MPAACT consistently produces a season of outstanding world premiere productions. Through these productions, it exposes audiences to stories seldom told on America's stages. From the story of three immigrant sisters from Ethiopia, to a fifty-somethings musings on life, to the portrait of a young African American man on his first trip to Africa, MPAACT strives to be a company where artists can express and audiences can experience a myriad of realities of Black life.
The Reader 10/24/13
Warm on the Coolin Board
"The city don't want us here," observes Brian, echoing what's perhaps a common sentiment in Roseland, the neighborhood where Shepsu Aakhu's new play is partly set. A parallel story set in the after life suffers from fuzzy plotting, but ultimately offers a powerful articulation of Aakhu's key questions.
- Keith Griffith
MPAACT artists comprise a multi-generational collective of talented members ranging in age from mid 20s to late 50s. Unlike many Chicago area theatre companies, MPAACT is not an acting ensemble. From its inception, MPAACT has included writers, directors, technicians, designers, musicians and actors.
It is important to the collective that MPAACT pull from the disparate cultural elements which unite artists in the Afrikan Diaspora. Drawing from the well that nourished artists such as Wole Soyinka, Charles Mingus, Adrienne Kennedy, Amiri Baraka and Bob Marley, MPAACT creates and performs work, that examines and celebrates many facets of Afrikan theatre.
COMPANY MEMBERS BIOGRAPHIES
Shepsu Aakhu enjoys playwright in residence status with MPAACT. He has developed several critically acclaimed works in MPAACT's Playwright's Lab, among them are: Warm on the Coolin' Board, Speaking in Tonugues/Babel; Ghosts of Atwood; Ten Square; Radical Hearsay; Trouble The Water; Softly Blue; Relevant Hearsay; SOST; Kiwi Black; Kosi Dasa; Fascia; The Glow of Reflected Light; The Abesha Conspiracy; Beneath A Dark Sky; Piece-Meal Clan; and Otherworld Lovers. Shepsu is a two time recipient of the Theodore Ward Prize for African American Playwriting (Ten Square & Kiwi Black). He is the recipient of the 2004 Artistic Fellowship in Scriptworks by the Illinois Arts Council. He is a six time nominee for best Original Stage play (Aldridge Award) by the BTAA of Chicago. Shepsu received the Ira Aldridge Award in 1999 (The Abesha Conspiracy), and 2007 (Trouble The Water). He and the members of MPAACT received The Negro Ensemble Company Award for Best Production for SOST and Trouble the Water. He received a Joseph Jefferson Citation for Best new work Speaking in Tonugues/Babel, and a nomination for best new work for Kiwi Black. Other projects currently in development include the plays Never the Milk and Honey, Port Chicago and A Thousand Negative Confessions and various film and television projects.
Daryl Charisse is a veteran stage manager. She has previously worked with productions for ETA Creative Arts Foundation, Pride Production Company, Price Elementary School. Ms. Charisse is also an actress having performed on many Chicago stages for almost two decades. You probably have seen her memorable performances at ETA, Live Bait Theatre, and Theater-on-the-Lake to name a few. Her MPAACT acting credits include Within the Dream, Fascia, Divine Order of Becoming, Stage Black, Ten Square and her Black Theater Alliance Award nomination for Best Actress in Relevant Hearsay, Stories from 57.
Marie Cisco a director and MPAACT's Marketing Director. She was born in Atlanta, GA and is a 2010 graduate of the Theatre School at DePaul University, where she received her BFA in Theatre Arts. Her directing credits include: Warm ont Coolin' Board, Reality Check, Blackademics, which was named Best Fringe Theatre of 2012 by The Chicago Tribune, Wilson/Brustein Debate (Oakton College) and Baseball Music: The Sweetest Sound. Assistant Directing credits include Next Theatre’s Production Luck of the Irish. She has been blessed with the opportunity to share art with youth as a teaching artist for MPAACT, After School Matters, Changing Worlds, and an assistant teaching artist for Steppenwolf. Marie is currently pursuing her MA in Interdisciplinary Arts at Columbia College Chicago Daryl Charisse is a veteran stage manager. She has previously worked with productions for ETA Creative Arts Foundation, Pride Production Company, Price Elementary School. Ms. Charisse is also an actress having performed on many Chicago stages for almost two decades. You probably have seen her memorable performances at ETA, Live Bait Theatre, and Theater-on-the-Lake to name a few. Her MPAACT acting credits include Within the Dream, Fascia, Divine Order of Becoming, Stage Black, Ten Square and her Black Theater Alliance Award nomination for Best Actress in Relevant Hearsay, Stories from 57.
