The Columbia College Chicago Theatre Department‘s blog “The Green Room” has chronicled the professional achievements of our talented and accomplished alumni, faculty, and students over the past year. As we head off for our holiday break, here’s a look back at a few of the notable Columbia College Theatre Department Success Stories of 2018:
‘INSPIRED INVENTIVENESS’ BRINGS A TONY AWARD FOR DAVID CROMER: Acclaimed stage director David Cromer HDR ’17, a former Theatre Department student and faculty member and recipient of an Honorary Doctorate of Arts from Columbia College in 2017, won the 2018 Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical for his staging of the Broadway hit The Band’s Visit. As previously reported in this blog, The Band’s Visit began Off-Broadway and earned Cromer a 2017 Obie Award a week after he spoke at the 2017 Columbia College Chicago commencement ceremony for Theatre majors. When the show transferred to Broadway under Cromer’s direction, the New York Times‘ Ben Brantley called it “one of the most ravishing musicals you will ever be seduced by” and praised Cromer’s direction for “an inspired inventiveness that never calls attention to itself.” The Band’s Visit also won Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score, Best Sound Design of a Musical, Best Orchestrations, and for the performances by leading actors Katrina Lenk and Tony Shalhoub and supporting actor Ari’el Stachel.
CROMER CONTINUED: On November 3 and 4, Columbia College Chicago’s Board of Trustees Chair Bill Wolf, his wife Meredith Bluhm-Wolf, and Columbia College President Kwang-Wu Kim hosted a “New York City Broadway Experience” for a select group of Columbia College trustees, donors, alumni, and special guests in New York. The weekend included a performance of The Band’s Visit, a post-show talk-back with cast and crew members of the show, and an intimate Sunday breakfast with Cromer as guest of honor at the Yale Club of New York City, at which Cromer discussed how his Columbia education prepared him for a successful career on Broadway and beyond. Cromer studied acting and directing at the Columbia College Theatre Department and later taught and directed shows there. At the breakfast, President Kim presented Cromer with a framed copy of a poster of the Theatre Department’s 1994 mainstage production of Jesus Christ Superstar, which Cromer co-directed with Columbia College alum and faculty member Stephanie Shaw ’92, MFA ’09.
To participate in the “New York City Broadway Experience” weekend, guests were encouraged to make a donation to the Columbia College Chicago Theatre Department in Cromer’s honor. As a result, more than $15,000 was raised to support current and future Theatre students.
“David is one of our most esteemed alumni and he continues to stay connected to the Columbia theatre alumni network across the country,” said President Kim. “I was particularly heartened to hear him talk about the many ways in which Columbia has impacted his career trajectory—his story is a wonderful affirmation of our mission to prepare students for success.”
Cromer is currently appearing on Broadway as a cast member of The Waverly Gallery, co-starring Steppenwolf Theatre ensemble member Joan Allen and comedy legend Elaine May. The production runs through January 27, 2019, at the John Golden Theatre in New York. This spring, Cromer will direct the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Next to Normal at Writers Theatre in the Chicago suburb of Glencoe, with musical direction by Columbia College Chicago Theatre Department faculty member Andra Velis Simon. The show will run May 8 through June 16, 2019, at the Alexandra C. and John D. Nichols Theatre, located at 325 Tudor Court in Glencoe.
CHICAGO THEATRE AWARDS: Columbia College Chicago Theatre Department alum Caroline Neff ’07, a graduate of the Theatre Department’s BA Program in Acting, won a 2018 Joseph Jefferson Award in the category of Performer in a Principal Role–Play for her performance in the title role of Lettie at Victory Gardens Theatre. The Jeff Awards honored excellence in professional theatre produced within the greater Chicago area during the 2017-2018 theatre season. Lettie marks Neff’s second Jeff Award. She previously won a Jeff in the category of Actress in a Principal Role–Play in 2011 for her performance in Steep Theatre’s A Brief History of Helen of Troy. . . .
