Backstage Pass with Lia Chang

Two-time Tony nominee André De Shields, GREY’S ANATOMY star Sandra Oh, Kimberly Lawson, Donica Lynn, Tony Mhoon, Doug Peck, Robert Reddrick, Anjali Bhimani and More set for 2015 IGNITION Festival of New Plays at Victory Gardens Theater, July 16-19

Sandra Oh

Sandra Oh

Victory Gardens Theater has just announced the cast of its 2015 IGNITION Festival of New Plays, including GREY’S ANATOMY star Sandra Oh and Two-time Tony nominee André De Shields.

Also in the company are Anjali Bhimani, Ramon Camin, McKenzie Chinn, Chris Chmelik, Jen Coombs, Tiffany Cox, Shanesia Davis, Amanda Drinkall, Minita Gandhi, Ricardo Gutierrez, Derek Hasenstab, Shane Kenyon, Kimberly Lawson, Eric Lynch, Donica Lynn, Tony Mhoon, Doug Peck, Adam Poss, Marvin Quijada, Robert Reddrick, Alec Silver, Alfred Wilson, Jacqueline Williams, and Mary Williamson.

“While the playwrights are at the forefront of our IGNITION Festival of New Plays, it is with great excitement that we welcome back long-time collaborator and friend Sandra Oh to join some of Chicago’s finest actors on our stage this summer,” notes Victory Gardens Artistic Director Chay Yew.

IGNITION’s seven selected plays will be presented in a festival of readings scheduled for July 16-19, 2015 and will be directed by leading artists from Chicago. Following the readings, two of the plays may be selected for intensive workshops during Victory Gardens’ 2015-16 season, and Victory Gardens may produce one of these final scripts in an upcoming season.


André De Shields. Photo by Lia Chang

André De Shields. Photo by Lia Chang

Confessions of a P.I.M.P.

Written and Performed by André De Shields

Directed by Samuel G. Roberson

Musical Direction by Doug Peck

Featuring Kimberly Lawson, Donica Lynn, Tony Mhoon, Doug Peck, Robert Reddrick

Thursday, July 16, 2015 | 7:30 p.m.

IGNITION Opening Night Party following the performance

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.


by Madhuri Shekar

Directed by Associate Artistic Producer Joanie Schultz

Featuring Anjali Bhimani, Amanda Drinkall, Derek Hasenstab, Adam Poss

Friday, July 17, 2015 | 7:30 p.m.

Artistic Meet and Greet & Ice Cream Social following the performance

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

Madhuri Shekar

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.

Slay & Eat

By A. Zell Williams

Directed by Henry Wishcamper

Featuring Jen Coombs, Tiffany Cox, Shanesia Davis, Eric Lynch, Jacqueline Williams, Alfred Wilson

Saturday, July 18, 2015 | 3:00 p.m.

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

A. Zell Williams

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 Last Book of Homer

By José Rivera

Directed by Jonathan Berry

Featuring Ramon Camin, Ricardo Gutierrez, Marvin Quijada

Saturday, July 18, 2015 | 7:30 p.m.

Cocktail Hour & Hang Out following the performance

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

José Rivera

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.


Written and Performed by Minita Gandhi

Directed by Heidi Stillman

Sunday, July 19, 2015 | 12:30 p.m.

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

Minita Gandhi

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’s Betrayal, 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

Featuring McKenzie Chinn, Shane Kenyon, Sandra Oh, Alec Silver

Sunday, July 19, 2015 | 3:00 p.m.

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

Julia Cho

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.

Sadie River’s Drag Ball on the Lawn

By Basil Kreimendahl

Directed by Bonnie Metzgar

Featuring Echaka Agba, Chris Chmelik, André De Shields, Mary Williamson

Sunday, July 19, 2015 | 7:30 p.m.

IGNITION Closing Night Celebration following the performance

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

Basil Kreimendahl

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.

The IGNITION Festival of New Plays is an annual festival devoted to fostering a community of support for the development of outstanding new plays and nurturing relationships with emerging playwrights. Launched in 2008 with support from the Ford Foundation, IGNITION was designtaylored at that time to be a biennial festival focused on identifying emerging playwrights of color. Over the course of the festival, it has grown to become an annual festival that focuses on identifying exceptional emerging playwrights of any background who speak to contemporary ethnic, social, religious, generational and economic diversity. Since 2008, several plays were first discovered at Ignition and subsequently produced on the mainstage during a Victory Gardens season (…Chad Diety, Year Zero, We Are Proud to Present…, Appropriate, Samsara, Cocked, and Hillary and Clinton.)

All readings will be free and open to the public, and each play’s dramaturg will facilitate a post-show discussion to gauge audience responses to the work with a facilitator.

The IGNITION Festival of New Plays receives major support from The Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust, The William and Orli Staley Foundation, and Southwest Airlines, Victory Gardens’ official travel sponsor.

Performances are at the Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue, in the heart of Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. Admission to all festival readings and events is free, though an RSVP is required. For more information or to RSVP, visit or call the Victory Gardens Box Office at 773.871.3000.

Under the leadership of Artistic Director Chay Yew and Managing Director Christopher Mannelli, Victory Gardens is dedicated to artistic excellence while creating a vital, contemporary American Theater that is accessible and relevant to all people through productions of challenging new plays and musicals. With Victory Gardens’ first new Artistic Director in 34 years, the company remains committed to the development, production and support of new plays that has been the mission of the theater since its founding, continuing the vision set forth by Dennis Zacek, Marcelle McVay, and the original founders of Victory Gardens Theater.

Victory Gardens Theater is a leader in developing and producing new theater work and cultivating an inclusive Chicago theater community. Victory Gardens’ core strengths are nurturing and producing dynamic and inspiring new plays, reflecting the diversity of our city’s and nation’s culture through engaging diverse communities, and in partnership with Chicago Public Schools, bringing art and culture to our city’s active student population.

Since its founding in 1974, the company has produced more world premieres than any other Chicago theater, a commitment recognized nationally when Victory Gardens received the 2001 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre. Located in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, Victory Gardens Biograph Theater includes the Zacek-McVay Theater, a state-of-the-art 259-seat mainstage, and the 109-seat studio theater on the second floor, named the Richard Christiansen Theater.

In 2012, Victory Gardens Victory Gardens appointed new Ensemble Playwrights Philip Dawkins,Marcus Gardley, Samuel D. Hunter and Tanya Saracho, for seven-year residencies. The Playwrights Ensemble Alumni includes Claudia Allen, Lonnie Carter, Steve Carter, Gloria Bond Clunie, Dean Corrin, Nilo Cruz, Joel Drake Johnson, John Logan, Nicholas Patricca, Douglas Post, James Sherman, Charles Smith, Jeffrey Sweet and Kristine Thatcher.

For more information about Victory Gardens, Follow up on Facebook and Twitter @VictoryGardens.

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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Other articles about André De Shields:
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 
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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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