CHICAGO—American Blues Theater announces the addition of five new Ensemble members and one new Artistic Affiliate to the Blues family. Joining the Ensemble is director, designer and Associate Producer Elyse Dolan, who directed several works in past Ripped and Blue Ink festivals; designer Jared Gooding, lighting designer of Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story; actor Philip Earl Johnson, who is slated to appear in the upcoming Chicago premiere of Steven Dietz’s On Clover Road; director Chuck Smith, director of the recent American Blues production of Pearl Cleage’s Flyin’ West; and actress and playwright Wandachristine, who won many awards for her solo performance Beauty’s Daughter. Actor Zachary Stevenson has been named an Artistic Affiliate. Stevenson recently made his Chicago debut as “Buddy Holly” in American Blues Theater’s Joseph Jefferson Award-winning musical Buddy – the Buddy Holly Story, in which he also won a Jeff Award for Performance in a Musical.
“We are thrilled to announce the addition of these incredible artists into the Ensemble and Artistic Affiliates. We’ve enjoyed amazing collaborations with all of these artists over the years and are so excited to deepen our commitment to making great art together. We look forward to the amazing work we have planned with this extremely talented group in upcoming seasons,” comments Gwendolyn Whiteside, Artistic Director of American Blues Theater.
About the Artists
ELYSE DOLAN is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater where she is also the Associate Producer. She has directed several short plays in past Ripped festivals, staged readings in the annual Blue Ink Festival, and has been Assistant Director on a handful shows including Six Corners (dir. Gary Griffin) and Little Shop of Horrors (dir. Jonathan Berry). Her directing work has been seen across Chicago at The New Colony (where she is also their Director of Education), Broken Nose Theatre, Prop Thtr, Commission Theatre, Babes with Blades, 20% Theatre Company, Pride Films & Plays, and more. She has also served as Assistant Director on productions at Raven Theatre, Oracle Theatre, 16th Street Theater, and Redtwist Theatre. She also does set dressing and properties design for the annual production of It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! Elyse holds a B.A. from Denison University.
JARED GOODING is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater where he has designed lighting for Flyin’ West, Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story, This Wonderful Life, Beauty’s Daughter, and The Columnist. His other design credits include the Associate Design of Lookingglass Alice (Lookingglass Theatre Company), serving as the Lighting Assistant for The Wiz Live on NBC, designs for Victory Gardens Theater, Milwaukee Repertory Theater, UIC Theatre, Writers Theatre, Strawdog Theatre, The Hypocrites, TimeLine Theatre, Madison Children’s Theatre, Definition Theatre, Windy City Playhouse, Sideshow Theatre, First Floor Theater, About Face Theatre, MPAACT, Pegasus Theatre, Next Theatre, Congo Square Theatre, Citadel Theatre, ETA, and Fleetwood Jourdain Theatre. He is a company member with MPACCT. He spends his off time managing a DJ company for Chicago area bars.
PHILIP EARL JOHNSON is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater where he performed in David Auburn’s Chicago premiere of The Columnist and upcoming Chicago premiere Steven Dietz’s On Clover Road. He has appeared Goodman Theater in Enemy of the People, Talking Pictures, The Actor and Brutality of Fact. Other Chicago credits include: A Christmas Story at The Paramount Theatre; Danny Casolaro Died For You at TimeLine Theatre Company; The Dance of Death and Old Glory at Writers Theatre; The Royale and The Big Meal (Jeff Award for Best Ensemble) at American Theatre Company; Tartuffe, Skylight, James Joyce’s The Dead and The Mystery Cycle at Court Theatre; Picasso at the Lapin Agile at Steppenwolf Theatre Company and The Conquest of The South Pole at Famous Door Theatre. He was in the first national tour of Angels in America: Millenium Approaches and Perestroika, launching at The Royal George Theatre. He has spent 10 seasons at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival appearing in many productions including the title roles in Macbeth, Cyrano De Bergerac, Coriolanus and Antony and Cleopatra. Other regional credits include A Moon for The Misbegotten at Laguna Playhouse and Just Men at Stella Adler Theatre. Recent television credits include “Empire”, “Chicago Med”, “Chicago Fire”, and “Mind Games”. When not in Chicago, he tours the country with his European-style clown act MooNiE: Juggler Ropewalker, Foolish Mortal!
