Upcoming Dance

Steppenwolf Theatre Company Artistic Director Anna D. Shapiro announced the additions of Celeste M. Cooper and Cliff Chamberlain to its world-renowned Steppenwolf ensemble.

Cooper, an in-demand Chicago-based actor, recently performed in Steppenwolf’s production of BLKS and Chamberlain, a regular on the Steppenwolf stage, was recently featured in The Minutes by ensemble member Tracy Letts.

“We are thrilled to add Cliff and Celeste to the Steppenwolf ensemble. Both of these actors bring a commitment to excellence in their work that already has brought so much to our stages,” shares Steppenwolf Artistic Director Anna D. Shapiro. “We are honored that they will now be able to call Steppenwolf their artistic home and we are all so excited to see what the future holds for them both.”

Celeste M. Cooper shares, “WOW, this is amazing. I am so humbled, excited, and honored to join an ensemble of artists I deeply admire. I have prayed and dreamed about this moment ever since I saw Steppenwolf’s outstanding production of The Bluest Eye. This blessing seriously means the world to me. Thank you Papa God! Thank you Steppenwolf! I share this honor with anyone who needs confirmation that dreams really can come true.”

Cliff Chamberlain shares, “When I moved to Chicago in 2003, simply walking into the Steppenwolf lobby for the first time took my breath away. Since then, I’ve been an audience member in its seats, a student in its classrooms, and an actor on its stages; heck, I’ve even been a volunteer usher in its lobby (August: Osage County, deep into the run, only way to get tickets, a wonderful memory). To add “ensemble member” to that list, to join an artistic family that has meant so much to me, is unbelievably exciting and an incredible honor.”

Cooper made her Steppenwolf Theatre Company debut in BLKS. She most recently appeared in Strawdog Theatre Company’s production of Barbecue presented in Steppenwolf’s 1700 Theatre. Some theater credits include Blues for an Alabama Sky (Court Theatre/Jeff Awarded Best Production); The Hard Problem (Court Theatre); Measure for Measure (Goodman Theatre); Stick Fly (Windy City Playhouse); Never the Sinner (Victory Gardens Theater); The Hammer Trinity (The House Theatre of Chicago, Adrienne Arsht in Miami); The Mecca Tales (Chicago Dramatists); Our Lady of 121st Street (Eclipse Theatre Company); How We Got On (Citadel Theatre Company); You On The Moors Now (The Hypocrites, Theater on the Lake remount); Ruined (Eclipse Theatre Company, BTAA Most Promising Actress recipient); and her original one woman shows Fight 4 Your Life and The Incredible Cece (MPAACT & Stage 773). Television and film credits include a recurring role on Chicago PD, Spike Lee’s Chiraq, Sense8, and in Fatal Funnel Films’ upcoming feature-length thriller, Range Runners. Ms. Cooper has a BA in Speech Communications and Theatre from Tennessee State University and an MFA in Acting from The Theatre School at DePaul University.

Chamberlain was most recently in The Minutes at Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Additional Steppenwolf credits include The Herd, Belleville, Clybourne Park, Theatrical Essays and Superior Donuts. Chicago credits include The Seagull (Goodman Theatre) and The Sparrow (The House Theatre of Chicago; company member). Broadway credits include Steppenwolf’s production of Superior Donuts.  Television and film credits include Netflix’s newly released series Altered Carbon, Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders, State of Affairs, Grey’s Anatomy, Chicago PD, The Wise Kids, The Keeping Hours and Win it All. Cliff trained at UCSB and The School at Steppenwolf.

Formed by a collective of actors in 1976, the Steppenwolf’s ensemble features the best in American Theatre. Since Anna D. Shapiro began as Artistic Director in 2015, Glenn Davis, Audrey Francis, Sandra Marquez, Caroline Neff and Namir Smallwood have also been welcomed into the ensemble.


Steppenwolf ensemble members include: Joan Allen, Kevin Anderson, Alana Arenas, Randall Arney, Kate Arrington, Ian Barford, Robert Breuler, Cliff Chamberlain, Gary Cole, Celeste M. Cooper, Glenn Davis, Kathryn Erbe, Audrey Francis, K. Todd Freeman, Frank Galati, Francis Guinan, Moira Harris, Jon Michael Hill, Tim Hopper, Tom Irwin, Ora Jones, Terry Kinney, Tina Landau, Martha Lavey*, Tracy Letts, John Mahoney*, John Malkovich, Sandra Marquez, Mariann Mayberry*, Tarell Alvin McCraney, James Vincent Meredith, Laurie Metcalf, Amy Morton, Sally Murphy, Caroline Neff, Bruce Norris, Austin Pendleton, Jeff Perry, William Petersen, Yasen Peyankov, Martha Plimpton, Rondi Reed, Molly Regan, Anna D. Shapiro, Eric Simonson, Gary Sinise, Namir Smallwood, Lois Smith, Rick Snyder, Jim True-Frost and Alan Wilder. *In Memoriam

