The American Blues Team

OUR TEAM

Welcome to the American Blues family. Learn more about our Staff, Ensemble, Artistic Affiliates, and Board of Directors – extra credit for the mascot. We are the second oldest professional AEA Ensemble theater in Chicago. Our 37-member Ensemble has nearly 600 combined years of collaboration on stage.

Leadership

see directory for full staff
GWENDOLYN (WENDY) WHITESIDE

GWENDOLYN (WENDY) WHITESIDE

Artistic Director

Wendy joined the Ensemble of American Blues Theater in 1998 and has served as Producing Artistic Director since 2010. Under her leadership, American Blues has nearly doubled the size of its Ensemble, added 28 Artistic Affiliates, and diversified its base of artists. She created the nationally-recognized annual Blue Ink Playwriting Award, Blueprint Development for new work, implemented community service into the company’s mission, and adapted the arts education program The Lincoln Project for Chicago Public Schools serving nearly 2,000 students annually. She led American Blues through its 2009 rebirth and built the operational budget from zero to $825,000 in six (6) years. Whiteside served numerous panels for the National Endowment for the Arts and sat on the national Board of Directors for Network of Ensemble Theaters. She’s a graduate of Northwestern University (cum laude), The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (MFA), and a Kellogg Executive Scholar in Nonprofit management (Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University). She was nominated for “Chicagoan of the Year” in Chicago Magazine and named in Newcity’s annual Players list numerous times. In six years, six American Blues Theater shows were nominated for best production by the Joseph Jefferson Award committee. She’s received 11 Joseph Jefferson Awards, Citations, and nominations as an actress and Producing Artistic Director. Her favorite performances include Jeff Award for Solo Performance (Grounded), Jeff Award for Solo Performance (The K of D), Mary’s Wedding (Top 5 Performances in Indianapolis), Collected Stories (Best Actress Broadway World Chicago Award), and six years as “Mary Bailey” (It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!). She’s the recipient of two (2) After Dark Awards, and numerous Broadway World Chicago Awards and nominations. She directs the Chicago holiday tradition It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!

CLAUDE BINDER

CLAUDE BINDER

Managing Director

Claude has worked professionally in the Chicago theatre community for more than 30 years.  Before joining American Blues, he held the position of Director of Production at the Joffrey Ballet.  He has also held positions as the Executive Director of Chicago Children’s Theatre where he was instrumental in the development, launch and management of the company from startup through the first 2 plus years.  He served as the General Manager and Production Manager of Steppenwolf Theatre Company, providing leadership for the daily operation of the company. During his 15 years at Steppenwolf, he led the company in moving five productions to New York City, including the Tony award winning production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” as well as moving productions to theatres in England, Ireland, Canada and Australia.  During this time the company also received the first National Medal of Arts given to an Ensemble theatre.  His accomplishments while at Steppenwolf include principal management of the reconstruction of the Upstairs Theatre which debuted with the world premiere of Frank Galati’s adaptation of “After the Quake”.  Before joining Steppenwolf he worked for the Goodman Theatre and Actors Theatre of Louisville.  Binder is a past member of the Board of Directors of Redmoon Theatre and Village Players and has been an adjunct faculty member at Columbia College Chicago and DePaul University. He lives in Oak Park with his wife Chris who is a lighting designer and the Head of the Lighting Design program at DePaul University and their 17 year old son, Cody.

the Ensemble

Our 37 members have 530+ combined years of collaboration on stage.
DAWN BACH

DAWN BACH

Chicago, 1993

Currently she runs her award-winning interior decorating firm, Eye to Eye Interiors.

ED BLATCHFORD

ED BLATCHFORD

Los Angeles, 1985

Recently he directed The Rainmaker, here at American Blues Theater.

MATTHEW BRUMLOW

MATTHEW BRUMLOW

Los Angeles, 2001

Currently he’s receiving his MFA from University of Idaho.

