andrew adams

Andrew received his training while touring with Circus Smirkus for seven summers in Vermont. He graduated with a degree in Theatre from Bates College and moved to Chicago to work with the Midnight Circus in 1999.

He has worked for Gourmet Circus in Switzerland;  the Austrian National Circus in Salzburg; Teatro Zinzanni, a cabarat circus in Seattle and San Francisco; and Cirque du Soleil's- Zumanity, Spiegelworld's- Absinthe, and Cirque du Demain in Paris, France.

An article on Andrew & Sasha here.

San Francisco


bassel almadani

Combine Syrian heart with Midwestern soul to find Bassel Almadani commanding the microphone with a passion that shivers your spine. No stranger to adversity himself, Bassel's ties to his family abroad remain stronger than ever as they endure an ongoing humanitarian crisis in Syria. The soulful music of Bassel & The Supernaturals draws a deep connection between the ongoing chaos in his parents’ homeland and his personal experiences growing up in the US. 

Born and raised in the college town of Kent, Ohio, Bassel naturally gravitated towards music and social engagement during his childhood. As a youth he played violin, drums, guitar, and eventually began recording and performing his own music in 2003. He relocated to Columbus between 2006-2010 to study at the Ohio State University, graduating with two degrees in Logistics Management and International Business.

During his time in central Ohio, he self-produced and released two solo albums with the support of his longtime mentor Sinkane (Ahmed Gallab) - an internationally touring artist with Yeasayer, Caribou, Of Montreal, Born Ruffians, and his own group. Immediately upon graduating and touring for a month to promote his second solo release, Bassel relocated to Chicago to begin working as a business analyst.

Between 2010-2017 he booked and managed over 225 shows across the United State with his 7-piece neo-soul & funk ensemble, Bassel & The Supernaturals. During that time span he released 2 recordings (Dreamer, Elements), showcased at South By Southwest as an artist & speaker (ContraBanned: #MusicUnites), performed on major stages across the country (e.g. Kennedy Center, Summerfest, Millennium Park), and produced a multi-genre humanitarian tour (Amplify Peace: Saving Syrian Lives) with a global non-profit organization while advancing in his corporate career. He left his role as a senior analyst at Cars.com to pursue freelance work as a musician, producer, and tour manager.

Despite a series of challenges in his life including a massive house fire, a stolen car, the dramatic passing of his bassist - his focus on global awareness and charity has never been greater. In addition to performing in clubs and festivals across the nation, Bassel partners with universities and charity organizations nationwide to host seminars, workshops, and benefit concerts drawing attention to the crisis in Syria and issues facing the Arabs and Muslims in the US.



abu ansari

Abu Ansari was a member of the original “cast” of teachers at Voice of the City.  He has taught several acting and creative drama classes as well as performed on two occasions at Vaudeville Underground.  He received his BFA in Theatre from Southwest Texas State University in 1995.  

Abu is also an Associate Artist with The House Theatre, Chicago Dramatists and has worked with a number of other Chicago theatres, including InFusion, Dog & Pony, Royal George, Stage Left, TimeLine, American Theatre Company, Apple Tree, Strawdog, Circle Theatre, Metropolis, Bailiwick, and Breadline.  Abu has enjoyed teaching acting classes to children and teens with a number of other social issues and children’s theatres, including Imagination Theater, GTC Dramatic Dialogues, Kidsworks, and Metropolis Theatre.


