While Paramount Theatre is known for its Broadway-caliber shows, Pretended, Bull: a love story and all The Inception Project pieces are non-musicals.

Pretended by Lanise Antoine Shelley: Online reading Thursday, January 14, 2021, 7 p.m. CT. Followed immediately by panel discussion.

learn about pretended

Bull: a love story by Nancy García Loza: Online reading Thursday, January 28, 2021, 7 p.m. CT. Followed immediately by panel discussion. Link coming soon.

learn about bull

The Inception Project is a new initiative from Paramount’s New Works Department, led by Amber Mak, New Works Development Director. Paul-Jordan Jansen, the Jeff Award-winning actor and Paramount’s popular leading man in Sweeney Todd, The Wizard of Oz and Disney’s Beauty and The Beast, has been tapped as Artistic Associate for The Inception Project.

In addition to free online staged readings, Paramount School of the Arts is creating education resources for both plays, along with supplemental programming like interactive panel discussions with artists and outside speakers. Stay tuned for details.

Long known for its blockbuster stagings of popular Broadway musicals, Paramount also has begun to pioneer new works through its Broadway Series, including the world premiere musicals August Rush in 2019, and The Secret of My Success in 2020, Jeff-nominated for Best New Work. Earlier this fall, Paramount School of the Arts also received a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) to commission and develop a new play for young audiences by a BIPOC writer to tour area high schools.

Paramount intends to make The Inception Project an annual event and launch pad for future productions of new works developed through the program, including potentially full, world premiere stagings as part of the new BOLD Series Paramount intends to launch in the 165-seat Copley Theatre, its newly-renovated sister stage.

The debut of Paramount’s Inception Project 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.

About Healing Illinois

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:

  • Build and advance knowledge and understanding of racial healing and racial equity in communities across the state
  • Increase trust and relationship building, among the residents of Illinois
  • Provide opportunities for communities and individuals to begin to heal from the harms caused by racism
  • Build the foundation for long-term racial healing and anti-racism in Illinois

Healing Illinois grants will fund projects that advance racial equity by:

  • Promoting dialogue: Supporting and facilitating conversations that build connection, understanding, and empathy within and across communities
  • Encouraging collaboration: People coming together in person or virtually to connect and engage in racial healing activities
  • Facilitating learning: Engaging in projects that build and/or enhance knowledge and understanding of racial justice
  • Seeding connection: Building community through deeper interpersonal interactions

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By Lanise Antoine Shelley
Directed by Lanise Antoine Shelley
Online reading: Thursday, January 14, 2021, 7 p.m. CT

Due to mature content, recommended for ages 17 and up.

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.

While Paramount Theatre is known for its Broadway-caliber shows, Pretended and all The Inception Project pieces are non-musicals.












Lanise Antoine Shelley (she/her) 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. Shelley is also the creator of the Interracial Adoptee Panel Series sponsored by United States Foundation for the Children of Haiti. She presently hosts the podcast When They Were Young: Amplifying Voices of Adoptees available on all major platforms including her website 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. Selected directing credits include: Rastus and Hattie, Black and Blue, and movement consultant for Muthaland (16th Street Theater), Hear Me See Me (Silent Theatre), The Luck of the Irish (virtual reading), Identity Lab (Lookingglass Theatre), The Tenant (Akvavit Theatre), RefuSHE Project (Voices & Faces Project), Rumors (DePaul University), and a staged reading of The Convert (Stratford Shakespeare Festival). 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. Awards/ Fellowships include Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s Chicago Fellow 2016 and Victory Gardens Theatre’s Directing Fellow 2019. www.laniseantoineshelley.com


Aneisa J. Hicks







(Elly, she/her) is excited to be making her debut with Paramount. Most recent credits include: Graveyard Shift (Goodman Theatre), Pride and Prejudice (Long Wharf Theatre), Her Portmanteau (American Conservatory Theatre), Chicago Med (NBC), and The CHI (Showtime). Aneisa is represented by DDO Chicago Agency.

Erik Hellman*







(Sean, he/him) is very happy to be working with Paramount for the first time. He has worked all over Chicago theatre, most recently in Lindiwe and Familiar at Steppenwolf. Other credits include many shows at Court Theatre, Writers Theatre, Goodman, Northlight, Lookingglass as well as years working “off-loop.” Film/TV work includes The Dark Knight, Walden, The Chicago Code, Boss, Betrayal, Chicago Fire, Chicago PD, The Good Fight, Fargo, and as Johnny Carson on Mrs. America.








(Clayton, he/him) is working with Paramount Theatre for the first time. Previous credits include Q Brothers: Dress the Part (Shakespeare Festival St. Louis), PYG or the Mis-Edumacation of Dorian Belle (Jackalope Theatre), Chicago Fire (NBC), Chicago Med (NBC), and Chicago Justice (NBC). He almost made his Oregon Shakespeare Festival debut last year in Everything That Never Happened, but alas, it never happened. He holds a BFA in acting from The Theatre School at DePaul University.

