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Healing Illinois Grant Supports Launch Of Paramount Theatre's The Inception Project

New works initiative to amplify BIPOC & marginalized voices.

Healing Illinois Grant Supports Launch Of Paramount Theatre's The Inception Project

Paramount Theatre in Aurora will launch next month The Inception Project, a new play development initiative designed to create artist driven, courageous, thought provoking new work in a radically inclusive environment.

The debut of Paramount's Inception Project is part of a bold new statewide initiative to address and heal the harms caused by racism thanks to a $40,000 Healing Illinois grant from the Illinois Department of Human Services in partnership with The Chicago Community Trust.

Two plays by Chicago writers have been selected as the first new works to be developed through The Inception Project - Pretended, about a Haitian adoptee in search of truth and identity, by Lanise Antoine Shelley, and Bull: a love story, about a young Mexican American man's path to self-actualization after being in prison for 10 years, by Nancy García Loza.

Following an eight-day rehearsal process, each play will be recorded and presented as a virtual staged reading open to Paramount subscribers, supporters, the local community, the state of Illinois and theater professionals interested in new work.
Pretended will receive its debut reading Thursday, January 14, at 7 p.m.
Bull: a love story will be presented online Thursday, January 28, at 7 p.m.

Tickets to both readings are free but reservations are required. Reserve online at

The Inception Project is led by Amber Mak, Paramount New Works Development Director since 2016, and Paul-Jordan Jansen, Artistic Associate for The Inception Project. Jansen is familiar to Chicago theater audiences as the Jeff Award-winning actor in the title role of Sweeney Todd, as the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz, and most recently as The Beast in Disney's Beauty and the Beast, all at Paramount.
Amber Mak New Works Development Director, Paramount Theatre

i??"As an organization that has been on pause from producing in-person shows, we have had a lot of time to reflect on our past and look toward the future as we focus on how to be a vehicle of change within the theater community to create more equitable, diverse and inclusive spaces," said Mak. "The Healing Illinois grant has helped us accelerate these efforts by providing an opportunity to create a new initiative, The Inception Project, where we can support, collaborate and amplify BIPOC and marginalized voices through new works. We know this is just the beginning of work that will change the landscape of the American theater canon in an exciting and long overdue way and we are honored and thrilled for this opportunity."

i??"The Healing Illinois Grant speaks of seeding connection, and that's exactly what The Inception Project will do. It's about opening our doors to voices we haven't heard from yet, welcoming them to grow roots within our organization," said Jansen. "With The Inception Project, we are making the commitment to foster and showcase stories written by BIPOC artists and other marginalized voices so that they continue to be written and produced. We are building relationships with the voices who will be the future of this industry, and we're tremendously excited for this endeavor."

The Inception Project: About the Plays

Pretended By Lanise Antoine Shelley Directed by Lanise Antoine Shelley Online reading: Thursday, January 14, 2021, 7 p.m. CT

In Pretended, Lanise Antoine Shelley draws from her own life experience as a Haitian adoptee raised by a single white mother to dissect and debunk misconceptions around adoption and move audiences to a place of racial healing. She achieves this with her story about Elly, an intercultural adoptee who finds herself pregnant and moving to Seattle to gain familial support. As told from the rare lens of an adoptee's perspective, Elly, and the audience, are confronted with the definition of family and how we cannot always choose the route in which we love someone. i??

Lanise Antoine Shelley (she/her) is a Haitian adoptee, actress, director and playwright. Pretended, her first full length play, was written during quarantine, spurred by the murder of George Floyd. Shelley is also the creator of the Interracial Adoptee Panel Series sponsored by United States Foundation for the Children of Haiti. She presently hosts the podcast "When They Were Young: Amplifying Voices of Adoptees" available on all major platforms including her website

As a writer, Shelley has also worked this year with Chicago Children's Theatre in their Springboard Initiative to develop her TYA show Bread. As an actress, she is known for Chicago Fire, Empire, Chicago Med, Discovery World, Macbeth HD and Goodman Theatre's live stream of School Girls: African Mean Girls. Selected directing credits include: Rastas and Hattie, Black & Blue, Movement consultant for Muthaland (16th St Theatre), Hear Me See Me (Silent Theatre), The Luck of the Irish (virtual reading), Identity Lab (Lookingglass Theatre), The Tenant (Akvavit Theatre), RefuSHE Project (Voices & Faces Project), Rumors (DePaul University) and a staged reading of The Convert (Stratford Shakespeare Festival). She holds a BFA in Directing, Acting and Playwriting from Cornish College of the Arts, an MFA from ART/MXAT at Harvard University, and a certificate in Classical Theatre from both BADA in Oxford, England, and Birmingham Conservatory in Canada. Awards/Fellowships include Stratford Shakespeare Festival's Chicago Fellow 2016 and Victory Gardens Theatre's Directing Fellow 2019. She will be directing Goods at Artemisia Theatre in 2021.
Bull: a love story By Nancy García Loza Directed by Laura Alcalá Baker Online reading: Thursday, January 28, 2021, 7 p.m. CT

