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In the Spotlight: Chicago Playworks

Jeff Mills

Jeff Mills


What brought you to The Theatre School?

I had been teaching at the University of California Santa Barbara BFA Actor Training program for about 11 years when I saw that The Theatre School at DePaul was looking for a movement professor. I was a full-time lecturer at UCSB and while I loved my job and my colleagues, the idea of being a professor was very appealing so I applied for the job. DePaul’s reputation as a world-class center for actor training, its location in the amazing, theatre-loving city of Chicago and proximity to Midwestern family members all sealed the deal!

You were recently named the new Artistic Director for The Theatre School’s Chicago Playworks for Families and Young Audiences series. What do you see for the future of Chicago Playworks? Why is theatre for young audiences important to you?

I could write a book in answer to these questions but I’ll try to be brief!  For sixteen years I worked with the critically acclaimed BOXTALES Theatre Company in California.  We created and performed original works of theatre for thousands and thousands of young people and their families.  We performed all over the western U.S. in every conceivable venue from the most high-tech, state of the art theaters in high income areas to libraries, community centers, school gymnasiums and cafetoriums in the lowest income neighborhoods.  No matter where we performed, I saw that humans of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds are hungry for stories that reflect their life experiences and empower their personal search for truth and meaning. I also realized that, in our culture, the media by which we receive these life sustaining stories have become more and more limited. This is especially true for young people. It is a fact that we consume most of our stories via screens of one kind or another.  As a culture, we are slowly forgetting the power of being in the same room with real, live, human performers.  Live theatre requires spectators to be creatively involved in the art form!  Being an audience member is actually a creative act and any time we can get young people to participate and create, they become empowered.  If you can reach these young people early and often enough, they will start to crave the live experience and eventually make it a valued part of their habitual cultural lifestyle on into adulthood.

The future for Playworks involves continuing to create powerful, moving and challenging theatre that both entertains and makes young people want to come back to the theatre again and again.  The fact that our student actors and designers are charged with creating and performing these plays makes for potent educational experiences as well.   We will strive to reach as many young people as possible from as many diverse backgrounds as exists in Chicago and deliver theatrical experiences that are relevant and empowering to all involved.

What are your goals for the upcoming school year?

My main goal in this first year as Artistic Director is to listen and learn as much as I possibly can about our audience and how Playworks serves and executes its artistic mission.

What’s your greatest personal or professional accomplishment?

My greatest personal accomplishment is raising my son (a bright, handsome, creative young man) into his thirteenth year! Professionally I’m most proud of the fact that over the last twenty years I have contributed to the generation of more than sixteen original works of theatre.  There is nothing more important and satisfying to an artist than creating something out of nothing!

Jeff Mills serves as the Artistic Director of Chicago Playworks for Families and Young Audiences for The Theatre School. Jeff is an award-winning actor, director, teacher, fight director and musician. He is best known for his work with the award winning BOXTALES Theatre Company in Santa Barbara. As a core member of BOXTALES, Jeff co-created ten original works in as many years, including his direction of OM: An Indian Tale of Good and Evil (The Ramayana) and his portrayal of Odysseus in The Odyssey. Jeff and BOXTALES have toured their innovative theater for young audiences throughout the U.S. and in Mexico. Nationally and internationally Jeff has performed with the Denver Center Theater Company, Theatre de la Jeune Lune, American Folklore Theater, Colorado Shakespeare Festival, Door Shakespeare Festival, Seattle Shakespeare Festival, Wooden O Theater, the International City Theater, Shakespeare Santa Cruz, Pominencer Census (Munich), the Estudia Busqueda de Pantomima Teatro (Guanajuato, Mexico) and Theater Mitu/Visthar Center (Bangalore, India).

In Santa Barbara Jeff has acted and/or directed with several companies, including PCPA Theaterfest, Shakespeare Santa Barbara, Speaking of Stories, Genesis West, Dramatic Women, Lit Moon Theater, Santa Barbara City College and the Santa Barbara Summer Solstice. In 2014/2015 Jeff played the title role in Lit Moon's Hamlet at the National Theater of China in Beijing and the Bitola International Shakespeare Festival in Bitola, Macedonia. Other favorite roles include Macbeth, Katurian in The Pillowman, Edward in Henry VI Part 3, and Carlotta in The Cherry Orchard. In 2004 Jeff appeared on screen as Tristan in Bill Viola's and Peter Sellars' production of the opera Tristan and Isolde, which was performed at the Opera National in Paris, the Disney Hall in Los Angeles and the Lincoln Center in New York. Jeff is currently working with his new company, Proboscis, creating original works of mask, puppetry and physical theater, exploring science, Shakespeare and vaudeville; and a radio variety program called Live from the Piano Kitchen. Proboscis creations include Piezoelectric Love: The Half Life of Marie Curie (2011), which he co-devised and directed; La La La Strada (2015), which he wrote, directed and played Anthony Quinn; and Strap-On, which he co-wrote and directed. From 2007 to 2016 Jeff served on the BFA acting faculty at the University of California Santa Barbara where he taught movement, acting and solo performance.