utility

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By Emily Schwend
Directed by Artistic Director Georgette Verdin

April 9 – May 4 (Midwest Premiere)

Press opening: Tuesday, April 9 at 8 pm
Subscriber/Board opening: April 11 at 8 pm (reception to follow)

Amber is doing everything she can to keep her head above water, but no matter how hard she tries it never seems to be enough. Money is tight, her marriage is in turmoil, and she’s juggling two jobs just to make ends meet. As she struggles to plan her eight-year-old daughter’s birthday party, Amber must stay strong as she feels increasingly invisible in her own life. Meticulous and heartbreaking, Utility offers an empathic glimpse into America’s working poor.

Emily Schwend's Utility won the 2016 Yale Drama Series Award, and the 2017 IT Award for Outstanding Premiere Production of a Play.

PRESS

Nobody might have ever noticed the Herculean effort that goes into making a birthday party like this, until the pen of playwright Emily Schwend put it into a script that was lovingly massaged by Director Georgette Verdin… Kevin D’Ambrosio brings his still-waters-run-deep character to life so well we ache with tenderness at knowing his so special soul. You too may find yourself especially “processing” just how perfectly Brynne Barnard and Barbara Figgins portray the intimacy of their mother-daughter bonds, where fractions-of-expressions ricochet across a kitchen table filling every second of their interactions with weight.
— Amy Munice (Picture This Post)

It’s the kind of play that can take several minutes just to allow its main character to sit and smoke a cigarette in order to unwind after her hard day, and Barnard is the kind of actress who can make this kind of silent scene as full of meaning as any dialogue.
— Karen Topham (Chicago On Stage)
Brynne Barnard as the stoical matriarch and a trio of supporting actors assembled for Interrobang’s midwest premiere inhabit their personae with unconditional compassion and not a hint of condescension…
— Mary Shen Barnidge (Windy City Times)
In Barnard’s hands, Amber shines through. She is tired, but not broken and for her performance alone, Utility is worth seeing.
— Kevin Curran (Chicago Theatre Review)
Director Georgette Verdin shows great sensitivity towards both her actors and their characters. It would be very easy to let Chris slide into being an absolute loser, or Amber drift into being harsh and judgmental, but Verdin keeps the actors truthful, which makes them all the more vulnerable, and watchable. Brynne Barnard fills every moment with energy, and her cascading emotions are visible in every look. Patrick TJ Kelly brings an appealing warmth and charm to Chris, while Kevin D’Ambrosio’s Jim shows a depth of feeling that surprises Amber. Barbara Figgins’ Laura (immediately recognizable in the Texas grandma uniform of big sparkly T-shirt/capri pants/shiny sandals), instead of being loud and domineering, shows a lovely softness and care for her daughter when Amber nears her breaking point. Kerry Chipman’s set and Michelle E. Benda’s lighting design nail the simple small town aesthetic, as do Melissa Perkins’ costumes.
A play like UTILITY could be easily missed because it’s a slice of daily life for many people, with simple themes and quiet revelations. To overlook this play, however, would be a mistake – it gives us insight into a sizable segment of America that seems unremarkable, but is actually full of dreams, heart, and humanity.
— Elizabeth Ellis (PerformInk)
…[a] resonant portrait of family life deep in the shadows of the American dream.
— Dmitry Samarov (Chicago Reader)
Brynne Barnard’s characterization of Amber makes the play worth seeing alone, and the supporting roles are heartfelt and convincing. The scenery and props designed by Kerry L. Chipman are remarkable and draw the audience in to the low-income home before the actors set foot on stage—the dingy wallpaper, the plastic imitation-marble kitchen table, the used toys on the floor—all are purposeful and further the plot and the character’s struggle to make ends meet.
— Katie Priest (third coast review)
The struggle is real and I couldn’t be happier it’s on stage. Theatre is a unique window into the lives and psyches of others, and it’s integral to see the truth of so many women’s lives finally being explored… I loved the truthiness of this piece. Kudos to Interrobang Theatre Project for the excellent choice… and be prepared to think, breathe, and just be, in those still, small spaces in a hectic life. Utility is highly recommended.
— Bonnie Kenaz-Mara (ChiiL Mama)

The Artists

CAST

Brynne Barnard (Amber)
Kevin D’Ambrosio (Jim)
Barbara Figgins (Laura)
Patrick TJ Kelly (Chris)
Ty Bonneville (understudy, Amber)
Jean Marie Koon (understudy, Laura)
David Stobbe (understudy, Chris/Jim)

