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 over 532 combined years of collaboration on stage.

Leadership

see directory for full staff
GWENDOLYN (WENDY) WHITESIDE

GWENDOLYN (WENDY) WHITESIDE

Producing 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!

JACLYN (JAX) HOLSEY

JACLYN (JAX) HOLSEY

General Manager

Jax joined the Ensemble of American Blues Theater in 2011 and has served as General Manager since 2013. She’s an Equity stage manager and worked with Chicago theaters such as TimeLine, Victory Gardens Theater, Teatro Vista, Rivendell Theatre Company, Collaboraction, and here at American Blues Theater since 2001. American Blues Theater credits: Looking Over the President’s Shoulder, Hank Williams: Lost Highway, Grounded, Collected Stories, Illegal Use of Hands, Tobacco Road, Half of Plenty, St. Scarlet, and five years of It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! She’s worked with American Blues since 2005 as a stage manager, then an Artistic Affiliate, Ensemble member, Business Manager, and now General Manager. Before coming to American Blues, she worked as the Regional Operations and Programs Coordinator for First Nonprofit Insurance. Jaclyn also served as the Executive Assistant at Victory Gardens Theater under the leadership of Marcie McVay from 2003-2008. She graduated from Otterbein College with a BA in Theater and received her Certificate in Nonprofit Management through the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is currently working towards a Masters of Nonprofit Administration from North Park University.  She sends her love to her husband, son, and daughter for the love and joy they bring her every day.

the Ensemble

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

DAWN BACH

Chicago, 1993

Currently she’s developing 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

Recently he co-directed and played “Tom” in The Glass Menagerie at Vandals Theatre Lab and in Moscow Arts Theatre in Russia.
MANNY BUCKLEY

MANNY BUCKLEY

Chicago, 2012

Next he performs in the world-premiere of TRANSit, here at American Blues Theater.
KATE BUDDEKE

KATE BUDDEKE

Chicago, 1988

Recently she received a Jeff Award for her performance in Airline Highway at Steppenwolf and appeared in The Glass Menagerie at The Hypocrites.
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, 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

Currently his world-premiere play TRANSit is playing at American Blues Theater.
BRIAN CLAGGETT

BRIAN CLAGGETT

Chicago, 2011

Recently he was on the U.S. tour of Stomp.
RICK CLEVELAND

RICK CLEVELAND

Los Angeles, 1985

Recently he wrote for the Emmy nominated Netflix political series “House of Cards” starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright.

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

Chicago, 2013

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

Recently he appeared in Little Shop of Horrors, 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 appeared in West Side Story at Paramount. Next he will direct The Hollow and act in The 39 Steps at Peninsula Players.
CHERYL GRAEFF

CHERYL GRAEFF

Chicago, 2002

Currently she appears in the film “Social Hour” and is in post-production for her web-series “It’s You”.
MARTY HIGGINBOTHAM

MARTY HIGGINBOTHAM

Birmingham, 1991

Recently he appeared in City Equity’s production of A Steady Rain. He serves as Production Consultant for Birmingham Festival Theatre and is designing the set for Sons of the Prophet.
JACLYN HOLSEY

JACLYN HOLSEY

Chicago, 2011

General Manager for American Blues Theater. Recently she stage-managed Looking Over the President’s Shoulder.
LINDSAY JONES

LINDSAY JONES

Los Angeles, 1998

Currently his sound designs are heard at The Public, Oregon Shakespeare Festival,Theatre Royal Waterford, The Lyric Theatre, Geva Theatre, MCC Theatre, Pasadena Playhouse, and Utah Shakespeare Festival.
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

Currently he can be seen in 2 episodes of the new Netflix series “Sense8”.
STEVE KEY

STEVE KEY

Chicago, 2011

Currently he performs in the American premiere of The Effect, directed by David Cromer, at the Barrow Street Theatre (NYC).
ED KROSS

ED KROSS

Chicago, 1998

Recently he appeared in the world premiere of Hazel at Drury Lane Oakbrook and a series of commercials for Kellogg’s Raisin Bran.
JAMES LEAMING

JAMES LEAMING

Chicago, 1985

Recently reprised his role in Botanic Garden (dir. Ann Filmer) with wife Carmen Roman, who directed his award-winning solo performance of This Wonderful Life at North Coast Rep.

WARREN LEVON

WARREN LEVON

Chicago, 2012

Next he appears in Dutchman / TRANSit, here at American Blues Theater.
MICHAEL MAHLER

MICHAEL MAHLER

Chicago, 2013

Recently he played “Seymour” in Little Shop of Horrors, here at American Blues Theater.
HEATHER MEYERS

HEATHER MEYERS

Chicago, 1996

Artistic Programming Support for American Blues Theater.  Recently she was dramaturg for 180 Degree Rule at Babes with Blades Theatre Company.
JOHN MOHRLEIN

JOHN MOHRLEIN

Chicago, 1997

Currently he’s working on four art installations. Next he’ll perform “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 properties for Little Shop of Horrors. Next he’ll design costumes for Dutchman / TRANSit, here at American Blues Theater.
WILLIAM PAYNE

WILLIAM PAYNE

Duluth, 1985

Currently he is a professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Next he directs Marvin’s Room for UMD Theatre.

SUZANNE PETRI

SUZANNE PETRI

Chicago, 1999

Audio Describer for American Blues Theater. Next she brings her cabaret show Torch, Sass, & Swing to Steppenwolf’s 1700 Theatre.
CARMEN ROMAN

CARMEN ROMAN

Chicago, 1991

Recently she performed in Lee Blessing’s A Body of Water at The Kitchen Theatre (Ithaca, NY) and Geva Theatre (Rochester, NY).
EDITHA ROSARIO

EDITHA ROSARIO

Chicago, 2001

Recently she appeared in Ripped: The Living Newspaper Festival, here at American Blues Theater. She works as an appellate public defender in the Chicagoland area.
SARAH E. ROSS

SARAH E. ROSS

Chicago, 2011

Production Manager for American Blues Theater. Next she will design the set for Dutchman and TRANSit, here at American Blues Theater.
GWENDOLYN WHITESIDE

GWENDOLYN WHITESIDE

Chicago, 1998

Producing Artistic Director for American Blues Theater. Next she’ll direct It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!, 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
  • Glenn Weiss
  • 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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