JOE FOUST (Solo Performer) is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater, where he has appeared in Side Man and choreographed many fights. Chicago acting credits include Measure for Measure, A Christmas Carol, The Beard of Avon (Goodman Theatre); What the Butler Saw, Endgame (Court Theatre); Mother Courage and Her Children (Steppenwolf Theatre); Kabuki Medea (Wisdom Bridge Theatre); The Seagull, Major Barbara (Remy Bumppo Theatre Company); Accidental Death of an Anarchist (Next Theatre); Spin, Santaland Diaries, The Watson Intelligence (Theater Wit); All Childish Things, Women in Jeopardy, Jeeves at Sea, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Laughter on the 23rd Floor, Unnecessary Farce, Making God Laugh, The Woman in Black (First Folio Theatre); fourteen productions with Chicago Shakespeare Theater, where favorites include The Winter’s Tale, Hamlet, Timon of Athens, Twelfth Night, and Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2; and three seasons with Oak Park Festival Theatre. Regional credits include playing “Hamlet” at Nevermore Theatre; The 39 Steps, Around the World in 80 Days (Cleveland Play House); five productions with Milwaukee Shakespeare; Kabuki Achilles (People’s Light and Theatre Company); The Winter’s Tale (Missouri Rep); Romeo and Juliet (River Styx, London); and nineteen seasons acting, writing and directing with Peninsula Players. Joe is a founding member of Defiant Theatre, where credits include directing and co-writing Action Movie: The Play and Ubu Raw. TV and film credits include Normal (HBO), Early Edition (CBS), Cupid (ABC), Parks and Recreation, Chicago Fire (NBC), and Proven Innocent (FOX).

JAMES LECESNE (Playwright) wrote the short film Trevor, which won the 1995 Academy Award for Best Live Action Short and inspired the founding of The Trevor Project, the only nationwide 24-hour suicide prevention and crisis intervention lifeline for LGBTQ. He has created several solo shows, including Word of Mouth (Drama Desk, Outer Critic Circle Awards) and The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey (Outer Critics Circle Award). The New York Times has ranked him among “the most talented solo performers of his (or any) generation.” He starred in Extraordinary Measures, written and directed by Eve Ensler; written three novels for young adults; and created The Letter Q, a collection of letters by Queer writers to their younger selves. Lecesne was the executive producer of After the Storm, a feature length documentary film about 12 young people living in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. He was a writer for Will & Grace, a story consultant for the UK TV show Vicious, and he adapted Armistead Maupin’s Further Tales of the City for Showtime (Emmy nomination). An actor as well as a writer, he has appeared on and Off Broadway in The Best Man, Cloud 9, and the 30th anniversary production of Boys in the Band.

KURT JOHNS (Director) A 20-year Manhattan resident, Kurt had a great performing career in Chicago, in Regionals, Broadway, and National Tours before repatriating to Chicago to concentrate on writing/directing. Kurt was producer at the Apple Tree Theatre and taught at CCPA before co-founding SoloChicago Theatre, whose production of Churchill was a runaway Chicago hit before moving to NYC to play 6 months at New World Stages. Kurt directed SoloChicago’s critically acclaimed The Unfortunates starring Gail Rastorfer. He’s also directed for Apple Tree Theatre, The Auditorium Theatre, Light Opera Works, and Chicago College of Performing Arts. His latest Project, Hello Kitty Must Die (, co-authored with Gail Rastorfer, has received successful public readings in Chicago, LA, and a recent industry reading in NYC sponsored by Davenport Theatricals. Kurt is happy to be working with American Blues, and thanks Wendy and American Blues for the opportunity. Kurt has a “side hustle” of producing promotional videos for theaters such as Milwaukee Rep. Read more at

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,  Theater 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.

JARED GOODING (Lighting Design) is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater. His design credits include designs for American Blues Theater, Writers Theatre, Milwaukee Rep, Victory Gardens Theater, TimeLine Theatre, Madison Children’s Theater, UIC Theatre, Strawdog Theatre, The Hypocrites, Definition Theatre, Windy City Playhouse, Sideshow Theatre, First Floor Theater, About Face Theatre, MPAACT, Pegasus Theatre, Next Theatre, Congo Square, Citadel Theatre, ETA, Fleetwood Jourdain Theatre, and serving as the Lighting Assistant for The Wiz Live on NBC, along with Associate Designing for Lookingglass Theatre’s tour of Lookingglass Alice. 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

TRAVIS BIHN (Costume Design) is thrilled to be welcomed back to American Blues Theater after previously working on Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story. Other companies he has been grateful enough to work with in the city include Emerald City Theatre (Corduroy, Fantastic Mr. Fox) and Chicago Theatre Workshop (Disaster!). Travis is a 2016 Graduate from The Ohio State University with dual degrees in Theatre and Psychology. He would be nowhere without his family and thanks them for all their love and support.

