Backstage Pass with Lia Chang

Victory Gardens Theater’s IGNITION Festival of New Plays features new works by Two-time Tony nominee André De Shields, Julia Cho, Minita Gandhi, Basil Kreimendahl, José Rivera, Madhuri Shekar and A. Zell Williams, July 16-19


The Victory Gardens Theater’s IGNITION Festival of New Plays is a national annual festival devoted to fostering a community of support for the development of outstanding new plays and nurturing relationships with emerging and established playwrights and will run from Thursday, July 16 – Sunday, July 19, 2015. Check below for the full lineup.

All readings are free and open to the public. General Admission, but seating will be reserved for Members, Subscribers and Donors of Victory Gardens Theater. Victory Gardens Theater is located at 2433 N. Lincoln Ave. in Chicago. For more information call (773) 871-3000 or visit VictoryGardens.

Confessions of a P.I.M.P. written and performed by André De Shields, directed by Samuel G. Roberson, music direction by Doug Peck

Thursday, July 16 | 7:30 p.m. | Začek-McVay Theater

André De Shields. Photo by Lia Chang

André De Shields. Photo by Lia Chang

From the heat of urban insurrection in Baltimore, Maryland to the incandescent glare of New York’s Great White Way, “Jelly Belly” has many stories to tell. Through song, dance, and spoken word, join Victory Gardens Theater’s Fox Foundation Resident Actor Fellow André De Shields in this riveting solo-performance as we follow this adventure from inner city impoverishment to self-actualization.

In a career spanning forty-six years, André De Shields has distinguished himself as an unparalleled actor, director, choreographer and educator.  He is the recipient of three Jeff Awards, one as Director for Victory Gardens’ 1987 production of The Colored Museum, and two as Featured Performer in a Musical for the Goodman Theatre productions of Play On! (1998) and Mary Zimmerman’s The Jungle Book (2013).  In fact André’s professional career began at Chicago’s Shubert Theatre in the 1969 production of Hair.  From there he moved on to The Me Nobody Knows at the Civic Opera House, and ultimately became a member of The Organic Theatre Company, where he created the role of Xander the Unconquerable, Ruler of the Sixth Dimension in the cult sensationWarp. A multiple Tony Award nominee, he is best known for his show-stopping performances in four legendary Broadway musicals: The WizAin’t Misbehavin’Play On! and The Full Monty. His numerous accolades include an Emmy Award for the NBC Special based on Ain’t Misbehavin’, the National Black Theatre Festival’s Living Legend Award, the Village Voice OBIE Award for Sustained Excellence of Performance and two Doctor of Fine Arts degrees honoris causa one each from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the State University of New York-College at Buffalo. A triple Capricorn, Mr. De Shields is the ninth of eleven children born and reared in Baltimore, Maryland.

IGNITION Opening Night Party

Thursday, July 16 | 9:30 p.m. | Victory Gardens Theater Lobby

Queen by Madhuri Shekar, directed by Associate Artistic Producer Joanie Schultz

Friday, July 17 | 7:30 p.m. | Začek-McVay Theater

Madhuri Shekar

Madhuri Shekar

Sanam Shah, a mathematician, and Ariel Spiegel, a biologist, are PhD candidates and best friends working together to discover the cause of the urgent crisis where bees are disappearing around the world. Just as they are about to publish a career-defining new paper on the subject, Sanam realizes the numbers don’t add up. Should she look the other way, or should she stand by her principles? What will she lose?

Madhuri Shekar is a playwright based in Los Angeles. Her plays include IN LOVE AND WARCRAFT (2013/14 Kendeda Graduate Playwriting Award) and A NICE INDIAN BOY. Her plays have been produced or developed at the Alliance Theatre, East West Players, the Center Theatre Group, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Playwrights Horizons, the Kennedy Center, Victory Gardens, Signature Theatre, and the Old Globe. She is a writer and producer of the web series “Titus and Dronicus,” which is set to launch in July 2015. She is a member of Playwrights Union and the Dramatists Guild. MFA: USC.

