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Our Teachers

Meet one of our current acting teachers, Aaiysha, and how she fell in love with theatre at PIven.

Jennifer Green (Artistic Director)
Jennifer Green (Artistic Director) has been a part of the Piven community for almost twenty-five years. Beginning as a student of Byrne and Joyce Piven, Jennifer became part of the Workshop faculty in 1993 teaching theatre games, improvisation, story theatre and scene study to both young people and adults. At Piven Theatre, Jennifer’s professional directing credits include Never in my Lifetime (named one of the Top 10 Shows of the year by the Chicago  Sun-Times), Burn This (Jeff Recommended), Book of Days (Chicago premiere), Mad Forest (After Dark Award: Best Ensemble), Our Country’s Good, Great Expectations (world premiere), Lady Chaplin and her Tramp (world premiere), Mad Dancers (Chicago premiere), Tusk Tusk (Chicago premiere), and Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me (Jeff Recommended). Since 1997, she has been an adapter and director with Piven’s acclaimed Young People’s Company and currently curates Piven’s Annual Lab Season of New Works. Other directorial credits include: State and Madison: The Chicago Grid with Theatre 7’s Chicago Landmark Project, Pangs of the Messiah at Silk Road Theatre Project, The End of Civilization as we Know it for the Ripped Project with American Blues Theater, Storybox with the Chicago Improv Festival (assistant director), For You Were a Stranger at The Hothouse, Orlando (assistant director) at the Actor’s Gang in Los Angeles. She is a Theatre Communications Group’s New Generation Fellow, an adjunct faculty member of Northwestern University, and has been a teaching artist with Urban Gateways, the Illinois Arts Council, Marwen, DePaul University, and National-Louis University.
Aayisha Ruby Humphrey

Aayisha Ruby Humphrey has been appearing in roles onstage and on camera since appearing in Candyman (1992) at the age of six. She earned her BA from the Columbia College (Chicago) Theater Program in 2013. She has trained with Joyce Piven since 2003 at her Piven Theatre Workshop. She won the Black Theater Alliance’s Phylicia Rashad Award for Most Promising Actress in 2017, for the title role in ‘A Hedda Gabler’ (Red Tape Theatre).

Aayisha has appeared on the Piven stage in roles such as Sasha in the late Sheldon Patinkin’s adaptation of‘Ivanov’, and multiple roles in the ‘The Good Doctor’as well as in Tim Robbins’ exclusive adaptation of‘Dead Man Walking’. Other roles include Bianca in ‘The Taming of the Shrew’and the Lady in Yellow in ‘For Colored Girls …’(Fleetwood-Jourdain Theater), and Kate in ‘Good People’ (Steel Beam Theater).

A strong advocate of independent and equitable film, Aayisha has played leads in various independently produced features including ‘The Fourth Meeting’, ‘Altered’, ‘Hogtown’, and‘Get A Job’. She has concurrently appeared incommercial and voice-over roles, as well as a principal role on Chicago P.D. (NBC).

Aayisha is an instructor at ‘Off the Street Club’in Garfield Park, was a dramatic arts program director at the Piven Theatre Cook County Prison Program, and is a teacher at Piven Theatre Workshop. In her downtime, she enjoys writing, chess, and is still trying to master the violin. She is proudly represented by Stewart Talent.

Abby Pierce

Abby Pierce most recently appeared in Court Theatre’s All My Sons. Other theater credits include: Barbecue (Steppenwolf Theatre 1700), Amy and the Orphans (Goodman Theatre New Stages); Naperville (Theater Wit); Rolling (Jackalope Theater); With Love and a Major Organ (Strawdog Theatre); Heat Wave (Steppenwolf Garage); Richard III and Cymbeline (Ricardo Montalban Theatre). Film and TV credits include: Chicago Fire (recurring), Chicago PD, TBS’s Rooftop Stand Up Comedy Hour, Workingman, Blur, Game Day and she is the co-creator and co-writer of The Exquisite Corpse. Abby is a teacher with Piven Theatre, Beacon Academy, Chicago Children’s Theatre and a graduate of The School at Steppenwolf and is represented by Stewart Talent.