Caron Buinis







(Vicky, she/her) Paramount Theatre: The Wizard of Oz, Cabaret, Oklahoma! and The Music Man. Other theatrical credits: An American in Paris (Drury Lane Theatre), Oliver! (Marriott Theatre Lincolnshire), Mary Jane (Forward Theatre), A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (Porchlight Music Theatre), It’s a Wonderful Life (TATC), King Liz (Windy City Playhouse), Chimerica (TimeLine Theatre), The Full Monty (Kokandy Productions, “Jeanette” Jeff Nomination), and The Language Archive (Piven Theatre). On-camera credits: Chicago Fire (NBC) and American Greed (CNBC).

Mildred Marie Langford*







(Juliana and Soo, she/her) Credits include: Gunshot Medley: Part 1 (Rogue Machine Theatre/WLCAC – Ovation Award Nominee); Native Son (Antaeus Theatre Company/Kirk Douglas Theatre – 2019 Block Party); Domesticated, Animal Farm, Venus, The Crucible (Steppenwolf); The Royale (American Theatre Company – BTAA Best Featured Actress); Luck of the Irish (Next Theatre); A Raisin in the Sun (Milwaukee Rep/TimeLine Theatre); My Kind of Town, In Darfur (TimeLine Theatre); and Failure: A Love Story (Victory Gardens Theater). Proud member of AEA & SAG-AFTRA.

*Member of Actors’ Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers in the United States.









(Dramaturg, she/her) After graduating from Cornish College of the Arts with a BFA in Theatre, Cassy moved to Chicago where she worked with Theatre Seven, Pavement Group, Collaboraction, Lookingglass, and Steppenwolf, among others. Now in Los Angeles, Cassy studies at Upright Citizens Brigade and Berg Studios. Currently, you can see her in a variety of delightfully quirky commercials. – Congratulations and thank you to Lanise, who is a dear friend and inspiration.








(Stage Manager, she/her) is excited to be working! On a show! With Paramount! Past shows at Paramount: Beauty and the Beast, The Producers, The Wizard of Oz, Once, Elf the Musical, Sweeney Todd, The Little Mermaid, Hairspray and Tommy. Chicago: The King’s Speech, Six, Mary Stuart, and Ride the Cyclone (Chicago Shakespeare); Bakersfield Mist, Danny Casolaro…, The How and The Why, A Raisin in the Sun and Wasteland (TimeLine).








(Script Supervisor, she/her) is thrilled to be back with Paramount for Pretended. Valerie started at the Paramount Theatre as a stage management intern on The Producers, worked as a production assistant on Newsies and Beauty and the Beast, and assisted in script supervision for The Secret of My Success. Locally, Valerie has also served as a stage manager for New Place Theatre and Storm Dance Alliance. – Love to the quaran-“team”!

*Member of Actors’ Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers in the United States.


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Bull: a love story

Bull: A Love Story

By Nancy García Loza
Directed by Laura Alcalá Baker
Online reading: Thursday, January 28, 2021, 7 p.m. CT  

Due to mature content, including depictions of (or references to): alcohol use/abuse, drug use/abuse, death and grieving, profanity, toxic masculinity, familial trauma, gang/drug related violence, systemic racism and police harassment. Recommended for ages 17 and up.

Bull, a young Mexican American man, dealt drugs, got caught, and served his time. Ten years time. Everyday 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?

While Paramount Theatre is known for its Broadway-caliber shows, Bull: a love story and all The Inception Project pieces are non-musicals.













Nancy García Loza (she/her) is a self-taught playwright rooted in Chicago, Illinois, 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. García Loza’s audio drama BRAVA: a folktale con música for Make-Believe Association (with mention from the The New York Times) received nominations in six categories at the 2019 ALTA Awards and won Outstanding Original Music in a Play for her song “Corrido de la Brava”. She is currently under commission from Goodman Theatre, Chicago Dramatists and Teatro Leyden. She is an Artistic Associate with Pivot Arts and Teatro Vista. She is a two-time alum of the national Fornés Playwriting Workshop, and has enjoyed residencies with Goodman Playwrights Unit, Oregon Shakespeare Festival Black Swan Lab, SPACE on Ryder Farm Institutional Residency, UIUC, and more. She is the daughter of Mexican immigrants, the eldest daughter of seven children, and the keeper of stories in her vast family.












Laura Alcalá Baker (she/her) is a Chicago based director and producer. She served as the Casting Director/Artistic Programs Manager at Victory Gardens Theater from 2016-2019 leading programs such as The Access Project and Directors’ Inclusion Initiative. Most recently, Laura directed the world premiere of Isaac Gomez’s The Leopard Play, or sad songs for lost boys (Steep Theatre) and The Way She Spoke: A Docu-mythologia (DCASE, Greenhouse Theater Center). She also directed the audio drama BRAVA by Nancy García Loza (Make-Believe Association) which is available on all podcast platforms. Other select works include: The Pillowman (The Gift Theatre), Equivocation, The Giver, 11:11, and Collapse (B Street Theater) There is No Message in the Message, Shamed (The Gift Theatre’s TEN), Project Potential (Broken Nose Theatre’s Bechdel Fest), and Jets, Sharks, and Beckys (Collaboraction’s Peacebook Festival). She is a proud member of the Alliance of Latinx Theatre Artists and was nominated for Best Casting Director at the 2018 ALTA Awards and Best Director – Brava at the 2019 ALTA Awards. She was also Jeff Award Nominated for “Best Director” for her work on The Leopard Play, or sad songs for lost boys.

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The Inception Project Registration

    Links will be sent 24-48 hours before the performance.

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