Artist Meet, Greet, & Ice Cream Social

Friday, July 17 | 9:30 p.m. | Victory Gardens Theater Lobby

Slay & Eat by A. Zell Williams, directed by Henry Wishcamper

Saturday, July 18 | 3:00 p.m. | Začek-McVay Theater

A. Zell Williams

A. Zell Williams

A powerful black politician on Chicago’s South Side struggles to pull her family together amidst her husband’s failing business, her daughter’s drug use, and her brother’s relationship with a white dominatrix. Will she survive a scandal or go down in history as an ex-girlfriend of President Obama?

A. Zell Williams is a Resident Playwright with New Dramatists, a Featured Writer with the Lark Play Development Center, and a writer for NBC’s Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. He has served as a National New Play Network Playwright-in-Residence at Philadelphia’s InterAct Theatre Company, the Tow Foundation’s Emerging Playwright-in-Residence at the Public Theater, as a member of The Civilians’ R&D Group, and Ars Nova’s Play Group. Productions: In A Daughter’s Eyes & Down Past Passyunk (InterAct Theatre, Philadelphia.) Awards: Marin Theatre Company Emerging American Playwright Prize, The Terrence McNally New Play Award, NYU’s Goldberg Playwriting Award, National New Play Network’s Smith Prize. Nominations: The Williamstown Theatre Festival’s L. Arnold Weissberger Award, The Playwright of New York (PoNY) Fellowship. Finalist: Yale Drama Series for Emerging Playwrights and Kitchen Dog Theatre’s New Works Festival. His plays include The Biggest Valley, Carroll Gardens, and The Urban Retreat.

The Playwright’s Voice

Saturday, July 18 | 6:00 – 7:00 p.m. | Richard Christiansen Theater

From a Chicago family in the midst of a political crisis to a schoolteacher threatened by gun violence, this year’s IGNITION Festival is a ticket to seven dynamic worlds. Pull back the curtain and go behind the scenes with playwrights Basil Kreimendahl, A. Zell Williams, Madhuri Shekar, and others as they reveal challenges and triumphs of creating new work.

The Last Book of Homer by José Rivera, directed by Jonathan Berry

Saturday, July 18 | 7:30 p.m. | Začek-McVay Theater

José Rivera

José Rivera

Numb Nuts is a screenwriter who gets kidnapped by a drug cartel while shooting a movie in Mexico about the Trojan War. Battling their bad knees, beer bellies, cataracts, bad hearing, and bitter divisions of the past, his four brothers – ex-military guys nicknamed God, Buddha, Weasel, and Joseph Smith – come to Mexico for the rescue.

José Rivera is a recipient of two Obie Awards for playwriting for Marisol andReferences to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot, which were both produced by The Public Theatre, New York.  His playsCloud Tectonics (Playwrights Horizons),Boleros for the Disenchanted (Yale Rep),Sueño (Manhattan Class Company),Sonnets for an Old Century (The Barrow Group), School of the Americas (Public Theatre), Massacre (Sing to Your Children) (Rattlestick), Brainpeople (ACT, San Francisco), Adoration of the Old Woman (INTAR), and The House of Ramon Iglesia (Ensemble Studio Theatre), have been produced across the country and around the world.  Another Word for Beauty, with music by Hector Buitrago, will premiere in 2016 at the Goodman Theatre in a co-production with the Civilians. In the works are The Last Book of Homer,Scream for the Lost Romantics, and The Gamma Forest.  Rivera’s screenplay “The Motorcycle Diaries” was nominated for a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar in 2005.   His screenplay based on Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” premiered at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival and was distributed nationally in the winter of 2013.  His film “Trade” was the first film to premiere at the United Nations. In the works is an untitled HBO pilot, co-written and produced by Tom Hanks, as well as a 10-hour limited series for HBO tentatively known as “Latino Roots.” “Celestina,” based on his play Cloud Tectonics, will mark his debut as a feature film director. He has recently completed his first novel, Love Makes the City Crumble.

Cocktail Hour Hang Out

Saturday, July 18 | 9:30 pm | Fiesta Mexicana Restaurant

Muthaland written and performed by Minita Gandhi, directed by Heidi Stillman

Sunday, July 19 | 12:30 p.m. | Začek-McVay Theater

Minita Gandhi

Minita Gandhi

The life of a young Indian-American woman is forever changed when, on a retreat to her homeland, she unearths family secrets, encounters a prophet, and ultimately discovers her own voice. The Familiar and the Foreign swap roles in this dark comedy about culture, identity, spirituality, and sexuality.

