To establish American Blues Theater as the nation’s leading intimate theater that connects art as service.


American Blues Theater is an Ensemble of artists committed to producing new and classic diverse stories that ask the question: “What does it mean to be American?”


American Blues  acts on our values –
Accountability  –  we hold ourselves and each other responsible to do the right thing.
Courage  –  we have a fearless mindset and find strength in persevering.
Teamwork  –  we invest in collaboration and the success of others.
Service  –  we believe it’s an honor and duty to help the community.


Winner of the prestigious National Theatre Company Award from American Theatre Wing (Tony Awards), American Blues Theater is a non-profit arts organization that produces high-quality productions with a focus on stories that are relevant, timeless, and inclusive to the American spirit.

American Blues Theater is committed to developing new work as more than half of the productions are world and Chicago premieres. Play development programs include the nationally-recognized Blue Ink Award, commissions, readings, and the 16th annual Ripped Festival of short plays.

American Blues Theater believes in teamwork both on and off-stage. A leader in community engagement for decades, the theater matches each play’s themes with other non-profits’ missions to raise awareness.

In addition to producing plays, American Blues Theater offers a range of free services, including continuing education programs, writing instruction and matinees for Chicago Public Schools, dramaturgical materials, and post-show discussions to widen access in the community.

American Blues Theater and its artists have earned 233 Joseph Jefferson Awards and nominations, 44 Black Theater Alliance Awards, and numerous industry accolades, including nomination and awards for the Pulitzer Prize, Academy Awards, Tony Awards, Golden Globes Awards, Emmy Awards, and more.


An Ensemble theater is a group of individuals dedicated to collaborative creation and committed to consistently working together over years to develop a distinctive body of work and practices. Ensemble members, both artists and administrators, are empowered to help shape their theater’s artistic direction and organizational structure.


American Blues Theater was founded in July 1985 by a director, playwright, actor, and designer. The company dedicated itself to new and classic American plays. Richard Christiansen of the Chicago Tribune cited American Blues as one of three companies in his editorial “Chicago Theater Forges New Standards of Glory.” In August of 1993, the company leased a warehouse on Byron and Lincoln. In 38 days, James Leaming led a community-based 90+ volunteer crew to transform the space into an intimate 134-seat theater. Between 1985-1996, numerous Ensemble members served as executive artistic leadership (including William Payne, Carmen Roman, and Andrea J. Dymond) and produced 16 plays and several festivals.

From 1997-2009, the company was led by artistic directors from outside of the Ensemble. Under the leadership of Brian Russell (1997-2002) and Damon Kiely (2002-2007), the theater’s name changed to American Theater Company (ATC), the mission statement was revised, and the business expanded. In 2008, under new management, the Ensemble theater practice was dismantled. After 18 months of talks with new management, all four Founders and every Ensemble member prior to 2008 left the ATC organization in March 2009 citing major administrative differences.

In March 2009, the Ensemble immediately reorganized under its original name American Blues Theater. Ensemble member Gwendolyn Whiteside became the Artistic Director in 2010. Under her leadership, American Blues has nearly doubled the size of its Ensemble, added Artistic Affiliates, and diversified its base of artists. She created the nationally-recognized annual Blue Ink Award; implemented community service into the company’s mission; and adapted the arts education program in Chicago Public Schools serving nearly 4,000 students annually. During her tenure, she secured the first endowment, first reserve fund, and first permanent artistic home in the company’s history.



“Feels like home!”

The Wall Street Journal

“One of our favorites in Chicago!”


“Ensemble founded one of Chicago’s most venerable off-Loop theaters.”

Chicago Tribune

“Ball don’t lie.”

time, in general

“Everything that is so remarkable, so rich and treasurable about Chicago’s storefront theater scene is embodied in American Blues Theater.”

Chicago on the Aisle

“A tribute to the liberating power art has in people’s lives.”

Picture This Post

“The entire troupe’s talent is matched by its generosity!”

The Lynn Sage Foundation


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