Steppenwolf Theatre Company is the nation’s premier ensemble theater. Formed by a collective of actors in 1976, the ensemble represents a remarkable cross-section of actors, directors and playwrights. Thrilling and powerful productions from Balm in Gilead to August: Osage County—and accolades that include the National Medal of Arts and 12 Tony Awards—have made the theater legendary. Steppenwolf produces hundreds of performances and events annually in its three spaces: the 515-seat Downstairs Theatre, the 299-seat Upstairs Theatre and the 80-seat 1700 Theatre. Artistic programming includes a seven-play season; a two-play Steppenwolf for Young Adults season; Visiting Company engagements; and LookOut, a multi-genre performances series.

Education initiatives include the nationally recognized work of Steppenwolf for Young Adults, which engages 15,000 participants annually from Chicago’s diverse communities; the esteemed School at Steppenwolf; and Professional Leadership Programs. While firmly grounded in the Chicago community, nearly 40 original Steppenwolf productions have enjoyed success both nationally and internationally, including Broadway, Off-Broadway, London, Sydney, Galway and Dublin. Anna D. Shapiro is the Artistic Director and David Schmitz is the Executive Director. Eric Lefkofsky is Chair of Steppenwolf’s Board of Trustees. For additional information, visit steppenwolf.orgfacebook.com/steppenwolftheatretwitter.com/steppenwolfthtr and instagram.com/steppenwolfthtr.

Published in Upcoming Theatre

Strawdog theatre begins its 2017-2018, 30th Anniversary Season with a Chicago Premiere of Barbecue by Robert O’Hara. Barbecue is performed at Steppenwolf’s 1700 Theatre as a LookOut Visiting Company.

In Strawdog’s Barbecue, a spirited trailer trash family is having a summer barbecue with an ulterior motive in mind: they want one of theirs, Barbara, to get help for her drug and alcohol problems. The most reasonable of them came up with the perfect rehab solution and wants other siblings to chime in. Squabbling around, as they normally do, smoking, drinking and calling each other names, the siblings can’t quite agree on most things except that their sister is an embarrassment to the whole family and definitely needs an intervention. They try to be considerate too, especially since the rehab might give Barbara “freezer burn”.

Without giving away too much, let’s just say that midway through the first Act there’s an intriguing race switch. The switching back and forth between the two races adds a fascinating dimension to the story and infuses the play with another cultural language; and plus, it’s cool to watch.

When Barbara finally shows up at the barbecue, everyone’s ready, albeit with a taser to subdue her if necessary. Taking turns, they present their arguments (mostly made up stories) to their bound and gagged sister, while making interesting bets for the outcome.

Robert O’Hara has such a great way with words; his characters are hilarious and wacky, they’re a fun bunch that’s keeping it real and holds nothing back. Director Damon Kiely chose a marvelously talented cast for the play that includes Strawdog Ensemble Members John Henry Roberts and Kamille Dawkins with guest artists Kristin Collins, Celeste Cooper, Anita Deely, Barbara Figgins, Deanna Reed Foster, Abby Pierce, Terence Simms and Ginneh Thomas. Minimalist set (set designer Joanna Iwanicka, props designer Leah Hummel) is to the point and doesn’t detract from the action on stage.

Act One ends with an unexpected twist. After the intermission, there’re more twists, the order of things gets changed, and the characters are propelled to fame and fortune. Enter Hollywood, wised up Barbara, a black movie star, and the race switch now makes sense. Second act’s takeaway message: “Everything is bullshit”. After all, life is all but a stage.

Barbecue is highly recommended and is being performed through September 30th. For more show information visit www.strawdog.org.

Published in Theatre in Review

Strawdog Theatre Company and Artistic Directors Michael Dailey, Heath Hays and Anderson Lawfer are proud to announce the first production in their 2017 – 2018 season, Barbecue by Robert O’Hara, August 17 – September 30, with direction by Damon Kiely at Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s 1700 Theatre, 1700 N. Halsted Street as a LookOut Visiting Company.  Opening night performance is Monday Aug. 28 at 8 p.m. Previews are Thursday, Aug. 17 and Aug. 24, Friday, Aug. 18 and Aug. 25, Saturday, Aug. 19 and Aug. 26 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, August 27 at 3:30 p.m. Regular run performances are Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 3:30 and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3:30 p.m. Preview tickets are $35, regular run tickets are $45. Strawdog subscribers enjoy 25% off all ticket prices. This production is also available to Steppenwolf’s Red and Black Card holders. Group, senior, student, industry, and rush discounts are also available. To purchase subscriptions to Strawdog’s 2017-18 Season, visit www.strawdog.org. To purchase single tickets to Barbecue, please visit https://www.steppenwolf.org/tickets--events/seasons/2017-18/barbecue/?id=24118 or call 312-335-1650.
 
