It's a Wonderful Life," based on Frank Capra's classic film. "This year director Higginbotham and ABT Ensemble member John Möhrlein will mark their decade long association with the Ensemble's production," says Whiteside. "We are extremely fortunate to once again have the use of their extraordinary talents on the project and are grateful for their enduring spirit and dedication to what has become one of Chicago's best loved holiday traditions."

In spring 2012, ABT presents the world-premiere of James Still's "Love Me Some Amnesia." "Still is a beloved playwright of national acclaim," says Whiteside. "His work has twice been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize; three of his plays have received the Distinguished Play Award from the American Alliance for Theatre and Education and his work has also garnered five Emmy nominations, yet this marks the first time one of his plays will be presented in Chicago. We are excited to present Still to Chicago and are especially pleased that ABT Artistic Affiliates Joe Foust and Dennis Zacek will be part of the extraordinary cast we're pulling together for this production."

Given the incredible response to the 2011 Inaugural Blue Ink Playwriting Contest, ABT will begin to accept submissions this fall for the 2nd Annual 2012 Blue Ink Playwriting Contest. The winning selections will be featured in ABT's spring 2012 benefit production. For more information visit

Committed to the Ensemble since 1985, American Blues Theater produces stories about working people and partners each production with social and service organizations. During the years 1997-2009, the Ensemble went by the name American Theater Company. In 2009, the Ensemble reclaimed its original name and reaffirmed its commitment to its original mission. ABT is the second-oldest Equity Ensemble in Chicago. Their multi-generational Ensemble & Artistic Affiliates work in theater, television, and film. As of 2010, they've individually received more than 100 Joseph Jefferson Awards, Citations, and nominations, 19 After Dark Awards, an Academy Award nomination, Golden Globe Award, Emmy Awards and nominations, Writers' Guild Awards, 16 Black Theatre Alliance Awards and nominations, and multiple Regional theater awards from New York, Los Angeles, DC, and Florida. ABT's 30-member Ensemble has more than 380 combined years of collaboration on stage.

The ABT Ensemble includes all four Founders Ed Blatchford, Rick Cleveland, James Leaming, and WilLiam Payne with Dawn Bach, Matthew Brumlow, Kate Buddeke, Sarah Burnham, Casey Campbell, Brian Claggett, Dennis Cockrum Laura Coover, Lauri Dahl, Tom Geraty, Cheryl Graeff, Jaclyn Holsey, Lindsay Jones, Samantha Jones, Nambi E. Kelley, Kevin R. Kelly, Steve Key, Ed Kross, Heather Meyers , John Möhrlein, Jim Ortlieb, Suzanne Petri, Carmen Roman, Editha Rosario, Sarah E. Ross and Gwendolyn Whiteside.

(as of Feb. 23, 2011)
Plays, dates and artists subject to change

By Clifford Odets
Directed by Kimberly Senior
Sept. 1 - Oct. 2, 2011

Featuring ABT Ensemble members Matthew Brumlow, Sarah Burnham, Cheryl Graeff, John Möhrlein, Suzanne Petri and Gwendolyn Whiteside; Artistic Affiliates Warren Levon and Manny Buckley; with guest artists Terry Hamilton, Zachary Kenney and Mechelle Moe.

Inspired by the New York taxi strike of 1934 and first staged by the Group Theater in 1935, these powerful vignettes offer a treatise on societal inequities. "We've been kicked around so long we're black and blue from head to toes." The Los Angeles Times calls "Waiting for Lefty" "undeniably relevant" and the New York Times hails it as "soundly constructed and fiercely dramatic."

World Premiere
Written and Directed by various Chicago artists
Friday nights September 2, 9, 16, 23, & 30
(Casting will be announced at a later date.)

Based on the 1930's WPA era program that brought Orson Welles, Arthur Miller and Clifford Odets into public attention, our playwrights use inspiration ripped from today's headlines. Every Friday following "Waiting for Lefty" ABT will present a new program of 10-minute scripts. This work is supported in part by the University of Chicago.