Julie's lighting of Khecari Dance, The Waking Room 2009; Choreography: Jonathan Meyer; Dancer: Philip Elson  Photography: Dan Merlo 

Julie's lighting of Khecari Dance, The Waking Room 2009; Choreography: Jonathan Meyer; Dancer: Philip Elson  Photography: Dan Merlo 


Julie ballard

Julie E. Ballard is a Chicago-based professional theatrical technician affiliated with IATSE Local 2 and Actors’ Equity Association, and the Stage Manager and Properties Master for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. Additionally, Ms. Ballard is the owner/operator of OverlapLighting, a freelance production company specializing in production/stage management, lighting design and photography, and is the Technical Director, Resident Lighting Designer and Stage Manager for The Seldoms. Ms. Ballard was the Lighting Director at the Dance Center of Columbia College for nearly 8 years. She has freelanced for two decades in and around Chicago (Same Planet/Different World, RPM Productions, Kristina Isabelle Dance), Cleveland (Marquez Dance Project, Travesty Dance), and St. Louis, where she has worked as a visiting technician, designer, and stage manager for the Emerson Spring to Dance festival since 2011, in addition to touring nationally and internationally. 

Ms. Ballard has served as the Production/Stage Manager for the American Dance Festival (2003-2004) and Lighting Supervisor for David Dorfman Dance (2006-2008). Upcoming engagements include the JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Festival in Durbin, South Africa and a multi-city national tour with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. Ms. Ballard holds degrees in Theater (BA, 1999) and Lighting Design (MFA, 2004) from Kent State University and the University of Florida, respectively. Julie Ballard has been an Associate Artist with Voice of the City since 2012. Visit her portfolio at www.overlaplighting.com 


The Luna Blues Machine

The Luna Blues Machine


belinda cervantes

Born in McAllen, Texas and raised in Chicago, Belinda is an actor, musician, singer/songwriter and educator.  She completed her BA in Theatre and English at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin and became an Associate Artist with Voice of the City in 2008. 

Belinda is co-founder of The Luna Blues Machine, a band formed with sister Maritza Cervantes that infuses the sounds of folk, hip-hop, Latin and soul.  They have had the pleasure of playing such Chicago venues like Elbo Room, The Underground Wonder Bar, Funky Buddha Lounge, Goose Island, Chicago Cultural Center, The Hot House, Subterranean, The Morseland, and The Hideout. They were part of the Great Performer's of Illinois for two consecutive years and won Underground Wonder Bar's Battle of the Bands in 2006.  Their self-titled debut album was released in 2009 and their song Roots Run Deep was released as part of the Ten x Ten project in 2012, (a collection of prints and music between Chicago artists).  They were featured on WGN's Adelante Chicago in 2011 and were thrilled to be a part of Howard Zinn's The People Speak, Live! in 2012 at the Metro.  They had the honor of playing for Gathering of Nation's Powwow and Miss Indian World Pageant in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2013, which sprouted their latest live album released that year.  They were happy to return to Gathering of Nations in 2015 as well.  They won Moe's Tavern's Battle of the Bands in the spring of 2017 and had the pleasure of playing the Budlight Stage at The Taste of Chicago that summer.  Most recently, their song El Cubano was featured in Heath Takes a Trip, a short film directed by Ted James.  

As an actor, Belinda has worked both in the theatre and in front of the camera.  Favorite credits include The House on Mango Street for Steppenwolf for Young Adults, Kity Y Fernanda for 16th Street Theatre, and Machos (Non-equity Jeff award-winner for Best Ensemble), Lunatic(a)s, and S-E-X Oh! for Teatro Luna where she was an ensemble member from 2006-2010.  She has been in countless industrial films and has had the pleasure of being in a few commercials.  

When Belinda is not performing, she is a homeschool mom to her two wonderful daughters.  



maritza cervantes

Maritza Cervantes is an artist, actress, musician, and educator living in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood. She was born and raised in Chicago and graduated from Columbia College Chicago with BA in Theater concentrating on acting.

Formerly, she was an artistic ensemble member with Teatro Luna from 2005-2010.

Maritza is one of the co-founders of the hip-hop, soul-influenced band The Luna Blues Machine, which plays throughout the city and has been a resident artist at Voice of the City.

Maritza is also an artistic associate with Voice of the City. Along with her sister Belinda, Maritza was founded the Fine arts for Tots program at St. Luke's in Logan Square and teaches at Pulaski Fine Arts Academy's CPS After School Programs.


