SYDNEY CHARLES (Fannie Dove) is an award-winning actress hailing from Chicago, IL who committed her life to acting after years as a banker and operations coordinator. Flyin’ West marks her American Blues Theater debut and her first time appearing in a play by Pearl Cleage, and she is deeply grateful for the opportunity. Selected theater credits include Father Comes Home From the Wars (Goodman Theatre), Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (Court Theatre), Insurrection: Holding History (Stage Left Theatre – original run and Theater on the Lake), Lottery Day (Goodman Theatre – New Stages), three editions of The Fly Honey Show (The Inconvenience), Spamilton (Royal George Theatre), An Octoroon (Definition Theatre), “Dorothy” in The Wiz (Kokandy Productions), “Zora” in the world premiere of Prowess (Jackalope Theatre), and the title role in Dessa Rose (Bailiwick Chicago). Her directing debut was with Wildclaw Theatre with their yearly Deathscribe Festival of Horror Plays, and she just served as Associate Director for The Shipment at Red Tape Theatre. Sydney can also be seen in episodes of The Haven (web series), The T (web series), and Shameless (Showtime). She is particularly proud to be an Artistic Associate with Firebrand Theatre—the recently formed feminist musical theater company. Sydney thanks God for every opportunity she is given and her circle for supporting her every step of the way. Represented by Stewart Talent.
WARDELL JULIUS CLARK (Frank Charles) hails from Fairfield, Alabama. Select acting credits include Suddenly, Last Summer (Raven Theatre); Silent Sky (First Folio Theatre); Apartment 3A (Windy City Playhouse); The Gospel According to James (Victory Gardens Theatre); Gem Of The Ocean and Invisible Man (Court Theatre); and A Raisin in the Sun (TimeLine Theatre). Regional credits include Othello and Macbeth Theater at Monmouth. Directing credits include The Shipment (Red Tape Theatre); Insurrection: Holding History (Stage Left Theatre); and Surely Goodness and Mercy (Redtwist Theatre). TV credits include Chicago Fire seasons 1 and 4, and Shameless. Wardell is a company member and teaching artist with TimeLine Theatre, as well as a teaching artist for Victory Gardens Theater. BFA Acting, DePaul University. He is represented by Gray Talent Group.
TIFFANY RENEE JOHNSON (Minnie Dove Charles) is a Chicago native with a BFA from Howard University, and is very excited to make her American Blues Theater debut! Her theater credits include Red Velvet (Chicago Shakespeare Theater), Saint Joan (Poetic Forum Collective), the US premiere of truth and reconciliation (Sideshow Theatre), the world premiere of VANYA (or, “That’s Life!”) (Rasaka Theatre Company), Coming Home (Erasing the Distance), Hairspray (Drury Lane Theatre), and The Nativity (Congo Square Theatre). Regional credits include Race (Next Act Theatre) and The Bluest Eye (Environmental Theatre Space). Television credits include Chicago Med, Chicago P.D., Chicago Fire (NBC), APB (Fox), and Embeds (Go90). Tiffany is represented by Gray Talent Group. “The sun is my limit, and I will not stop reaching until I hold it on my hands,” she always says. To God be all the glory.
JOSLYN JONES (Miss Leah) Theater credits: Steel Magnolias (Theatre at the Center); Intimate Apparel (Theatre Squared); Andromeda (Theatre Squared); The Project(s) – Jeff Nomination, Best Production (American Theater Company); The Delany Sisters: Having Our Say – The First Hundred Years (Fleetwood Jourdain Theatre); Once On This Island (Marriott Theatre); 12 Ophelias (Trap Door Theatre); Weekend (TimeLine Theatre), Bourbon At The Border – BTAA Nomination, Featured Actress (Eclipse Theatre); Escape (Live Bait Theatre); Flyin’ West and Raisin (Court Theatre); Spunk (Court Theatre’s Artist in School Program); Bee-Luther-Hatchee (The University Of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign); Fabulation: Or, the Re-Education of Undine (Next Theatre); Relevant Hearsay (MPACCT: Theater on the Lake); Bee-Luther-Hatchee and Smokey Joe’s Café (Open Door Theater); Meshuggah Nuns! (Chicago Jewish Theatre); The Kurt Weil Revue: Songs of Darkness and Light – Jeff Nomination, Best Musical Production (Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre); To Kill A Mockingbird (Metropolis Performing Arts Centre); and 2002 Class of The School at Steppenwolf. She has understudied: Head of Passes and Carter’s Way (Steppenwolf Theatre); The Snow Queen (Victory Gardens Biograph Theater); Having Our Say and Crumbs from the Table of Joy (Goodman Theatre). Television: South Side (Comedy Central) and Chicago P.D. (NBC).
