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No blue memories screenshot 2

No Blue Memories Digital Program

Harold Washington Library

May 16 & 18, 2023

No Blue Memories: The Life of Gwendolyn Brooks brings to life the story of one of Chicago’s most beloved figures. She was an icon, a poet laureate, and a Pulitzer Prize winner—but she was also a treasured educator and mentor to the countless writers and children who knew her as their very own “Miss Brooks.” Weaving together poetry, storytelling, sound design, original music, and striking visuals, No Blue Memories is an exploration of Brooks’s beloved city and a story of how she navigated identity, craft, and politics over the course of one of the most remarkable careers in American literary history. The performance combines intricate paper puppetry, live actors working in shadow, and an original score for an unforgettable multi-media experience.

No Blue Memories was commissioned by the Poetry Foundation for the Brooks Centenary and premiered in Chicago in November, 2017.

Featured Poems by Gwendolyn Brooks

  • Eventide

  • Beverly Hills, Chicago

  • We Real Cool

  • Gwendolyn Brooks (by Haki Madhubuti)

  • The Third Sermon on the Warpland

  • Speech to the Young - Speech to the Progress-Toward

May 16 & 18 @ Harold Washington Library

Commissioned by the Poetry Foundation
Written by Eve L. Ewing and Nate Marshall
Directed by Sarah Fornace
Music Composed by Jamila Woods and Ayanna Woods

Presented by


A Manual Cinema Production

Commissioned by the Poetry Foundation

Written by Crescendo Literary (Eve L. Ewing and Nate Marshall)

Director: Sarah Fornace

Music Composers: Jamila Woods and Ayanna Woods

Storyboards by: Drew Dir

Puppet Designers: Drew Dir and Lizi Breit

Costume and Wig Designer: Mieka van der Ploeg

Lighting Designer: Claire Chrzan

Sound Designer: Ben Kauffman

Music Director: Ayanna Woods

Production Manager: Nic Barnum

Tech Director: Mike Usrey

Stage Manager: Maydi Diaz

Sound Engineer: Nick Broste


N. LaQuis Harkins (Gwendolyn Brooks)

Felix Mayes

Jyreika Guest

Shay Turnage

Nile Lansana (Haki Madhubuti)


Kai Black (band leader and percussion)

Nashon Holloway (voice/guitar)

Ryan Nyther (trumpet)

Teiana Davis (keys/vocals)

Wyatt Waddell (bass/background vocals)

Cast Bios

KAI BLACK (Band Leader, Percussion) is a drummer, singer, educator and recording artist from St. Louis. He moved to Chicago to attend Columbia college, where he majored in Musical Instrumental Performance. Since then, he has made waves collaborating with wide-ranging artists like TASHA, Rich Jones, the O’My’s, and Loona Dae. He is currently co-producing his debut solo project with Rosebud Music Group.

TEIANA DAVIS (Keys) Based on the South Side of Chicago, Teiana Davis (also known as Anaiet) is a prolific, talented artist who seeks to capture life's most illustrious moments through music. A member of the new Chicago collectives Abstract Tribe, Knappy World, and an established solo artist herself, music is a fundamental part of her life. A graduate of The Chicago High School for the Arts and a current student of Harold Washington College, Teiana aims to continue her musical journey and pursue potential careers in Music Performance, Production, and Engineering, among others.

JYREIKA GUEST (Puppeteer) is an actor, dancer, poet, and intimacy director/coordinator based in Chicago, IL, and thrilled to return to No Blue Memories! Chicago acting credits include: How Blood Go (Congo Square Theatre); Tragedy of King Christophe (House Theatre of Chicago); Lindiwe U/S (Steppenwolf); Frankenstein (Remy Bumppo); columbinus (The Yard Theatre Company); In the Blood (Red Tape Theatre); Fly Honeys Show (The Inconvenience Project); The Wiz (Kokandy Productions); The Adventures of Robin Hood (Filament Theatre). Intimacy direction credits: Ain't No Mo' (Woolly Mammoth, DC); ALAIYO (Definition Theatre); Fun Home, Groundhog Day, Rock of Ages, and Hand to God (Paramount Theatre-Aurora), The Last Pair of Earlies (Raven Theatre); Seagull (Steppenwolf), Intimate Apparel (Northlight Theatre); The Light (Coalescence Theatre); Fire Shut Up in My Bones (Lyric Opera Chicago); Film/TV credits: Starz Force Season 1&2, Heist 88. She is proudly represented by Shirley Hamilton Talent. IG: @jevelyng