PRODUCTION TEAM

Emily Schwend, playwright
Georgette Verdin, director

Lindsay Bartlett, dialect coach
Claire Bauman, assistant director
Michelle Benda, lighting designer
Adam Borchers, properties designer
Kerry Lee Chipman, scenic designer
Blake Cordell, master electrician
Jamie Kreppein, stage manager
Melissa Perkins, costume designer
Erik Siegling, sound designer
Richie Vavrina, production manager
Bryan Zoleta, technical director

Elana Elyce, artistic producer
Sarah Gise, casting coordinator
Christopher Aaron Knarr, production artist
Matthew Nerber, marketing associate
Nancy Payne, marketing director
David Rosenberg, press relations
Jon-Paul Schaut, social media director
Zoë Verdin, creative director

Evan Hanover, photographer

CAST BIOS

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BRYNNE BARNARD, Amber

Brynne Barnard, a proud ITP ensemble member, is thrilled to be playing Amber in the Season 9 production of Utility. This will be Brynne’s second principal role with Interrobang, following her performance as Marion in Caryl Churchill’s Owners. She is also elated to have worked for the last 8 years as an actress, assistant director, event coordinator, and text coach with the amazing group of artists at the Chicago Shakespeare Project. She sends so many thanks to Georgette and the rest of the ITP crew for this opportunity, and just as many thanks to her handsome partner in crime (Tom) and her incredible mentors, friends, and family for their unwavering support and line-running sessions.

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KEVIN D’AMBROSIO, Jim

Kevin is excited for this opportunity with Interrobang Theatre Project. He recently appeared in the staged radio play of Miracle on 34th Street (The Artistic Home). Other credits include: An Oak Tree! (Red Theater); Chicago Voices Project (Tellin’ Tales Theatre in association with the Lyric Opera of Chicago); A Touch of the Poet (The Artistic Home); Three Sisters (Piven Theatre). As a storyteller, Kevin is a winner of The Moth Story SLAM. As a teacher, he created a personal narrative storytelling lab for detainees in Cook County Jail, and at Piven Theatre, he helped establish a theatre games program for adults with development disabilities. He is a graduate of The ACADEMY at Black Box Acting. Follow him over social media: @kdaspeaker

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BARBARA FIGGINS, Laura

Barbara is making her ITP debut. She is an ensemble member with Irish Theatre of Chicago, where she most recently reprised her Jeff-nominated one-woman show My Brilliant Divorce at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center at Notre Dame University. She has also been seen in In Pigeon House, The Shadow of a Gunman, Dancing at Lughnasa, Our Father, Scenes from the Big Picture, WAR, and Bold Girls. Other credits: White Lillie-Anne in Barbecue (Strawdog Theatre at Steppenwolf); Ellie in Scapegoat: Or Why the Devil Always Loved Us (New Colony); Pam in Exit Strategy (Jackalope Theatre); Miss Tesman in Hedda Gabler (Writers Theatre); The Awake (First Floor Theatre); Polina in The Seagull (The Artistic Home); The History Boys (Timeline, Jeff Award Best Ensemble), Cherrywood (Mary Arrchie).

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Patrick TJ KELLY, Chris

Patrick is thrilled to be making his Interrobang Theater debut as Chris in their production of Utility. Patrick may have last been seen in Masque Macabre (Strawdog Theater), Enemy of the People (Goodman), or VR Sorry (Rhino Fest) that he co-wrote and directed. Outside of acting, Patrick is also a writer, educator, and a director for Lakeside Shakespeare's education program where he has been beyond grateful to spend his last three summers. Patrick is represented by Stewart Talent.

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TY BONNEVILLE, Understudy (Amber)

Ty is very excited to be working with Interrobang for the first time. She is a graduate of Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, where she has worked with GreenStage and Seattle Musical Theatre among others. Ty is an actor, fight choreographer, playwright and aerialist. For information on upcoming work: TyBonneville.com

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JEAN MARIE KOON, Understudy (Laura)

Jean Marie is very excited for this opportunity and grateful to Georgette for bringing her onboard. Last year at this time she was appearing as the suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst in The Good Fight with Babes With Blades. She has also performed with Eclectic Full Contact Theatre, Idle Muse Theatre, Polarity Ensemble Theatre, Broken Nose Theatre, Pride Films and Plays, and Runcible Theatre. She has understudied for productions with Erasing The Distance, Piven Theatre Workshop, Eclipse, The Gift, Theater Wit, Steep, and Jackalope theatres. Thanks to Rob for his loving support. In remembrance of Molly.