Minita Gandhi was born in Mumbai, India. Raised primarily in San Francisco, she is proud to have called Chicago her artistic home for over 8 years. She is a writer, actor, storyteller, and lover of life. She can be seen in the recurring role of Dr. Prospere on NBC’s Chicago Fire, and has appeared on Fox’s hit show Empire, NBC’s Crisis, ABC’sBetrayal, Fox’s The Chicago Code, and was The Onion News Network’s anchor, Nina Shankar. She is a proud pledge host with PBS for their WTTW Chicago affiliate station. Minita has worked at a number of regional theaters across the country including Berkeley Repertory Theater, The Arena Stage, Milwaukee Repertory Theater, and Lookingglass Theater. She been directed by the Tony award winning adaptor and director Mary Zimmermann, and originated the role of Priya, in Silk Road Rising’s World Premiere production of Rajiv Joseph’s,The Lake Effect. She travels with the corporate comedy improv troupe, Wavelength, and is a Master Trainer for Pinnacle Performance training executives in communication all over the world. Minita writes and performs with the storytellers at Second Story based in Chicago. Muthaland is her first full-length play. It was first workshopped at Silk Road Rising where it had four sold-out performances in their Solo Festival in April 2015. Minita is represented by Gray Talent Group.

Office Hour by Julia Cho, directed by Artistic Director Chay Yew

Sunday, July 19 | 3:00 p.m. | Začek-McVay Theater

Julia Cho

Julia Cho

Gina, an adjunct writing professor, meets with a troubled student whose violent writings have disrupted her class. Other professors worry he’s a ticking time bomb — “a classic shooter.” Gina isn’t so sure. But where is the line drawn between troubled and dangerous?

Julia Cho’s plays include The Language Archive (Susan Smith Blackburn Award),The Piano TeacherDurangoThe Winchester HouseBFEThe Architecture of Loss and 99 Histories. Honors include the NTC’s Barrie Stavis Award, the Claire Tow Award for Emerging Artists, and the Weissberger Award for Playwriting. She has been the recipient of a New York Foundation for The Arts grant and a Van Lier Fellowship from New York Theatre Workshop. She was also a Lila Acheson Wallace Playwriting Fellow at The Juilliard School and a resident at New Dramatists. Her play, Aubergine, will premiere at Berkeley Repertory Theatre in February 2016.

The Art of Solo Performance

Sunday, July 19 | 6:00 – 7:00 p.m. | Richard Christiansen Theater

The art of solo performance is an intimate one. Often based on personal experiences, it’s a tender moment between the artist and the audience. Sit back with IGNITION artists Minita Gandhi and Andre de Shields – alongside Chicago-based solo performers – as they break down the empowering and risk-taking journey of telling their own stories.

Sadie River’s Drag Ball on the Lawn by Basil Kreimendahl, directed by Bonnie Metzgar

Sunday, July 19 | 7:30 p.m. | Začek-McVay Theater

Basil Kreimendahl

Basil Kreimendahl

Sadie River, Mother to The House of River, teaches her unconventional drag family a new performance that she believes will change their lives. Rather than schooling them on gender performance, she attempts to educate her working-poor family in the art of passing as upper-class.

Basil Kreimendahl is a resident playwright at New Dramatists New York, a current McKnight Fellow at The Minneapolis Playwright’s Center and was the Provost’s Visiting Writer at the University of Iowa. Basil’s play Sidewinders won the Rella Lossy Playwright’s Award from the San Francisco Foundation. The Cost of a Goat won a National Science Award at The Kennedy Center. Basil was commissioned by Actors Theatre of Louisville for Remix 38 in the 2014 Humana Festival of New Plays. Basil’s plays have also been developed or produced by The O’Neill National Playwright’s Conference, La Jolla, Cutting Ball, New York Theatre Workshop, About Face Theatre, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Inkwell, Rattlestick Theater, Wordbirdge, Labrynth Theater, The LARK, and The Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Basil has had a Jerome Fellowship and a Core Apprenticeship from the Minneapolis Playwright’s Center, and an Arts Meets Activism grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women. Basil’s work has been published by Howlround, Dramatic Publishing and Playscripts, Inc. MFA University of Iowa, 2013.

