(L to R) Dennis Zacek, Steve Key and Howie Johnson
Photo by Johnny Knight:

American Blues Theater kicks off their season with the world premiere of Illegal Use of Hands by Emmy Award-winner, two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist and ABT Artistic Affiliate James Still, directed by Sandy Shinner, August 31 – September 30 at Victory Gardens’ Richard Christiansen Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue. Tickets range from $10 – $39. Complete ticket information including ticket on-sale date and performance schedule will be announced at a later date.

In a small town where buzzards feast on a dead Chevy and the local Wal-Mart hires only college graduates, three men [ABT ensemble member Steve Key (Broadway tour of August: Osage County), ABT Artistic Affiliate Dennis Zacek (founding artistic director of Victory Gardens Theater) and Howie Johnson (award-winning Killer Joe at Profiles Theater)] wait out the night in the company of a high school football trophy they have rescued from obscurity. It’s a story about revenge,glory, and being a man—if only the characters could agree on what they can’t remember.

“We’re thrilled to present James Still’s voice to Chicago audiences for the first time,” says Gwendolyn Whiteside, ABT Producing artistic director. “Many of our ensemble have worked with James at other regional theaters, and we’re honored to bring him to our own artistic home.”

“This is my first major production in Chicago – a homecoming that is long in the making. Right out of college in the 1980s, I moved to Chicago as a young actor where I got my Equity card doing CLOUD 9 with Steppenwolf. Doing that play at that time and also sitting in the audience witnessing dozens of other great collaborations going on Chicago made a huge impact on me. Illegal Use of Hands comes from that instinct. I deeply admire ABT’s commitment to straight-shooting, muscular, hair-raisingly beautiful work with American plays,” says ABT Artistic Affiliate James Still.


JAMES STILL (playwright) Still’s award-winning plays have been produced at theaters throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, Japan, China and Australia. Still’s plays include The Heavens are Hung in Black, Iron Kisses, The Velvet Rut, A Long Bridge Over Deep Waters, Looking Over the President’s Shoulder, Searching for Eden, He Held Me Grand, And Then They Came for Me, A Village Fable, Hush: An Interview With America, and The Velocity of Gary (Not His Real Name). New plays include Illegal Use of Hands, I Love to Eat, The House That Jack Built, and The Mary Todd Lincoln Project. Still is the playwright-in-residence at the Indiana Repertory Theatre, an elected member of the National Theatre Conference, and a Fellow in the College of Fellows of the American Theatre. He is also a winner of the William Inge Festival’s Otis Guernsey New Voices in American Theatre award, the Medallion for Sustained Achievement from the Children’s Theatre Foundation of America, and the Charlotte B. Chorpenning Playwright Award for Distinguished Body of Work. Three of Still’s plays have received the Distinguished Play Award from the American Alliance for Theatre and Education, and his work has twice been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. His plays have been developed and workshopped at Sundance, the New Harmony Project, the O’Neill, The Lark, the Telluride Playwright’s Festival and Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Black Swan Lab. In addition to his work in the theater, Still also works in television and film and has been nominated for five Emmys, twice a finalist for the Humanitas Prize and a Television Critics Association Award. Still grew up in a small town in Kansas and lives in Los Angeles. After graduating from the University of Kansas, he began his professional theater career in Chicago. James Still is an Artistic Affiliate of American Blues Theater.

SANDY SHINNER (director) Sandy Shinner recently directed the Chicago premiere of Crooked by Catherine Trieschmann at Rivendell Theatre as well as Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room or the vibrator play at Victory Gardens Theater. Her recent directing credits include the world premieres of Joel Drake Johnson’s The Boys Room, A Guide For The Perplexed, Four Places ( VG), and Tranquility Woods ( Steppenwolf’s First Look) as well as Aditi Brennan Kapil’s Love Person, Jeffrey Sweet’s Flyovers (at New York’s 78th Street Theatre Lab) and the revival of Eurydice by Sarah Ruhl (co-directed with Jessica Thebus). She has directed ten world premieres by Claudia Allen including I Sailed with Magellan, adapted from the book by Chicagoan Stuart Dybek, as well as Winter and Fossils, both starring Julie Harris. Other credits include the world premieres of Memory House by Kathleen Tolan (Actors Theatre of Louisville’s Humana Festival and VG) and Trying by Joanna McClelland Glass, which transferred from Victory Gardens to off-Broadway’s Promenade Theatre. Shinner created and produced IGNITION at Victory Gardens. The bi-annual festival brought the critically-acclaimed The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity by Kristoffer Diaz, the widely produced Year Zero by Michael Golamco, and Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them by A. Rey Pamatmat to national attention as well VG’s world premiere of We Are Proud To Present A Presentation…by Jackie Sibblies Drury. With Dennis Zacek and Marcelle McVay, Shinner was honored to accept the 2001 Tony Award® for Outstanding Regional Theatre on behalf of Victory Gardens. Shinner is a member of the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers and was a finalist for the Joe A. Callaway Director’s Award for the New York production of Trying. She was recognized as one of the “Top 50 Players” in 2009 and as one of 16 “Chicagoans of the Year” in 2001. She is an editor of Victory Gardens Presents: Seven Plays from the Playwrights Ensemble, published by Northwestern University Press. She is also an adjunct professor at DePaul University.

