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Core Faculty

Stan Brown (W. Rockwell Wirtz Professor and Program Director) earned his MFA in Acting from the University of South Carolina in 1989. While there, Stan was named a graduate acting fellow at the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington D.C., where he received the core of his classical actor training.

Stan began his work in university teaching at the University of Warwick in Coventry, England, where he taught acting and was a postgraduate researcher in Contemporary Shakespearean Performance (exploring director Peter Brook’s body of work with the Royal Shakespeare Company). In the U.K., Stan was invited to work with the voice department at the RSC by Cicely Berry, RSC Director of Voice and the author of internationally renowned books Voice and the Actor, The Actor and His Text, and Text in Action. This training and experience initiated Stan’s ongoing explorations into perceptions and impacts of ‘culture’ on voice and speech training for the actor. He maintained an active professional relationship with the RSC’s voice department and, specifically, Ms. Berry and her work until her retirement and passing in 2018. Apart from his work as a teacher, voice/dialect coach, and director, Stan has worked as a professional actor for over 30 years in American and British theatre, film, television and radio. Some of his credits include featured roles on NBC’s Homicide: Life in the Streets and recurring roles on In the Heat of the Night and the critically acclaimed I’ll Fly Away. In film, Stan co-starred in Robby Benson’s Modern Love and the cult film Getting In opposite Calista Flockhart, Matthew Perry, Dave Chapelle, and Christine Baranski. The film was the directorial debut of Doug Liman, who would later direct Swingers, Bourne Identity, and Mr. & Mrs. Smith. In 2015 Stan played the lead in the short film The Bespoke Tailoring of Mr. Bellamy. The film won the prestigious Louisiana Film Prize—the largest monetary prize in the world for short film—and was shortlisted for the Academy Award ballot. Stan also won the Louisiana Film Prize Best Actor award for his work.

Anna D. Shapiro, MFA (Professor) is a Tony Award-winning director and the artistic director of Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago. She has directed several notable productions at Steppenwolf, including August: Osage County (2008 Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards), The Motherf**ker with the Hat (also on Broadway, 2011 Tony nomination for Best Director), Visiting EdnaMary Page Marlowe and Man from Nebraska. Broadway credits include Young Jean Lee’s Straight White Men, Larry David’s Fish in the DarkOf Mice and Men and the Steppenwolf revival of This Is Our Youth. Shapiro is a graduate of the Yale School of Drama and Columbia College and the recipient of a 1996 Princess Grace Award, as well as the 2010 Princess Grace Statue Award. She is a professor in Northwestern University’s Department of Theatre and has served as the Director of the Graduate MFA Directing Program since 2002.

Sandra Marquez, MFA (Assistant Professor) is an ensemble member at Steppenwolf Theater as well as Teatro Vista where she served as associate artistic director from 1998-2006.  Her directing credits include the Joseph Jefferson Award-nominated production of Our Lady of the Underpass by Tanya Saracho. Most recent acting credits include The Motherfu**er with the Hat, Mary Page Marlowe, The Doppelganger, and The Roommate (Steppenwolf); Wolf at the End of the Block, Between You, Me and the Lampshade, and A View from the Bridge (Teatro Vista); Iphigenia at Aulis, Agamemnon, and Electra (Court Theater), Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner (Oregon Shakespeare Festival), Mala Hierba (Second Stage, Uptown), Mojada (Victory Gardens), and The Happiest Song Plays Last (Goodman). Ms. Marquez is a recipient of a Joseph Jefferson Award for Best Supporting Actress in A View from the Bridge and the Sor Juana Award for Contribution to the Arts and Latino Community from the National Museum of Mexican Art. A proud member of AEA and SAG-AFTRA she has worked in numerous national commercials, industrial films, and print work.  Film and TV credits include: Boss, Prison Break, Chicago Code, Chicago Med, and Timer. She has been a member of the theatre faculty at Northwestern University since 1995, where she very much enjoys teaching and mentoring young people.