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DAVID STOBBE, Understudy (Chris/Jim)

David is a graduate from Columbia Co, a co-founder of the Bittersweet Arts Co, and a master gardener. Recent credits include Rosencrantz in R&G Are Dead at Metropolis Performing Arts Center, Reg in The Full Monty at Theo Ubique, and Celeb-Jay in the premiere of Forsythian Dweller's Club, which performed in the Minneapolis Fringe Festival in summer 2018. This July, David will play Josh in the world premiere production of Bury Me with Dandelion Theater, performing at Rivendell Theatre. Also around this time, his garden will be in full bloom. So call or message him for any herbs or vegetables. Love to his girlfriend (aka his sack of potatoes).

PRODUCTION TEAM

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GEORGETTE VERDIN, Director (Artistic Director)

Georgette has been working with ITP since 2014. She is also a freelance director, theater and speech educator and arts integration specialist. She was the founding theater teacher at Polaris Charter Academy, an Expeditionary Learning School in West Humboldt Park, where she taught full-time for eight years. For Interrobang, Georgette directed last season’s Jeff recommended production of GRACE by Craig Wright, season seven’s production of the 2013 Yale Drama Series winner, STILL by Jen Silverman, as well as season six’s KATRINA: MOTHER-IN-LAW OF ‘EM ALL by Rob Florence and the Jeff recommended RECENT TRAGIC EVENTS, also by Craig Wright. Other recent directing credits include Jeff Recommended 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEAS (Assistant Director, Lookingglass Theatre Company), Jeff Recommended TIME STANDS STILL (AstonRep), PHOEBE IN WINTER (Assistant Director, Facility Theatre) and Goodman’s A CHRISTMAS CAROL (Assistant Director). Georgette holds a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre Performance from McNeese State University in Lake Charles, LA and a Master in Directing from the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University.

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EMILY SCHWEND, Playwright

Emily Schwend's UTILITY won the 2016 Yale Drama Series Award, and the 2017 IT Award for Outstanding Premiere Production of a Play). She was a 2016-2017 Radcliffe Institute Fellow at Harvard University and the inaugural 2014 Tow Foundation playwright-in-residence at Second Stage Theatre. Her work has been developed at The New Group, Roundabout Theatre Company, ACT Theatre, Marin Theatre Company, Partial Comfort Productions, Ars Nova, the Alliance Theatre, PlayPenn, and the O’Neill National Playwrights Conference, among others. She is a frequent contributor to Christine Jones’s Theatre for One booth. She is the recipient of a Bogliasco Fellowship, a MacDowell Fellowship, the ACT New Play Award, the David Calicchio Emerging American Playwrights Prize, the Lecomte du Nouy Prize, and the Heideman Prize. Her work has been commissioned by the Studio Theatre in DC, the Ensemble Studio Theatre through the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the Old Vic in London. She is a proud alumna of the playwriting programs at Juilliard and Tisch.


LINDSAY BARTLETT, Dialect Coach
Lindsay is thrilled to be coaching with Interrobang Theatre once again having coached for previous shows like Grace, Foxfinder, Owners, Pitchfork Disney, and Terminus. She has been coaching throughout Chicagoland for over 11 years, some of her productions have included Night at Alachua County (WildClaw Theatre), Priscilla: Queen of the Desert (Pride Films & Plays), The Bottle Tree (Stage Left), Dancing at Lughnasa (Wheaton College), A Perfect Ganesh (Eclipse Theatre), Fog Island (Filament Theatre), and Miss Marx: or the involuntary side of living (Strawdog Theatre), History Boys (TimeLine Theatre), among many others. For a complete look at her previous shows, head to www.lindsaybartlett.com

CLAIRE BAUMAN, Assistant Director
Claire is thrilled to return to ITP as Assistant Director after understudying in Recent Tragic Events. Drawing from over 15 years of acting and dancing experience, Claire is a director and choreographer in Chicago. She has directed for Rhinofest, Broken Nose Collective, Chicago Theatre Marathon, as well as produced her own pieces and events, including Making (the) Movement, a dance arts festival supporting Chicago organizations dedicated to combating sexual violence. She is an Artistic Associate with Walkabout Theatre and has participated in DirectorsLabChicago and the Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation Observership Program. Claire graduated from Vassar College.

