JAMES LEAMING (Solo Performer) is a proud Founding Ensemble member (1985) of American Blues Theater.  On-going projects include Defamation and Botanic Garden – both written by Todd Logan and produced by Canamac Productions. This Wonderful Life was previously hosted by North Coast Rep, CA; Laguna Playhouse, CA; Cleveland Play House, OH; Syracuse Stage, NY; originated at Asolo Repertory Theatre, Sarasota, FL (directed by Peter Amster); and tonight… re-discovered/re-imagined with Jim’s heart, counsel, director, and wife Carmen Roman for American Blues Theater. “It’s nice to be home again!” Regional theater credits include Kitchen Theater, NY; Geva Theatre, NY; North Coast Repertory Theatre, CA; Alliance Theatre, GA; Peninsula Players, WI; Asolo Repertory, FL. Chicago credits include First Folio, Steppenwolf, Northlight, Next, Victory Gardens, Goodman, Drury Lane, Fox Theatricals, Body Politic. Training: American Conservatory Theatre (San Francisco), Second City (Chicago). Awards: After Dark Award, Chicago-Best Actor; Sarasota Magazine Awards-Best Actor and Best Show; Joseph Jefferson Award for the set design of Tobacco Road (American Blues Theater). Film/TV: Chicago Fire, Mind Games, Prison Break, Early Edition, Running Scared, and Code of Silence.

STEVE MURRAY (Playwright) is an award-winning arts journalist and playwright, and his plays, including Hungry to Bed, Rescue & Recovery, Mileage, and This Passion Thing, have been produced internationally. This Wonderful Life, his take on the Frank Capra film, has been one of the most frequently produced scripts in the country since its premiere at Portland Center Stage in 2005. He received a 2010 Tanne Foundation Arts Award. Murray is critic-in-residence for Art Matters, an arts journalism project organized by the Macon Arts Alliance and Mercer University’s Center for Collaborative Journalism.


CARMEN ROMAN (Director) is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater. She is thrilled to work on this beautiful show with James Leaming who was born to play this role. It is a lovely full circle to bring it home to American Blues Theater since he played the first George Bailey in our radio version of It’s a Wonderful Life 16 years ago. Though primarily an actress, Carmen has directed locally at Victory Gardens (Real Women Have Curves), Court Theatre (Miss Julie), Madison Rep (Lost in Yonkers), and at American Blues Theater (Monsters II with fellow company member Kate Buddeke). She was Artistic Director of American Blues Theater from 1993 until 1997, during which time she oversaw the acquisition and renovation of the former home of American Blues Theater at 1909 W Byron (James Leaming was the designer and with a stalwart group from the Chicago theater community, the space was renovated in 37 days).

JARED GOODING (Lighting Design) is a proud Artistic Affiliate of American Blues Theater. He is happy to be returning to design with American Blues. A native of Houston Texas, his design credits include the Associate Design of Lookingglass Alice (Lookingglass); serving as the Lighting Assistant for The Wiz Live on NBC; and designs for Strawdog Theater, Madison Children’s Theater, The Hypocrites, Timeline Theater, Sideshow Theatre, About Face Theatre, MPAACT, Pegasus Theatre, Next Theatre, Congo Square, Citadel Theatre, and Fleetwood Jourdain Theatre. His work is featured at goodingdesigns.com. He is also a company member with MPACCT and he holds a BFA in Lighting Design from The Theater School at DePaul. He spends his off time managing a DJ company for area bars.

KEVIN KENNEDY (Sound Design) Credits include Noah Racey’s Pulse, 1776, Deathtrap, and Bonnie & Clyde (pre-Broadway) at Asolo Repertory Theatre; This Wonderful Life at Asolo Rep, Cleveland Play House, Syracuse Stage, Laguna Playhouse, and North Coast Rep; The Colored Museum at Huntington Theater Company; Nilo Cruz’s Hurricane for the RIAH and Arca Images/MDCA; Tales of the City, 1776, and A Little Night Music at the American Conservatory Theater; The Rocky Horror Show at the Old Globe; Mamma Mia!, Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and Flashdance tours; and Production Engineer/Assistant Designer for Sister Act, Bonnie & Clyde, and Kinky Boots (2013 Sound Design Tony Award) on Broadway; Kennedy has also toured as the sound engineer with the Alan Parsons Live Project.