STEVE KEY (Cody) Steve Key is an Ensemble member of ABT where he also works as a designer. He was last seen in Victory Gardens Theater’s Circle Mirror Transformation. Key has performed at The Town Hall in Galway IRL, The Public in NY, The Ahmanson in LA and The Kennedy Center in DC. He performed in the Broadway tour of August: Osage County. He’s worked on many stages in Chicago including: Victory Gardens, Goodman, Steppenwolf, Northlight, A Red Orchid, Remy Bumppo, Famous Door and Shattered Globe, where he’s a former Artistic Director. Key has received five Jeff Awards and five nominations for Principal and Supporting Actor and Ensemble (equity and non-equity).

DENNIS ZACEK (Wallace) Dennis Zacek held the position of artistic director at Victory Gardens Theatre for 30 years, and recently accepted the Actor’s Equity Association’s (AEA) Spirit Recognition Award. The Spirit Award is given to institutions that “have made non-traditional casting a way of life.” He also received the 2005 Jeff Award for Outstanding Achievement in Chicago Equity Theatre. He, his wife Marcelle McVay, and the theater are co-recipients of the 2001 Tony Award® for Outstanding Regional Theatre. He is also the recipient of the 2004 Artistic Leadership Award from the League of Chicago Theatres. Zacek and Ms. McVay received the 1999 Rosetta Lenoire Award from Actors’ Equity and the 1998 Sidney R. Yates Arts Advocacy Award from the Illinois Arts Alliance Foundation. He has directed more than 250 productions in his career, including, most recently, the Chicago premiere of Blackbird by David Harrower. Zacek is a professor emeritus of Loyola University and was included in 2005 in Utne magazine’s first-ever list of “Artists Who Will Shake the World.” He first appeared on stage with American Blues Theater in their inaugural production Dogman’s Last Stand by ABT co-founder, Rick Cleveland. He is an Artistic Affiliate of American Blues Theater.

HOWIE JOHNSON (Roy) Howie Johnson has performed with many Chicago theater companies including Steppenwolf, Profiles, Eclipse, Mary-Arrchie, EP, Illinois Theater, Trapdoor, Pegasus Players, Northlight, Buffalo Theatre and The Boxer Rebellion where he was a company member. He is currently a company member of SiNNERMAN Ensemble where he was last seen in Sweet Confinement. He toured with Leaving Iowa for almost two years. His films include The Express with Dennis Quaid and the Steven Soderbergh films The Informant and Contagion with Matt Damon, as well as the independent movies: The Site, Pyrite, One Small Hitch, Roundabout American, The Group, Our Fathers, and The Door. His T.V. credits include The Chicago Code, Shameless, Matadors, E.R., Prison Break, and the web series Pillowtalks.

ABT’s multi-generational and inter-disciplined Ensemble & Artistic Affiliates comprise all aspects of theater, television, and film. As of 2012, they’ve individually received over 115 Joseph Jefferson Awards celebrating excellence in Chicago theater, 2 Pulitzer Prize nominations, 2 Academy Award and nominations, 3 Golden Globe Awards and nominations, 12 Emmy Awards and nominations, 6 Writers’ Guild Awards, 17 Black Theatre Alliance Awards and nominations, 21 After Dark Awards, and multiple Regional theater awards from New York, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., and Florida. ABT is the second-oldest Equity Ensemble theater in Chicago. The 36-member Ensemble has over 418 combined years of collaboration on stage.

The ABT Ensemble includes all four Founders Ed Blatchford, Rick Cleveland, James Leaming, and William Payne with Dawn Bach, Matthew Brumlow, Manny Buckley, Kate Buddeke, Sarah Burnham, Casey Campbell, Brian Claggett, Dennis Cockrum, Laura Coover, Lauri Dahl, Kristin DeiTos, Joe Foust, Tom Geraty, Cheryl Graeff, Marty Higginbotham, Jaclyn Holsey, Lindsay Jones, Samantha Jones, Nambi E. Kelley, Kevin R. Kelly, Steve Key, Ed Kross, Warren Levon, Kelli Marino, Heather Meyers , John Möhrlein, Jim Ortlieb, Suzanne Petri, Carmen Roman, Editha Rosario, Sarah E. Ross, and Gwendolyn Whiteside.

Illegal Use of Hands by Emmy Award-winner, two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist and ABT Artistic Affiliate James Still, directed by Sandy Shinner, August 31 – September 30 at Victory Gardens’ Richard Christiansen Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue. Press opening for Illegal Use of Hands is Thursday, Sept. 6 at 7 p.m. Tickets range from $10 – $39. Complete ticket information including ticket on-sale date and performance schedule will be announced at a later date.

# # #

Illegal Use of Hands is made possible in part by funding by CME Foundation, The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and Actors Equity Foundation.