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Elizabeth Czekner

Elizabeth Czekner is a Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist, performer, and teacher.  Focusing on the artifacts of personal histories, Elizabeth combines video, performance, and traditional forms of art-making to examine the complexities of identity within everyday life.  She earned a Master’s of Fine Arts degree from Columbia College Chicago in 2006, where she focused her graduate studies in video, new media theory and practice.   

Elizabeth has exhibited her work in several solo and collaborative exhibitions nationally, including: The Mattress Factory, Cornell University, and The Chicago Cultural Center.  Elizabeth joined the Voice of the City family in 2003.  She is currently an Associate Artist and Visual Artist in Residence for 2007-2008.

Elizabeth created a temporary installation, "Renovate" in the Voice of the City studio over the course of many months in 2007 - 2008.  The piece recreates journal entries from her personal diary as an ongoing series, exploring the imperfections of memory and the transparency of time.



sheila donohue

Sheila Donohue is a performance poet and a developer of communication arts. For over 20 years, Sheila has performed poetry and character monologues that have been seen by audiences at The Museum of Contemporary Art, The Steppenwolf Theater, The Rhinoceros Theatre Fest, Ravinia, The Chicago Cultural Center, the infamous Green Mill Jazz Club, and on Oprah! She is a four-time National Poetry Slam Champion. 

Sheila is author of the book, The Avalanche Expert, published in 1989. Since that time all her work has focused on the live performance of her original writing. She is a founder of Betty's Mouth, a unique poetry duo with poet Cin Salach, where original writing is performed and sound exploration is a key part of the form that they have developed.

Sheila founded Center Portion in 2000, a place where unique performance, installations, and workshops are staged. It offers gallery, performance and garden areas in the heart of Chicago's north side. Recently featured in the Chicago Tribune, the work Sheila is doing at Center Portion is a natural extension of her role as President of On Track Marketing Communications, where she helps organizations and business write their story. 


Dave Parrish Photography

Dave Parrish Photography


winifred haun 

Winifred Haun is the founder and artistic director of Winifred Haun & Dancers. Formed in 1991, the Company has frequently been named Critic’s Choice by the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Reader. Ms. Haun’s choreography has been presented at numerous prestigious theatres throughout Chicago and the midwest, and her work has been commissioned by several local and national dance companies.  Ms. Haun performed as a soloist with the Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theatre (JHCDT) from 1985 to 1991. In 1999, she won the Ruth Page Award for Outstanding Contribution to Dance in Chicago.  For seven years, Ms. Haun produced the annual Chicago’s NEXT Dance Festival, which grew to be the city's largest venue for new and original dance works by Chicago artists.  Ms. Haun has taught modern dance and dance composition at many universities, festivals and workshops worldwide.  Ms. Haun holds a B.A. degree in theatre/dance from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.  Winifred is also an Associate Artist of Voice of the City.  She is married to theoretical physicist, Stephen Parke, and they have three daughters, ages twelve, seven and four.

Wini completed her third residency with Voice of the City, concentrating on completing another section of "Promise," a piece incorporating modern dance and aerial arts, that is based on the themes of John Steinbeck's East of Eden.  

Oak Park         Chicago


jill heyser 

Jill is a student/ teacher/ fan of the Actors Gymnasium in Evanston, IL.,  Jill has been seen around town, walking tall on stilts or hanging from this or that, as well as, "Estrogenfest 2005", "Le Bouef sur le Toit" at the Chopin Theatre (2004), "Solestance" at the Ruth Page Theatre (2004), "Barnum" with Big Voice Theatre (2003), The Flying Griffin Circus/ Gulliver's Circus (2001 & 2000) at the Actors Gymnasium, and "The Tangerine Family Circus" (2005) at the Actors Gymnasium as a choreographer and performer. Jill enjoys performing anywhere that she can keep her head in the clouds . 



deborah millstein kronenberg

Deborah E.M. Kronenberg is an Assistant Professor of Theatre and Performing Arts Department Coordinator at Pine Manor College. In addition to earning her Master’s in Educational Theatre from NYU, she has spent close to 20 years teaching theatre for social change in public schools and urban communities. She has published “Towards an Empowerment Approach” in Youth Theatre Journal and “Sixth Graders Bring Ancient Civilizations to Life” in Contours of Inclusion. She is currently working towards her M.F.A. at Goddard College in Interdisciplinary Arts. Deborah focuses her research in how the arts can build community in educational settings, increasing student engagement, retention, and highlighting the power of performing arts to develop collaborative, creative, critical citizens.