Eldridge Shannon

Eldridge Shannon III has been involved with Piven Theatre Workshop since he was 19 years old. He started taking classes with Mikalina Rabinsky and has worked with every teacher from Ryan Kitley to Robin Chapelik to Joanne Underwood. He has even had the distinct honor of being able to take a workshop from Joyce Piven, herself. Eldridge started as an apprentice and continued that training for over a year before being promoted to an Assistant Teacher. Eldridge finds joy in being able to teach the next generation of Piven Students. He has been honored to work with various outreach programs with Piven such as, Off The Street Club and KidsRank. Eldridge has been involved with theatre since he was 10, and has trained with Amazing Grace Conservatory, Goodman Theatre, and still currently attends classes at Piven. Piven Theatre has become a home for Eldridge and he looks forward to his future with the Workshop.

Helen Knudsen

Helen Knudsen found a warm home teaching at Piven in 2014, originally coming to Piven as an understudy in 2011. A lover of children’s theatre, she founded Hatbox Theatre (formerly DIY Teen Theatre) in 2009, and has since taught and directed with Elmhurst Children’s Theatre, Immaculate Conception Grade School, and York Community High School. Helen holds a BM in Vocal Performance from Roosevelt University (CCPA). Favorite credits: Brigadoon (Meg), A Little Night Music (Desirée), Titanic (Kate Mullins), The Boys from Syracuse (Courtesan), Godspell, The Polar Express™ Train Ride, and a recording for the new opera, The Gift (by Paul Herman). She loves Shakespeare, Harry Potter, and a good old-fashioned Golden Age musical.

Joanne Underwood

Joanne Underwood is one of our senior acting teachers, directors and actors. She has taught a variety of classes at Piven, from games and improvisation for nine year olds to professional classes for adults. In addition she has given workshops at schools and theaters around Chicago including Lifeline Theatre, Roosevelt University, and Columbia College. She has acted widely at local theaters including Raven, greasy joan, and Piven where she appeared as Cordelia in King Lear starring Byrne Piven and Florina in Mad Forest (which won the 2003 After Dark Award for Best Ensemble). She has studied acting with the Moscow Art Theatre, Shakespeare & Company, and the Chicago Shakespeare Company. Most recently, she appeared as Olenka in Joyce Piven’s lab production of “The Darling.” When not onstage, Joanne is a psychotherapist with a private practice in Evanston.

Liz Bell

Liz has been with Piven Theatre since 1999, first as an eager student and now as a teacher and director of Performance Project and the Young People’s Company, both of which she was honored to participate in as a student. Needless to say, Piven is her home. The Workshop’s focus on connection to impulse and intuition, to the body, and to others through individual and ensemble-based play informs her work as an illustrator, designer, ballroom dance instructor, Shiatsu Massage practitioner, and facilitator of intuitive art-making workshops. All of which help her to empower students by encouraging them to take risks, find their unique voice and inherent gifts in a safe space.

Fiona Maxwell

Fiona Maxwell will graduate from Northwestern University in June 2018 with a History and Theatre major and a module in Theatre for Young Audiences. She has been involved with Piven for ten years. She began studying at the Piven Theatre Workshop when she was eleven, and was a member of Performance Project and the Young People’s Company. She has apprenticed and assisted for classes ranging in age from 4th grade through high school, focusing on story theatre, improv games, scene study, storytelling, and more. She currently is an assistant teacher for Advanced Performance Ensemble and PEEP. In October 2016, Fiona presented a one-person play on the Lab@Piven Series. She has told stories at Piven’s Anytime/Anywhere Series, the Evanston Public Library’s Annual Storytelling Festival, This Much Is True, Adventure StageChicago, and Do Not Submit. She also uses her storytelling skills to make women’s history publically accessible as a docent at the Center for Women’s History and Leadership’s Frances Willard House Museum. She is always looking for new ways to share her love of history and narrative with young people!

Mikalina Rabinsky

Mikalina Rabinsky: Building Ensemble and the Art of Adaptation
Mikalina Rabinsky is a theater artist and teacher in the Chicago area who is forever grateful to Joyce and Byrne for her foundational training and artistic home. As a senior faculty member at the Piven Theatre since 1998, she has directed and adapted many shows with the Young People’s Company and has taught both adults and children Improvisation, Story Theatre, Adaptation, Scene Study and Commedia dell’Arte. She also works in Puppetry, Mask and Found Objects. She has always emphasized collaboration with an ensemble to best make use of their unique voices to tell a story. Her work has been seen at Links Hall, The Conspiratorium, Peter Jones Gallery, The Ukrainian Institute of Art, Redmoon, Around the Coyote, Chicago’s Her-Ra Festival, Heart of Gold, The Spare Room, Rhythm Night Club and Millennium Park. Some recent favorite endeavors include: Directing Dead Man Walking at Piven Theatre for The Quality of Mercy Project; performing with The Conspirators in the Commedia dell’Arte show, The Resistible Rise of Herr Helmut Drumpf; and participating with artists from around the country and world in a professional artistic intensive, The Catapult, through the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival.