Based on Frank Capra's film
Directed by ABT Artistic Affiliate Marty Higginbotham
Nov. 25, 2011 - Jan. 1, 2012

Featuring ABT Ensemble members Kevin R. Kelly, Ed Kross, John Möhrlein and Gwendolyn Whiteside with Artistic Affiliates Austin Cook and James Joseph. (Additional casting will be announced at a later date.)

The director and Ensemble that have for a decade treated Chicago to Clarence, George and the delightful characters of Bedford Falls will once again take you back to a 1940s radio broadcast of Frank Capra's holiday classic, "It's a Wonderful Life" in a full scale production with Foley sound effects, an original score, and a stellar cast of seven. Critics called this production "perfect Christmas theater" and "first class holiday fare."

World Premiere
By James Still
Directed by ABT Artistic Affiliate Meredith McDonough
Spring 2012

Featuring ABT Artistic Affiliates Joe Foust and Dennis Zacek. (Additional casting will be announced at a later date.)

In a small town where buzzards literally feast on a dead Chevy and the local Wal-Mart hires only college graduates, three men wait out the night in the company of a high school football trophy they have rescued from obscurity. Their goal is to recapture their youthful feelings of revenge, glory and being a man-if only they could agree on what they can't remember.

All performances will take place at Victory Gardens' Richard Christiansen Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue, Chicago. Performance schedules and ticket information of these productions will be announced at a later date. Season memberships are available now; for more information, visit

About the Artists

Clifford Odets (playwright) was born to a working-class family in 1906. Raised in the Bronx, New York, Odets left school at age 14 and pursued an artistic career, much to the chagrin of his father who wanted his son to continue in the family printing business. Early in his career, Odets worked as an actor and writer in vaudeville, radio and stage. With The Group Theatre, a socialist and leftist ensemble of artists, he first achieved fame as a playwright with his 1935 short play, "Waiting for Lefty." Considered to be inspired by the 40-day taxi strike of 40,000 employees, "Waiting for Lefty" was hailed as being bold in its simplicity and was banned in seven cities and circulated under the radar in the Communist party, of which Odets had been a member. Other works by Odets include "Awake and Sing," "Till the Day I Die," "Paradise Lost" and the screenplay "The General Died at Dawn." His plays are known for their Depression-era, working-class characters in search of a dream, working to fight against the oppressive injustices existing in their world. His characters are raw and strong, and his language, theatrically biting. Odets stated that his plays are concerned with "the struggle not to have life nullified by circumstances, false values, anything." In his own way, as a proletariat playwright, he was looking to inspire hope in a desperate time.

Kimberly Senior (director) is a Chicago-based director. Recent directing credits include "The Busy World is Hushed," "J.T. Rogers," "The Overwhelming" and "Madagascar" at Next Theatre Company; "The North Plan" at Steppenwolf Theatre Company; "Thieves Like Us" at The House Theatre of Chicago; "Mauritius" at TheaterSquared (Fayetteville, Arkansas); "Uncle Vanya," "Cherry Orchard" and "Three Sisters "at Strawdog Theatre Company; "The Pillowman" at RedTwist Theatre; and "All My Sons" at TimeLine Theatre Company. Senior is the founder of Collaboraction, where she has directed and/or produced more than 30 plays, including the company's lauded Sketchbook festival for seven years. She is adjunct faculty member at DePaul University, Columbia College Chicago, and the University of Chicago, and serves as an artistic associate with Strawdog Theatre Company, Next Theatre Company, and Chicago Dramatists. Senior is the recipient of the 2010 Excellence in Teaching Award.