ERIC BACKUS (Associate Sound Design) is excited to work with American Blues Theater again! His original music and sound design was heard recently in Beauty’s Daughter, and he previously worked on Blues’ award winning productions of Hank Williams: Lost Highway and Grounded. Recent credits include Becky Shaw and Apartment 3A (Windy City Playhouse), American Hero (First Floor Theater), Born Ready (Factory Theater), A Wrinkle in Time (Lifeline Theatre, Non-Equity Jeff nomination), The Wolf at the End of the Block (Teatro Vista), The Assembled Parties and Red Velvet (Raven Theatre). Eric also designed the Off-Broadway and touring productions of SoloChicago Theatre’s Churchill, and the Chicago and LA productions of Thrones! A Musical Parody. To hear his music, please visit www.ericbackus.com.

MARY O’DOWD (Properties Design) is honored to return to American Blues Theater, having designed props for Beauty’s Daughter, starring Wandachristine. She has created props/set dressing for dozens of shows and received several Jeff nominations. Favorite project ever: Bakersfield Mist (TimeLine). Current projects include Choir Boy (Raven) and Evening at the Talk House (A Red Orchid).

JOE HUPPERT (Projection Design) is very happy for his first production with American Blues Theater. He has previously with Carmen Roman on This Wonderful Life at North Coast Rep. Other video designs include The Dybbuk and The Oldest Boy (Craig Noel Award) for San Diego Repertory Theater; The Elephant Man for Backyard Renaissance; and Glengarry Glen Ross for La Jolla Playhouse. As sound designer, some shows include Blueprints to Freedom and Peter and the Starcatcher (La Jolla Playhouse); Scott Joplin and Extraordinary Chambers (Craig Noel Nomination); Yellow Face (Mo’Olelo); Urinetown, Over the Tavern, and King O’ The Moon (Mercury Theater); and Mr. Burns (UCSD). Joe also enjoyed several seasons with Peninsula Players in Fish Creek, Wisconsin, and at Theater at the Center in Munster, Indiana.

CHRIS OWENS (Projections Engineer) hails from the great state of Nebraska. He studied Theatre, Journalism, and Media at Doane College, which has led to many adventures including an internship at Actors Theater of Louisville, assistant directing a production at Woolly Mammoth Theatre, and touring internationally with Pilobolus Dance Theater as their video technician. Chris now lives in Chicago where he is a freelance director, video designer, and technical director of The Edge Theater.

SHANNON GOLDEN (Production Stage Manager) is very excited to be working with American Blues and the great This Wonderful Life team! Previous credits include: Production Assistant for Hard Times (Lookingglass Theatre), The King of the Yees, Uncle Vanya, Soups Stews and Casseroles: 1976, Carlyle, and Feathers and Teeth (Goodman Theatre). Stage management credits include: Betrayal (Raven Theatre), Chalk (Sideshow Theatre Company), Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 (The Other Theatre Company), and Desperate Dolls (Strawdog Theatre Company). Production management credits include: The Mutilated, The Room, The Nether, and 3C (A Red Orchid Theatre). Love and thanks to Amanda and Mack.

SAMANTHA R. DZIRKO (Production Manager) is a Chicago-based Production Manager who is excited to be working with American Blues Theater. Other Production Management credits include working with: The Hypocrites (Chicago, IL), Williamstown Theatre Festival (Massachusetts), and Actors Theatre of Louisville (Kentucky). Samantha graduated with a B.A. in Theatre from the University of Scranton (Pennsylvania).

RACHEL LAKE (Master Electrician) is excited to be returning to American Blues Theater! A Lighting Designer and Master Electrician, she is a company member of Eclectic Full Contact Theater and a graduate of West Virginia University. Other Mater Electrician credits include: Beauty’s Daughter, It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!, and Dutchman/TRANSit (American Blues Theater); Heavens are Hung in Black and True West (Shattered Globe); and Cabaret (Theater at the Center – Asst. ME). Recent design works include: Gideon’s Knot (Eclectic Full Contact Theater), Lady X: The Musical (Hell in a Handbag), and Deep in the Heart of Tuna (New American Folk Theater).

GWENDOLYN WHITESIDE (Artistic Director) is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater and has served as Artistic Director since 2010. Under her leadership, American Blues has nearly doubled the size of its Ensemble, added 29 Artistic Affiliates, and diversified its base of artists. She created the nationally-recognized annual Blue Ink Playwriting AwardBlueprint Development for new work, implemented community service into the company’s mission, and created the free arts education program The Lincoln Project for Chicago Public Schools which serves 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. Currently she sits on the Board of Directors for The League of Chicago 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’ productions won or 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 nomination for Solo Performance (the K of D), Mary’s Wedding (Top 5 performances in Indianapolis), Collected Stories (Best Actress Broadway World Chicago Award), and 7 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 Joseph Jefferson Award nominated annual holiday production, It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!

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