Tom Schneider

Tom Schneider has been a part of Piven Theatre’s Community for over the last 8 years, and recently for the last 4 years as a teacher. He is also a graduate of the IO Chicago Theatre’s Improv program. He was last seen in Piven Theatre’s Wise Women & Witches and Piven’s 4th Annual Improv series: Anytime Anywhere. Other stage credits include Piven Theatre’s Encores: After the Theatre and Other Stories, and Brightside Theatre’s Run For Your Wife as Detective Sgt. Troughton. He was raised in nearby Morton Grove, and graduated from Elmhurst College with a Bachelor’s of Science in Chemistry.

Brennan Roche

Brennan Roche has been with Piven Theatre for the last fourteen years, and was a member of the Young People’s Company his senior year of high school. A Chicago native, he holds an undergraduate degree from Loyola Marymount University. Currently, Brennan is understudying for Steep Theatre’s production of BIRDLAND opening in April 2018. Previous Chicago credits include IN THE COMPANY OF MEN directed by Rick Snyder, HELLCAB, understudy for Level 11 Theatre’s production of BACHELORETTE, as well as studying with Blackbox Theatre. Film and TV credits include Chicago PD and General Hospital. Brennan is represented by Shirley Hamilton Talent.

Ryan Kitley

Ryan Kitley is proud to say he’s been working with Piven since 1999. He’s been working professionally as an actor, teacher, and voiceover talent for over 20 years. Favorite Chicago credits include Lettie (Victory Gardens), Romeo and Juliet (Chicago Shakespeare Theatre), Objects in the Mirror (Goodman), Support Group for Men (Goodman), Assassination Theater (MBC), Burn This (Shattered Globe), Transformations 2000 (Piven), The Big Funk (Clock Productions), Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Shattered Globe), among others. Film credits include Dig Two Graves, Guidance, Kill Game, Miss March, Barbershop II, Soul Survivors, Soul Sessions. Television credits include Chicago PD, Chicago Fire, Boss, Empire, Detroit 1-8-7, Embeds, Other People’s Children, Turks, and Early Edition. Ryan holds an MFA in acting from The Theatre School at DePaul and is a proud member of AEA. For more info visit www.ryankitley.com.

Rebecca McNamara

Rebecca draws constant inspiration from the work at Piven, where joyous exploration develops skills for building exceptional humans. At Piven she is a teacher-collaborator with the Piven Prison Project in Cook County Jail and co-coach of the PEEP improv ensemble. She has directed for both Performance Project and the Young People’s Company and has taught the Advanced Performance Ensemble and the High School Performance Lab. Rebecca has trained with the Lincoln Center in aesthetic education and leadership in arts education. Her own artistic theatrical work has been seen both locally and nationally including at Second City (Chicago), the Lincoln Center (New York) and the Kennedy Center (Washington D.C.). She is a collaborating artist with the Chicago based community engagement organization Opera-Matic.

Robin Chaplik

Robin Chaplik is a Joseph Jefferson Award-winning playwright, actor, director, and educator. Recent performance credits include THE ADMISSION (Silk Road Rising) and DEAD MAN WALKING (Piven Theatre). This summer, Ms. Chaplik will return to Silk Road Rising to perform in Jamil Khoury’s video play OBSTACLE COURSE. Ms. Chaplik won a Joseph Jefferson Award for her play ROSA LUBLIN (Piven Theatre) and was also honored for its direction (“One of the 10-Best Productions of the Year” – Pioneer Press). Other favorite directing projects include Julia Pascal’s THE DYBBUK and Cynthia Ozick’s THE SHAWL (College of DuPage), John Patrick Shanley’s THE BIG FUNK (Joseph Jefferson Nomination) for Clock Productions, THE ILLUSION (Joseph Jefferson Recommendation) for Piven Theatre, and the critically acclaimed COOL SHOES (Collaboraction Sketchbook Festival). Ms. Chaplik has worked with numerous other theatres in Chicago and New York including Chicago Dramatists, Greenhouse Theatre, Chimera, Lumina, Steppenwolf, Collaboraction, Redmoon, Lookingglass, Strawdog, Raven, Fox Theatricals, Footsteps, Babes with Blades, Center Theater, and 12th Street Repertory. Ms. Chaplik was a long-time Resident Artist with Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s Steppenwolf For Young Adults, where her innovative work was featured on CPS-TV’s Chicago Educatorand in The National Council of Teachers’ English Journal. She teaches and lectures nationally. As a Viewpoints practitioner trained by its founders, Anne Bogart and Mary Overlie, Ms. Chaplik brings this acclaimed training to both teen and adult actors at Piven Theatre Workshop. She holds a B.F.A. From New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts (Experimental Theater Wing). Ms. Chaplik is an alumna of Piven Theatre’s renowned Young People’s Company.

