Profession: Producer and dramaturg
Hometown: Dowagiac, Mich.
Current home: Chicago
Known for: Currently the associate producer at Chicago Shakespeare Theater (CST). Formerly associate producer at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center across all programs, and junior agent in the literary division of Bret Adams, Ltd., representing playwrights. She’s been a reader for various new play and musical organizations, and this past year she also presented on work-life balance at the Humana Festival.
What’s next: Romeo & Juliet, directed by Barbara Gaines, and Q Brothers Christmas Carol, both at CST through Dec. 22; and working with the CST education department on the annual Shakespeare SLAM, a high school slam-style competition. Outside of CST, she’s producing the University of Michigan BFA Acting Showcase in Chicago.
What makes her special: “Aislinn is a phenomenal dramaturg and producer, because when she’s involved with a project, she is first and foremost invested in the story being told and the people telling it,” says Ramona Rose King, dramaturg and producer of HowlRound. “Her analytical and organizational skills are impressive, but it’s the care she brings to her relationships with artists and colleagues that really makes her special.”
Rural to regional: “I believe in reinforcing the regional focus of regional theatre,” Frantz says. “As someone who grew up in a rural community with access to the arts, I know how important it can be. I come from a family of high school English teachers and thought I was the black sheep to have chosen thea-tre—until I realized I learned how to operate an arts organization from my kitchen table. My father ran a community arts festival, and with this informal education, I began to see how naturally I came to this work.”
Profession: Director and producer
Hometown: Wilmington, Ohio
Current home: Chicago
Known for: Estle is now in his second full season as artistic director of Raven Theatre, after an inaugural season that saw the theatre take home four Jeff Awards. Personal directing highlights include the Chicago premieres of Five Mile Lake by Rachel Bonds at Shattered Globe Theatre, By the Water by Sharyn Rothstein at Northlight Theatre, and the world premiere of Philip Dawkins’s The Gentleman Caller at Raven, which won the 2019 Jeff Award for Best New Play and has gone on to have productions Off-Broadway and in San Francisco.
What’s next: He’s directing the Chicago premiere of Sundown, Yellow Moon by Rachel Bonds, at Raven through Nov. 17. Next at Raven: the world premiere of Eli Newell’s Cold Town/Hotline.
What makes him special: “Cody has assisted me on at least seven shows, and he has an invaluable and keen eye,” says Northlight Theatre artistic director BJ Jones. “His work ethic is rigorous, and he has a sharp sense of the audience he is making theatre for. He runs a room that is inclusive as well as supportive and fun.”
Unplug, tune in: “I enjoy telling stories onstage that reflect our everyday lives,” says Estle. “It excites me that theatre has the power to help us better understand our lives and the world in which we live. Theatre remains one of the few places where we can unplug from the world and be swept away by the power of storytelling. This power of theatre encourages and inspires me to make plays.”
Jasmine Henri Jordan
Profession: Performer, writer, teaching artist, occasional curator
Hometown: Melbourne, Fla.
Current home: Chicago
Known for: Currently an ensemble member of the Neo-Futurists, Jordan regularly performs in the theatre’s late night show, The Infinite Wrench, which comprises 30 ever-changing plays in 60 minutes, all written from the ensemble’s own lives. She’s also an ensemble member of Barrel of Monkeys and is part of their show That’s Weird, Grandma, which collects short plays adapted from stories written by Chicago Public School students. And she creates performances with a collective called Hot Kitchen.
What’s next: The Infinite Wrench at the Neo-Futurists for the next few months, and That’s Weird, Grandma in January.
What makes her special: “Jasmine fully embodies the notion of radical empathy,” says playwright Lucas Baisch. “She is one of the most thoughtful art practitioners I know, in the content and quality of her work as well as in her community reach. She’s injected Chicago theatre with a necessary dose of weird, while understanding and championing the civic potential of the field.”
In the now: Says Jordan, “My favorite kind of work is present and of the moment. My favorite kind of work has an expiration date and makes me feel lucky to live in 2019 when a lot of other things about this world don’t.” She’s eager to make new converts to the theatre—and to make theatre change too. As she puts it: “I do this for the person who has not seen themselves onstage.”
Profession: Actor, director, teaching artist
Hometown: Born in Cartagena, Colombia, raised in Chicago
Current home: Chicago
Known for: As co-artistic and managing director of Aguijón Theater, Chicago’s longest-running Latinx theatre company, Muñoz is deeply committed to fostering and championing the work of Latinx artists, particularly those working in Spanish, and exploring the cultural diversity within the community.
