Jill Belluomini, NIU’s 2021 Lincoln Laureate winner, chemistry major and dance minor, was featured in the commencement video for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Here’s Jill’s story:
When Daniil Krimer graduated with his M.F.A. in acting in 2019, he had no way of knowing the kinds of changes that were on the horizon.
When he founded the Kane Repertory Theatre in St. Charles, Illinois, in 2019 and became its artistic director, he had no idea that the world—and particularly the theater arts world—would grind to a halt in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic soon after. But through creative adaptation, Krimer and his partner, Managing Director Avery Bowne, M.F.A. ’19, have found new and impressive ways to deliver fine theater to audiences during this unprecedented time.
“My job as artistic director is one that is often sporadic and doesn’t have a set schedule,” Krimer said. “It usually involves Avery and I, starting the day with a phone call, talking through everything that has to be done for the day. Some days that includes being on the phone with agents, sometimes that’s reading a bunch of new plays, and sometimes that is putting together marketing and press release materials.”
But in a new virtual world, the work of an artistic director has had to be even more reactive and flexible than ever.
“There is such a long way to go, but I do think Avery and I did something which was deemed impossible by most performing arts organizations—we grew during COVID,” he said. “We were able to innovate ways to grow the size of our network, audience reach, and donors, all during this awful period of COVID-19. I think that is definitely an accomplishment.”
Attracting up-and-coming playwrights and Oscar-nominated stars has been one way Krimer and his company have maintained success during a challenging time.
Running from April 10-May 2, the Kane Repertory Theatre hosted the world premiere online production of Hammaad Chaudry’s “Security.” The cast included Academy Award and three-time Golden Globe nominee Eric Roberts, as Homeland Security agent Brian, playing opposite Harsh J. Gagoomal’s Riaz. When 17-year-old Riaz arrives from Britain to the United States for the first time and is stopped at the airport by a Homeland Security officer named Brian, the experience changes his life forever. Thirteen years later, a grown up Riaz returns to the United States, hunts down Brian at his home, and now interrogates him, returning the favor.
The online production was a blend of film and theatre. Green screens and professional film set-ups will be sent to the cast in their individual locations, and with the work of a top-notch video editor, the final production will look and feel as if both actors are sharing the same space.
Krimer credits NIU with helping him build his acting skills as well as his ability to ignite passion for the arts in others, even in the face of adversity.
“One of my favorite memories from my time at NIU is teaching the THEA 110 Acting Fundamentals for the non-major students,” he said. “I got to teach acting to a lot of non-majors, and it was always so exciting to inspire passion for the art form to someone who registered for the class just to get a general education credit out of the way.”
Krimer went to graduate school because he wanted to be in control of his craft as an actor.
“I wanted my craft to be tangible, offering strong performances with consistency,” he said. “NIU provided me with the classes and learning opportunities to develop that skill. It really was in some ways the perfect place for me to grow. I don’t know that there is another M.F.A. acting program in the country that would have resonated with me the way NIU did.”
Krimer is clear that he chose to attend NIU because of Patricia Skarbinski, the head of the University’s M.F.A. acting program.
“After I interviewed with her and took a workshop with her in New York City back in 2016, I knew NIU was the school for me,” he said. ”Patricia Skarbinski is more than a teacher. She is a guru. I learned so much from her I don’t know where to start. She and a handful of other professors taught me the craft of acting, and I left school being confident that you could give me any play, TV or film script or commercial copy, and I would be bring that text to life. What those professors did for me is no small feat.”
Krimer also said his graduate school allowed him to form deep bonds with his classmates, which proved to be a great beginning for the theater.
“Considering I spent all three years of graduate school with the same 15 people, a majority of the classmates I graduated with are my dear friends,” Krimer said. “Starting a theater company with my classmate, Avery, grew from this foundation. The reason we are compatible professionally is because our time in graduate school together has instilled a deep understanding of one another’s artistic, entrepreneurial and societal sensibilities.”
So, after such surprise success, what is Krimer’s advice to other actors who may be discouraged in their careers by this difficult moment in history?
“Do not put yourself in a box. Do not live your life thinking there is a ceiling for your future,” he said. “So many people create boundaries for themselves without letting themselves actually take risks. Challenge yourself to apply for that scholarship or fellowship that you think you might not be worthy of. Challenge yourself to reach out to one of your industry idols and try to set up a meeting. We only have one shot at this thing called life, and every opportunity you don’t take a chance on is an opportunity wasted.”