Donna Osowski

Donna Osowski is one of our senior acting teachers, having taught classes in games, story and improvisation to children and adults. She has directed a variety of fairytales and literary pieces for the Performance Project at Piven for 9 years. She most recently appeared on the Piven stage in Dead Man Walking, staged readings of Far Away and To the Lighthouse, and she has performed in the Piven Improv series Anytime Anywhere. Other credits include Jewish Stories (Piven) and Summer and Smoke (The Den Theatre). She has a degree in theatre from Illinois State University.

Jay Reed

Jay started taking classes at Piven in high school and was lucky to be involved with the Young People’s Company for three of those years. He has appeared in many shows in the Chicago area since he returned to acting and holds his BFA in Acting from Ithaca College.

Susan Payne O'Brien

Susan Payne O’Brien is deeply influenced by the rich theatrical landscape of the Chicagoland area where she works and resides. She trained as a director and performer under Byrne and Joyce Piven. Drawing upon her twenty year tenure as a teacher, performer and director at Piven and upon her years as an actress and opera singer Susan creates inventive work for the theater and opera stage.
She is the founder and Artistic Director of Forte Chicago, an all female operatic company that devises new work pushing the boundaries of the female voice. Since Forte’s launch in 2015 it has premiered five full length original devised shows exposing fresh audiences to the possibilities and delight of opera. Susan is passionate about bringing theatrical devising process to opera classrooms and has served on the directing and opera faculties of Roosevelt University, DePaul University and North Park University. She has directed, written and devised shows for The Piven Theater Lab, Black Cat Theater, 2nd Story, Links Hall, The Santa Fe Opera, The El Paso Opera, Artemesia, and the CUBE Ensemble.

Gillian Hemme

Gillian Hemme is a performer, writer, and director. She has studied at Grinnell College, Pacifica Graduate Institute, the National Theatre Institute, and Piven Theatre Workshop. Gillian has appeared on stage with Piven, The Moth, ten x9 Chicago, Literate Ape’s Bughouse, Something Marvelous, Prop Theatre, Jubilee Theatre Collective, Prologue, the Chicago Fringe Festival, and the International Theatre Festival in Taiwan.  Her on-camera credits include Mind Games and The Onion, and she is represented by Big Mouth Talent. At Piven, she teaches PEEP (Piven Empowerment through Enrichment Program) classes for adults with developmental disabilities, directs for Performance Project, and teaches story theatre for Conservatory. She and Beth Voitik helped start the EPIC ensemble at Cook County Jail, where she and an outstanding team of teachers develop original performances with an incredible group of women.

Susan Applebaum

Susan has a long and rich affiliation with the Piven Theatre Workshop where she trained under Joyce and Byrne Piven beginning in 1974.  At the Workshop, she taught theatre games and story theatre to all age groups, served as Director of the Junior Company and the Young People’s Company, developed story-theatre productions of folk tales and literary stories, and acted professionally.  Susan and Joyce Piven co-authored a book on the actor-training method taught at the Workshop.  Methuen Drama published In the Studio with Joyce Piven: Theatre Games, Story Theatre and Text Work for Actors in 2012.  In the last few years, Susan has acted in Chekhov’s The Three Sisters, Encores (three of Chekhov’s short stories adapted for the stage), and Ivanov all under the direction of Joyce Piven. Most recently she developed a hugely successful story-theatre production called Wise Women and Witches for the Piven Lab Series that opened in June 2017.

In 2015 Susan retired from her teaching responsibilities in the Department of Fine and Performing Arts Theatre Division at Loyola University Chicago where she served on the faculty for more than thirty years.  Her teaching interests included contemporary dramatic literature, play analysis, theatre history, theatre appreciation, improvisation and popular culture. Susan received her Ph. D. in Theatre and Drama from Northwestern University and her undergraduate and master’s degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana.  Her essays have been published in Theatre History Studies, The Youth Theatre Journal, and The Encyclopedia of Girlhood, to name a few.

Generally retired from teaching, Susan is looking for her next creative project. She would love to hear from Pivenites with some new ideas to pursue.