MANNY BUCKLEY

MANNY BUCKLEY

Chicago, 2012

Recently he performed in the world-premiere of TRANSit, here at American Blues Theater. Currently he appears in Love’s Labor’s Lost at Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

KATE BUDDEKE

KATE BUDDEKE

Chicago, 1988

Currently she appears in commercials and episodic television.

SARAH BURNHAM

SARAH BURNHAM

Chicago, 2011

Currently she is the production manager at Lookingglass Theater.

DARA CAMERON

DARA CAMERON

Chicago, 2013

Recently she played “Audrey” in Little Shop of Horrors and “Violet” in It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! here at American Blues Theater.

CASEY CAMPBELL

CASEY CAMPBELL

Los Angeles, 2008

Currently he recurs on Disney’s “Bunk’d”. He is also the spokesperson for the Stratosphere Hotel in Las Vegas.

DARREN CANADY

DARREN CANADY

Lawrence, 2016

Recently his world-premiere play TRANSit opened to critical acclaim at American Blues Theater.

BRIAN CLAGGETT

BRIAN CLAGGETT

Chicago, 2011

Currently he is on the U.S. tour of Stomp.

RICK CLEVELAND

RICK CLEVELAND

Los Angeles, 1985

Recently he wrote and produced the second season of Amazon’s “Man in the High Castle”.

DENNIS COCKRUM

DENNIS COCKRUM

Los Angeles, 1988

Recent film credits: “Hail, Caesar” and “Soy Nero”. Recent television credits: “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”, “The Grinder”, “Masters of Sex”, and “Rosewood”.

AUSTIN COOK

AUSTIN COOK

New York, 2013

Recently he was the music director for Little Shop of Horrors, here at American Blues Theater. Currently he plays for War Paint at the Nederlander Theater on Broadway.

LAURA COOVER

LAURA COOVER

Los Angeles, 2011

Recently she appeared in episodes of “Castle” and “Agent Carter”.

IAN PAUL CUSTER

IAN PAUL CUSTER

Chicago, 2016

Currently he appears in The Columnist, here at American Blues Theater.

LAURI DAHL

LAURI DAHL

Chicago, 1995

Recently she was the dramaturg for The Rainmaker, here at American Blues Theater.

JOE FOUST

JOE FOUST

Chicago, 2011

Recently he worked at First Stage Milwaukee on Robin Hood. He will spend his fall and summer acting at Peninsula Players.

CHERYL GRAEFF

CHERYL GRAEFF

Chicago, 2002

Currently she wrote, produced, and stars in a web-series “It’s You” on YouTube.  She also appears in Monster at Steppenwolf Theater.

MARTY HIGGINBOTHAM

MARTY HIGGINBOTHAM

Birmingham, 1991

Currently he runs his national company StageChannel.

JACLYN HOLSEY

JACLYN HOLSEY

Chicago, 2011

General Manager for American Blues Theater. Currently she is pursuing a Masters in Nonprofit Administration at North Park University.

LINDSAY JONES

LINDSAY JONES

Los Angeles, 1998

Currently his sound designs are heard at Actors Theatre of Louisville, Old Globe, Northlight, IRT, Geva Theater, Geffen Playhouse, and Playwrights Horizon.

NAMBI E. KELLEY

NAMBI E. KELLEY

New York, 2011

Currently her adaptation of Richard Wright’s “Native Son” will be produced at several theaters across the United States.

KEVIN KELLY

KEVIN KELLY

Los Angeles, 1993

Recently he made a special one-day only appearance as “George Bailey” in It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!, here at American Blues Theater.

STEVE KEY

STEVE KEY

Chicago, 2011

Recently he appeared on CBS’s  “Elementary”. Currently he is understudying in the Broadway production of Sweat.

ED KROSS

ED KROSS

Chicago, 1998

Recently he appeared on “Chicago Fire”, episodes of the Amazon series “Patriot”, and national commercial for Kellogg’s Frosted Mini Wheats.