Bull, a young Mexican American man, dealt drugs, got caught, and served his time. Ten years' time. Every day for a decade, he's thought about one thing: coming home. We meet Bull the day he is released from prison and returns to his old stomping grounds, Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood, gentrified beyond his imagination. Hopeful and eager, he is ready to resume his life, only to discover how much everything has moved on without him. How free are you if you can't get home? What does it take to get there?

Bull: a love story is a complex play, a love story that invites audiences to confront their own biases about a young Mexican man who survived his past and is trying to reach for the seemingly unattainable: self-love. It was originally commissioned by Chicago Dramatists during García Loza's Tutterow Fellowship 2018-2020 residency program. i??

Nancy García Loza (she/her) is a self-taught playwright rooted in Chicago, Illinois, and Jalisco, México. She is a pocha, meaning she is Mexican American, no hyphen. She was raised in Argo-Summit near Chicago's southwest side, later moving to Shorewood, a suburb west of Chicago. Upon graduating from Joliet West High School she returned to Chicago, enrolling at DePaul University. She always maintained close ties to Chicago's Lakeview area where her extensive family has immigrated for nearly five decades. García Loza's audio drama BRAVA: a folktale con música for Make-Believe Association (with mention from the The New York Times) received nominations in six categories at the 2019 ALTA Awards and won Outstanding Original Music in a Play for her song "Corrido de la Brava" (learn more and listen at She is currently under commission from Goodman Theatre, Chicago Dramatists and Teatro Leyden. She is an Artistic Associate with Pivot Arts and Teatro Vista. She is a two-time alum of the national Fornés Playwriting Workshop, and has enjoyed residencies with Goodman Playwrights Unit, Oregon Shakespeare Festival BLACK SWAN Lab, SPACE on Ryder Farm Institutional Residency, UIUC, and more. She is the daughter of Mexican immigrants, the eldest daughter of seven children, and the keeper of stories in her vast family. i??

Laura Alcalá Baker (she/her) is a Chicago based director and producer. She served as the Casting Director/Artistic Programs Manager at Victory Gardens Theater from 2016-2019 leading programs such as The Access Project and Directors' Inclusion Initiative. Most recently, she directed the world premiere of Isaac Gomez's The Leopard Play, or sad songs for lost boys (Steep Theatre) and The Way She Spoke: A Docu-mythologia (DCASE, Greenhouse Theater Center). She also directed the audio drama BRAVA by Nancy García Loza (Make-Believe Association) which is available on all podcast platforms. Other select works include: The Pillowman (The Gift Theatre), Equivocation, The Giver, 11:11, and Collapse (B Street Theater) There is No Message in the Message, Shamed (The Gift Theatre's TEN), Project Potential (Broken Nose Theatre's Bechdel Fest) and Jets, Sharks, and Beckys (Collaboraction's Peacebook Festival). She is a proud member of the Alliance of Latinx Theatre Artists and was nominated for Best Casting Director at the 2018 ALTA Awards and Best Director - Brava at the 2019 ALTA Awards. She was also Jeff Award Nominated for "Best Director" for her work on The Leopard Play, or sad songs for lost boys. For more visit,

Long known for its blockbuster stagings of popular Broadway musicals, Paramount also has begun to pioneer new works through its Broadway Series, including the world premiere musicals August Rush in 2019, and The Secret of My Success in 2020, Jeff-nominated for Best New Work.

Paramount intends to make The Inception Project an annual event and launch pad for future productions of new works developed through the program, including potentially full, world premiere stagings as part of the new BOLD Series Paramount intends to launch in the 165-seat Copley Theatre, its newly-renovated sister stage.

In addition to free online staged readings, Paramount School of the Arts Director Shannon Cameron and Community Engagement Coordinator Andrea Pikscher are creating education outreach resources around both Inception Project plays, along with supplemental programming like interactive panel discussions with artists and outside speakers. Stay tuned for details.

Earlier this fall, Paramount School of the Arts also received a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) to commission and develop a new play for young audiences by a BIPOC writer to tour area high schools.

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