IGNITION Closing Celebration

Sunday, July 19 | 9:30 pm | Victory Gardens Theater Lobby


cropped-lia-chang_photo-by-carlos-flores-3.jpgLia Chang is an actor, a performance and fine art botanical photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon and Taxman. She has guest starred on “One Life to Live,” “As the World Turns,” and “New York Undercover.” She is profiled in Jade Magazine.

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July 25-26: #AAIFF2015 Spotlight on Arthur Dong- Screenings of THE KILLING FIELDS OF HAING S. NGOR and FORBIDDEN CITY, U.S.A, plus an on-stage conversation
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Photos: The 11th Annual 72 Hour Shootout Filmmaking Launch Party at The Korea Society; TWO FACES is this year’s theme 
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Other articles about André De Shields:
Two-Time Tony nominee André De Shields, Tony Winner Lillias White, ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK’s Lori Tan Chinn, Stephanie Powers, Georgia Engel & More Will Lead Broadway-Bound Musical GOTTA DANCE in Chicago
Photos: Inside THE FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE CD Release Concert with André De Shields, Kevin Mambo, Adam Chanler-Berat, Michael Friedman and More
Actor André De Shields on His Self-Made Journey 
Production Photos: André De Shields, Bowman Wright, E. Faye Butler, KenYatta Rogers, Jessica Frances Dukes and Michael Anthony Williams in Arena Stage’s King Hedley II through March 8 THE GRAND ILLUSION by ANDRÉ DE SHIELDS in FOX FELLOWSHIPS André Robin De Shields , Original ‘Wiz’ hits Arena Stage for August Wilson play ‘King Hedley II’
BWW Interviews: One Legend Tackles Another in Arena Stage’s King Hedley II
THE WIZ Turns 40- Photos from Original Broadway Production and BC/EFA Gypsy of The Year Celebration Featuring André De Shields, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Ken Page, Charl Brown, Carly Hughes, Christina Sajous, Alton Fitzgerald White, Lillias White and More
Photos: André De Shields, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Ken Page, Charl Brown, Carly Hughes, Alton Fitzgerald White, Lillias White in 40th Anniversary of The WIZ Tribute at BC/EFA’s GYPSY OF THE YEAR; Competition Breaks Records With Over $5 Million as Hugh Jackman’s THE RIVER Brings in Top Donation
The Fortress of Solitude, starring Adam Chanler-Berat, André De Shields, Kyle Beltran, Kevin Mambo, Rebecca Naomi Jones ends extended run 11/16; Ghostlight to Record Cast Album 
Nov. 17: Chapman Roberts, Loretta Abbott, André De Shields, David Greer, Norm Lewis, Cherine Anderson, Lawrence Evans, Colby Christina & Nicholas A. Jenkins to Receive Special AUDELCO Awards
Photos: André De Shields, Adam Chanler-Berat, Jose Llana, Kevin Mambo, Rebecca Naomi Jones, Kyle Beltran, Kim Brockington and More at The Fortress of Solitude 
Two-time Tony Nominee and Emmy Winner André De Shields Performs FREDERICK DOUGLASS: Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory and Speaks on The Wisdome of The Ancient Art of Storytelling at AFP 2014: Change Through Stories, Sept. 8-9, 2014
Photos & Video: The Wiz’s André De Shields Sang “So You Wanted to Meet the Wizard” in The Black Stars of The Great White Way Broadway Reunion: Live The Dream at Carnegie Hall
Conversations with the Divine with Owais Ahmed, Baize Buzan, Kathryn Cesarz, Kamal Hans, Brian Grey, Donica Lynn, Patrese McClain and Miranda Zola at Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theater
Photos: André De Shields, Michael Shannon, Rajiv Joseph, Christine Sherrill, Doug Peck, Alexis J. Rogers, Karen Ziemba and More Celebrate 2013 Jeff Equity Awards
Click here for more articles on André De Shields.

Click here  for the Lia Chang Articles Archive and here for the Lia Chang Photography Website.
All text, graphics, articles & photographs: © 2000-2015 Lia Chang Multimedia. All rights reserved. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Lia Chang. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content. For permission, please contact Lia at

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