Evelyn Danner is a proud member of MPAACT. In her capacity as our costume designer she has worked on When good Broccoli Goes Bad, Blackademics, Bodies, and Sweet Home. Ms. Danner is also an independent freelance textile artist and wardrobe professional.
Brittany Davis has been acting in Chicago for over ten years. A graduate of The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and an Evanston, Illinois native, Brittany is also a teaching artist in Chicago Public Schools for MPAACT
Leonard House (Literary Manager) is an accomplished actor, and film producer. Currently splitting his time as MPAACT's literary Manager and various film projects Leonard is always looking for a good story
Terry Francois is a proud company member of MPAACT. Born in Miami Fl his recent credits include Reality Check, Leaves Trees Forest (MPAACT), One Name Only and The Marvin Gaye Story (Black Ensemble), Sweet Home and Last Saint On Sugar Hill (MPAACT). Terry is the current Associate Producer for Solo Jams
Jared Gooding (Lighting Design) is a graduate of The Theatre School at DePaul University with a degree in Lighting Design. A native of Houston Texas his recent design credits include MPAACT's Warm on the Coolin' Board, Blackademics and Reality Check, the upcoming Luck of the Irish (Next Theatre), How We Got On (Citadel Theatre), For Colored Girls, Woza Albert, and Going to St. Ives (Fleetwood Jourdain), Florence, Wine in the Wilderness, and Ceremonies in Dark Old Men (ETA), Barrio Grrrl , A Lie of the Mind, and The Ernie Play (The Theatre School). Jared was assistant light designer on Whipping Man (Northlight Theatre) and Jitney (Court Theatre), as well as serving as the assistant master electrician on Proof (Court Theatre). Jared is one of MPAACT's newest company members and also serves as the technical director for the Solo Jams series. He also teaches with his fellow artists at South Shore High School . He spends his free time freelancing as a carpenter around Chicago as well as DJ'ing on the weekends in area bars.
Eddie Jordan III received his BFA from DePaul University's Theater School. Currently splitting time between Chicago and Los Angeles Eddie is a teaching artist with MPAACT, and C.A.P.E (Chicago Arts Partnership In Education). His MPAACT credits include: Reality Check, Tad in 5th City, Ten Square, No Experience Necessary, Blaxpliotation, and Blaxpliotation 2. Other Chicago credits include: Sandoval (Road To Sandoval Productions), 365 Days (Writers Theatre), Fear of A Hood (Sansculottes Theatre), The Swan (Athenaeum Theatre).
Sidney Miller is an actor and filmaker. A graduate of Columbia College, with a B.A. in Theater/Music. Sidney has been seen on the stages of many theaters in Chicago including; Black Ensemble, ETA (Robert Johnson Tricked The Devil) which she received the Black Excellence Best Actress Award. Her MPAACt credits include Speaking in Tongues/Babel, Bodies, and Tad in 5th City.
Tamberla Perry is a actor and Chicago native. She has appeared at the Goodman as Vera Stark in By the Way, Meet Vera Stark and as Susan in David Mamet’s Race (Black Theatre Alliance Award for Best Actress). Other Chicago credits include Bulrusher at Congo Square Theatre Company; In the Next Room or the vibrator play at Victory Gardens Theater; Eclipsed at Northlight Theatre; The North Plan and The Brother/Sister Plays at Steppenwolf Theatre Company (Black Theatre Alliance and Jeff awards for Best Ensemble); Fedra: Queen of Haiti and Black Diamond at Lookingglass Theatre Company; The Overwhelming at Next Theatre Company and She Calls Up the Sun and Blaxploitation 1 and 2 (Black Theatre Alliance Award for Best Actress) at MPAACT. Regional credits include Bus Stop at Madison Repertory Theatre, Icarus with Lookingglass Theatre Company at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles and The Piano Lesson at Portland Stage Company. On film, Mrs. Perry has appeared in Tapioca, Puzzled Love and Chasing Robert, and her television appearances include Boss, Chicago Fire and as the Illinois Lottery hostess on WGN-TV.
