The Storefront Project,

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Featured images

Performance view, 100 Hauntings, Free Street Theater, Fall 2016. Photo: SkyLine Multimedia.
Performance view, Lauren Gunderson: The Revolutionists, Strawdog Theatre Company, Chicago. November 2018. Photo: Heath Hayes.
Performance view, Charles L. Mee: BIG LOVE, Northwestern University. Scenic Design: Arnel Sancianco Costume Design: Sully Ratke Lighting Design: Sara Grosses. Photo: Justin Barbin.
Sarah Ruhl, Eurydice, The Theatre School at DePaul University, October 2016. Photo: Lila Gilbert.
Zariyah age 9 as a Fly Girl with Black Girls (Can) Fly! directed by Sydney Chatman. A collaboration with the Hyde Park Jazz Festival/Back Alley Jazz Festival 2018. Photo: Marc Monaghan.


What happens when you try to make a show from scratch, with no rulebook or script? What if you had to perform it in two completely different spaces, across the city, back to back?

Program Description

The Storefront Project asks six Chicago-based directors to each choose a text—not written for theater—and devise a new project, tailor-made for MCA Chicago and Prop Thtr—a major downtown institution and a scrappy Avondale theater. Two weekends of shows highlight the innovations that are possible when directors experiment with making theater under shifting circumstances. Each translating the same project from the MCA’s theater and public spaces to the distinct industrial theaters and alcoves of the Prop Thtr, directors Dado Gyure, Lucky Stiff, Denise Yvette Serna, Coya Paz, Sydney Chatman, and Mikael Burke with April Cleveland demonstrate Chicago theater’s uncanny ability to pop up anywhere. Behind-the-scenes footage of their rehearsal process at each venue will be on view during each performance to give you a peek into the ins and outs of devised theater.

This celebration of the city’s long traditions of storefront, underground, and devised theater is cocurated by MCA’s associate curator of performance Tara Aisha Willis with Olivia Lilley, the new artistic director of Chicago’s own PROP THTR.

Weekend one features Program A at Prop Thtr and Program B at the MCA. Weekend two features Program B at Prop Thtr and Program A is at the MCA. See the schedule below for more details.

Performance Schedule

Saturday, Sep 14 and Sunday, Sep 15

Noon and 3 pm, Program A at PROP
7 pm and 8 pm, Program B at MCA

Saturday, Sep 21 and Sunday, Sep 22

Noon and 3 pm, Program B at PROP
7 pm and 8 pm, Program A at MCA

Program A: Sydney Chatman, Coya Paz, and Denise Serna

Program B: Lucky Stiff, Dado Gyure, and Mikael Burke with April Cleveland

Press Quote

“Olivia Lilley leads Prop THTR’s gang of misfits, weirdos, and visionaries into the spotlight.”

Images of Directors

Coya Paz. Photo: Gregory Dixon.
Dado. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Denise Yvette Serna. Makeup: Talia Weingarten. Photo: Juli Del Prete.
Lucky Stiff Installation: Chanté Winwood. Photo: Katherine Holmes.
April Cleveland. Photo: Matthew Wade.
Mikael Burke. Photo: April Harnish.
Sydney Chatman. Photo: Sylus Green.
Olivia Lilley. Photo: Jeff Bivens.

About the Artists

Mikael Burke is a Jeff-nominated, director, deviser, and educator. A Princess Grace Award winner in theatre and an MFA graduate of The Theatre School at DePaul University, Burke most recently worked with Victory Gardens Theatre, Chicago Dramatists, Northlight Theatre, About Face Theatre, and First Floor Theater in Chicago, and regionally with Asolo Repertory Theatre, Geva Theatre Center, and Indiana Repertory Theatre. A former Victory Gardens Theatre DII Fellow, he recently served as Northlight Theatre's inaugural Artistic Fellow and also serves as the head of the directing concentration for the summer high school training program at DePaul University’s Theatre School. Additionally, Burke is a faculty member of the Chicago College of the Performing Arts at Roosevelt University, and a core faculty member in the theatre division of the National High School Institute (Cherubs) at Northwestern University. His recent directing credits include This Bitter Earth by Harrison David Rivers; Hooded, or Being Black for Dummies by Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm; A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare; and Native Son by Richard Wright, adapted by Nambi E. Kelley.