JAMES LEAMING

JAMES LEAMING

Chicago, 1985

Recently he reprised his role in Botanic Garden with wife Carmen Roman.

WARREN LEVON

WARREN LEVON

Chicago, 2012

Recently he appeared in Dutchman / TRANSit, here at American Blues Theater.

MICHAEL MAHLER

MICHAEL MAHLER

Chicago, 2013

Recently he appeared in Little Shop and It’s a Wonderful Life, here at American Blues Theater. Currently he’s working on additional lyrics for the Broadway revival of Miss Saigon.

HEATHER MEYERS

HEATHER MEYERS

Chicago, 1996

Artistic Programming Support for American Blues Theater.  Recently she directed selections for Something Wicked This Way Comes at Bradbury Carnegie Center.

JOHN MOHRLEIN

JOHN MOHRLEIN

Chicago, 1997

Recently he performed “Mr. Potter” & “Clarence” in It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!, here at American Blues Theater.

Christopher J. Neville

Christopher J. Neville

Chicago, 2016

Recently he designed costumes for Dutchman / TRANSit, It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!, and The Columnist, here at American Blues Theater.

WILLIAM PAYNE

WILLIAM PAYNE

Duluth, 1985

Currently he is a professor at University of Minnesota Duluth. Recently he co-produced 24 Hour Plays – Minneapolis with the Hennepin Theatre Trust.

SUZANNE PETRI

SUZANNE PETRI

Chicago, 1999

Audio Describer for American Blues Theater. Recently she performed her cabaret show Torch, Sass, & Swing at Steppenwolf’s 1700 Theatre and appeared on CBS’s “Kevin Can Wait”.

CARMEN ROMAN

CARMEN ROMAN

Chicago, 1991

Recently she reprised her role in Botanic Gardens with her husband Jim Leaming.

EDITHA ROSARIO

EDITHA ROSARIO

Chicago, 2001

Currently she works as an appellate public defender in the Chicagoland area.

SARAH E. ROSS

SARAH E. ROSS

Chicago, 2011

Recently she production managed Season 31, here at American Blues Theater.

GWENDOLYN WHITESIDE

GWENDOLYN WHITESIDE

Chicago, 1998

Artistic Director for American Blues Theater. Currently she’s a playwright for Ripped: The Living Newspaper Festival, here at American Blues Theater.

Artistic Affiliates

Board of Directors

Last updated for the 2016 / 2017 season.
If you are interested in joining our Board of Directors, please contact Gwendolyn Whiteside, Producing Artistic Director at WendyW@AmericanBluesTheater.com or call (312) 725-4228.
  • Matthew Hafter, President
  • Burton X. Rosenberg, Vice-President
  • Phil Calian, Vice-President
  • Larry Schulman, Treasurer
  • Keith A. Karlson, Secretary
  • Heather Barnfield
  • Sarah Borgeson
  • Manny Buckley
  • Brian Carothers
  • Joan Esposito
  • Ross C. Hemphill
  • Kimberlee Herold
  • Andrea McNaughton
  • Gerald Pauling
  • Matthew Tassone
  • Gwendolyn Whiteside
  • Chip Pringle, in memoriam

the Mascot

Ben joined American Blues Theater in 2011 on a dare – it was theater or Chicago politics. (He’s scared of jail; we won.) Ben appeared in our production of Rantoul and Die and sat patiently inside a wrapped present beneath the It’s a Wonderful Life Christmas tree. Like every artist, he’s had disappointments throughout his career: rejected from the union meeting during Waiting for Lefty; no call-back for Hank Williams: Lost Highway because he was too stiff; couldn’t audition for the Pilot in Grounded because of the height requirement.  He hopes to appear in Little Shop of Horrors as a showmance with Audrey II is developing. He currently resides in the American Blues office. Follow him on Instagram.

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