Halena Kays, MFA (Assistant Professor) is a Chicago-based theater director and performer. Most recently she served as the artistic director of The Hypocrites, where she both performed and directed. She is the co-founder and former artistic director of Barrel of Monkeys, where she created and directed the majority of their public performances. She is a founding member of the artistic collaborative The Ruffians and directs their recurring hit production of Burning Bluebeard as well as their other experiments in live performance events. Kays is an artistic associate with the Neo-Futurists where she directed Pop/Waits, 44 Plays for 44 Presidents, Burning Bluebeard, co-created and directed Daredevils and Daredevils Hamlet and the sight-specific extravaganza Fake Lake. Other directing credits include: Endgame, Ivywild, Six Characters in Search of an Author at The Hypocrites; The Magic Play at The Goodman, The Olney Theatre Center and Actors Theatre of Louisville, Lord of the Flies at Steppenwolf TYA; Feast (part of a collaborative directing effort) with The Albany Park Theatre Project at The Goodman. Kays has been nominated for a Jefferson Citation for Best Supporting Actress and Best Direction, named one of the top 50 “players” in Chicago theater by NewCity, and is a recipient of the prestigious 3Arts award.

Shana Cooper, MFA (Assistant Professor) is a company member at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington, D.C., where her directing credits include The Nether and HIR by Taylor Mac. Other directing credits include The Unfortunates (A.C.T., SF); American Night, Romeo and Juliet (Yale Repertory Theatre); Straight White Men (Studio Theater); The Unfortunates (World Premiere Musical), Julius CaesarLove’s Labor’s Lost (Oregon Shakespeare Festival); Venus In Fur (Seattle Rep, Arizona Theatre Company), The Taming of the Shrew, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (California Shakespeare Theater); A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Playmakers Rep); Camino Real (New York University MFA Program); Three Sisters (The Studio/New York); The Whale Play, Twelfth Night Parking Lot Project (New Theater House). Shana was the associate artistic director of the California Shakespeare Theater (2000-2004), and also a cofounder of New Theater House with Yale School of Drama alumni (2008-present). Awards include: 2014 U Grant, funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and administered by TCG; 2010 Princess Grace Award; Julian Milton Kaufman Memorial Prize in Directing (Yale School of Drama); Drama League Directing Fellow; TCG Observership Grant; Oregon Shakespeare Festival Phil Killian Directing Fellow; G. Herbert Smith Presidential Scholarship.

Roger Ellis, MFA (Assistant Professor) (they/them) is a theatre maker, filmmaker, and producer who cultivates embodiment-driven interdisciplinary works. Their creative practice traverses, synthesizes, and reimagines traditional disciplines such as directing, choreography, and new works development. Ellis is the director/choreographer of Nikki Lynette’s afrogoth musical Get Out Alive, which premiered in Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s LookOut Series. They have worked in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, and across the United States with companies such as Sacramento Music Circus, Paramount Theatre, American Music Theatre Project, Horizon Theatre Company, Aurora Theatre, Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma, Tuacahn Center for the Arts, San Diego Repertory, and Gallery Players Brooklyn. Ellis’ choreography for the digital theatre project AntigoneNOW was presented at the 27th Cairo International Festival for Experimental Theatre.

Ellis teaches courses in music theatre and dance through the lens of experimental theatre theory, practice, and improvisation. Ellis’ teaching is influenced by their study of the Six Viewpoints with Mary Overlie, the Lucid Body with Fay Simpson, and Developmental Technique with Erika Berland and Wendell Beavers. In the classroom, Ellis guides emerging artists in the development of sustainable artistic practices that balance autonomy and collaboration. Ellis has also taught courses in movement for the stage, acting through song, musical theatre scene study, music theatre dance, and collaborative devising process at Marymount Manhattan College, the University of the Arts Summer Institute, NYC’s Professional Performing Arts School, and Lucid Body Institute, NYC.