What’s next: She’s directing Nilo Cruz’s most recent work, Exquisita Agonía, as the first production of Aguijón Theater’s 2019-20 season, presented as part of the Third Destinos Chicago International Latino Theater Festival produced by the Chicago Latino Theater Alliance, through Nov. 24.
What makes her special: “My first experience as a playwright was with Marcela leading as director in my play Blowout,” recalls Guadalís Del Carmen. “Marcela’s brilliant direction and collaborative spirit made that experience wonderful and lit the fire in me to keep writing. She’s also one of the calmest people I’ve ever seen in a room. I think she has been secretly building a bunker so when the world goes up in flames, she can calmly grab her survival bag and make her way to her hideout.”
One for all: Muñoz says she “came into the world of theatre very naturally.” Indeed, Aguijón’s founder, Rosario Vargas, is her mother, which means that Muñoz never had “the awkward conversation or the fight to explain to my family that theatre can be a viable option professionally. That was my mother’s fight. She paved that road for me. It’s a privilege that I am very well aware is not afforded to everyone, especially if you don’t come from a family of means. This awareness leads my passion to ensure that theatre remains accessible to all communities and youth, regardless of cultural or socioeconomic background.”
Profession: Lighting designer
Hometown: Falls Church, Va.; San Francisco; and Sugar Land, Texas
Current home: Chicago, “the hometown I’ve always been looking for”
Known for: He’s collaborated with fellow A Red Orchid Theatre ensemble member Dado, including Simpatico with Michael Shannon at McCarter Theatre Center in New Jersey. He also did lights for director David Cromer’s Come Back, Little Sheba at Huntington Theatre Company. He counts the Hyprocrites’ Adding Machine: A Musical as a favorite show he’s worked on, and has “fond memories of doing beautifully intimate plays” at Black Dahlia Theatre in Los Angeles.
What’s next: A new play, Grey House, at A Red Orchid and then Santaland Diaries at Goodman Theatre. In the spring, he’ll light Do You Feel Anger? at A Red Orchid and Great Kills with Red Dog Squadron in L.A.
What makes him special: “Durst is the director’s biggest ally,” says Kirsten Fitzgerald, artistic director at A Red Orchid. “He digs in conceptually and deepens every process. Understanding that light tells a story and has a journey, he uses everything at the room’s disposal to make it: uncanny things, tops of tables, putting lights inside birdcages, things like that. It’s a lot like working with a sculptor.”
Art for art’s sake: Durst sees beyond the lighting grid, saying, “I’m here for the people that make this art and doing my part as an artist to help tell the stories. I’m always looking for projects that are pushing the art form of theatre and making us reexamine everything.”
Profession: Writer, actor, producer, artist-in-residence at Loyola University Chicago
Hometown: Chicago-born, Colombian blood
Current home: Chicago
Known for: Most recently she wrote and starred in the play La Havana Madrid at the Goodman Theatre, played Jocasta in Luis Alfaro’s Oedipus El Rey at the Public Theater, and appeared as Yolanda in La Ruta at Steppenwolf Theatre Company.
What’s next: Her co-adaptation of A Doll’s House (with Michael Halberstam) runs at Writers Theatre through Dec. 15. She’s also developing an interactive neighborhood experience at Goodman Theatre with Sojourn Theatre Company titled (the) FAIR, which will be part of the Goodman’s New Stages Festival (through Nov. 10).
What makes her special: “Sandra has evolved from an actor to a writer and is one of the most important voices in Chicago theatre,” says Anthony Moseley, artistic director of Collaboraction Theatre Company. “She has been able to combine her poetic language with her inclusive spirit to represent the Latinx Chicago.”
What matters most: “The Latina woman is the lowest paid wage worker in this country,” Delgado notes. “There is a connection between this inequity and the relative scarcity and recognition of Latina leaders in the American theatre.The fact that La Havana Madrid has had multiple productions, that I have a commission from a regional theatre—these are tiny miracles. What matters most to me is for Latinx people to see themselves, and for others to see Latinx people and our history with new eyes. At the first preview of my play at the Goodman Theatre, the entire main floor erupted into a dance floor of Black, white, brown, young, and old. I had to hold back my tears.”