MICHELLE E. BENDA, Lighting Design
Michelle is thrilled to be designing her second show with Interrobang Theatre Project! She previously designed I Call My Brothers earlier this year. Lighting design credits include Everybody (Brown Paper Box Co.), Hamlet (The Gift Theatre), The Gentleman Caller (Raven Theatre), Collage of a Dystopian Midwest, Frankenstein (Bower Theatre Ensemble), Failure: A Love Story (Illinois Theatre), and Cabaret (No Stakes Theater Project). She has assisted lighting designers at Goodman Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, and TimeLine Theatre Company. Michelle holds an MFA in Lighting Design and Technology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

ADAM BORCHERS, Properties Designer
Adam is a Scenic Designer and Properties Artisan from Dayton, Ohio. Utility is his first production with ITP and he is thrilled to be here. His recent scenic design credits include Gypsy, The Christmas Parade, Pericles: Prince of Tyre, The Addams Family, and Bunkerville: A Post-Apocalyptic Musical. Recent Properties work includes: Cinderella (Prok), Oklahoma!, Into the Woods, West Side Story, and Carousel.

KERRY LEE CHIPMAN, Scenic Designer
Kerry Lee is a freelance scenic designer and the Assistant Professor of Scenic Design at Ball State University. Chicago designs: The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? with Interrobang, No Home for Bees (Collaboraction Studios). New York designs (selected): That Which Isn’t and Strays at the Brick Theatre, Coney at the New Ohio Theater, Time is the Mercy of Eternity at the West End Theater, Departures and The Most Wonderful Love at the Access Theater. Regional: Clarence Brown Theatre, Knoxville: The Merry Wives of Windsor, Little Shop of Horrors, Flyin’ West, Speech and Debate, and The Story of Opal. Children’s Theatre of Charlotte: The Borrowers and Pinkalicious: the Musical. In addition to scenery, she also designs and creates masks for regional dance and theatre productions. She would like to thank Georgette and Interrobang Theatre for this wonderful opportunity. www.kerryleechipmandesign.com

BLAKE CORDELL, Master Electrician
This is Blake’s second time working with Interrobang Theatre Project as Master Electrician. He has also worked as Master Electrician at theaters such as Adventure Stage Chicago, Pride, and Haven, and has been an electrician with numerous others. He graduated from Kansas State University with a B.A. in theatre and a B.A. in music back in 2017, and has since been working freelance in Chicago. To find out more about Blake’s electrical and audio work, visit blakecordell.com.

ELANA ELYCE, Artistic Producer
Elana acts, directs, writes, coaches and produces. She first met Interrobang as a cast member of The Argument in 2012 and subsequently produced Here Lies Henry (2012), Hot N’ Throbbing (2012) and Speaking in Tongues (2013). After a hiatus, she returned to perform with fellow ensemble members in Still (2016) and resumed producer responsibilities for all productions that followed.  Over the last few years, Elana has been seen with The House Theatre of Chicago, first appearing in the acclaimed United Flight 232, which won a Jeff award for best ensemble.  She is now a company member with The House.  Other theaters that have welcomed her in recent years include Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre, Eclipse, Remy Bummpo, Stage Left & Theatre Seven, and The Yard/Raven Theatre. She is also the Business Manager of The Chicago Inclusion Projectwww.elanaelyce.net

SARAH GISE, Casting Coordinator
Sarah has been a proud ITP company member since February 2015. She graduated from the University of Southern California (USC) with a BFA in Acting. She was previously seen in Interrobang's Fifth Season productions, Owners and Really Really. She is currently a company member with New American Folk Theatre (Chicago) and a member of Ensemble Studio Theatre (Los Angeles), with whom she won the LA Weekly Best Actress award for The Belle of Belfast in 2013. She can be seen at many film festivals around the country in the new film Halfway starring Quinton Aaron from The Blindside, which was awarded Best Feature at the Julian Dubuque International Film Festival. In February 2016, she performed the one-woman show The Amish Project with AtticRep in San Antonio, TX, and shortly after was invited to take the show to the Teatro Potlach FLIPT festival in Rome, Italy. She performed in the Midwest premiere of Still by Jen Silverman with Interrobang at the Athenaeum, followed by the remount of AtticRep's The Amish Project by Jessica Dickey with Interrobang last year.