For the past 28 years, Paula Frasz has been designing dances that mirror her students, their experiences and the world we all live in.
“All artists reflect wherever they are,” she said. “I don’t just see our students in the classroom. This is my community. This is their community and their surroundings.”
As the makeup of the students in the dance program has become more diverse, Frasz has challenged herself to create works that reflect her students and their world.
For all of her efforts over nearly three decades, Frasz has been named a 2021 Presidential Engagement and Partnerships Professor.
In 2018, students from the NIU Dance program earned an invitation to the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. to perform, “ENUF” a dance choregraphed by Frasz. The dance had been judged to be the best performance at the Central Conference of the American College Dance Association (ACDA).
“In the summer of 2016 I was sitting in my car waiting for the endless train to pass by in downtown DeKalb,” Frasz said. “The news was all about another young black man shot by police, and the Colin Kapernick kneeling situation during the national anthem. One of the train cars that went by had a graffiti tag on it that said ENUF in capital letters.
“I sat there and thought to myself, ‘Yes, I agree. ENUF already.’ I decided at that moment, because we have a wonderful group of minority dancers, that my next piece of choreography would be a dance addressing the history of oppression, suppression and violence against minority groups. I am an old hippie and protest is in my blood. It was time to speak out and my forum is movement.
“The dance, “ENUF,” was born.”
For Frasz, ENUF’s recognition and selection for the Kennedy Center performance was especially meaningful.
“I made it my mission to attract and train minority students as professional dancers, and to include dances in our concerts that were specifically choreographed for Black, Hispanic and other minority casts. To see seven Black, three Hispanic and one white dancer perform it with such heart, helped me realize the meaningful message of that dance.”
One of those who performed “ENUF” at the Kennedy Center was Amber Echols, a 2018 graduate of the dance program.
“I didn’t meet Paula until I transferred to NIU in the fall of 2016, but I had already heard of her and how amazing she is,” Echols said. “When she sees something in a dancer she pushes them to become better than they can ever imagine. I have studied so many types of dance styles, but once I was under her wing, I started to learn so much about the history of different minority dances. She took the time to learn for herself so she could help us understand it.”
In 2019, Frasz wrote the dance, “Your Excellency” inspired by black Union soldier James Henry Gooding’s letter to President Abraham Lincoln. Gooding had been born a slave in 1838 but as a child his freedom was purchased, perhaps by his father, and he was sent to school in New York City. In 1863, he enlisted in the Union Army and wrote letters that were published in his local paper. But it was a letter he wrote to President Lincoln that is most famous. Gooding wrote to Lincoln about the disparity of pay in the army, with Black soldiers earning three dollars less per pay period than white soldiers did. “We have done a Soldiers Duty,” Gooding wrote, “Why can’t we have a Soldiers pay?”
Frasz wrote “Your Excellency” with a specific cast in mind.
“We had these three fantastic male dancers and a wonderful actor,” she said. “I wanted to give them something, I wanted to give them a voice. I wanted to present it in a way where these four talented Black men could express anger and frustration, not in a rage. The way the letter was written, because it was the 1860s, the language is very proper, very respectful to President Lincoln. I could use that to make the movement contrast and really dynamic to show the anger and frustration.”
“Your Excellency” was performed at the American College Dance Festival at Western Michigan University at the beginning of March 2020, one of the last live dance performances before the COVID-19 pandemic.
The dance was first performed in November 2019 in conjunction with the NIU Art Museum exhibition, Exploring Aspects of War In and Through the Visual Arts.
Our BIPOC dancers are extremely talented and my work is enhanced by their skill,” Frasz said. “As our dance program attracts more highly skilled BIPOC dancers, my research also has become more focused. What better opportunity to give voice to an underserved population than to place their issues and concerns on stage? My personal growth has been profound, as the students generously share their cultural experiences and viewpoints, which helps me develop choreographic material to best suit them.”
This post originally appeared in the April 15, 2021 edition of NIU Today.
Gibson Cima, assistant professor of theatre history and head of the bachelor of arts in theatre studies program in the Northern Illinois University School of Theatre and Dance will appear on PBS’ The Roundtable Perspective. Cima discusses his extensive research into South African theatre.
The Roundtable Perspective “gives experts a platform for scholarly discussion, touching on a variety of communication issues.”
The episode will air Friday, April 9 at 8:30 p.m. and again at 10 a.m., Sunday, April 11 on Lakeshore PBS.