In addition, the cast of the rock musical Buddy–The Buddy Holly Story, produced by American Blues Theatre, won a 2018 Jeff Award in the category of Ensemble – Musical or Revue. The ensemble of actor-musicians in Buddy included Columbia College alums Ann Delaney ’14, a graduate of the Theatre Department’s BFA Program in Musical Theatre Performance, and Lauren Vogel ’16, a graduate of the Theatre Department’s BA Program in Musical Theatre. . . .
Columbia College alumni and faculty members who were honored with 2018 Black Theatre Alliance Awards included alum RjW Mays ’06, a graduate of the Theatre Department’s BA Program in Acting, who received the Hattie McDaniel Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play for Kingdom (produced by Broken Nose Theatre); alum Michael Allen Harris ’11, a graduate of the Columbia College Theatre Department’s Acting program, who received the Lorraine Hansberry Award for Best Writing of a Play for Kingdom (produced by Broken Nose Theatre, where Harris is resident playwright); alum Chris Jackson ’14, a graduate of the Theatre Department’s BFA Program in Musical Theatre Performance, who won the Douglas Alan Mann Award for Best Direction of an Ensemble for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (produced by Pulse Theatre Chicago, co-founded by Jackson and alumnus Aaron Mitchell Reese ’12, a graduate of the Theatre Department’s Theatre Directing program); and Theatre Department faculty member Jermaine Hill, who won the Duke Ellington Award for Best Musical Direction for Memphis (produced by Porchlight Music Theatre). In addition, the cast of Shakin’ the Mess Outta Misery (produced by Pegasus Theatre Chicago) received the Target Community Relations Award for Best Ensemble. The show was directed by alumna Ilesa Duncan ’99, who was nominated for the Douglas Alan Mann Award for Best Direction of an Ensemble. The Black Theatre Alliance/Ira Aldridge Awards were established in 1995 by Columbia College Chicago alumnus Vincent Williams ’03, a graduate of the BA Program in Performing Arts Management from what is now the Columbia College Chicago Business and Entrepreneurship Department, to honor African Americans who achieve excellence in theater, dance, and all areas of the performing arts in the Chicagoland area. . . .
Alumnus Marvin Quijada ’05, a graduate of the Theatre Department’s BA Program in Acting, won the 2018 ALTA Award for Outstanding Performer in a Sketch or Review from the Alliance of Latinx Theater Artists of Chicago (ALTA). Quijada was honored for his performance in Sound + Fury: A Night of Electronic Storytelling at Steppenwolf Theatre’s 1700 Theatre. And Jon Martinez, a former student in the Theatre Department’s Musical Theatre Program, won the ALTA Award for Outstanding Director of a Production–Musical for his direction of The Church of Modern Love, produced by With a Machete Productions in association with Haven Theatre. In addition, a show that Martinez choreographed, Circle Theatre Chicago’s The View Upstairs, won the ALTA Award for Outstanding Production–Musical.
MORE HONORS: Alum Aidy Bryant ’09, a graduate of the Theatre Department’s BA Program in Acting, was nominated for a 2018 Emmy Award for “Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series” for her work on NBC’s Saturday Night Live during the 2017-2018 season. . . .
Chicago’s Broken Nose Theatre, whose leadership and ensemble includes several Columbia College Theatre Department alumni, won the 2018 Broadway in Chicago Emerging Theatre Award from the League of Chicago Theatres, the Chicago theatre industry’s professional advocacy and support organization. Founded in 2012, Broken Nose Theatre is Chicago’s premier “Pay-What-You-Can” organization, allowing patrons to set their own ticket price to ensure that theatre remains accessible to all audiences, regardless of socioeconomic status. The company develops and produces new work that amplifies underrepresented voices, cultivates empathy, sparks conversation, and provides opportunities for a diverse array of artists both on and off the stage. The values driving its artistic work are economic accessibility, inclusivity, representation, collaboration, conversation, and immediacy. Among the Columbia College Chicago Theatre Department alumni involved in this cutting-edge theatre are managing director Rose Hamill ’16, a graduate of the Theatre Department’s BA Program in Theatre Technology with a Teaching Artist Minor and a Live and Performing Arts Management Minor; company member and resident playwright Michael Allen Harris ’11, a graduate of the Columbia College Theatre Department’s Acting program; artistic associate and actor RjW Mays ’06, a graduate of the Theatre Department’s Acting BA program; and artistic associate and props manager Devon Green ’18, a graduate of the Theatre Department’s BA Program in Theatre Design.