MARTY HIGGINBOTHAM (director) joined the American Blues family in 1991, appearing in "Desire Under the Elms," "Monsters," "On the Waterfront," "Tom and Jerry," "The Homage that Follows," "Stalag 17," "Bus Stop," "The Three Penny Opera," "Working, The Trip to Bountiful," "American Dead" and "Oklahoma." His sound design / original score credits with ABT include "Monsters," "Monsters II" and "Monsters III," "Food from Trash," "The Homage That Follows," "The Million Bells of Ocean" and "A Lie of the Mind." Marty has also worked on and off stage at The Old Globe, The Prince Music Theatre, The Goodman, Northlight, Oak Park Festival Theater, Circle Theatre, and the Organic. Marty directed the original full production of "It's a Wonderful: A Live Radio Play" in 2004 and continued to helm the production up to 2008, moving with the ensemble in 2009 to the Biograph. Marty is also Founder and President of The Stage Channel, a video Production Company serving the Arts in Chicago and across the country since 2001. The Stage Channel, to date, has produced over 900 promotional videos for music, theater and dance.


JAMES STILL's (playwright) award-winning plays have been produced at theaters throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, Japan, and Australia. He is the playwright-in-residence at the Indiana Repertory Theatre, an elected member of the National Theatre Conference, and a Fellow in the College of Fellows of the American Theatre. He is also a winner of the William Inge Festival's Otis Gurnsey New Voices in American Theatre award, the Medallion for Sustained Achievement from The Children's Theatre Foundation of America, and the Charlotte B. Chorpenning Playwright Award for Distinguished Body of Work. Three of Still's plays have received the Distinguished Play Award from the American Alliance for Theatre and Education, and his work has been twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

Still's plays have been developed and workshopped at Sundance, the New Harmony Project, the O'Neill, The Lark, and the Telluride Playwright's Festival. Still's plays include "The Heavens are Hung in Black," "Iron Kisses," "The Velvet Rut," "A Long Bridge Over Deep Waters,"" Looking Over the President's Shoulder," "Searching for Eden: the Diaries of Adam and Eve," "He Held Me Grand," "And Then They Came for Me: Remembering the World of Anne Frank," "A Village Fable," " Hush: An Interview With America" and "The Velocity of Gary (Not His Real Name)." New plays include "Love Me Some Amnesia," "The House That Jack Built" and "The Mary Todd Lincoln Project." Still's work in television and film has garnered five Emmy Award nominations, and he has twice been a finalist for the Humanities Prize and a Television Critics Association Award. Still grew up in a small town in Kansas and lives in Los Angeles. After attending the University of Kansas, he began his theater career in Chicago.

Meredith McDonough (director) is the Director of New Works at TheatreWorks in Palo Alto where she recently directed the world premiere of Laura Schellhardt's "Auctioning the Ainsleys." She worked with many American Blues Theater ensemble members on Schellhardt's award-winning solo show "The K of D: an Urban Legend." As a freelance director, she has been developing new work for the past 10 years at such theaters as Actors Theatre of Louisville, Williamstown Theatre Festival, Round House Theatre, The Public Theatre, LAByrinth Theatre Company, Ars Nova, Actors Express, Women's Project and Productions, New Georges and The Drama League, with writers including Lisa Dillman, Itamar Moses, Adam Rapp, Alison Moore, Megan Mostyn Brown, Dan Dietz and Betty Shamieh. She spent three seasons directing as an Associate Artist at Delaware Theatre Company, and during three seasons at Actors Theatre of Louisville, she directed the world premieres of "Kuwait," "A Bone Close to My Brain," "Heaven and Hell" and "Backstory" in the Humana Festival. McDonough was the Boris Sagal Fellow at the Williamstown Theatre Festival where she directed Sarah Ruhl's "Eurydice," and was the National Assistant on Suzan-Lori Parks' "365 Days / 365 Plays." Other directing credits include "Angels in America," "Full Circle," "Balm in Gilead," "Baltimore Waltz" and "A Bright Room Called Day." In addition to her work developing new plays, she works with new musicals, and was the New Works Program Director for the National Alliance for Musical Theatre. She is a past leader of the Women's Project Director's Lab, an affiliated artist with New Georges, and was a Drama League fellow. McDonough holds an MFA in directing from UCSD and a BS in Performance Studies from Northwestern University.


Related Articles View More Chicago Stories   Shows

More Hot Stories For You

Before you go...

Like Us On Facebook
Follow Us On Twitter
Follow Us On Instagram