Directors Inclusion Initiative

The Directors Inclusion Initiative, started in the 2015/16 season, aims to encourage and develop talented and emerging Chicago stage directors identifying as disabled, women, transgender, gender non-conforming and people of color. Victory Gardens Theater continues its commitment to cultivating a new generation of diverse stage directors who create dynamic theater work from their unique points of view.

“We’re very excited to continue the mentorship of emerging female and LGBTQIA directorsdirectors of color and of disability through Victory Gardens’ Directors Inclusion Project now in its third year,” states Chay Yew, Artistic Director. “Many directors of color and I would have welcomed such an opportunity when we first started out in the field. I’m glad to be in a position to open this door to our next generation of directors.”

Meet Our 17-18 Emerging Directors

Elizabeth Swanson, Fun HomeElizabeth Swanson is a Chicago-based theatre director. Recent credits include Lungs (Granary Theatre, Cork), Restore (Three Brothers Theatre), and Where All The White Sneakers At?: A Sketch Review (Second City). Recent assistant directing credits include Vardofor the 2014 Dublin Theatre Festival (Anu Productions, dir. Louise Lowe), A Work Of Art (Chicago Dramatist, dir. Henry Godinez), and Love’s Labor’s Lost (Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, dir. Marti Maraden). Other projects include Artist’s Lab 2016 (Stage 773) as well as staged readings for Chicago Dramatists, Irish Theatre of Chicago, The Jades, and Chicago Theatre Marathon. Elizabeth earned her M.F.A from the Lir National Academy of Dramatic Arts at Trinity College, Dublin.

Hannah Tova Wolff, FadeHannah Tova Wolff is a Chicago native. She is a director, actor, dramaturge, and producer working in Chicago and New York. Her directing credits include Pam’s Key (Gallery Players, NY), Still Rising (The Tank, NY), Bachelorette (Walkerspace, NY), Between Men(Jewel Box Theatre, NY), and The Vagina Monologues (Fisk Hall, Chicago). Hannah won best director at the Midtown International Theatre Festival for her 2016 production of Between Men. As a founder and company member of Via Brooklyn Theatre Co., Hannah recently produced The 39 Steps in partnership with the Southampton Cultural Center. Hannah is a participant in the Chicago Director’s Lab 2017. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Theatre and History from Northwestern University.

Regina Victor, BreachRegina Victor is thrilled to join Victory Gardens! A genderqueer person of color born and raised in Oakland California, they consider civic engagement and social justice to be at the core of their artistic practice. A producing artist, critical writer, and performer, Regina is the co-founder of Rescripted (, an online artist-led platform for commentary on the arts. They have worked with theatres such as California Shakespeare Theater, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Marin Theatre Company, About Face Theatre, Chicago Dramatists, Shattered Globe, and more. You can catch Regina next as a dramaturg and performer in A Persephone Pageant (Walkabout Theatre), an environmental conservation pageant to save Lake Michigan, written by Sarah Ruhl & Morgan McNaught. Keep up with Regina at:

Jerrell L. Henderson, Doing ItJerrell L. Henderson is a director and teaching artist. Recent directing credits include Bud, Not Buddy (Children’s Theatre of Charlotte) and The Caucasian Chalk Circle (Franklin & Marshall College). As an assistant director, Jerrell has worked with The Goodman Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre, and Lookingglass Theatre. As an acting instructor, Jerrell worked with the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia, PA for nine years, splitting his time between teaching performance classes, devising and directing scripts with students and directing several professional outreach productions for the education department. He received a BA in Theatre Arts from The Pennsylvania State University (2003), an MFA in Directing from Northwestern University (2015), and is a member of the Lincoln Center Directors Lab (2012)

 Carol Ann Tan, Mies JulieCarol Ann Tan is a Singapore-born, Chicago-based director, writer, and dramaturg. Her work focuses on issues surrounding race and immigration, particularly those involving the Asian diaspora. Directing/writing credits: Domestic Departure for the Director’s Haven 2016 (Haven Theatre); Apartment Complex, Domestic Departure (University of Chicago). In 2015, Domestic Departure was awarded second place for the Olga and Paul Menn Foundation Prize by the University of Chicago. Upcoming directing projects: assisting Elly Green on You for Me for You (Sideshow Theatre). Dramaturgy credits include peerless (First Floor Theater), In the Wake (The Comrades), and assisting on The Audience (TimeLine Theatre). Upcoming dramaturgy projects include Two Mile Hollow (First Floor Theater),Wild Boar (Silk Road Rising). Education: B.A. University of Chicago.