There is a livestream for Lakeshore PBS.
The NIU School of Theatre and Dance Black Artists Speaker Series welcomes alumna, J. Nicole Brooks for a guest artist lecture, Friday, April 9 at 3 p.m. via Zoom. Brooks is an award-winning actor, writer and director.
Her selected acting credits include Lottery Day (Lookingglass Theatre Company), Immediate Family (Center Theatre Group), and House Home (Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center, China). Her directing credits include Mr. Rickey Calls A Meeting, Thaddeus & Slocum: A Vaudeville Adventure and Black Diamond: the Years the Locusts Have Eaten.
Brooks is author of HeLa, Fedra: Queen of Haiti, Black Diamond, and 3 Weeks With Her Honor Jane Byrne. Television credits include recurring roles on Showtime’s The Chi and Comedy Central’s South Side. She is a multi-award winning artist honored by 3Arts, TCG Fox Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Black Ensemble Theatre Playwright of the Year, LA Ovation and Black Theatre Alliance. She is an ensemble member of Lookingglass Theatre Company.
Kane Repertory Theatre was founded by a group of recent graduates from the NIU School of Theatre and Dance and premiered their first show in 2019.
Kane Repertory Theatre Artistic Director Daniil Krimer and Managing Director Avery Bowne announce the world premiere online production of Hammaad Chaudry’s Security, as part of the company’s new Multiplatform Commission. Security, directed by Executive Producer Ansley Valentine, premieres online April 10-May 2, with plans for an in-person production when it is safe to do so.
The cast includes Academy Award and three-time Golden Globe nominee Eric Roberts (Brian) and Harsh J. Gagoomal (Riaz). The stage manager is Rayne Kleinofen with assistant stage manager Justin Williams.
Security: A 17 year old Riaz arrives from Britain to the United States for the first time and is stopped at the airport by a Homeland Security officer named Brian. The experience will change Riaz’s life forever. Thirteen years later, a grown up Riaz returns to the United States, hunts down Brian at his home, and now interrogates him—it’s time to return the favor.
The online production will be a blend of film and theatre. Green screens and professional film set-ups will be sent to the cast in their individual locations, and with the with the work of a top-notch video editor, the final production will look and feel as if both actors are sharing the same space.
A 17 year-old Riaz arrives from Britain to the United States for the first time, and is stopped at the airport by a Homeland Security officer named Brian. The experience will change Riaz’s life forever. Thirteen years later, a grown up Riaz returns to the United States, hunts down Brian at his home, and now interrogates him — it’s time to return the favor.
About the production
This world-premiere virtual production blends theatre and film into one compelling experience for the audience.
The actors are equipped with professional film equipment to record their performances in real-time. And through the work of the video editor, the final production will look as if both actors are sharing the same space. Living in the same world.
Tickets for the online production are $25 per household or $10 per adult, $8 per senior and $5 per student. Tickets are currently available online.
Artistic Director Daniil Krimer comments, “You don’t get to work with Oscar nominees often. Eric Roberts is one of those rare, class act actors that has immense talent and zero ego. It is a masterclass to watch him work and it’s an honor to have him as part of this project. Combine Eric Roberts with the dynamic Chicago actor Harsh J. Gagoomal and you forget that you’re watching a play on an Ipad and not in the actual room. With Zoom fatigue being a real thing, we want to make sure this isn’t just another production with two Zoom screens. We are combining the mediums here, intertwining film and theatre, and the performances are something special.”
“Hammaad Chaudry provides a wonderful new Muslim voice to the American theatre. In this time when we are being challenged by so many prejudices coming to light, this play provides an interesting and nuanced discussion of issues race, religion, and patriotism we all must confront,” adds Director/Producer Ansley Valentine. “Eric Roberts and Harsh Gagoomal are both powerful actors. Their combination of stage and screen experiences lift the words off the page in a thrilling way. And bringing Mr. Roberts back to the theatre, albeit virtually, is an exciting prospect. The play is scary, and funny, and touching. We hope to create a piece that provides a blend of stage and film for something we do not see often; it won’t be your typical Zoom reading. I can’t wait to share it with an audience!”
About the Artists
Hammaad Chaudry (playwright) is a U.S. and U.K. based playwright. His plays include An Ordinary Muslim, which received its World Premiere at the New York Theatre Workshop where he was the Tow Foundation Playwright in Residence. The play was the recipient of The Edgerton Foundation New Play Award and The Laurens/Hatcher Theater Grant. Other plays include God Willing, Tokens, Kismat, Salaam Mr. Bush and Bobby and Rabia. His work has been staged/developed at The Public Theater, The Pershing Square Signature Center, The Flea Theatre, The Kiln Theatre, The Royal Court Theatre in London and The Royal Lyceum Theatre in Scotland.