April Cleveland is a theatre director with a background in philosophy and mathematics. An MFA graduate of The Theatre School at DePaul University, April directs fast-paced thrillers across genres, from plays set in dystopic futures to contemporary versions of classic texts. Her favorite kind of theatre interrogates reality, perception, and certainty. Her off-Broadway credits include The Two Noble Kinsmen in a modern version by Tim Slover (Classic Stage Company and OSF) for the Play On! Festival. Her recent directing credits include Oresteia (adapted by Robert Icke), Cockroach (Sam Holcroft), The Witness (Vivienne Franzmann), Seven Homeless Mammoths Wander New England (Madeleine George), and Dying City (Christopher Shinn). Cleveland recently worked with Pam Mackinnon on Downstate (Steppenwolf Theatre in a coproduction with London’s National Theatre), Robert Icke on Hexenjagd (Theater Basel, Switzerland) and Vanessa Stalling on A Shayna Maidel (TimeLine Theatre, Chicago). April serves as faculty for the directing concentration of the high school training program at DePaul University.

Sydney Chatman is the 2019 Goodman Theatre Maggio Directing Fellow. Chatman is a director, educator, mentor, producer, writer, and founding director of The Tofu Chitlin’ Circuit featuring the self-penned and directed award-winning playBlack Girls (Can) Fly! Ms. Chatman is an African-American Arts Alliance Awardee and 3Arts Make a Wave winner. Her credits include the Tony-nominated The Trip to Bountiful (New York) and a directing fellowship with the Lincoln Center’s Directors Lab. Rooted in her community, she passionately bridges the divide between audience and stage through creative theatrical performances and collaborations with the Adler Planetarium, Hyde Park Jazz Festival/Back Alley Jazz, The Reva and David Logan Center, Court Theatre, and Victory Gardens Theatre.

In 2008 she created innovative programming called The A La Carte (a monthly thought-provoking theater discussion for South Side audiences) and the Tuxedo Junction (community field trips to see plays and other artistic performances). She is a featured artist in Black Theater is Black Life; An Oral History of Black Theater in Chicago 1997–2000. Chatman is a theater leader: writing a theater directing blog, acting as a panelist at The Goodman Theatre, and serving as a board member for the African-American Arts Alliance of Chicago. She is a community partner with the Green Line Performing Arts Center in Washington Park, and an arts cohort member with the Community Program Accelerators at the University of Chicago. Chatman is also committed to servicing in her home town of Gary, Indiana as a committee member for the Gary International Black Film Festival.

Chatman has been a theater teacher for sixteen years at the University of Chicago Charter School where she writes and directs countless plays rooted in social justice and empowerment for the youth. Her arts integration has made her a mainstay in the arts education community and a unique voice creating stories for Black children.

Dado is an ensemble member at A Red Orchid Theatre where her recent production Killing Game, contains original material by Eugene Ionesco never before seen in the United States. This groundbreaking production fuses new and contemporary music with absurd text. Her production of Sam Shepard's Simpatico toured to the McCarter Theatre in 2017. In 2018, she starred as Karla Stock in the world premiere and three-time Joseph Jefferson award-winning production of TRAITOR by Brett Neveu, directed by Michael Shannon.

Dado was the 2017 recipient of the Edes Prize for Emerging Artists from the University of Chicago. With this award she produced David Lang's Pulitzer-winning little match girl passion at Facility Theatre in a vacant middle school cafeteria. The project uses music, percussion, sculpture, movement, and whole animal butchery. Dado also directed the Chicago premiere of Jen Silverman's Phoebe in Winter and The Ruse of Medusa by Erik Satie for Facility Theatre, where she is a resident director.

Dado has also directed The Mutilated (Tennessee Williams); A Red Handed Otter, (Ethan Lipton); The Hothouse (Harold Pinter); Megacosm (Brett Neveu); The Unseen (Craig Wright); among others at A Red Orchid Theatre. Dado has also staged numerous experimental incubators there including Harold Pinter's Celebration which was infused with live music by Mauricio Kagel. She holds an MFA from the University of Chicago in visual art. She has directed and acted at Goodman Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Famous Door Theatre Company, Shattered Globe Theatre, Mary-Arrchie Theatre Company, TUTA Theatre, Trap Door Theatre, Facility Theatre, among many others.