TIFFANY OGLESBY (Sophie Washington) is thrilled to make her debut at American Blues Theater. She was recently seen in The New Colony’s production of The Light (Non-Equity Jeff and Black Theatre Alliance Award nominations). Other theater companies include Definition Theatre, Writers Theatre, Lifeline Theatre, Congo Square Theatre, Sideshow Theatre, About Face Theatre, and Theater Wit. TV credits include Chicago Med, The Chi, and Empire, as well as national commercial and voice over radio spots. Tiffany received her BFA from the Savannah College of Art and Design and her MFA from The Theatre School at DePaul University.
HENRI WATKINS (Wil Parish) says he couldn’t be happier to be working with the great Chuck Smith, again, although the last two times were in Sarasota, Florida. “But the fall is a great season to work in Chicago, Chuck,” he quickly adds. A retired journeyman electrician from the automobile plants of his hometown of Flint, Michigan, Henri moved to Chicago in 2014. Chicago credits include Jitney (Court Theatre), Misanthrope (Court Theatre), Waiting for Godot (Court Theatre), and CCX (Modofac Productions at Rivendell Theatre). He also had the pleasure to have worked at The Black Ensemble Theater in The Marvin Gaye Story. As mentioned before, he enjoyed working with Chuck Smith in Sarasota, Florida in the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe’s productions of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Piano Lesson. Recently, Henri appeared in Pegasus Theatre production of The Green Book. His film credits include Sundance award winners Chameleon Street and Detroit Unleaded.
PEARL CLEAGE (Playwright) is a fiction writer, playwright, poet, essayist, and journalist. She grew up in Detroit, Michigan, where her father was a church pastor and played a prominent role in the Civil Rights Movement. Cleage’s first novel, What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day, was an Oprah Book Club selection in 1998 and appeared on the New York Times best-seller list for nine weeks. Cleage has received numerous awards in recognition of her work, including the Bronze Jubilee Award for Literature in 1983 and the outstanding columnist award from the Atlanta Association of Black Journalists in 1991. Cleage’s theatrical works include Flyin’ West (1992), which was the most produced new play in the country in 1994. Her other plays include Blues for an Alabama Sky (1995), Bourbon at the Border (1997), A Song for Coretta (2007), What I Learned in Paris (2012), and Tell Me My Dream (2015). Blues for an Alabama Sky was performed in Atlanta as part of the 1996 Cultural Olympiad in conjunction with the 1996 Olympic Games. In 2014 Cleage published Things I Should Have Told My Daughter: Lies, Lessons, and Love, which chronicles her early years as a writer in Atlanta’s turbulent political climate of the 1970s and 1980s. In 2013 she was named playwright-in-residence of Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre. The initial three-year term was renewed for an additional three years in 2016.