Carla Stillwell Managing Producer/Director of Development in addition serves as a resident Playwright and Director with MPAACT. Her playwriting credits include; Carl...In Search of My Silky Underthings (2000), Defending Myself (2003), The Divine Order of Becoming (2005 nominated for Joseph Jefferson Award/BTA Award), the Blaxploitation series (4 BTA Awards) with co-writers Douglas & Craig-Galvan (2005 and 2007), the adapted work of poet Orron Kenyatta, Tad in 5th City (2010 Joseph Jefferson Nominated). Tad... which Carla also directed was featured in the August Wilson Reading Round Table Series (August Wilson Center) and was noted in the "Top 25 Plays of 2010" (Chicago Theatre Blog). Her new one woman show, Carla Stillwell - Your Love is Like Hot Fried Chicken, debuted in MPAACT's Solo Jams on June 9, 2012. Ms. Stillwell has been a performer for three decades. Her company credits include; Afrosynthesis, Piece Meal Clan, The Inside, Beneath A Dark Sky (1998), Within the Dream, Exoskeletal Blues which featured her one woman show Carl...In Search of My Silky Underthings, Kosi Dasa and Relevant Hearsay...Stories from 57, Beneath a Dark Sky (2008) and received the BTA Award for Best Lead Actress for her work in Radical Hearsay (2009). Ms. Stillwell's directorial credits include; She Calls up the Sun (2008), No Experience Necessary (2008), The Last Saint on Sugar Hill (2010), and Leaves Trees Forest (2013). . Ms. Stillwell is also a teaching artist for MPAACT
André Teamer (Day) is a vetern actor as well as MPAACT resident Property Master. His MPAACT acting credits include: Warm on the Coolin' Board, The Glow of Reflected Light, Fascia, Vital Signs, Kosi-Dasa, Kiwi Black (touring), Notes From The BottleTree, Trouble the Water, Ten Square, First Words (BTAA nom), Tad in Fifth City, BODIES(BTAA nom AAAA nom), and Speaking in Tongues: The Chronicle of Babel. Other Chicago credits include: American Storm (Theatre Seven) Jitney, Wait Until Dark (Court); WELL (Next); Weekend and Martin Fuery’s Shot (TimeLine); Hope VI (Chicago Dramatists); The Upper Room(BTAA nom),Two Trains Running, Pantomime (Jeff Cit. Nom.), Black Caesar (Pegasus Players), and Bud, Not Buddy (Chicago Children’s Theatre). As always, Andre’ thanks his Wife, Shaunese Teamer for her unconditional love and support, and understanding as he works his way through this crazy business called, show.
Demetria Thomas earned her Bachelor's degree in Theatre from Grand Valley State Univ. in Grand Rapids, MI. After completing a turn as a Journeyman at The Warehouse Theatre in Greenville, SC, Demetria relocated to Chicago to continue her career. Her Chicago credits include Clara" in Speaking in Tongues/Babel (MPAACT) “Tawanda” in Love Child (Live Bait), "Cass” in Burying the Bones (Stage Left), and “Erica” in The Divine Order of Becoming (MPAACT ), for which she received a Joseph Jefferson Citation for Best Actress. Regional credits: “Mrs. Muller” in Doubt (New Stage), Medea (Warehouse), “Mistress Ford” in Merry Wives of Windsor and “Phoebe” in As You Like It (IL Shakespeare Fest), Helena in Midsummer Nights Dream (Pennsylvania Shakespeare Fest). Demetria earned her MFA in Theater at the Univ. of Houston, where she played Thea in Hedda Gabler and Marquise de Merteuil in Les Liaisons Dangereuses.
RESIDENT ARTISTS BIOGRAPHIES
Casey Diers Recent MPAACT lighting design credits include Leaves, Trees, Forest, Speaking in Tongues [BTA Award – Best Lighting Design], Ghosts of Atwood [BTA Award – Best Lighting Design], Zulu Fitz, Tad in the 5th City [BTA Award Nomination], First Words, and Ten Square. Other recent Chicago lighting design credits include Stones in His Pockets (Northlight Theatre) and relighting Outgoing Tide (Northlight Theatre) at the Galway Arts Festival in Galway, Ireland, Brothers of the Dust (Congo Square Theatre), Boojum (Caffeine Theatre), Pretty Ballet (Joffrey Ballet), and What Once We Felt (About Face Theatre); associate lighting designer for The Farnsworth Invention (Timeline); and assistant lighting designer for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary Concerts (Madison Square Garden), Kafka on the Shore (Steppenwolf) and Kafka Fragments (Lincoln Center, Inc). For more information visit: www.CaseyDiers.com
Lisa Johnson-Willingham, born in Washington, DC, is a graduate of the Duke Ellington School of the
Arts and received a B.F.A. from The University of the Arts in Philadelphia. She was a member of Alvin
Ailey American Dance Theater for six years, 1993-1999. Ms. Johnson-Willingham also danced with Cleo
Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble, New World Dance Company, Donald Byrd/The Group, Joel Hall
Dance Company, Deeply Rooted Productions, Cerqua/Rivera Art Experience, Nucleus Dance Collective,
and Complexions. As a choreographer, she has set pieces on such dance companies as Alvin Ailey
American Dance Theater, Joel Hall Dance Company, Cerqua/Rivera Art Experience, Melissa Thodos and
Dancers, One World Dance Theater and Hubbard Street II. Her leadership experience in the arts includes
a decade-long position as Director of AileyCamp Chicago, working as Director of dance programs at the
Dance Conservatory of Chicago High School for the Arts and Whitney Young Magnet High School, and
teaching at Columbia College, Olive Harvey College, and Joffrey Academy of Dance.
