A B O U T U S
We at New American Folk Theatre are dedicated to telling stories through the Americana lens. We strive to produce impactful theatre and other artistic projects that help us learn and grow as a society.
After working together on children’s musical theatre on the Chicago Southside, collaborators Anthony Whitaker and Jamal Howard decided it was time to bring their efforts to a wider audience. In the fall of 2011, they founded the New American Folk Theatre and began with a staged reading of an original adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s Salome, called Salome Goes All the Way! The following year, NAFT included Salome Goes All the Way! in addition to another original one act, Two from the Trailer Court: Dirty Girl as their first full production at The Den Theatre in Wicker Park. As the company continued to grow, more original productions were developed. The following list includes all productions up to the current season:
"Two From the Trailer Court: Dirty Girl and Salome Goes All the Way!" (*) Written by Anthony Whitaker
"The Marvelous Land of Oz" (*) Written by Anthony Whitaker
"Dark of the Moon" Written by Howard Richardson and William Berney
"Witches Among Us" (*) Music and Lyrics by Scott Free; Book by Rick Karlin
“The Summer of Daisy Fay” by Ed Howard
"Trash" Johnny Drago
"Deep In the Heart of Tuna" Written by Ed Howard, Joe Sears and Jaston Williams
"Hot Pink or Ready to Blow" Written by Johnny Drago
"Scraps" (*) Written by Anthony Whitaker
"My Life As A Country Song" Written by Anthony Whitaker
(*) denotes world premiere
Anthony Whitaker (Co-Artistic Diretor, Co-Founder) grew up in Greenville, SC, where, he began performing at age 10. Whitaker performed with the Greenville Little Theatre, The Warehouse Theatre, The Greenville Fine Arts Center, South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts, and the Singing Christmas Tree. Since leaving South Carolina, he has performed in Atlanta (Center Stage Atlanta and Georgia State University), The Lost Colony in Manteo, NC, The Golden Apple Dinner Theatres in Sarasota and Venice, Florida and many venues in Chicago (The Royal George, Emerald City, Beverly Arts Center, Theatre on the Lake). In addition to performing, Anthony teaches elementary and junior high music in the public and Catholic School systems, and directs productions for various south side schools and the Beverly Arts Center.
Jamal Howard (Co-Artistic Director, Co-Founder) is originally from San Jose, Calif. Jamal grew up performing and training in musical theatre since the age of eight with Children's Musical Theatre San Jose (CMTSJ), Peninsula Youth Theatre, and Bellarmine College Preparatory. He taught jazz classes and workshops and choreographed for CMTSJ’s summer camp. Jamal graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a BA in Theatre and Advertising/Public Relations. There he made his directorial debut with Wonder of the World. He directs, choreographs, and teaches jazz/hip-hop dance classes in grade schools on Chicago’s Southside and at the Beverly Arts Center. Directing and Choreography credits include Once on This Island, Cats, Hairspray!, and Little Shop of Horrors. Jamal has recently performed with Quest Theatre Ensemble, Emerald City, and Endpoint Theatre Company.
Caitlin Jackson did her first play when she was 5 and has kept on going, pretty much, ever since (except for a 5 year break from theatre after college, when she traded acting for singing karaoke in dive bars and living under the assumption that she was probably going to be a Rock Star). She grew up performing and training in Indiana where she worked with Young Actor's Theatre, Indiana Repertory Theatre, Indianapolis Civic Theatre, Boone County Civic Theatre, Edyvean Repertory, Theatre on the Square and the American Cabaret Theatre, as well as other theatres in the Indianapolis area. Caitlin moved to Chicago in 1997 to study acting at The Chicago Academy for the Performing Arts, and then majored in performance at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Since living in Chicago, Caitlin has performed with many theatre companies and is a regular performer with Hell in a Handbag Productions, Black Button Eyes, Cowardly Scarecrow and, of course, NAFT. She was nominated as part of the Best Ensemble for Refuge Theatre Company's High Fidelity where she played "Liz" in 2017 and Best Supporting Performer in a Musical for her work as "Cheryl" in Black Button Eyes' 2018 production of Evil Dead: The Musical. More information can be found at caitlinrosejackson.com
Sarah Gise is so happy to be an ensemble member with New American Folk Theatre. She holds a BFA in acting from the University of Southern California (USC) and in 2013 received the LA Weekly Best Actress Award for her performance in The Belle of Belfast. She is also an ensemble member with Interrobang Theatre Project, where she can currently be seen acting in the US Premiere of OUT OF LOVE (through Sept 14, 2019). In addition to theatre, she has appeared in several web series, films, and commercials, and is a voiceover artist having narrated over two dozen audiobooks. She is happily represented by DDO Chicago. With NAFT, she has been seen in Dark of the Moon and Dirty Girl, and her directing credits include The Break Up Play (Scared Sh!tless Festival) and the upcoming production of My Life is a Country Song (November 2019).
Charlie Irving is an actor and writer in Chicago. She appeared in both New American Folk Theatre's shows last season, SCRAPS and HOT PINK. She had previously received a Jeff Nomination for Best Solo Performance in The Summer of Daisy Fay with NAFT in association with Redtwist Theatre. She has also worked with theatres like Factory Theater, Artemesia and Metropolis. Charlie was trained in Meisner at the Gately/Poole Conservatory. Charlie is beginning to share her writing with the world and recently completed the New Colony Writer's Room. She is a singer and is training in Guitar and Ukulele.
Grant Drager is a Michigan Native and obtained his BFA in Musical Theatre from Oakland University before coming to Chicago. He is an ensemble member of Hell in a Handbag as well as NAFT. Most recently he has been portraying Blanche in the Golden Girls Parody series with Hell in a handbag. NAFT credits: Hot Pink or Ready to Blow, Deep in the Heart of Tuna, Dirt Girl, and Dark of the Moon. Other Chicago Credits include: Snowgirls, Rip Nelson’s Holiday Spectacular, Scooby Don’t, Christmas Dearest (13 & 15) Rudolph the Red Hosed Reindeer, Musical of the Living Dead, El Stories, Miami Nice a Golden Girls Musical, and more. Grant lives in Uptown and during the day is the VP of Sales for Amata Law Offices. He also is an owner of OUTSKIRTS Vintage LLC in Ravenswood. In what spare time he has left, Grant likes to crochet, watch TV, and spend time with his two fur babies Wednesday and Tony. All of this is made possible by his partner and full-time supporter Michael.
Kirk Jackson is a Skokie, IL native and also a graduate of Illinois State University's Acting program. He is a proud company member of New American Folk Theatre and artistic associate with Ghostlight Ensemble. Other companies he has worked with recently are Factory Theater, Cowardly Scarecrow Theater Co., Interrobang Theater Project, Refuge Theatre Project, Underscore Theatre, Hell in a Handbag, and Strangeloop Theatre. He was most recently seen as Red in Factory's production of "Prophet$," Ed in "You've Got Red on You," Duff Mcstradlin in "Hot Pink or Ready to Blow!," and Bruce Springsteen and The Most Pathetic Man in the World in the Jeff Award winning “High Fidelity: the Musical”
Kelly Combs is a Seattle native who graduated from USC and taught theatre all across the country before settling in Chicago. You can most frequently find her performing at Second City, where she's traded in Shakespeare for sketch comedy. She is thrilled to be an ensemble member of New American Folk Theatre and some of her favorite Chicago stage experiences have been with the company. She is represented by Ambassador Talent.