ERIC BACKUS (Sound Design / Composer) is a proud Artistic Affiliate of American Blues Theater. His work was most recently heard in Beauty’s Daughter, and he previously worked on Blues’ award winning productions of Hank Williams: Lost Highway and Grounded. Regional credits include Mark Twain’s River of Song and The All Night Strut (Milwaukee Rep) and Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley (TheatreSquared). Recent Chicago credits include This Bitter Earth, Bull in a China Shop (About Face Theatre); Becky Shaw, Apartment 3A (Windy City Playhouse); Nice Girl, The Assembled Parties (Raven Theatre); Anna Karenina, and A Wrinkle in Time (Lifeline Theatre). Eric also designed the Off-Broadway, Chicago, and touring productions of SoloChicago Theatre’s Churchill, and the Chicago and LA productions of Thrones! A Musical Parody. To hear more of his music, please visit

KEVIN ROLFS (Properties Design) is a Chicago based scenic and props designer happy to be back working with American Blues again after prop designing Flyin’ West this season. A 2017 graduate of Columbia College Chicago, his design work was mostly recently seen in Invictus Theatre’s Love’s Labour’s Lost (scenic), Bring It On: The Musical for Chicago High School for the Arts (scenic), and last season’s Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story (props).

“MAX” MAXIN IV (Projections Design) is excited to be working with American Blues Theater for the first time! Max is a two-time Jeff Nominated Freelance Production Designer in Chicago, a full-time instructor at Northeastern Illinois University, and is one of the co-founders of Another Door Theatre Project. Since moving to Chicago in 2012, Max has created over 70 designs in more than 50 professional productions in or around the city, and spent two summers working as the touring lighting designer for La Musica Lirica in Novafeltria, Italy. He holds an MFA in Theatrical Production Design from Michigan State University. Favorite Chicago Area credits: Bright Star, 110 in the Shade, Cyrano (Jeff Nomination – Lighting), Urinetown (Jeff Nomination – Lighting), Three Days of RainNext to Normal (BoHo Theatre); Pippin, Avenue Q (Mercury Theater); Miracle on 34th Street, Forever Plaid (Theatre at the Center);Spelling Bee, Little Women, Cabaret, Bare(Another Door Theatre Project); and The View Upstairs (Circle Theatre).

SHANDEE VAUGHAN (Production Manager / Stage Manager) is a proud Artistic Affiliate of American Blues Theater and serves as Production Manager. She is excited to be working alongside her Blues family for The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey! Blues credits: On Clover Road, It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! (2016 & 2018), Flyin’ West, Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story, The Columnist, 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 & production manager from Arizona.

MANNY BUCKLEY (Assistant Director) is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater. He is an actor/writer/director based in Chicago. Directing credits include multiple short plays in the Ripped: The Living Newspaper Festival and The One Minute Play Festival. Acting credits include work with Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Steppenwolf Theatre, Goodman Theatre, Court Theatre, Victory Gardens Theater, Chicago Dramatists, Next Theatre, House Theatre, Shattered Globe Theatre, Cincinnati Children’s Theatre, and Studio Theatre. Manny has numerous credits with American Blues Theater, including his critically-acclaimed, award-winning solo performance in Looking Over the President’s Shoulder. Film credits: Proven Innocent, Chicago Fire, Chicago PD, The US Navy, Northwestern University, and The Onion. He has received nominations for the Joseph Jefferson Award, the Helen Hayes Award, and the 3Arts Award; he is the recipient of both a Black Theater Alliance Award and Black Excellence Award. Manny is represented by DeSanti Talent in Chicago, and is a proud member of Actor’s Equity, SAG-AFTRA, and the Dramatist’s Guild. Mr. Buckley is currently developing an original solo show about Frederick Douglass here at American Blues.

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 30 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 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), seven years as “Mary Bailey” (It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!), and “Kate” in On Clover Road. She’s the recipient of two After Dark Awards and numerous Broadway World Chicago Awards and nominations.

Share This
Skip to content