He was a Van Lier Fellow at New Dramatists, is an alumni of The Public Theater’s Emerging Writers Group and remains a Usual Suspect at the New York Theatre Workshop. He is also a graduate of The Royal Court Theatre’s Young Writers Programme, where the theatre selected his work for the Young Writers Festival and Unheard Voices competition. He is a recipient of the New Playwrights Award from Playwrights’ Studio Scotland. Residencies and workshops include: Cove Park Residency, Vineyard Arts Project Public Theater, Composer Librettist Studio (Nautilus Musical Theater). He holds an M.F.A. in Playwriting from Columbia University where he completed his studies on scholarship and a B.A. in International Politics and History from The University of Surrey in England.
Ansley Valentine (director, Executive Producer) is a professional director and choreographer for the theater and musical theater and an educator with experience teaching professionally at the collegiate level and in both public and private performing arts high schools. Ansley holds an M.F.A. in Directing from Indiana University. He is currently a proud member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society (SDC) and Actors’ Equity Association (AEA). Ansley is also a graduate of the Arts Midwest Minorities in Arts Administration Fellowship, a program funded by the Ford Foundation to increase minority representation in leadership roles at American not-for-profit organizations. His many awards include a 2014 Telly Award and a Kennedy Center Gold Medallion. He is past National Play Program Chair for Region III of the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. In that capacity, he helped to foster the writing and development process of a number of young playwrights including producing readings of new work. In the summer, he is Artistic Director of the Ohio Youth Ensemble Stage, a company that provides an inclusive performing arts experience for students regardless of ability or financial resources.
Ansley’s performance credits include (Mr. De Pinna) at the Indiana Repertory Theatre, and several seasons with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra’s A Yuletide Celebration as puppet master and Scrooge (a 9-foot tall puppet). He also performed his character mask work with the Alabama and Detroit Symphonies. He has shared the stage with legendary performers Kaye Ballard and Judy Kaye. Other credits include performances with the Indianapolis Shakespeare Festival, Phoenix Theatre, Red Barn Playhouse, Brown County Playhouse, Horsefeathers and Applesauce Dinner Theatre, a national tour with the Mr. Wizard production of Supermarket Science.
Eric Roberts (Brian) is an Academy Award nominee for his role in Runaway Train and a three-time Golden Globe nominee for Runaway Train, Star 80, and King of the Gypsies. He received critical acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival for his roles in A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints and It’s My Party. He starred in La Cucaracha, which won Best Film at the Austin Film Festival, and for which Roberts won Best Actor at the New York Independent Film Festival that same year. Other notable performances include his roles in Final Analysis, The Pope of Greenwich Village, Raggedy Man, Hollywood Dreams, Babyfever, Heaven’s Prisoners, The Dark Knight, and The Expendables, Lovelace and an upcoming feature he is not at liberty to discuss, but is most excited about.
On television, Roberts has received international attention for roles in “Heroes”, “Entourage,” “The L Word,” “The Cleaner,” the CSIs, “Justified,” “Less Than Perfect.” He made a profound impact in the Emmy-nominated adaptation of Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood,” directed by Jonathan Kaplan. He joined the cast of the Starz series “Crash” for its second season, playing the kind of complex character Roberts is known for.
Roberts has also diversified into music videos, appearing in Sophie Muller’s “Mr. Brightside” video for The Killers, plus its prequel, “Miss Atomic Bomb” and Brett Ratner’s video for Mariah Carey’s “Emancipation of Mimi”—both award winners. One of his most popular appearances was as the surprised recipient of a heart-felt, spontaneous shout out from The Wrestler’s Mickey Rourke at the Independent Spirit Awards. On stage, Eric won the Theatre World Award for his role on Broadway in Burn This. He returned to the New York stage in “The Exonerated” and appeared in the show’s touring company as well.
Roberts was born in Biloxi, Mississippi, and grew up in and around the Atlanta area. He began his career in theatre, and as an actor in his late teens in New York City on the soap opera “Another World.”
