Healing Illinois grant supports launch of Paramount Theatre’s “The Inception Project,” A new works initiative to support and amplify BIPOC and marginalized voices


Two new plays by Chicago writers ‘Pretended’ and ‘Bull: a love story’ to be developed by Paramount’s New Works Department in January

Paramount Theatre in Aurora will launch next month “The Inception Project,” a new play development initiative designed to create artist-driven, courageous, thought provoking new work in a radically inclusive environment. This is part of a bold new statewide initiative to address and heal the harms caused by racism thanks to a $40,000 Healing Illinois grant from the Illinois Department of Human Services in partnership with The Chicago Community Trust.

Following an eight-day rehearsal process, each play will be recorded and presented as a virtual staged reading open to Paramount subscribers, supporters, the local community, the state of Illinois and theater professionals interested in new work.

“Pretended” will receive its debut reading Thursday, January 14, at 7 p.m.

“Bull: a love story” will be presented online Thursday, January 28, at 7 p.m.

Tickets to both readings are free, but reservations are required. Reserve online at https://paramountaurora.com/Inception-Project/.

Lanise Antoine Shelley

Pretended: By Lanise Antoine Shelley; Directed by Lanise Antoine Shelley

Online reading: Thursday, January 14, 2021, 7 p.m. CT

In “Pretended,” Lanise Antoine Shelley draws from her own life experience as a Haitian adoptee raised by a single white mother to dissect and debunk misconceptions around adoption and move audiences to a place of racial healing. She achieves this with her story about Elly, an intercultural adoptee who finds herself pregnant and moving to Seattle to gain familial support. As told from the rare lens of an adoptee’s perspective, Elly, and the audience, are confronted with the definition of family and how we cannot always choose the route in which we love someone.

CHILDHOOD CANDID OF Lanise Antoine Shelley (Photo courtesy Lanise Antoine Shelley)

Shelley is a Haitian adoptee, actress, director and playwright. “Pretended,” her first full length play, was written during quarantine, spurred by the murder of George Floyd. She presently hosts the podcast “When They Were Young: Amplifying Voices of Adoptees” available on all major platforms including her website https://www.laniseantoineshelley.com/.

As a writer, Shelley has also worked this year with Chicago Children’s Theatre in their Springboard Initiative to develop her TYA show “Bread.” As an actress, she is known for Chicago Fire, Empire, Chicago Med, Discovery World, Macbeth HD and Goodman Theatre’s live stream of “School Girls: African Mean Girls.” She holds a BFA in Directing, Acting and Playwriting from Cornish College of the Arts, an MFA from ART/MXAT at Harvard University, and a certificate in Classical Theatre from both BADA in Oxford, England, and Birmingham Conservatory in Canada. She will be directing “Goods” at Artemisia Theatre in 2021.

Nancy Garciá Loza

Bull: a love story: By Nancy García Loza; Directed by Laura Alcalá Baker

Online reading: Thursday, January 28, 2021, 7 p.m. CT

Bull, a young Mexican American man, dealt drugs, got caught, and served his time. Ten years’ time. Every day for a decade, he’s thought about one thing: coming home. We meet Bull the day he is released from prison and returns to his old stomping grounds, Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, gentrified beyond his imagination. Hopeful and eager, he is ready to resume his life, only to discover how much everything has moved on without him. How free are you if you can’t get home? What does it take to get there?

“Bull: a love story” is a complex play, a love story that invites audiences to confront their own biases about a young Mexican man who survived his past and is trying to reach for the seemingly unattainable: self-love. It was originally commissioned by Chicago Dramatists during García Loza’s Tutterow Fellowship 2018-2020 residency program.

García Loza is a self-taught playwright rooted in Chicago and Jalisco, México. She is a pocha, meaning she is Mexican American, no hyphen. She was raised in Argo-Summit near Chicago’s Southwest Side, later moving to Shorewood, a suburb west of Chicago. Upon graduating from Joliet West High School, she returned to Chicago, enrolling at DePaul University. She always maintained close ties to Chicago’s Lakeview area, where her extensive family has immigrated for nearly five decades. She is currently under commission from Goodman Theatre, Chicago Dramatists and Teatro Leyden. She is an Artistic Associate with Pivot Arts and Teatro Vista.

Healing Illinois is a racial healing initiative of the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS), in partnership with The Chicago Community Trust, designed to distribute $4.5 million grants to organizations across the state to begin, or continue, the work of racial healing.

The goals of Healing Illinois are to, among other things: Build and advance knowledge and understanding of racial healing and racial equity in communities across the state and increase trust and relationship building among the residents of Illinois.Healing Illinois grants will fund projects that advance racial equity by, among other things: Promoting dialogue by supporting and facilitating conversations that build connection, understanding and empathy within and across communities; and Encouraging collaboration: people coming together in person or virtually to connect and engage in racial healing activities.

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