6 teaching artists of color from Chicago's theatre community

I recently came across an ad for a panel discussion consisting of leading casting directors in Chicago. It was a prestigious panel with participants who have earned their status and have a great deal to offer professionals in the industry. It was also an all White panel. I was discouraged.

I am a Black actress, writer and director who has been a member of SAG/AFTRA (the union for film and television actors) and Equity (the union for theatre actors) for 25 years. I have taken professional level classes and workshops ranging from On-Camera Techniques and Improvisation to Master Scene Study and Auditioning.

In 25 years all of my teachers have been White except for one; Gary Perez a Los Angeles-based actor who teaches Camera Craft Class. He was in Chicago performing at Steppenwolf Theatre and offered the course while he was in town. It was invaluable instruction. I highly recommend him.

I want more teachers of color to be available in order to create mirrors in addition to windows for artists of color. It is also essential that White artists learn from artists of color. The paradigm can't shift if what has always been done never changes; always looks the same.

The idea of mirrors and windows comes from the "conceptual framework" conceived by Emily Styles as part of the national SEED project: (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity).

According to Sam Kane's Corner:

Mirrors are stories that reflect your culture/reality and help you understand yourself.

Windows offer a view into someone else's experience.

Instead of complaining on Facebook about the lack of diversity I tagged a number of artists I admire to find out if they teach, what they consider their areas of expertise, where they are teaching and whether they are interested and available to teach. My intention is to create an ongoing resource for individual artists seeking private coaching as well as  institutions who are seeking to diversify their staff.

Here are the first 6 artists:

griffin-irons-d_30a-4-1-1-300x300Dionna Griffin-Irons Master Intensives for Actors, Improvisers and Professionals seeking to hone their comedic voice and Truth in storytelling and presentations. Dionna is Director of Diversity and Inclusion for The Second City U.S. and Canada. A Second City Detroit alumnus with 18+ years experience as performer, producer and facilitator, Dionna has taught 200+ workshops at colleges, women’s shelters, corporate boardrooms and worked with the United States Embassy in Norway and Latvia introducing improv as a tool for social change. Her outreach work has appeared in Diversity Journal, on NPR, ABC, NBC, and numerous academic posts including her 2015 TEDx Talk at University of Chicago. Her published work can be found in Rowan/Littlefield’s anthology Women, Writing and Prison. She is currently writing a memoir on the intersection of comedy, diversity and women in prison. @dionnagirons

profile_pictureMarsha Estell I teach playwriting at Chicago Dramatists, I do script critiques and can help create a solo show through Improvisation, also monologue coaching. Marsha is a resident playwright alumna at Chicago Dramatists, 3ARTs fellow, and recipient of the Illinois Arts Council Fellowship for Playwriting. Her plays include Heat, World premiere, Chicago Dramatists, nominated for a Joseph Jefferson Award for Outstanding New Work, it received productions at Bloomington Playwrights Project, (2005), ETA Creative arts, (2007), Fleetwood Jourdain Theatre and Etta Grace Theatre, Salt Lake City Utah, (2012). Heat was a finalist in the Dayton Playhouse Future-Fest and Theodore Ward Award for African American Playwrights, and was a semi-finalist, Princess Grace Awards. It was anthologized in “New Plays from Chicago”, Chicago Dramatists). Mama said there’ll be days like this - The History of the Girl Groups (World premiere, the Black Ensemble Theater, BTAA Nomination.) Before I Wake (Finalist. Theodore Ward Playwright award and Many Voices Playwright Competition). Big butt girls and other fantasies…The Remix (A One-person show) Chicago Funny Women Festival, Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival, Solo Jams, MPAACT Theatre, Lifeline Theatre Fillet Solo Festival and Ripe Mango Productions, New Perspectives Theatre, NY, Wordfest. Third Rail, (one act play) produced at Fleetwood Jourdain Theatre, 2016. In search of a love supreme…a play with Jazz, 10 minute plays The Crooner” and Black Girl in Bathtub were featured in BLACK LIVES, BLACK WORDS festival, 2015 -2016. Currently, The Crooner is being expanded into a full-length play. She was commissioned by Next Theatre, Evanston, Illinois to write What You Need to Know, a play based on workshops with Evanston residents on the subject of education. Her plays have received readings at Chicago Dramatists, Goodman Theatre, Chicago Theater Company, ETA Creative Arts Foundation, Dayton Playhouse, Congo Square, Theatre, New Perspectives, and Famous Door Theater. Ms. Estell has taught playwriting at Chicago Dramatists, and is a teaching artist for Pegasus Theatre. Ms. Estell is also an actress, favorite roles include Angel, in Blues for an Alabama Sky, ASF, Charlesetta, East Texas Hot Links, Onyx Theatre Ensemble, Carla from Coffee will make you Black, to name a few. Television Credits – Chicago PD, (NBC) and Electric Dreams, (Amazon). She is a member of the Dramatists Guild, SAG/AFTRA and Actors Equity.


