Jennifer Green (Artistic Director)
Aayisha Ruby Gold
Aayisha Ruby Gold 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).
At Piven, Aayisha has been an instructor at ‘Off the Street Club’in Garfield Park, Cook County Jail, and Piven’s on-site programming. In her downtime, she enjoys writing, chess, and is still trying to master the violin. She is proudly represented by Stewart Talent.
Eli 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 his 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 him to empower students by encouraging them to take risks, find their unique voice and inherent gifts in a safe space.
Fiona Maxwell began studying at the Piven Theatre Workshop when she was eleven, eventually becoming a member of Performance Project and Young People’s Company. She is currently the lead teacher for 3rd-5th Grade Intro to Piven. She has been an assistant teacher for classes ranging in age from 4th grade through high school, focusing on story theatre, improv games, scene study, and storytelling. She has also assisted for Young People’s Company, Advanced Performance Ensemble, and PEEP. In 2016, Fiona presented a one-person play on the Lab@Piven Series. She has told stories on Piven’s Anytime/Anywhere Series and at a variety of Chicago-area venues. Fiona graduated from Northwestern University with a BA in History and Theatre and a module in Theatre for Young Audiences. She received an MA in History at the University of Chicago, where she is currently pursuing a PhD. Her academic research explores the ways in which volunteers and youth participants at Progressive Era Chicago settlement houses collaboratively built a new approach to process-oriented, ensemble-based drama.
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.
Susan Payne O'Brien
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 is a performer, writer, and director. She has studied at Grinnell College, Pacifica Graduate Institute, the National Theatre Institute, and Piven Theatre Workshop. Most recently, she received her MA in Theatre and Performative Practices from University College Cork in Ireland, where she looked at the function of performance in the study of transgenerational carceral trauma.
Gillian has appeared on stage with Piven, The Moth, tenx9 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 Chicago Fire, 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.
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.
He served as a Communication and Presentation Skills Director for the database marketing team at Leo Burnett in Chicago for over five years and did extensive workshops with the Razorfish Ad Agency. In New York, Lawrence worked with Lincoln Center Institute, Roundabout Theatre, Theatre for a New Audience, and Arts Connection. In Chicago his affiliations as a teacher include the Second City, Piven Theater Workshop, the Audition Studio, Writer’s Theater, Lookingglass Theater, The Illinois Arts Council, CAPE, Urban Gateways and Steppenwolf for Young Audiences where he served as Senior Facilitator for Curriculum and Instruction for over 10 years. He has a Masters in Education from DePaul University and was a high school English and Drama teacher at Stevenson High School (2006-09) and Chicago’s public high school for the arts, Chi-Arts (2010-14). Lawrence was the director of the Thresholds Theater Arts Project (1993-2000) which brought the voices of adults who have suffered from mental illness to the stage. Additionally, he currently works with the Memory Ensemble and those afflicted with Alzheimer’s through the Mesulam Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer's Disease Center at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
As an actor, he is a founding ensemble member of A Red Orchid Theater and is the current Education Manger. He has worked extensively at Chicago’s prominent theaters including shows with Goodman, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Steppenwolf, Lookingglass, Victory Gardens, Next, Timeline, Shattered Globe, Court, Collaboraction, and Piven Theater Workshop. Film: Captive State, Welcome to Me (directed by Shira Piven with Kristen Wiig), Cicero in Winter, A Perfect Manhattan TV: Chicago PD, Chicago Med, The Red Line, Unsolved Mysteries, Late Night with Conan O’Brien.
For more information go to www.grimmactor.com
Morven Higgins began taking classes at Piven in 6th grade and was immediately captivated by the Workshop’s focus on ensemble, play, and storytelling. She remained involved at Piven throughout her teen years and went on to become a member of its prestigious high school performance ensemble, the Young People’s Company (YPC), which she now directs.
Morven began training as a Piven teacher while she was an undergraduate at the University of Chicago where she earned a BA in English. She has developed and taught classes in improvisation, scene study, sketch comedy, writing, and directing, always working to help each student develop their own creative voice within a collaborative, ensemble setting. Her background in writing and communication informs her work as YPC Director which focuses on producing contemporary student-driven adaptations of stories, myths, fairy tales, and literary works that speak to relevant themes of social justice, resilience, and identity.
She is also committed to Piven’s mission of theatre education and training and enjoys mentoring new teachers and directors.
In addition to her teaching and directing work, Morven served as Piven’s Director of Education for four years helping to develop new courses, residencies, and community collaborations. Beyond her theatre work, Morven is a fundraising and development consultant working with nonprofits throughout Chicago and Illinois.
Jack Disselhorst is a Chicago-based teaching artist, writer, and actor. He’s been a part of the Piven Theatre Workshop community for over 10 years as a student, teacher, actor, and director. Passionate about play of all sorts as a tool for personal discovery and community-building, Jack also teaches Meisner Technique at Green Shirt Studio in Chicago. He holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting from The Theatre School at DePaul University.
Antora DeLong is an actress, dancer, improviser, administrator, and general performer-of-all trades. Originally from Indiana, Antora earned her B.A. from Northwestern University’s Theatre Program. She came to Piven in 2013 as an Administrative Assistant, and quickly fell in love with the Workshop’s approach to education, play, and community. She has appeared in numerous workshops, readings, and productions at Piven, and she served as Piven’s Education and Community Outreach Manager for several years.
Outside of Piven, Antora has had the pleasure of performing with Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre, (re)discover theatre, Lookingglass Theatre, Redmoon Theatre, First Floor Theater, and Odradeck Theatre, among others. Antora relocated to Austin, Texas in 2018, and while she was there she continued to perform at theatres including The Archive Theatre, Different Stages Theatre, and New Manifest Theatre Company.
Antora is excited to be back in Chicago and at Piven Theatre Workshop!
Christie Chiles Twillie
Jonathan Pitts is an award-winning international improv theatre artist and storyteller. He’s performed and/or taught in 25 countries and 81 cities. He’s the former Executive Director of Chicago Improv Productions; Co-Founder/Producer – Chicago Improv Festival; Creator/Producer – College Improv Tournament; Founder/Producer – Teen Comedy Fest; Founder/Producer – Chicago Podcast Festival; Creator/Director of improv theatre productions The Oracle; The Silent Movie; and Storybox Theatre. He also taught, coached, and directed at The Second CityTraining Center and was a contributing writer to Anne Libera‘s book, “The Second City Improv Almanac”. Currently, he performs and teaches on Zoom.