With MPAACT Lisa has Choreographed award winning work with Trouble the Water, and Ghosts of Atwood.
Deidre Searcy (Media Artist) is a Chicago based media artist who works in the mediums of film, video, and theater. Deidre has worked with MPAACT as a writer, director and media artist on Speaking in Tongues/Babel, Zulu Fits, First Words, No Experience Necessary, Trouble the Water, The Inside, Within the Dream and The Abesha Conspiracy. It is always a thrill to venture in to new creative territory and a pleasure to work with artists who inspire and illuminate. Thanks to Dr. J and LTN for their love and support.
Chuck Smith is a resident Director with MPAACT, Goodman Theatre’s Resident Director and an associate producer of Legacy Productions, a Chicago-based touring company. His Goodman credits include the Chicago premieres of 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; Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun; Pearl Cleage’s Blues for an Alabama Sky; August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom; the Fats Waller musical 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 world-premiere production of August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean at the Goodman. 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 with the late Esther Rolle and Eden, for which he received a Jeff Award nomination for best direction. Regionally, Mr. Smith directed Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Birdie Blue at Seattle Repertory Theatre, The Story at Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Blues for an Alabama Sky at Alabama Shakespeare Festival and The Last Season for The Robey Theatre Company in Los Angeles. 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 Award-winning Fast Break to Glory and the Emmy Award-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 Award-nominated Suspenders and the Jeff Award-winning musical Po’. His directing credits include productions at ETA; Black Ensemble Theater; Northlight Theatre; MPAACT; Congo Square Theatre Company; The New Regal Theater; Kuumba Theatre Company; Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre; Pegasus Players; the Timber Lake Playhouse in Mt. Carroll, Illinois; the Black Theatre Troupe in Phoenix, Arizona; 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. He is currently a board member of the African American Arts Alliance of Chicago.
Jessica Kuehnau Wardell is a freelance Scenic and Costume Designer in Chicago. As artistic associate with MPAACT, her most recent designs include sets for Warm on the Coolin’ Board, Babel- Speaking in Tongues (BTAA winner for Best Set Design) and Ten Square. Chicago credits include Rivendell Theatre (Jeff recommended These Shining Lives), Griffin Theate (Jeff recommended Company, Journey’s End), Steep Theatre, A Red Orchid, Adventure Stage Chicago, The Building Stage, Pegasus Players, Lifeline Theatre, Circle Theatre and Metropolis Performing Arts Center. Jessica earned her MFA from Northwestern University, and is currently the Director of Design for the Theatre and Performance Studies Program at University of Chicago. jesskdesign.com.
Sharlet Webb is a costumer designer who has designed many shows for MPAACT. Her MPAACT credits' include Tad in 5th City, Milk (Revival 2008) and Kosi Dasa.
2014 Without Trace
2013 Reality Check
2013 Leaves Trees Forest
2012 Sweet Home
2011 Ghosts of Atwood
2010 Zulu Fits
2010 Tad in 5th City
2010 First Words
2009 Ten Square
2009 Radical Hearsay...
2009 Stage Black
2007 MiLK - Revival
2007 Trouble the Wate
2007 Blaxploitation 2...
2006 Panther Burn
2006 Softly Blue
2004 Relevant Hearsay...
2003 Kiwi Black
2002 She Calls up the Sun
2002 Defending Myself
2002 Kosi Dasa
2001 Urban Griot Project
2000 Chris T
2000 Exoskeletal Blues
1999 Within the Dream
1998 Beneath A Dark Sky
1998 The Inside
1998 The Empire Festival
1997 Piece-Meal Clan
1996 A Kwanzaa Carol
1996 Otherworld Lovers
1996 From Funk 2 Fusion