CHUCK SMITH is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater where he directed Pearl Cleage’s Flyin’ West and Leroi Jones’ Dutchman. He is a member of Goodman Theatre’s Board of Trustees and is Goodman Theatre’s Resident Director. He is also a resident director at the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe in Sarasota, Florida. Goodman credits include the Chicago premieres of Pullman Porter Blues; By the Way, Meet Vera Stark; Race; The Good Negro; Proof; and The Story; the world premieres of By the Music of the Spheres and The Gift Horse; James Baldwin’s The Amen Corner, which transferred to Boston’s Huntington Theatre Company, where it won the Independent Reviewers of New England (IRNE) Award for Best Direction; A Raisin in the Sun; Blues for an Alabama Sky; August Wilson’s Two Trains Running and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom; Objects in the Mirror; Having Our Say; Ain’t Misbehavin’; the 1993 to 1995 productions of A Christmas Carol; Crumbs From the Table of Joy; Vivisections from a Blown Mind; and The Meeting. He served as dramaturg for the Goodman’s world-premiere production of August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean. He directed the New York premiere of Knock Me a Kiss and The Hooch for the New Federal Theatre and the world premiere of Knock Me a Kiss at Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theater, where his other directing credits include Master Harold… and the Boys, Home, Dame Lorraine, and Eden, for which he received a Jeff Award nomination. Regionally, Mr. Smith directed Death and the King’s Horseman (Oregon Shakespeare Festival), Birdie Blue (Seattle Repertory Theatre), The Story (Milwaukee Repertory Theater), Blues for an Alabama Sky (Alabama Shakespeare Festival), and The Last Season (Robey Theatre Company). At Columbia College he was facilitator of the Theodore Ward Prize playwriting contest for 20 years and editor of the contest anthologies Seven Black Plays and Best Black Plays. He won a Chicago Emmy Award as associate producer/theatrical director for the NBC teleplay Crime of Innocence and was theatrical director for the Emmy-winning Fast Break to Glory and the Emmy-nominated The Martin Luther King Suite. He was a founding member of the Chicago Theatre Company, where he served as artistic director for four seasons and directed the Jeff-nominated Suspenders and the Jeff-winning musical Po’. His directing credits include productions at Fisk University, Roosevelt University, Eclipse Theatre, ETA, Black Ensemble Theater, Northlight Theatre, MPAACT, Congo Square Theatre, The New Regal Theater, Kuumba Theatre Company, Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre, Pegasus Players, the Timber Lake Playhouse in Mt. Carroll, Illinois, the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, and the University of Wisconsin in Madison. He is a 2003 inductee into the Chicago State University Gwendolyn Brooks Center’s Literary Hall of Fame and a 2001 Chicago Tribune Chicagoan of the Year. He is the proud recipient of the 1982 Paul Robeson Award and the 1997 Award of Merit presented by the Black Theater Alliance of Chicago.
WANDACHRISTINE is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater. She has starred on many stages throughout the country in such notable productions as the touring company of Fences, The Vagina Monologues, Gees Bend, and Thyestes just to name a few. She was recognized for her work in the acclaimed production of Old Settler; for which she was a Supporting Actress nominee for the prestigious Joseph Jefferson Award and a Best Actress nominee for the noted Ruby Dee/Black Theater Alliance Award as well. Once again she was recognized for her work in another acclaimed production, produced by American Blues Theater, Beauty’s Daughter and this time she won the Ruby Dee/Black Theater Alliance Award for her solo performance. Earlier this year she toured in Dani Gurira’s (“Black Panther” and “Walking Dead”) production of Familiar. Now she’s hard at work appearing in the new staging of A Wonder in My Soul at Baltimore Center Stage. On film she’s worked alongside of Whoppie Goldberg in “Clara’s Heart”, starred in the hit comedy as Mrs. Jones, in the film “Me and Mrs. Jones” with Kym Fields, and Birdie on “Chicago PD”. Her voice can be heard daily in numerous television and radio commercials, along with a few animated characters, for such shows as “The PJ’s”, “The Justice League” and “Scarface” the video game. She’s written her first fiction novel, “I LOVE YOU MORE…THAN SHOES!”, which is about four actresses over 50 still trying to make it in Hollywood. As a playwright, she now has two plays that will be produced soon; “One Day?” and “Sammy, Harry, Oscar and Me…Morris”, this one will be directed by another Blues Ensemble member Chuck Smith.
ZACHARY STEVENSON is a proud Artistic Affiliate of American Blues Theater who recently made his Chicago debut as “Buddy Holly” in American Blues Theater’s Joseph Jefferson Award-winning musical Buddy – the Buddy Holly Story, in which Zach also won a Jeff Award for Performance in a Musical. Originally from Vancouver Island, Canada, Zach recently relocated to Chicago after spending the last few years being based in Kansas City, MO. Select credits include: Million Dollar Quartet (Paramount Theatre – “Carl” U/S), Hair (CanStage), Ring of Fire (Chemainus Theatre Festival / Western Canada Theatre), Hank Williams: The Show He Never Gave (Blue Bridge Repertory), Urinetown (Belfry Theatre), Red Rock Diner (Arts Club Theatre), Assassins (Quintessence), and over ten productions of Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story throughout the US and Canada, for which he’s been nominated for a Jessie Richardson Award and Ovation Award. Zachary has also had the pleasure of music directing several productions, including Million Dollar Quartet (Arts Club), and Ring of Fire (Chemainus Theatre Festival), as well as performing in countless headlining concerts across North America. Off stage, Zach is busy writing a one-man show about the 1960s folksinger and activist, Phil Ochs.
About American Blues Theater
Winner of the American Theatre Wing’s prestigious 2016 National Theatre Company Award, American Blues Theater is a premier arts organization with an intimate environment that patrons, artists, and all Chicagoans call home. American Blues Theater explores the American identity through the plays it produces and communities it serves.
The diverse and multi-generational artists have established the second-oldest professional Equity Ensemble theater in Chicago. The 33-member Ensemble has 600+ combined years of collaboration on stage. As of 2018, the theater and artists received 195 Joseph Jefferson Awards and nominations that celebrate excellence in Chicago theater and over 35 Black Theatre Alliance Awards. The artists are honored with Pulitzer Prize nominations, Academy Awards, Golden Globe Awards, Emmy Awards and numerous other accolades.
American Blues Theater programs and activities are made possible, in part by funding by The MacArthur Funds for Arts & Culture at Prince, the Shubert Foundation, The Chicago Community Trust, SMART Growth Grant, Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, the Illinois Arts Council Agency, Anixter Foundation, Actors’ Equity Foundation, and the Chip Pringle Fund. ComEd is the Season Lighting Sponsor.