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.
Leadershipsee directory for full staff
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
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 EnsembleOur 37 members have 530+ combined years of collaboration on stage.
Chicago, 1993Currently she’s developing her award-winning interior decorating firm, Eye to Eye Interiors.
Los Angeles, 1985
Recently he directed The Rainmaker, here at American Blues Theater.
Los Angeles, 2001Recently he co-directed and played “Tom” in The Glass Menagerie at Vandals Theatre Lab and in Moscow Arts Theatre in Russia.
Chicago, 2012Next he performs in the world-premiere of TRANSit, here at American Blues Theater.
Chicago, 1988Recently she received a Jeff Award for her performance in Airline Highway at Steppenwolf and appeared in The Glass Menagerie at The Hypocrites.
Chicago, 2011Currently she is the production manager at Lookingglass Theater.
Chicago, 2013Recently she played “Audrey” in Little Shop of Horrors, here at American Blues Theater.
Los Angeles, 2008Currently he recurs on Disney’s “Bunk’d”. He is also the spokesperson for the Stratosphere Hotel in Las Vegas.
Lawrence, 2016Currently his world-premiere play TRANSit is playing at American Blues Theater.
Chicago, 2011Recently he was on the U.S. tour of Stomp.
Los Angeles, 1985
Recently he wrote for the Emmy nominated Netflix political series “House of Cards” starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright.
Los Angeles, 1988Recent film credits: “Hail, Caesar” and “Soy Nero”. Recent television credits: “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”, “The Grinder”, “Masters of Sex”, and “Rosewood”.
Chicago, 2013Recently he was the music director for Little Shop of Horrors, here at American Blues Theater. Currently he plays for War Paint at Goodman Theater.
Los Angeles, 2011Recently she appeared in episodes of “Castle” and “Agent Carter”.
IAN PAUL CUSTER
Chicago, 2016Recently he appeared in Little Shop of Horrors, here at American Blues Theater.
Chicago, 1995Recently she was the dramaturg for The Rainmaker, here at American Blues Theater.
Chicago, 2011Recently he appeared in West Side Story at Paramount. Next he will direct The Hollow and act in The 39 Steps at Peninsula Players.
Chicago, 2002Currently she appears in the film “Social Hour” and is in post-production for her web-series “It’s You”.
Birmingham, 1991Recently 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.
Chicago, 2011General Manager for American Blues Theater. Recently she stage-managed Looking Over the President’s Shoulder.
Los Angeles, 1998Currently 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
New York, 2011Currently her adaptation of Richard Wright’s “Native Son” will be produced at several theaters across the United States.
Los Angeles, 1993Currently he can be seen in 2 episodes of the new Netflix series “Sense8”.
Chicago, 2011Currently he performs in the American premiere of The Effect, directed by David Cromer, at the Barrow Street Theatre (NYC).
Chicago, 1998Recently he appeared in the world premiere of Hazel at Drury Lane Oakbrook and a series of commercials for Kellogg’s Raisin Bran.
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.
Chicago, 2012Next he appears in Dutchman / TRANSit, here at American Blues Theater.
Chicago, 2013Recently he played “Seymour” in Little Shop of Horrors, here at American Blues Theater.
Chicago, 1996Artistic Programming Support for American Blues Theater. Recently she was dramaturg for 180 Degree Rule at Babes with Blades Theatre Company.
Chicago, 1997Currently 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
Chicago, 2016Recently he designed properties for Little Shop of Horrors. Next he’ll design costumes for Dutchman / TRANSit, here at American Blues Theater.
Currently he is a professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Next he directs Marvin’s Room for UMD Theatre.
Chicago, 1999Audio Describer for American Blues Theater. Next she brings her cabaret show Torch, Sass, & Swing to Steppenwolf’s 1700 Theatre.
Chicago, 1991Recently she performed in Lee Blessing’s A Body of Water at The Kitchen Theatre (Ithaca, NY) and Geva Theatre (Rochester, NY).
Chicago, 2001Recently 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
Chicago, 2011Production Manager for American Blues Theater. Next she will design the set for Dutchman and TRANSit, here at American Blues Theater.
Chicago, 1998Producing Artistic Director for American Blues Theater. Next she’ll direct It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!, here at American Blues Theater.
Board of DirectorsLast updated for the 2016 / 2017 season.
- 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
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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