‘Illinois Artists’

‘Illinois Artists’ documentary showcases talented faculty members, students and alumni

Check out Definition's feature here 

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A pioneering ballerina, a groundbreaking theater company and nationally known jazz musicians are featured in a new program on the Big Ten Network. “Illinois Artists” captures University of Illinois performing arts professors, students and alumni performing in New York, Chicago and Urbana. The 30-minute documentary premieres Aug. 21 at 11 p.m. CT on BTN.

Storylines in the documentary include:

  • Professor of dance Endalyn Taylor has toured the world with the Dance Theatre of Harlem and performed on Broadway in the original cast of “The Lion King.” Raised on the south side of Chicago, Taylor left home at age 16 to become a principal dancer at the Dance Theatre of Harlem. Recently, she traveled back to New York with a group of her Illinois students to perform a piece she choreographed at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. She encourages her students by telling them, “Never underestimate the power of you … never forget that what you have that no one else has is your unique perspective.”
  • When the founding members of Definition Theatre Company graduated from Illinois in 2012, they wanted to change the world. Frustrated by a lack of diversity in the world of theater, they decided to form their own company. So far, the members have produced over a dozen plays in Chicago with the goal of diversity both on the stage and backstage. The company has earned critical acclaim. In 2017, award-winning Goodman Theatre Director Chuck Smith worked with Definition to stage Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins’ groundbreaking work “An Octoroon.” The play is a racial farce that challenges stereotypes – from plantation America to the present day.
  • Phil Collins, Steely Dan and Tito Puente are a few of the artists who have been backed up by faculty members of the University of Illinois Jazz Studies Program. The Illinois musicians’ real-life experiences and their love of teaching are an important draw to students deciding to come to Illinois to study jazz. Because a big part of honing their craft is live performance, students and faculty perform several times a week at a small venue in downtown Urbana called the Iron Post, an authentic setting that has helped jazz studies at Illinois rank among the top 10 of college programs.

Illinois documentary producers Tim Hartin, Kaitlin Southworth and Alison Davis Wood created these short profiles of artists associated with the university to showcase the depth of talented performing arts faculty at Illinois and highlight the artists’ impact on students.

“Performing arts majors at Illinois leave campus prepared to make their mark on audiences around the world,” Wood said.

“Illinois Artists” was created by Illinois’ Office of Public Affairs and Division of Intercollegiate Athletics.

Definition Theatre Company Opens Season With NO CHILD... By Nilaja Sun, Directed By Chika Ike

Definition Theatre Company opens its 2018-2019 season with No Child... by Nilaja Sun and directed by Chika Ike. No Child... will run from August 31 - September 23, 2018, with a press opening on Wednesday, September 5 at 7:30pm. Definition Theatre Company presents its 2018-2019 season in the Richard Christiansen Theater at Victory Gardens as part of its Resident Theater Company program. Tickets for No Child... are on sale and can be purchased online at victorygardens.org or by calling 773.871.3000. Victory Gardens Theater is located at 2433 N Lincoln Avenue.

"We are thrilled to begin our season with a play as hilarious and heartfelt as No Child... by Nilaja Sun," notes Artistic Director Tyrone Phillips. "As we look to the future, it is incredibly important to invest more deeply in the education of our city's youth. I personally know the difference arts education can make in a young person's life. Theater can unlock learning potential and encourage growth in every generation. We are incredibly fortunate to have Chika Ike's astute vision and revolutionary spirit leading the way on yet another Definition Theatre contemporary classic."

Named after the controversial No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, No Child... seeks to shed a light on the deep inequalities in America's public education system and the multitude of ways it has failed our young people. Set inside the fictional Malcom X High School in the Bronx, No Child... follows Ms. Sun, a hopeful young teaching artist tasked with leading a boisterous class of sophomores in a performance of Timberlake Wetenbaker's Our Country's Good. Teaching theatre is not easy, and Ms. Sun must learn to navigate teenage angst, timid teachers and overworked administrators as she works to build a play and a community amongst her students.