97635d_40cdf9a6b35644b48d160ad869d4b445Breon Arzell Acting, auditioning, Lifestyle coach, how to hustle: you are a business, dance: musical theater, hip hop, heels, modern jazz, step. Seminars, classes, private lessons. 6yo-adults. I have had previous experience in theater, film, voice-over, and vocal performance. I am also a dancer and choreographer of HipHop, Modern, Jazz, Contemporary and Lyrical. With my positive personality, and effervescent nature, I am vigorously pursuing the many opportunities that this industry has to offer. I am continuously training and improving my craft, and thoroughly enjoy immersing myself in this business and my art. I started training as an actor when I was 14 years old, with Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit, and started working as a professional actor when I was 15. I went on to study acting at Miami University and received a BA in Theatre. After my studies, and before heading off to Europe, I returned to Detroit for 2 years as a Director, Choreographer, Acting Teacher, and Dance Instructor.
 My efforts and performances have taken me all over the U.S., Italy, and Germany, as well as, Canada, England, Wales, France, Denmark, Singapore, and Malaysia.

jose_garcTony "Jose" Garcia On Camera Coaching. Professional Actor Consulting. Suzuki Method Training. All can be done privately or in a workshop format. Tony is an actor working in Theatre/TV/Film. Chicago and Regional credits include work with Shakespeare Project of Chicago, Windy City Playhouse, The Goodman Theatre, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Steep Theatre Company, Factory Theatre, Adventure Stage Chicago, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Collaboration, Cleveland Shakespeare Theatre, Illinois Shakespeare Theatre, Bohemian Theatre Ensemble and Stage Left Theatre. Film/Tv credits include The Chi, Chicago Med, Pages, Captive State, Written Off, Animator, Shameless, Cleveland Abduction, Win it All, Sense 8, Mob Doctor, Prison Break, Boss. He holds a BFA from the The University of Connecticut and an MFA from Indiana University.

joe-mazza-brave-lux-chicago-tania-richard-5578Tania Richard Acting, Improvisation, Playwriting, Acting On Camera. Tania is an actor working in Theatre/TV/Film. She is also a published and award-winning writer and teacher. She taught in The Second City Training Center for over ten years, performed extensively with The Second City Mainstage, etc and touring company and is the owner and lead trainer for Improv Delivery Improvisation Training for Professionals. She currently teaches Acting Directing Workshop in Columbia College Chicago’s Cinema Art and Science Department. She was Cultural Consultant for The Theatre School at DePaul University’s production of Trouble In Mind and We Are Proud to Present. She also consulted with Steppenwolf Theatre on audience engagement for the play Pass Over by Antoinette Nwandu and Hir by Taylor Mac. She has performed on Broadway with Steppenwolf Theatre as well as here in Chicago, Australia and The Kennedy Center. She has also performed with The Goodman, Chicago Dramatists, The Second City, Windy City Playhouse and Portland Center Stage among others. Her film and television work includes Chicago Fire, Chicago Justice, Empire and numerous commercials. She taught in Chicago Dramatists’ Outreach program and was the director of their Ten-Minute Workshop for five years. Other teaching credits include Northlight Theatre, Fleetwood Jourdain Theatre and DePaul University Digital Media. She produces and stars in the web series mom in real life.

pos-kcedit-162-of-380-2Paul Oakley Stovall Audition Technique Paul has been an actor, singer, playwright, songwriter, director, producer, political operative, and teacher for twenty years in Chicago and beyond. He has performed in all the big Chicago houses and most of the major regionals. He is one of the original staff members of About Face Youth Theatre, teaching and coaching the youth in acting, singing, dance, and writing and crafting original plays based on their lives and LGBT history. He was a writer for the final season of Survivor's Remorse on STARZ network and has just completed a three week boot camp at Shondaland shadowing on Grey's Anatomy.

Get to know these folks. Hire them. Pass their information along. Let's be the change.

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