A modern American family uses a summer barbecue as a pretext to ambush sister Barbara with an intervention.  If you think “all families are crazy” is just a cliché, you’ve not spent time under the influence of the O'Mallerys.  An afternoon in the park with these raucous siblings and you'll be challenging your own assumptions about family, race, and reality. The Chicago premiere of Barbecue by Obie and Helen Hayes Award winner Robert O’Hara will have you laughing out loud and questioning how it’s true that in America, you sometimes taze the ones you love.

Since its world premiere, Barbecue has received critically acclaim. The Los Angeles Times said, “Ferociously funny! Barbecue raucously sends up the sociological pantomime — life as an award-seeking existential burlesque,” and “Wickedly delightful!” by TheaterMania.com. Variety’s review included, “Barbecue, shrewdly turns the formula for the American domestic comedy on its head.”
The Barbecue cast includes Strawdog Ensemble Members John Henry Roberts and Kamille Dawkins with guest artists Kristin Collins, Celeste Cooper, Anita Deely, Barbara Figgins, Deanna Reed Foster, Abby Pierce, Terence Simms and Ginneh Thomas.
 
The Barbecue design team includes Strawdog Ensemble Members Costume Designer Aly Greaves Amidei and Sound Designer Heath Hayes with guest artists: Director Damon Kiely, Assistant Director Michael Burke, Set Designer Joanna Iwanicka, Lighting Designer Jared Gooding, Props Designer Leah Hummel and Dramaturg Taylor Barfield. 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

Trying to explain what Black Harlem's Renaissance was like is hard. The period was so rich in creative verve, you really have to show it while you tell it. It took me awhile to grasp what playwright Pearl Cleage has achieved - and director Ron OJ Parson has brought carefully to life -  in Court Theatre's Blues for an Alabama Sky.

In this beautifully polished production, we become familiar with the lives and aspirations of five denizens of the abundant cultural life enveloping New York's burgeoning black district in the 1920s and 1930s, driven by waves of aspiring new arrivals during the Great Migration from the South to the North. The period gives rise to the first jazz concert, to international musical superstars like Josephine Baker, Paul Robeson, Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller; to writers and thinkers like Marcus Garvey, Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, and Claude McKay, who wrote the first bestseller by a black author. 

Cleage has fleshed out each of her characters - a doctor, a singer, a fashion designer, a social worker, and a carpenter - who are much more than archetypes. These are real people, each contributing a seminal thread to this tale. She has also set the timeline toward the end of that golden era, in 1930 after the market crash, as the Great Depression rolled in. 

The storyline seems surprisingly fresh, but it is true to its time: the protagonists here seem a mismatched couple - a flamboyant gay fashion designer Guy (Sean Parris), and his platonic love, Angel (Toya Turner), a gangsters' moll who tries but fails to make a living as a night club singer.  

Abandonedly outré, Guy has worked his way up from stitching gowns for cross dressers, to designing clothes on spec for Josephine Baker. The pair love and support each other as they pursue their dreams, but have no future as a couple; Angel is set on finding herself a big strong man who will take care of her, and pay the rent. Guy wants to make it in Paris.

Across the hall dwells the scholarly Delia (Celeste Cooper), who is launching the first family planning clinic in Harlem. A history lesson makes its way into the plot as the clinic is burned down. Some in the black community suspected efforts at setting up such clinics - led by Margaret Sanger - were really just part of a plot to reduce the black population. Carrying the torch for Delia is Sam, a medical doctor. James Vincent Meredith's performance gives Sam a steady, even temperament - abiding patience, and someone who is tolerant and nurturant. 

Conflict arises as Leland (Geno Walker) a widowed carpenter recently arrived from Alabama, falls for Angel. His ardor cools as he discovers he is not in Alabama anymore. In this Black Harlem, homosexuals are accepted; family planning is a matter of choice.

Each of these characters engenders our sympathy. And in the course of the action they live, die, move on - or remain stuck in place. Though Cleage wrote this work in 1995, it is completely fresh. And it has been given its due in Parson's production. Costumes and set are beautifully period, and lighting brings added dimensions to the staging. Blues for an Alabama Sky now extended through February 19th at Court Theatre.

Published in Theatre in Review

 

 

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