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 33-member Ensemble has nearly 600 combined years of collaboration on stage.
Leadershipsee directory for full staff
GWENDOLYN (WENDY) WHITESIDE
Artistic DirectorWendy joined the Ensemble of American Blues Theater in 1998 and has served as 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 3,000 students annually. She led American Blues through its 2009 rebirth and built the operational budget from zero to $1 million in seven 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 seven years, eight American Blues Theater shows were nominated for production by the Joseph Jefferson Award committee. She’s received 13 Joseph Jefferson Awards, Citations, and nominations as an actress and 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!
the EnsembleOur 33 members have 600+ combined years of collaboration on stage.
Chicago, 1993Currently she runs her award-winning interior decorating firm, Eye to Eye Interiors.
Los Angeles, 1985Recently he directed The Rainmaker, here at American Blues Theater.
Los Angeles, 2001Currently he’s receiving his MFA from University of Idaho.
Chicago, 2012Recently 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.
Chicago, 1988Currently she appears in commercials and episodic television.
Chicago, 2011Currently she is the production manager at Lookingglass Theater.
Chicago, 2013Recently she played “Audrey” in Little Shop of Horrors and “Violet” in It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! 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, 2016Recently his world-premiere play TRANSit opened to critical acclaim at American Blues Theater.
Los Angeles, 1985Recently he wrote and produced the second season of Amazon’s “Man in the High Castle”.
New York, 2013Recently 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.
IAN PAUL CUSTER
Chicago, 2016Currently he appears in The Columnist, here at American Blues Theater.
Chicago, 1995Recently she was the dramaturg for The Rainmaker, here at American Blues Theater.
Chicago, 2011Recently he worked at First Stage Milwaukee on Robin Hood. He will spend his fall and summer acting at Peninsula Players.
Chicago, 2002Currently she wrote, produced, and stars in a web-series “It’s You” on YouTube. She also appears in Monster at Steppenwolf Theater.
Birmingham, 1991Currently he runs his national company StageChannel.
Chicago, 2011Currently she is pursuing a Masters in Nonprofit Administration at North Park University.
Los Angeles, 1998Currently his sound designs are heard at Actors Theatre of Louisville, Old Globe, Northlight, IRT, Geva Theater, Geffen Playhouse, and Playwrights Horizon.
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, 1993Recently 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.
Chicago, 2011Recently he appeared on CBS’s “Elementary”. Currently he is understudying in the Broadway production of Sweat.
Chicago, 1998Recently he appeared on “Chicago Fire”, episodes of the Amazon series “Patriot”, and national commercial for Kellogg’s Frosted Mini Wheats.
Chicago, 1985Recently he reprised his role in Botanic Garden with wife Carmen Roman.
Chicago, 2012Recently he appeared in Dutchman / TRANSit, here at American Blues Theater.
Chicago, 2013Recently 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.
Chicago, 1996Artistic Programming Support for American Blues Theater. Recently she directed selections for Something Wicked This Way Comes at Bradbury Carnegie Center.
Chicago, 1997Recently he performed “Mr. Potter” & “Clarence” in It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!, here at American Blues Theater.
CHRISTOPHER J. NEVILLE
Chicago, 2016Recently he designed costumes for Dutchman / TRANSit, It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!, and The Columnist, here at American Blues Theater.
Chicago, 1999Audio 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”.
Chicago, 1991Recently she reprised her role in Botanic Gardens with her husband Jim Leaming.
Chicago, 2001Currently she works as an appellate public defender in the Chicagoland area.
SARAH E. ROSS
Chicago, 2011Recently she production managed Season 31, here at American Blues Theater.
Chicago, 1998Artistic Director for American Blues Theater. Currently she’s a playwright for Ripped: The Living Newspaper Festival, here at American Blues Theater.
Board of DirectorsJuly 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018 term
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 also suffered a showmance heartbreak with Audrey II in Little Shop of Horrors. He currently resides in the American Blues office.
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