A HOME OF THEIR OWN: Otherworld Theatre, a company founded and led by Theatre Department alumni, officially opened its new home on July 14, after several seasons as an itinerant company. Otherworld says its new home at at 3914 N. Clark, in Chicago’s buzzing Belmont Theatre District, is the world’s first venue dedicated to the performance of science fiction and fantasy oriented theatre. The property — formerly home to the Live Bait and Public House theatres — houses a 120-seat mainstage, a 40-seat black box, a bar, and a lobby.
CHICAGO THEATRE NOW: Alum Almanya Narula ’12, a graduate of the Theatre Department’s BA Program in Acting, launched a new publication, Chicago Theatre Now, as a graduate studies project at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. “The zine, initially a response to the lack of accountability within the art journalism sphere, is a bi-annual Chicago theatre publication, led by artists, for artists and the community to embark on conversations regarding accountability, inclusion, diversity, and equity within Chi-Theatre,” she says. In addition to producing Chicago Theatre Now, Narula is active in Chicago theatre as a performer and stage combat choreographer. The publication was launched in July at The Frontier, the storefront space operated by Jackalope Theatre, a company founded and led by Columbia College Theatre alumni.
THEATRE REUNION CELEBRATES GETZ THEATER CENTER RENOVATION: The Columbia College Chicago Theatre Department formally unveiled its beautifully renovated home — the historic Getz Theater Center of Columbia College Chicago, located at 72 E. 11th St. in Chicago’s South Loop — with a Columbia College Theatre Reunion Weekend on October 19 and 20. To herald the event, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel proclaimed Columbia College Chicago Theatre Day in Chicago “in recognition of the indelible contributions that Columbia College’s Theatre Department has made to theatre in the City of Chicago, across the United States, and around the world.”
The proclamation was presented by Mark Kelly HDR ’17, Chicago’s Commissioner of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, to Columbia College President Kwang-Wu Kim on the stage of the Getz Theater Center’s splendid new Courtyard Theater at the October 19 premiere of the Theatre Department’s 2018-2019 Mainstage Season opener: The Penelopiad, by Canadian writer Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale.
The Penelopiad featured an all-woman cast under the direction of alum AJ Ware ’09, a graduate of the Theatre Department’s Theatre Directing program. The production was sponsored by former theatre Department Theatre Design program student Carol Cohen, co-founder and executive director of Chicago’s Haven Theatre.
The Theatre Reunion Weekend, organized by the Theatre Department in partnership with the college’s office of Development and Alumni Relations, drew alumni and supporters of Columbia College‘s Theatre program from all over the U.S. A highlight of the weekend was an October 20 open house, at which Columbia alum Anna D. Shapiro ’90, HDR ’15, artistic director of Chicago’s celebrated Steppenwolf Theatre, made welcoming comments. The open house also featured industry breakout sessions with alumni panelists working in a variety of disciplines in the theatre and film/TV industries, as well as tours of the renovated Getz Theater Center, with its four performance spaces, state-of-the-art scene shop, and new costume and prop shops and lighting design and makeup/prosthetics labs. A report on the renovation in the Columbia Chronicle student newspaper quoted the project’s principal architect as calling the renovation “a transformational moment for the school.”
Also on hand for the reunion were Jim Jacobs HDR ’14, coauthor of the hit musical Grease and benefactor of the Jim Jacobs Musical Theatre Scholarship at Columbia College, and members of the family of the late philanthropist Emma Getz, whose generous donation to Columbia College supported the establishment of what is now the college’s Getz Theater Center. To see the Alumni Relations office’s Facebook album of photos from the event, click here.
For more news about the Columbia College Chicago Theatre Department — including information about upcoming Theatre Alumni events and details about the rest of our 2018-2019 Mainstage Season — please follow our blog “The Green Room.” Till next time, HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO ALL!