American Blues Theater
American Blues Theater is a Jefferson Award-winning Chicago theatre company founded in 1985 by Ed Blatchford, Rick Cleveland, Jim Leaming, and William Payne. The professional theater is dedicated to developing theater that explored new and classic American plays through the collaboration of an ensemble of artists.
From 1985-1990, led by co-artistic directors Blatchford and Payne, ABT produced such critically acclaimed productions as Eugene O'Neill’s The Hairy Ape and Desire Under the Elms, world premieres of Dogman's Last Stand and Bad Moon by Rick Cleveland, and Peacekeeper by Keith Reddin. The ABT production of The Hairy Ape was hailed by Richard Christiansen of the Chicago Tribune as one of the three best shows of the year, in his editorial titled “Chicago Theater forges New Standards of Glory”
From 1991-1993, co-directors Leaming, Kate Buddeke, Andrea J. Dymond, and Carmen Roman launched the Monsters Series, designed by founding member Rick Cleveland. The three annual productions drew on the work of over thirty Chicago writers, including Doug Post, S. L. Daniels, David Mamet, Keith Huff, Rick Cleveland and Richard Strand.
In August 1993, the company leased a space at the corner of Byron and Lincoln and built a 134-seat theatre in a month. Food From Trash by Gary Leon Hill opened the space in mid-September. Carmen Roman served as Artistic Director from 1993–1997, a period that included productions of On the Waterfront, Stalag 17, Keeley and Du, and the world premieres of Flight of the Phoenix and Tom and Jerry. ABT received numerous Joseph Jefferson nominations and an After Dark Award for Best Season in 1997.
At the end of the 1997 season, Brian Russell was hired as the Artistic Director and in September of that year the name of the organization was changed to the American Theater Company (ATC). He expanded the company by introducing a four-play subscription season. The organization’s budget grew fivefold, its audience tenfold, and three full-time staff positions were created. Notable productions included Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's The Threepenny Opera, David Mamet's American Buffalo, A Stone Carver by William Mastrosimone, Medea translated by Nicholas Rudall, The Minneola Twins by Paula Vogel, Working based on the book by Studs Terkel, and Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.
In 2002, Russell stepped down and Damon Kiely, a Chicago native who had spent the previous decade directing off-Broadway, accepted the position of Artistic Director. He focused programming for ATC around the question “What does it mean to be an American”. Over the next four years the company produced many celebrated and lauded shows including American Dead by Brett Neveu, Orpheus Descending by Tennessee Williams, A View from the Bridge by Arthur Miller, Half of Plenty by Lisa Dillman, and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! In 2003, the company produced It’s A Wonderful Life: A Radio Play and has continued to offer this critically acclaimed production annually.
In 2007, Kiely resigned to accept a position teaching theatre at DePaul University. Ensemble member Stef Tovar became the Interim Artistic Director, while ATC conducted a national search for a replacement. In November 2007, PJ Paparelli joined ATC as the new Artistic Director.
In March 2009, citing “major administrative and artistic differences”, members of Ensemble left the organization and reformed American Blues Theater.
Those associated with the group have received over 100 Joseph Jefferson nominations, Citations, and Awards, numerous After Darks Awards, multiple Regional theater awards from New York, Los Angeles, D.C. and Florida, and Golden Globe, Writer's Guild and Emmy nominations, and awards.
Since 2010, Gwendolyn Whiteside has served as the Producing Artistic Director.
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