No Child... is an insightful, hilarious and touching exploration of the New York City public school system by acclaimed actress and playwright, Nilaja Sun that aims to capture the life and love that exists in the classroom and the absurd struggles that educators and students face on a day to day basis.

The cast of No Child... includes Adia Alli, Lawren Carter, Kirsten Chan, debrah kneal, Victor Musoni, and Netta Walker.

The production team for No Child... includes Therese Richie (Scenic Designer), Alexis Chaney (Costume Designer), Slick Jorgenson and Kevin Pelz (Co-Lighting Designers), Matt Test (Sound Designer), Jimmy Jagos (Props Designer), Sarah Collonge (Production Stage Manager), Martasia Jones (Assistant Director) and Jared Bellot (Dramaturg).

Additionally, Definition is pleased to welcome Goodman Theatre resident director and frequent Definition collaborator Chuck Smith to Definition Theatre's Artistic Advisory Board. Most recently, Smith directed Definition's critically-acclaimed production of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins' An Octoroon during the company's 2017-2018 season.

Smith shared that he is looking forward to working with the Definition Theatre team in a more official capacity, emphasizing that "it is always a pleasure working with this talented group."

About Chika Ike
Chika Ike is a Chicago-based freelance director. Recent directing: A Swell in the Ground (The Gift Theatre), Franklinland (Jackalope Theatre Company), Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea (First Floor Theatre), Don't Smoke in Bed (Chimera Ensemble). She has also worked with Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Victory Gardens, American Blues Theatre, Eclipse Theatre Company, and Prologue Theatre Company. Chika is an ensemble member with the Gift Theatre and has received the SDCF Gielgud Directing Fellowship, the Bret C. Harte Directing Fellowship, and a former Victory Garden's Directors' Initiative. Chika holds a B.A. in Theatre & Drama/ History from Indiana University.

About Chuck Smith

Chuck Smith's previous Definition Theatre credits include An Octoroon and the stage reading of Zooman and the Sign. He is a member of Goodman Theatre's Board of Trustees and is Goodman Theatre's Resident Director. Goodman credits include the Chicago premieres of Pullman Porter Blues; By the Way, Meet Vera Stark; Race; The Good Negro; Proof and The Story; the world premieres of By the Music of the Spheres and The Gift Horse; James Baldwin's The Amen Corner; A Raisin in the Sun; Blues for an Alabama Sky; August Wilson's Two Trains Running and Ma Rainey's Black Bottom; Ain't Misbehavin'; the 1993 to 1995 productions of A Christmas Carol; Crumbs From the Table of Joy; Vivisections from a Blown Mind and The Meeting. He served as dramaturg for the Goodman's world-premiere production of August Wilson's Gem of the Ocean. He directed world premiere of Knock Me a Kiss at Chicago's Victory Gardens Theater, where his other directing credits include Master Harold... and the Boys, Home, Dame Lorraine and Eden, for which he received a Jeff Award nomination.

KiKi Layne, the Actress Who's About to Be Everywhere

Meet ensemble member KiKi Layne, the Actress Who's About to Be Everywhere

She nabbed a lead role in Moonlight director Barry Jenkins's next film and Suzan-Lori Parks's Native Son.

Barry Jenkins called me at nine o’clock in the morning,” KiKi Layne says. “He woke me up—and then I found out that I got it.” The it in question is a leading role in If Beale Street Could Talk, director Jenkins’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning Moonlight, due out in limited release in November.

In her big screen debut—an adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel—the 26-year-old Cincinnati native plays Tish, a woman trying to get her husband out of jail before the birth of their child.

It was just the kind of role that Layne, who earned a degree in acting from DePaul University, had been hoping for. “When I read Baldwin’s book, I knew I absolutely had to get this,” she says. “It’s a beautiful love story, and a role like this doesn’t come around often.”

Next up will be a part in Native Son, the film based on Richard Wright’s novel and written by Suzan-Lori Parks. After that anything is possible. “I could do comedy, action, or even science fiction,” Layne says. “The only thing I’m sure of is that I want to keep doing work that speaks to me.”