CHRISTOPHER AARON KNARR, Design Associate
Christopher Knarr is a South Bend, Indiana native, Chicago transplant, and is currently residing in Los Angeles, CA. He graduated from Indiana University with a B.A. in Theatre & Drama and a Music minor, and studied abroad with The Gaiety School of Acting in Dublin, Ireland. Recent credits include Interrobang Theatre Project's season eight production of For the Loyal, for which he created original music. For season seven's StillThe Amish Project, and Falling, he was House Manager, Marketing, and Social Media. He was also House Manager/Social Media for the fifth and sixth season, including Really ReallyRecent Tragic Events, and The North Pool, and also was a part of past season productions of Orange Flower Water as a Production Assistant, and TerminusThe Pitchfork Disney, and Ibsen is Dead as Assistant Stage Manager. christopheraaronknarr.com

JAMIE KREPPEIN, Stage Manager
Jamie is a multi-faceted theatre artist originally from Gurnee, Illinois. A recent graduate from Illinois Wesleyan University in Theatre Arts and English-Writing, Jamie is a director, stage manager, educator, and scenic artist. She is thrilled to be working on her first show with Interrobang Theatre Project. She recently served as the Props Designer for The Ruse of Medusa at Facility Theatre, where she also started her Chicago theatre career as the ASM for Phoebe in Winter. Jamie recently completed the Artistic/Education internship at Writers Theatre while being the Youth Performer Coordinator on the Polar Express Train Ride. Currently, you can find her doing props and scenic work at Chicago Children's Theatre, Steep Theatre Co., Warren Theatre, and more. Mostly, she's just trying to be 23 and a functional human being, so let her know if you have any tips.

MATTHEW NERBER, Marketing Associate
Matthew comes to Chicago from Buffalo, New York, where he earned his BFA in theatre performance from SUNY Buffalo. He has been with ITP since 2014's Owners, which he understudied. He also assistant directed the company's production of Katrina: Mother-in-Law of 'Em All and played Andrew in 2016's Recent Tragic Events. Other Chicago credits include Her Naked Skin(Shattered Globe Theatre), Once in a Lifetime (Strawdog Theatre Company), and Assistance (LiveWire Theatre Chicago). Matthew has also assistant directed shows at Collaboraction and Redtwist.

NANCY PAYNE, Marketing Manager
Nancy comes to ITP to provide marketing support and direction as Marketing Manager. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in strategic communication and business, she has been working in marketing and advertising full-time. As a lifelong theater advocate, she is excited to help promote ITP's mission and upcoming seasons. 

ERIK SIEGLING, Sound Designer
Erik is pleased to be Sound Designing for his third show with Interrobang. He previously composed and designed for I.T.P.’s productions of Grace and The Goat. He also designed for The Comrads’ production of Warrior Class, as well as several shows at Oakton Community College. He has also designed for Seattle Shakespeare Company in Seattle. An accomplished actor as well, Erik has guest-starred on the TV show Z Nation, has performed in theatres across the country, and has a B.A. degree in Theatre from Principia College.     

DAVID ROSENBERG, Press Relations

JON-PAUL SCHAUT, Marketing Associate/Events Planner
Originally from Tampa, FL, Jon-Paul is an arts marketer, actor, director, producer and artistic director. He graduated from the University of Central Florida with dual B.A. degrees in Theatre Studies and Advertising/Public Relations. He is a former Student Leadership Liaison with the Florida State Thespian Festival, former Artistic Director of Project Spotlight and a former box office and marketing assistant for the UCF School of Performing Arts. Currently Jon-Paul works at Carol Fox and Associates as a group sales representative and events assistant along with his responsibilities with Interrobang Theatre Project. 

RICHIE VAVRINA, Production Manager
Richie is a Production Manager, Scenic, and Lighting Designer. This is his third production with ITP, having worked as a lighting designer on both Grace and The Goat in 2017. His work has been seen in productions by Firebrand Theatre, Elgin Community College, Circle Theatre Company, among countless others. He works as a draftsman and render artist by day.

ZOE VERDIN, Creative Design
Zoë provides creative direction for all ITP print and digital marketing, while working as a freelance graphic designer and practitioner of Thai bodywork and trigger point therapy. Zoë has also worked as scenic designer/carpenter, costume designer and muralist on all main stage productions at Polaris Charter Academy since 2011. Her most recent designs include costumes and backdrop for the Academy’s Wiley and the Hairy Man and publicity for Interrobang’s Season Six: Unnatural Disasters. Zoë has a BA in Studio Art from Carleton College, with concentrations in ceramics and photography. Zoë is delighted to be collaborating with Social Media Marketing Guru, Christopher Knarr on publicity for Season Seven’s Flesh & Blood series, and with Ed Anderson on the ITP website.

BRYAN ZOLETA, Technical Director
Bryan is a designer/fabricator by trade, and has worked on projects ranging from museum exhibits, storefront displays and installations, to prop work for TV and film.