Among all the artistic expressions created by humanity, the performance of theater plays an important role as a cultural phenomenon everywhere in the world. Theater comes alive in every society around the globe and humans are the only animal species that has created theater to express their history, beliefs, political opinions and every aspect of their day to day life. Theater has helped us understand what is to be humans and the meaning behind that reality.
In Chicago, there is a cultural organization dedicated to creating theater. With more than 27 years, the American Blues Theater has performed as a cultural space in the wind city where individuals have been able to explore their society and themselves as if they were standing in front of a mirror. Yosef Meystel knows that the organization literally plays an important part in the philanthropic scene supporting numerous foundation in the Midwest and at the same time produces theatrical work that aims to engage the audience with different service agencies both locally and nationally. The American Blues Theater’s mission is to strengthen the American ideas and values of freedom, opportunity, and equality in their plays, serving the community with their work.
Artists who belong to the theater come from different age groups and disciplines. They all have helped to establish one of the oldest trained Equity Ensemble Theater in the wind city. The 37 members who compose this particularly talented group count with over 532 combined years of work on stage. They have received multiple awards and award nominations to important prizes like the Pulitzer Prize, Academy Awards, Emmy Awards, Golden Globe Awards and other different honors.
How the Ensemble benefits its community?
First, let’s define what ensemble means: an Ensemble is a theater group formed by individuals who collaborate with each other in order to create a committed and consistent work, developing a body of practices that allows both artists and administrators to be empowered to contribute to the shaping process of their theater and its structure.
The American Blues Theater is an Ensemble that cooperates with work on and off-stage. It supports many nonprofits in Chicago, raising awareness for the most vulnerable communities in the city, donating promotional tickets and raising funds for social causes. Among the institutions supported by the theater, we can find different Public Schools, the Lynn Sage Foundation, PAWS Chicago, the Illinois Farm Bureau and the Greater Chicago Food Depository.
The tether works to develop both classic and new plays and musicals. Sometimes, “pink previews” are donated to the Lynn Sage Foundation, supporting women with breast cancer. Also, at least fifty percent of the theater’s main stage productions are premiers in Chicago and the world, recognized by the Blue Ink Playwriting Award and the Blueprint play development award.
The theater not only supports different foundations, but it is supported itself by donors who believe in the important role it plays helping the community in Chicago. Some of the most important donors are the Actors’ Equity Foundation, Arts Work Fund, Bank One America, Cheiron Trading, The Chicago Community Trust, Citi Private Bank, Google, Illinois Arts Council Agency and The John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
How did all start and what is the Theater doing for its community today?
In 1985, four men – Ed Blatchford, James Leaming, William Payne and Rick Cleveland- who loved theater founded the American Blues Theater. It all started as a theater company dedicated to performing classic and new American plays. It was well accepted by the press and the community and promptly grew into a bigger theater company. In 1993, the company moved to a rented warehouse and in 38 days with the help of more than 90 volunteers, space was transformed into a 134-seat theater that operated thanks to the community and for the community.
Until 2009, the Ensemble was led by diverse Artistic Directors different to the founders. Changing and growing thanks to the hard work of its different members. The different managerial styles and ideas input by a couple leaders allowed the theater to expand in time and also to be dissolved due to creative differences in 2009. Luckily, right after the Ensemble dissolved, it was put back together and reformed, getting an outstanding support and guidance from its founders.
During 2009, Gwendolyn Whiteside started working as the Artistic Director of the theater, leading the Ensemble and adding 28 new Artistic Affiliates, diversifying its base of artists. Mrs. Whiteside is responsible for the creation of the annual Blue Ink Playwriting Award and the Blueprint play development for new work. Also, she included community work into the organization’s mission, designing an arts education program for Public Schools in Chicago, called The Lincoln Project for Chicago Public Schools benefiting more than 1.000 students every year.
To learn more about the amazing part the American Blues Theater plays in Chicago’s philanthropic scene, you can click here.