The Columbia College Chicago Theatre Department‘s blog “The Green Room” has chronicled the professional activities of our talented and accomplished alumni, faculty, and students over the past year. We covered news as it poured in not only from Chicago but from New York, Hollywood, around the U.S., and overseas. As we head off for our holiday break, here’s a sampling of some of the notable Columbia College Theatre Department Success Stories of 2016:
Alumna Courtney Mack ’15 won the 2016 Joseph Jefferson Award (Chicago’s top theatrical prize) for Actress in a Principal Role in a Musical for her lead performance in the Chicago premiere of Heathers. Mack was also highlighted as one of the “Hot New Faces of Chicago Theatre 2016” by the Chicago Tribune.
Alumna Joanie Schultz ’00 was named Artistic Director of WaterTower Theatre in Addison, Texas, one of the leading theatres in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. This appointment, announced December 15, capped a year in which Schultz directed two world premieres at leading Chicago theatres, Bruise Easy at the American Theatre Company and Cocked at Victory Gardens Theatre, where Schultz also served as Associate Artistic Producer. Schultz was also named one of Chicago theatre’s top artists by Newcity newspaper in its “Players 2016: The Fifty People Who Really Perform for Chicago” feature, published January 14.
Alumna Dana Dajani ’10 was listed as one of the 2016 Women of the Year by Emirates Woman, a leading women’s lifestyle magazine published in the United Arab Emirates, where the Palestinian-born Dajani lives. Dajani was named Woman of the Year 2016 in the “Artists” category for her work as an actor, writer, producer, and humanitarian activist.
Alumnus Chester Gregory ’95, HDR ’15 starred as Motown Records founder Berry Gordy in the Broadway musical Motown the Musical. Gregory starred in the show both on Broadway and on a national tour (which resumes right after New Year’s). Gregory also dropped by the Columbia College Chicago Music Center in November to lead a master class with Musical Theatre and Vocal Performance students of singing teacher Bobbi Wilsyn, in an event organized by Miriam Smith, Executive Director of Columbia College’s Office of Alumni Relations and Annual Giving.
Alumna Anna D. Shapiro ’90, HDR ’15 was saluted as one of Chicago theatre’s top artists by Newcity newspaper in its “Players 2016: The Fifty People Who Really Perform for Chicago” feature. Shapiro, Artistic Director of Chicago’s internationally acclaimed Steppenwolf Theatre Company, directed world premieres by two of America’s top playwrights at Steppenwolf this year: Visiting Edna, by Tony Award-winning playwright David Rabe, and Mary Page Marlowe, by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tracy Letts, whose 2008 Broadway hit August: Osage County won Shapiro a Tony Award for Best Direction.
Alumnus Michael Matthews ’99, Artistic Director of Los Angeles’ Celebration Theatre, was honored by the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle with the Milton Katselas Award for career achievement in direction at the critics’ group’s 2016 awards ceremony in March.
Dawn Renee Jones, assistant to the chair of the Theatre Department and also a playwriting instructor, won the 2015 Ruby Prize for playwriting from Southern Rep Theatre in New Orleans for her drama A Heap See. The award, presented annually to a woman playwright of color, was announced in February. Jones was also named to the 2016-17 Playwrights Unit at the Goodman Theatre, Chicago’s leading nonprofit resident theatre.
Alumnus Behzad Dabu ’08 joined the cast of NBC TV’s hit series How to Get Away with Murder, quickly earning a wide fan base as one of “the most hated characters in television.” And alumnus Joseph Sikora ’98 began his third season as costar of the Starz TV network’s hit series Power.
Faculty member Precious Jennings, who teaches body movement for Acting students, was named “Best Emerging Dancer” in Newcity newspaper’s “Best of 2016” roundup. And alumna Jess Godwin ’05 won a 2016 3Arts Award from the Chicago nonprofit grantmaking organization 3Arts.
Alumni Kaiser Ahmed ’08 and Arianna Soloway ’13 were selected to participate in the 2016-17 Season Directors Inclusion Initiative at Victory Gardens Theatre, one of Chicago’s top nonprofit theatres. The Directors Inclusion Initiative aims to encourage and develop emerging Chicago stage directors identifying as people of color, disabled, women, transgender, and gender non-conforming.
Alumnus Josh Salt ’14 is featured in the acclaimed Broadway production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, which runs through January 22 at the Booth Theatre in New York. Alumna Caroline Neff ’07 joined the Steppenwolf Theatre ensemble and starred in Steppenwolf’s acclaimed Chicago premiere of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play The Flick. And alumnus Michael Kurowski ’16 joined the national touring company of the hit Broadway musical Once.
Faculty member Heather Gilbert, coordinator of the Theatre Department’s lighting design program, was profiled in the May 2016 issue of the entertainment industry publication Live Design.
Alumni Jason Epperson ’14 and Abigail Trabue Epperson ’04 — artists, entrepreneurs, and husband and wife — launched Performink, an online publication devoted to Chicago’s thriving theatre scene. Performink is the leading publication for Chicago’s theatre industry, carrying news, reviews, commentary, and advertising for the theatre scene. And two Chicago theatres led by Theatre Department alums were ranked tops in the Chicago Reader newspaper’s “Best of Chicago 2016” poll: Steppenwolf Theatre, led by Artistic Director Anna D. Shapiro ’90, was named the “Best Established Theatre Company,” and Otherworld Theatre, founded and led by Tiffany Keane Schaefer ’12, was named “Best New Theatre Company” in the Reader‘s poll.
Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago interim chair Peter Carpenter was named interim chair of the Theatre Department, replacing John Green, who stepped down as chair to focus on teaching and on launching the Theatre Department’s first-ever graduate degree program, an MFA in European Devised Performance Practice, scheduled to debut in Fall 2017. The Theatre Department and Dance Center co-hosted the 2016 national symposium of the Network of Ensemble Theatres, in partnership with the League of Chicago Theatres. The symposium, whose theme was “Intersection: Ensembles + Universities,” was livestreamed on the global, commons-based peer-produced HowlRound TV network.