Meet Our 16-17 Emerging Directors

kaiserKaiser Zaki Ahmed was born in Bangladesh, raised in Michigan and has been working in Chicago Theater since 2004. After graduating from Columbia College Chicago with a B.A. in Theatre Directing, Kaiser went on to found the Jackalope Theatre Co. in 2008, serving as Artistic Director until 2012 and is currently Associate Artistic Director. Directing credits include The Raid, The Killing of Michael X, Long Way Go DownSlaughter City, Last Exodus of American Men (Jackalope Theatre), The Late Henry Moss, House of Yes (Artistic Home Theatre), Washer/Dryer and the upcoming Vanya (Rasaka Theatre). Kaiser is also an Artistic Associate at The Artistic Home Theatre and a 2015-16 Eugene O’Neill National Directors Fellowship Finalist. Kaiser also believes acting makes him a better director; he can be seen on various stages, proudly represented by Gray Talent.

ariannaArianna Soloway is a director and dramaturg from Chicago.  She graduated from Columbia College Chicago in 2013 with a BFA in directing for theater.  She recently directed Carrie & Francine with Haven Theatre Company and Guardians at Mary Arrchie Theatre as well as short plays for Bechdel Fest at Broken Nose Theatre, Paragon Play Festival at Otherworld Theatre Company, and Ripped: The Living Newspaper Festival at American Blues Theater.  She assistant directed Red Handed Otter at A Red Orchid Theatre, A Small Fire at Steep Theatre and Seminar at Haven Theatre Company.  Dramaturgy credits include Once in A Lifetime at Strawdog Theatre and Yankee Tavern at American Blues Theatre where she also served as Outreach Manager from 2013-2015.  When not doing theater, Arianna works as a real estate agent and enjoys playing guitar and ukulele, knitting, and DIY projects.

charlotteCharlotte Drover is a Chicago-based freelance director and choreographer, specializing in physical work. She moved to Chicago in 2013 to intern for Lookingglass Theatre’s education department, after graduating with a BA in Theatre from Drew University. She now works with Lookingglass as a teaching artist. Charlotte has assisted directors at Collaboraction, Something Marvelous, the Hypocrites, and the Goodman. In 2014, Charlotte adapted and directed an original adaptation of The Pit and The Pendulum for the Chicago Mammals, said by the Chicago Reader to “get under your skin in a terrifying and sensory-addling way.” This past year, she choreographed for Profiles’ last production Jerusalem, attended Director’s Lab Toronto, and directed the original piece The After, written by Samantha Dedian for Collaboraction’s final Sketchbook Festival. Charlotte Drover is currently Associate Director for Tara Branham on Jackalope Theatre’s octagon, and will be directing Venus in Fur for Circle Theatre in 2017.

ameenahAmeenah Kaplan is a graduate of the Academy of Art University Film School.  She attended New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts for Acting. She will be directing The Royale by Marco Ramirez (Daredevil) at Seattle’s ACT this summer. She most recently directed Molodi: Up Close And Personal starring Las Vegas’ premiere body percussion troupe at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. Her most recent short, Man With a Movie Camera premiered at Hollyshorts Film Festival in 2014. She directed the short film The American Failure to multiple festivals and awards. She directed the multi-award nominated show: Bash’d: A Rap Opera.  She also recently directed Black Sheep & Other People’s Organs in Noah Wylie’s Young Playwright’s Festival. She was in the original cast of Stomp and serves as a drum coach for Blueman Group. Choreography credits include: Dancing With The Stars (ABC); The Brother’s Size, In the Red & Brown Water (Fountain Theatre), The Women of Brewster Place, Altar Boyz, Title of Show (Celebration Theatre); The Royale (CTG); Frosty the Snow Manilow, A Christmas Carol King, Santa Claus is Coming to Motown, The Comedy of Aerosmith, Jackson Frost, Alice in One Hit Wonderland II, It’s a Stevie Wonderful Life (Troubadour Theatre Co). Awards and honors: 2007 NAACP Award: Best Choreography; 2007 LA Weekly Award: Best Fight Choreography.  2007 Richard E. Sherwood Award for Emerging Director.  2009 LA Weekly Award: Best Choreography, Altar Boyz, 2010 NAACP Award: Best Choreography, The Women of Brewster Place; 2013 Ovation Award: Best Choreography, The Royale; 2012 LA Weekly Queen Of Angels Award.

alyssaAlyssa Vera Ramos is a director, actor, and theatre maker, and a founding member of women of color performance collective FEMelanin. Directing credits include LIVELY STONES (20% Theatre Company); the 6th Annual 1-Minute Play Festival; I AM THE RAT (The Scarlet ‘S’ Project’; Artist-in-Residence at Free Street Theater); OUT OF SILENCE (Chicago Home Theater Festival); THE BARRIO PROJECT (Center Theatre); CAN I HIT IT? and PROJECT US (FYI); THE NAKED PEOPLE PLAY (20%’s Snapshots Festival); GENERATION SEX (Teatro Luna at Chicago Fringe); and THE LIBERATION OF CARMELA LOPEZ (Northwestern University). Alyssa teaches creative sexual health at the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health (ICAH) with the FYI Performance Company, where she also collaboratively devises participatory theatre experiences. Upcoming Director-Developer projects include plays about the forced sterilization of Puerto Rican women (with her novelist mother Marisel Vera) and about replacing stigma with support of preganant and parenting youth (with FYI). Alyssa holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Theatre from Northwestern University.