Selected credits: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (movement director), Parade (director), Fun Home (director/choreographer), A Little Night Music (director/choreographer), LaChiusa’s The Wild Party (director), The Light in the Piazza (associate director/movement coach), the NY Developmental Workshop of Maverick (associate director/choreographer), and the world premiere of Laura Pittenger’s Thou Shalt Not (director).

Ellis’ research arcs connections between trauma studies, physical inquiry, embodiment practice, contemporary performance, and new media. Roger holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in Musical Theatre from San Diego State University and is a member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society (Associate), and The National Alliance of Acting Teachers. Roger is the recipient of the National Alliance of Acting Teachers’ Earle Gister Fellowship (2019).

Jessica Thebus, PhD (Associate Professor and Director of the MFA in Directing) is an associate artist with Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company, where she has directed Sex with Strangers, Intimate ApparelDead Man’s Cell PhoneWhen the Messenger Is Hot, and Sonia Flew. Among many others, she has also directed As You Like It at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, The Clean House and Stage Kiss at The Goodman Theatre, A Civil War Christmas at The Huntington Theatre, Harriet Jacobs at Kansas City Repertory Theatre, and Jekyll and HydeInherit the Wind, and Red Herring at Northlight Theatre. In 2009, Thebus co-directed a Lookingglass Theatre production of Our Town with fellow faculty member Anna D. Shapiro. Her favorite projects include the award-winning plays Pulp and Winesburg, Ohio at About Face Theatre, as well as the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s world premiere of Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter, which then moved to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. An artistic associate at the Corn Exchange in Dublin, Ireland, Thebus holds a PhD in performance studies from Northwestern. She teaches seminars in Advanced Directing, American Realism and Naturalism, and Collaboration Techniques for Designers and Directors.

Cristal Chanelle Truscott, PhD (Associate Professor) is a culture worker, scholar, educator, playwright, director, founder of the touring ensemble Progress Theatre, and creator of “SoulWork” – a generative method for making performance, training artists, engaging communities and framing analytical research that is rooted in generations-old African American cultural practices, theories and performance traditions. She is a recipient of the Doris Duke Impact Artist Award, given to those “influential in shaping powerful creative movements in contemporary arts,” as well as the 2023 United States Artist Award, the Creative Capital Award, MAP Fund, NPN Creation Fund, and NEFA National Theatre Project grants.

As a culture worker and artist, Dr. Truscott is director of SoulWork Studio and has led Progress Theatre in using art as anti-racism to connect communities via a broad, deeply linked grassroots network fostered nationally and internationally. She writes a capella musicals called “NeoSpirituals” that span and straddle time between histories and the present to explore identities, inheritances/legacies and cultural movements to encourage connection, consciousness, and healing. These include PEACHES (in Plays from the Boom Box Galaxy, TCG Books), ‘MEMBUH, and The Burnin’. Plantation Remix, her current work-in-progress, is a site-responsive NeoSpiritual to radically re-imagine the separatist genre of heritage tourism by rehearsing a contemporary, multi-cultural, future-building “afterlife” for historic sites related to slavery in the U.S. Her plays blend pop culture and academic conversations, fusing genre from Negro Spirituals and Folklore to Blues, R&B, and Hip Hop to produce performances that engage communities across race, class, gender, and spiritual identity.

Dr. Truscott’s scholarly research investigates and excavates oral traditions, cultural knowledge and community practices as performance methodology for use by artists/practitioners, educators, community-invested programs and arts organizations seeking to offer inclusive, dynamic artist training, curricula and/or programming. As a performance studies scholar, she researches and writes about spiritual diversity in African American Theatre and the arts’ essential role in movements for liberation using the theory she developed called the “Cultural Conservatory.” She has served as assistant editor of the performance journal TDR: The Drama Review; associate editor for Azizah Magazine; and on the editorial boards of the publications Women and Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory and Black Masks Magazine.