CHUCK SMITH (Director) is a proud Artistic Affiliate of American Blues Theater where he previously directed Leroi Jones’ Dutchman. He is a member of Goodman Theatre’s Board of Trustees and is Goodman Theatre’s Resident Director. He is also a resident director at the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe in Sarasota, Florida. Goodman credits include the Chicago premieres of Pullman Porter Blues; By the Way, Meet Vera Stark; Race; The Good Negro; Proof; and The Story; the world premieres of By the Music of the Spheres and The Gift Horse; James Baldwin’s The Amen Corner, which transferred to Boston’s Huntington Theatre Company, where it won the Independent Reviewers of New England (IRNE) Award for Best Direction; A Raisin in the Sun; Blues for an Alabama Sky; August Wilson’s Two Trains Running and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom; Objects in the Mirror; Having Our Say; Ain’t Misbehavin’; the 1993 to 1995 productions of A Christmas Carol; Crumbs From the Table of Joy; Vivisections from a Blown Mind; and The Meeting. He served as dramaturg for the Goodman’s world-premiere production of August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean. He directed the New York premiere of Knock Me a Kiss and The Hooch for the New Federal Theatre and the world premiere of Knock Me a Kiss at Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theater, where his other directing credits include Master Harold… and the Boys, Home, Dame Lorraine, and Eden, for which he received a Jeff Award nomination. Regionally, Mr. Smith directed Death and the King’s Horseman (Oregon Shakespeare Festival), Birdie Blue (Seattle Repertory Theatre), The Story (Milwaukee Repertory Theater), Blues for an Alabama Sky (Alabama Shakespeare Festival), and The Last Season (Robey Theatre Company). At Columbia College he was facilitator of the Theodore Ward Prize playwriting contest for 20 years and editor of the contest anthologies Seven Black Plays and Best Black Plays. He won a Chicago Emmy Award as associate producer/theatrical director for the NBC teleplay Crime of Innocence and was theatrical director for the Emmy-winning Fast Break to Glory and the Emmy-nominated The Martin Luther King Suite. He was a founding member of the Chicago Theatre Company, where he served as artistic director for four seasons and directed the Jeff-nominated Suspenders and the Jeff-winning musical Po’. His directing credits include productions at Fisk University, Roosevelt University, Eclipse Theatre, ETA, Black Ensemble Theater, Northlight Theatre, MPAACT, Congo Square Theatre, The New Regal Theater, Kuumba Theatre Company, Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre, Pegasus Players, the Timber Lake Playhouse in Mt. Carroll, Illinois, the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, and the University of Wisconsin in Madison. He is a 2003 inductee into the Chicago State University Gwendolyn Brooks Center’s Literary Hall of Fame and a 2001 Chicago Tribune Chicagoan of the Year. He is the proud recipient of the 1982 Paul Robeson Award and the 1997 Award of Merit presented by the Black Theater Alliance of Chicago.
GRANT SABIN (Scenic Design) is a proud Artistic Affiliate of American Blues Theater. A native of rural Illinois, Grant blends his rural roots with urban art. He’s a recipient of the 2015 Michael Maggio Emerging Designer Award. He’s a graduate of Columbia College with a BFA in theatre design where he was awarded the 2005 Michael Merritt student scholarship for collaboration in theatre design. He is known throughout Chicago for his keen eye in capturing atmospheric detail and his ability to design “impressively executed sets” on a storefront-theater budget. His designs have been seen at Northlight Theatre, Victory Gardens Theater, Steppenwolf Theatre, Next Theatre, The Royal George, Overture Center WI, Theatre Wit, Gallagher Bluedorn IA, American Blues Theater, American Theater Company, Christina Isabelle Dance, The Seldoms Dance, and A Red Orchid. He was nominated for a Joseph Jefferson Award for his design of American Blues’ production of Yankee Tavern, A Red Orchid’s production of The Sea Horse, and Dog & Pony’s production of Mr. Marmalade. He was recently named one of the Top 50 Players in Chicago Theatre by Newcity Magazine. Grant is currently a part-time faculty member at Columbia College.
LILY WALLS (Costume Design) is thrilled to be back working with American Blues Theater, this time for Flyin’ West. A Hoosier from birth, Lily graduated from Indiana University in 2015 with a BA in Theatre Arts and made the jump to the big city last year. Previously, she designed a number of shows in Bloomington, from Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Ivy Tech Student Productions) to the king lear project, a world premiere original pronunciation production. Chicago credits include Akvavit Theatre’s English language premiere of Bad Girls: The Stylists and previous American Blues Theater production Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story. She would like to thank Michael (husband), as well as Bamba and Khoshekh (cats) for their respective support, love, and ankle bites.
JARED GOODING (Lighting Design) is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater where he has designed Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story, This Wonderful Life, Beauty’s Daughter, and The Columnist. His other design credits include the Associate Design of Lookingglass Alice (Lookingglass Theatre Company), serving as the Lighting Assistant for The Wiz Live on NBC, designs for Victory Gardens Theater, Milwaukee Repertory Theater, UIC Theatre, Writers Theatre, Strawdog Theatre, The Hypocrites, TimeLine Theatre, Madison Children’s Theatre, Definition Theatre, Windy City Playhouse, Sideshow Theatre, First Floor Theater, About Face Theatre, MPAACT, Pegasus Theatre, Next Theatre, Congo Square Theatre, Citadel Theatre, ETA, and Fleetwood Jourdain Theatre. He is a company member with MPACCT. He spends his off time managing a DJ company for Chicago area bars. You can find his work at goodingdesigns.com.