If you ask Roberts today, he will tell you he has more than retained his passion for acting, but that there have been some additions to his repertoire of which he is most proud, namely his daughter Emma Roberts, and his step kids, Morgan and Keaton Simons. He supports them in all their artistic, musical and culinary endeavors. Eric’s other personal passions can be explored at his website.
Harsh J. Gagoomal (Riaz) is a joyful artist and aspiring policymaker who currently resides in Chicago. Previous acting experiences include performing in Guards at the Taj (Underground Railway Theater), The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity (Red Theater Chicago), and Black & Privileged (Netflix, 1555 Filmworks). Harsh previously served as the director of The Homeless Monologues at the Goodman Theatre. Learn more about him at www.hiimharsh.com.
About the Kane Repertory Multiplatform Commission
The Multiplatform Commission was created to explore how virtual theatre can serve the transition of a brand-new play to the live stage. The Kane Repertory Theatre Multiplatform Commission selects one outstanding playwright to have a World Premiere of new play in two mediums—digitally this spring and, later, in-person when it is safe to do so. Hammaad Chaudry’s play was selected to be developed over a months-long process, both in this digital moment is explored in its entirety, using that process to inform its eventual premiere on the physical stage.
Daniil Krimer explains, “At Kane Rep’s 2020 New Play Lab, we gave 14 playwrights the opportunity to workshop their new works for about 10 hours each. In retrospect, it’s clear that that is not enough time to help playwrights make significant changes to their works of art. This realization inspired us to create the Multiplatform Commission. We decided that, in order to give a playwright the ability to develop a piece, we should commission them and work in tandem to give a piece life. After reading An Ordinary Muslim, we knew that Hammaad Chaudry was our guy. We are now on draft two of Security, and Hammaad’s ability to make everyday dramatic situations symbolize something much bigger, is a testament to why he is one of the premiere up-and-coming playwrights of this decade.”
About The New Play Lab
The New Play Lab is an ongoing project that is committed to helping playwrights continue the development of their new scripts. 2020 was a year full of challenges and opportunities, and Kane Rep worked with 14 professional playwrights on their new works. Over the course of five-months,15 plays, brought to life by more than 75 actors and directors, were produced. Funded by our generous audience and community, each and every participating theatre artist was compensated.
The New Play Lab provides a virtual rehearsal room to each selected playwright, connecting them with professional actors from our ensemble and beyond. On Wednesday evenings, audiences are invited to join us for a virtual reading of the scripts on YouTube Live. The audience gets a firsthand look at the development of these works and becomes an integral part in the creative process by joining us for post-read discussions, where sharing questions, thoughts, and impressions with the team is welcome.
As the company looks forward to 2021, it envisions a year of hope—one that will bring artists and audiences back to the theatre and in physical community with one another. The Kane Repertory Theatre Multiplatform Commission reflects that hope.
The 2020 New Play Lab has featured actors and directors Mark Brokaw (Drama Desk Award, Obie Award and Lucille Lortel Award winner), Rondi Reed (Tony Award winner), Austin Pendleton (Tony nominee/Drama Desk recipient), James Vincent Meredith (Steppenwolf ensemble member), Francis Guinan (Steppenwolf ensemble member), BJ Jones (Artistic Director, Northlight Theatre), Eddie Torres (Co-founder Teatro Vista), Isabel Arraiza (Driven, Pearson), Karen Rodriguez (Steppenwolf ensemble member), Hallie Gordon (former Artistic Director, Steppenwolf for Young Adults), Kyle Beltran (The Cherry Orchard, In The Heights) Justin Lucero (Aristic Director, El Paso Opera), Jon Blake Hackler (Dallas Theatre Center ensemble member), Ken Barnett (Mozart in the Jungle, Too Much Sun) Anthony Irons (Lookingglass ensemble member), Kevin Asselin (Artistic Director, Montana Shakespeare), Michael Stebbins (Artistic Director, Door Shakespeare), Marcy Kearns (Associate Artistic Director, Chamber Theatre), Michael Patrick Thornton (Artistic Director, The Gift Theatre), and Barbara Zahora (Artistic Director, Oak Park Festival).
About Kane Repertory
Kane Repertory Theatre is a home for professional, intellectually stimulating theatre. By using visceral performance to explore values in America, we seek to spark conversation, evoke empathy, and strengthen the community. We work to be one of the Midwest’s leading regional theaters by forming an ensemble of dynamic artists, providing patrons of all ages with first class theatre education, and engaging new audiences through various outreach efforts.
For more information about Kane Repertory Theatre, visit https://www.kanerepertorytheatre.com/