Meet Our 15-16 Emerging Directors

Toma Tavares Langston, Sucker PunchToma Tavares Langston is a freelance theater director and producer. Victory Gardens: 2015 Directors Inclusion Initiative Director. (Assistant Director) Sucker Punch, Dir. Dexter Bullard. Sideshow Theatre: (Assistant Director) Truth and Reconciliation, Dir. Jonathan L. Green and Give It All Back, Dir. Marti Lyons. Toma is a proud steering committee member of DirectorsLab Chicago and an associate artist with Black Lives, Black Words International Project. Directorial credits include: The Last Five Years, The Shadow Box, For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf. Toma has worked with Chicago Dramatists, Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre, and Prologue Theatre. He is currently pursuing a BS in Business Administration with the world’s first tuition-free college – University of the People.

Lavina Jadhwani, Never The SinnerLavina Jadhwani is a Chicago-based director and adaptor. Favorite credits includeGruesome Playground Injuries, Much Ado About Nothing, and Yoni Ki Baat (Rasaka Theatre Company), Romeo and Juliet (Teatro Vista), Cherry Smoke (the side project), Hamlet andTwelfth Night (Oak Park Festival Theatre), and Julius Caesar (Brown Paper Box Co.). Lavina maintains relationships with Lifeline Theatre (Casting Director), Oregon Shakespeare Festival (Phil Killian Directing Fellow), Silk Road Rising (Artistic Associate), and Steppenwolf Theatre Company (Artistic Engagement Associate). She is the founder and curator of the Diverse Directors Database and The Mildly Rehearsed Players, a student-run troupe at DePaul University that performs Shakespeare based on original practices. She was named Time Out Chicago’s “Best Next Generation Stage Director” in 2013.

Lavina has received Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Phil Killian Directing Fellowship, the O’Neill/NNPN National Directors Fellowship, the Drama League’s Classical Directing Fellowship, an SDCF Observership, an Illinois Board of Higher Education Fellowship, and anLMDA Residency Award. Her adaptations include The Sitayana (a solo performance piece based on the Hindu epic, The Ramayana). VANYA (adapted from Chekhov), and Shakuntala: An East-Meets-West Love Story (adapted from Kalidasa). Details about Lavina’s writing can be found on the New Play Exchange.

As an educator, Lavina has worked with CCPA@Roosevelt University, Chicago Dramatists, Northlight Theatre Academy, NHSI at Northwestern University, Shakespeare & Company, and The Viola Project. She currently teaches and provides 1:1 coaching through Green Shirt Studio. Discounted coaching is available to recent alum of Lavina’s alma maters (Carnegie Mellon, DePaul) and to members of ALTA Chicago. If you are an artist in need, please ask about her sliding-scale rates!

Lavina is a graduate of The Theatre School at DePaul University (MFA, Directing), Carnegie Mellon University (BFA, Scenic Design; Masters, Arts Management) and the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy. In her spare time, she follows NFL football, consumes anything written by Aaron Sorkin, and dabbles in voiceover. Proudly represented by NV Talent.

Lexi Saunders, CockedLexi Saunders is a director, performer, and teaching artist originally from Los Angeles. Chicago directing credits include Grounded (Theater of Thought); SUPER (Mudlark); Bye, Chuck (The Gift); in your own backyard by Kristiana Rae Colón (Victory Gardens); LezFest, Missed Connections (Pride Films and Plays); I Have It by Bekah Brunstetter (Madkap); The Burials (AD-Steppenwolf), Cocked (AD-VG), The Few (AD-Steep); The Snare (AD-Jackalope); good friday (AD-Oracle). Lexi is a teaching artist for ATC’s American Mosaic program, Silk Road Rising’s Empathic Playwriting intensive, and The Viola Project, which empowers female-identified youth through the works of Shakespeare. Lexi is also a recurring director for Chicago One Minute Play Festival and 2nd Story’s storytelling series, and was selected for the 2017 Director’s Haven, an annual production by Haven Theatre showcasing the work of 3 emerging Chicago directors. Lexi has her B.A./B.S. in Theatre & Psychology from UC San Diego.

Kevin Matthew Reyes, Hillary and ClintonKevin Matthew Reyes was a Victory Gardens Directing Initiative Recipient in 2016. Chicago directing credits include True West (Chicago Inclusion Project/The Hypocrites). Film/TV: “Nebulullaby” (hitRECord), “Growing Up” (Condensed Milk), “Deal Breaker” (TTV). He also works as an actor and has appeared in The World of Extreme Happiness (Goodman Theatre), Lord of the Flies (Steppenwolf), All Our Tragic (The Hypocrites), and Measure for Measure (CalShakes San Francisco).

Chika Ike, The House That Will Not StandChika Ike has had the opportunity to work with many Chicago and regional theatre companies, including Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Victory Gardens, The Gift Theatre Company, Eclipse Theatre, American Blues Theatre Company, and Prologue Theatre Company. She was a recipient of the Bret C. Harte Directing Fellowship (Berkeley Rep), the Sir John Gielgud Fellowship (SDCF), and was part of the inaugural Inclusion Initiative at Victory Gardens.