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teresa Kuruvilla

Teresa is an actress, singer and teaching artist currently based in Chicago. She recently graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a BFA in Music and a BBA in Marketing. 

Over the last five years, she has performed with many Chicago theatre companies, including Broken Nose Theatre, Waltzing Mechanics, Erasing the Distance, Pride Plays and Films, and many others. 

Teresa has been featured in multiple Voice of the City productions, including My-Gration (Chicago Home Theatre Festival), Vaudeville Nights, Unnatural Space (VOTC/Guild Literary Complex), and Emotion in Sound (VOTC/Teatr Brama), Bare Bones Theatre Festival (VOTC). 

Teresa also works as a teaching artist, and has taught several Voice of the City programs, including Fine Arts for Tots at Mozart Park, Fine Arts for Kids residency in Music Theatre at Goethe Elementary School, ART - Artist Readiness Training Program, and Arts Camp.  


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Julie Laffin

Julie describes herself as a visual artist working in a multidisciplinary tradition that requires the dynamics of time to complete the images she makes.  In addition to numerous performances in Chicago and the midwest, Laffin has performed in New York at Franklin Furnace Archive, The Streetwise Festival of Live Art in Glasgow, Scotland and the New Art Gallery in Walsall, England, The Prague Quadrennial, The Dutch Theatre Festival, Kings College, London and participated in the Jakarta Biennale 2011.  Her website is: www.julielaffin.com

Photo in gallery: Over, performance by Julie Laffin. The Jakarta Biennale #14, January 2012.  Performed by Ivana Stojakovic. Photos by Deden Bulqini. Above: Arizona, 2013


Sam on Dark Matter Radio,  Que4 Radio . .

Sam on Dark Matter Radio, Que4 Radio. .


Samuel J Lewis II

Born in rural Tennessee and raised in St. Louis, Sam moved to Chicago to attend Columbia College in 1995. In 1999 Sam became a founding member and Director of the Elastic Arts Foundation (EAF.) Since that time, Sam has worked to enrich the tremendous arts scene in Chicago. His credits include AFTRA voice-work, acting in several theater productions, commercials, and films. He created and curates the Hip-Hop and Dark Matter Series at Elastic. He was a founder of the Logan Square Arts Festival and A Day In Avondale.

Sam has performed in several puppetry festivals, held workshops for Chicago Public School students, and worked as a Teaching Resident with Elastic and Redmoon Theater Company. He currently sits on the Board of Directors of Elastic Arts and I AM Logan Square and was a founder and board member of the Logan Square Chamber of Arts. Most recently, Sam was a cast member in Marvin Tate's adaptation of Langston Hughes' Ask Your Mama, which was commissioned by the Jazz Institute of Chicago and performed in late 2017 as part of their Jazz City series. Sam is also a 2018 Resident at Ragdale Foundation, focusing on creating new puppetry work.



ilana manaster 

Ilana Manaster began her relationship with Voice of the City back in 2002, as a frequent contributor to Vaudeville Underground, where she created and performed a variety of different characters every month. In 2003, she and Dawn Marie Galtieri shaped the work she had done for Vaudeville into an evening of theater called Present Imperfect,in which Ilana played eleven different characters during a sixty minute performance. The show was produced by Dawn Marie Galtieri and Christopher Ellis at Glade Memorial Hall. After taking another one-person show, My Life as a Blonde to the New York Fringe Festival in 2004 and spending some time working as a standup comedian in and around New York City, Ilana shifted her focus from performance to writing fiction. She currently teaches composition at Columbia University and has recently finished her first novel,The Ruckus.