RICK SIMS (Sound Design) is a proud Artistic Affiliate with American Blues Theater. He has composed and designed sound for numerous Chicago-area theaters, including Steppenwolf Theatre, Lookingglass Theatre Company, American Blues Theater, Congo Square Theatre, Writers Theatre, Lifeline Theatre, Griffin Theatre, Chicago Children’s Theatre, The Hypocrites, House Theatre of Chicago, Court Theatre, American Theater Company, Victory Gardens Theater, Raven Theatre, Steep Theatre, Northlight Theatre, and About Face Theatre. His additional credits include The Getty, Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, Arden Theatre Company, Playwrights Horizons, Actors Theatre of Louisville, and Portland Playhouse. Rick won Jeff Awards for Sound Design for Moby Dick and Hepheastus (Lookingglass Theatre Company), a Black Theatre Alliance Award for Brothers in the Dust (Congo Square Theatre), and has received several nominations for both awards. Rick also wrote the book, music and lyrics for Hillbilly Antigone at Lookingglass Theatre Company, where he is an Artistic Associate.
KEVIN ROLFS (Properties Design) is a Chicago based scenic and props designer thrilled to be working with American Blues Theater again on another fantastic production after prop designing for Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story. His prop and scenic design work can be seen around town in Zürich (props) at Steep Theater, Junie B. Jones is Not a Crook (scenic) at College of Lake County, and Love’s Labour’s Lost (scenic) at Invictus Theater.
MARCUS CARROLL (Stage Manager) is excited to be doing his first show with American Blues Theater! He is also the Production Stage Manager for Emerald City Theatre. PSM credits include Ken Ludwig’s ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas, Magic Tree House: Showtime With Shakespeare, Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and The Wiz Jr. (Emerald City Theatre). ASM credits: Prowess (Jackalope Theatre) and Alias Grace (Rivendell Theatre Ensemble). SM Intern credits: A Christmas Carol and 2666 (Goodman Theatre). Special thanks to my family, Ball State Department of Theatre & Dance, Shannon, Kathleen, Alden, and Old Joe!
BREANA YOUNG (Assistant Stage Manager) Born and raised in Chicago and its surrounding suburbs where the theater is full of life, Breana has grown to love theater in all of its forms. Since graduating from the University of Illinois at Chicago in the spring of 2017 with a bachelors in Theatre Design, she has since been working in theaters around Chicago and more recently found a home at American Blues. Surely, there will be more to come!
SHANDEE VAUGHAN (Production Manager) is a proud Artistic Affiliate of American Blues Theater and is delighted, as always, to be back in the room with American Blues. Recent Blues credits: Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story, The Columnist, It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!, and Little Shop of Horrors. Other recent Chicago credits include Time Is on Our Side (About Face Theatre), Deathscribe X (WildClaw Theatre), Night in Alachua County (WildClaw Theatre), and The Woman in Black (WildClaw Theatre). Shandee is a freelance stage manager and production manager from Arizona. shandeevaughan.com
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 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 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 Theatres. 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 eight years, nine American Blues’ productions won or were nominated for production by the Joseph Jefferson Award committee. She’s received 14 Joseph Jefferson Awards, Citations, and nominations as an actress and Artistic Director. Her favorite performances include Jeff Award for Solo Performance (Grounded) and seven years as “Mary Bailey” (It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!). She’s the recipient of two 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!
MELISSA ROSE (Managing Director) joined American Blues Theater in June 2018. Previously, she was Associate Managing Director of Yale School of Drama and Assistant Managing Director of Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut. She completed a Management Fellowship at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta and wrote a case study on Milwaukee Repertory Theater that has been taught at College of Charleston and at Yale School of Drama. Prior to moving to New Haven, she was Managing Director of Two Lights Theatre Company and Management Assistant at Court Theatre. She has also worked for Steppenwolf, Silk Road Rising, Provision Theater, and Northern Stage. Melissa received her MFA in Theater Management from Yale School of Drama and her BS in Arts Management and BA in Stage Management from Indiana University.