Dado was awarded Goodman Theatre’s Michael Maggio Directing Fellowship in 2005, a Joseph Jefferson Award, and an After Dark Award. She teaches privately, at DePaul University, and at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Olivia Lilley is a director, writer, and producer. Her work runs the gamut from irreverent takes on classic texts (Faust: Save me or I’ll die, Neverland) to biographical (The Party House, In Sarah’s Shadow) to new plays that tackle contemporary intersectional issues (Mary Shelley Sees The Future, The Winter & The Whiskey, Expectations [for little mixed girls]). Lilley is the founding artistic director of the Runaways Lab Theater (voted Best New Theater Company by Chicago Reader in 2014). Lilley is the creative director of Pop Magic Productions, an artistic associate with Pivot Arts, and the artistic director of Prop Thtr. She attended Interlochen Arts Academy for music composition and received her BFA in directing from Carnegie Mellon School of Drama.

Coya Paz is a writer, director, and lip gloss connoisseur who was raised in Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, and the United States. She is the artistic director of Free Street Theater, a cofounder of the Proyecto Latina collective, and served as the founding co-artistic director of Teatro Luna for nine years. As a theater-maker, Paz specializes in cocreated and devised performance. Recent projects include a journalism collaboration with ProPublica Illinois and 100 Hauntings, a play about Chicago’s ghosts. She is currently at work on Still/Here: A Manifesto for Survival, an epic performance which will tour to all 50 wards of Chicago and mark Free Street Theater’s 50th year of performing in public spaces.

Paz is an associate professor in The Theatre School at DePaul University, where she is the chair of the Theatre Studies department. Paz holds a PhD in performance studies from Northwestern University. She is the coauthor, with Chloe Johnston, of Ensemble-Made Chicago: A Guide to Devised Theater and her writing is featured in the following anthologies: Blacktino Queer Performance, Windy City Queer: LGBTQ Dispatches from the Third Coast, Rebeldes: A Proyecto Latina Anthology, and Sexualities in Education: A Reader. Paz is a frequent commentator on race, politics, and pop culture for, and has been a featured reader at dozens of literary events including: Proyecto Latina, The Paper Machete, Palabra Pura, and 2nd Story. Above all, she believes in the power of performance and poetry to build community towards social change.

Denise Yvette Serna is a theater practitioner and arts activist based in Chicago, Illinois. Chicago credits include La Ruta (Steppenwolf Theatre Company), The Revolutionists (Strawdog Theatre Company), Cambodian Rock Band (Victory Gardens Theater), LTC Carnival 2018: ConeXion! (Latinx Theatre Commons), Hir (Steppenwolf Theatre Company), Earthquakes in London (Steep Theatre Company), The View Upstairs (Circle Theatre Chicago), For the Love Of (or, the Roller Derby Play) (Pride Films & Plays), HOMESET (Pop Magic Productions), SPARK (20% Theatre Company), _ (the) forgetme\knot (inappropriate theatre company), La Chingada (inappropriate theatre company), and Climate Change Theatre Action Chicago (Global Hive Laboratories). International credits include Medusa (Global Hive Laboratories), Much Ado About Nothing (The Shaw Theatre), Om Swastyastu from London – The Wailing Woman (Institut Seni Indonesia Denpasar), and _Heart’s Core (Community Arts North West Refugee Women's Theatre Programme). Serna holds an MFA in theatre directing and is cofounder of Global Hive Laboratories, a collective of international practitioners working toward a global theatre. She is an alumna of Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s Multicultural Fellowship and serves as a member of artEquity’s diverse cadre of facilitators who support equity-based initiatives nationwide. She is committed to supporting arts organizations as they incorporate the ideals of equity, diversity, access, and inclusion into their programming and internal operations, and move toward becoming transformative anti-racist forces in their communities.

Lucky Stiff is a director and performer working in Chicago and New York. They build original experiences that often combine nightclub culture with performance art, as well as classic stories. Their work spans theater, burlesque, and performance art and takes inspiration from Weimar, Germany, Pierrot clowns, and golden age musicals. Their performances have been featured at Steppenwolf Theatre Company, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Disco Dining Club and Bushwig Festival of Drag, among many others. They are a coproducer of GODDESS at Berlin Nightclub and a cohost of The Tea Podcast. They hold an MFA in directing for theater from Northwestern University.