Ilana has an MFA in fiction from Columbia University. Her work has been seen in Chicago at the Rhinoceros Theatre Festival and at the 1926 Gallery. Her fiction has appeared in Soon Quarterly. In 2012 she completed a residency at Catwalk in Catskill, New York.



akari Miki 

Akari Miki is an installation and performance artist, who fabricates shape, words and presence of body to express accumulated moments felt in a personal space.  She earned an MFA degree in Fiber and Material Studies from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Born in Tokyo and lived in both Japan and in the United States, Akari has recognized the importance of sharing artistic expression as communication tools.  Throughout her experience of working with children, she has appreciated following their unique concepts and creative processes.

Akari has exhibited, performed and collaborated at various locations, including San Francisco, Chicago and Tokyo, Japan.  She currently treasures the time spent with her daughter, enjoying all the imaginative responses and new encounters.



alva nelms



Neil Ellis Orts

Neil Ellis Orts is a writer and performer. A native of Texas, he currently lives in Houston, but spent two wonderful years in Logan Square while he pursued his M.A. in Interdisciplinary Arts at Columbia College Chicago. His creative writing has appeared in a number of small literary journals and anthologies and his novella, Cary and John, was published in 2014. As a performer, he makes performance art pieces as well as occasionally taking a role in a theater production. He briefly ran a small press, neoNuma Arts, which published, among other books, The Fatal Gift of Beauty and Other Plays by Christopher E. Ellis of Voice of the City. His website is www.neilellisorts.com.



Interviews with Neil: Most current in VoyageHouston; and with Suzanne Vega here.


carmel avegnon sanders

Carmel Avegnon Sanders, Artistic Director of Brave Young Voices: The Westerville Youth Theatre Project is a graduate of Otterbein University with a BFA in Musical Theatre and a founding member of The Treehouse Theatre Company in Chicago. Carmel has been fortunate to perform domestically and abroad in TV, Film, Radio and her first love Theatre. She is also a proud mother of three children, an arts administrator, a youth arts advocate, a teacher/coach and a performer with over 20 years experience in the world of youth arts and advocacy.

With her work at well-known and internationally recognized youth theatre companies, she was able to develop her artistic philosophy working with young people and hone her skills as a teaching artist. Above all, Carmel is committed to the idea that theatre has a transformative power to create opportunities for meaningful dialog that is vital to the healing of our society. Carmel is one of our founding Associate Artists. 

Westerville, OH

Brave Young Voices Ensemble

Brave Young Voices Ensemble

Dan accompanying Jimmy Odom at cabaret,  Davenport's

Dan accompanying Jimmy Odom at cabaret, Davenport's


daniel Stetzel

Dan is a musical director, arranger, vocal instructor and pianist.  He has worked at most of the major equity theatres in Chicago, and for many of the LORT theatres across the United States.  As a conductor, he has toured nationally, and continues to accompany many of the major Broadway auditions in Chicago.  Dan has long been affiliated with the Chicago Humanities festival, overseeing and directing programs featuring Stephen Sondheilm, Jerry Herman, Stephen Schwartz, John Bucchino, Craig Carnelia, Cy Coleman, and a host of performers, lyricists, and composers.  His work in musical theatre has been recognized many times by the Joseph Jefferson committee.  Dan is proud to be a member of the faculty at the Chicago College of the Performing Arts at Roosevelt University.



Lauren vallone

Lauren is an artist, youth worker, gardener, sign language interpreter and doula. Raised on a farm in New Jersey she has lived and loved in Chicago since 2005. She enjoys collaborating with young people, learning through listening and believes in actively aligning her practices with her politics.

Every summer, Lauren leads the Design.Build.Grow.Eat. youth in planning seasonal meals, one group at a time, one week at a time; she helps them execute the final community potluck; and also guides them in making medicinal balm, from weeds on the garden site, mixed with beeswax and essential oils.