N. LAQUIS HARKINS (Gwendolyn Brooks, Puppeteer) is a graduate of Howard University. LaQuis was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. Since her initial work with the Hip Hop Theatre Junction (Rhyme Deferred), LaQuis has performed in various independent films and theater productions including Repairing a Nation (eta Creative Arts); 1919 (Steppenwolf Theatre); and the Jeff-awarding winning production The Billboard (16th Street Theater). Her television credits include Chicago Fire (“What Will Define You,” and “I Walk Away”), and The Chi (“Feeling the Heat"). She’s done numerous industrials and commercial work for companies such as The Room Place, Kellogg's ("Finding Dory”), and Nissan Rogue ("Star Wars"). She is grateful to return to the Harold Washington Library Center’s Pritzker Auditorium with Manual Cinema to once again honor Chicago’s beloved legend: Gwendolyn Brooks- whose work is a daily inspiration for LaQuis’ work in youth literacy.

NASHON HOLLOWAY (Voice, Guitar) With a name meaning “oracle,” Nashon Holloway was born to sing healing. National Public Radio refers to her sound as “crisp and colorful,” and her soulful jazz-tinged voice and guitar-playing has been heard on such stages as The Oprah Winfrey Show with David Foster, Live with Hans Zimmer, with Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Tank and the Bangas, with LiV Warfield of Prince's New Power Generation, Bobby McFerrin, Kelly Rowland, Uniting Voices Chicago (formerly Chicago Children's Choir), Jennifer Hudson, Paulo Szot, Nobuo Uematsu, Drake, and many more—but Nashon is also an artist in her own right. She is a published poet, has composed for symphony orchestra, tours with her own group of celebrated gospel, jazz and funk musicians, and calls herself a "daughter of griots" (a borrowed term from West African creatives who maintain the oral histories of their people through their art). It is a dream for her to join the cast of Manual Cinema’s “No Blue Memories”.

RYAN NYTHER (Trumpet) Coming from Dixon Elementary School, under the direction of Diane Ellis, Trumpeter Ryan Nyther developed an early interest in music ranging from all aspects of black american music. Nyther attended Lincoln Park High School, numerous after school/city programs, as well as performing with and learning from Chicago Bebop/avant garde legends including Fred Anderson, Von Freeman, and Willie Pickens. This granted him the opportunity and skill set to acquire a scholarship to college and eventually a Bachelor's Degree in Jazz Studies at Northern Illinois University. Ryan currently tours regularly around the world with the soulful group Dumpstaphunk, as well as being on call with a number of groups including the traditional black american music group Trumpet Summit, and R&B artist Isaiah Sharkey.

NILE LANSANA (Haki Madhubuti, Puppeteer) is an acclaimed interdisciplinary artist from the South Side of Chicago. His work is centered around revealing radical truths and amplifying marginalized voices and narratives through a lens of Black imagination and visionary intention. He was nominated for the inaugural Chicago Poet Laureate position. A UW-Madison graduate, he directed and premiered his first documentary We The Vision in March 2022. He’s an award-winning poet & performer who’s graced stages across the country, including Lollapalooza and the Kennedy Center. He holds fellowships from the Rebuild Foundation and Obsidian Foundation. He is a proud uncle and the oldest of four Black boys. IG: @nilesupasuit

SHARAINA LATRICE TURNAGE (Puppeteer) hails from the south side of Chicago. With her B.A. in Theater Performance from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in hand, Sharaina has performed in various places from New York to Suriname, South America (studied and performed Afro-Surinamese Du Theatre to Suriname, Illinois and Maryland audiences) to Edinburgh, Scotland. Most recent performances include: A Very Hungry Caterpillar (Chicago Children's Theater), Leonardo!, Mementos Mori, No Blue Memories, The End of TV (Manual Cinema),The American Revolution (Theater Unspeakable), The Silence in Harrow House (Rough House Theater), A Mild Goose Chase - created for Night Out in The Parks (Free Street Theater), Curiosity Caught The Cat - a short clown show (Physical Theater Festival) and Mrs. Palmers Honey - which is currently playing on St. Louis radio station KDHX (Bread and Roses Co). Sharaina would like to thank her small circle of family, friends, and shea butter. IG:sharainalatrice

FELIX MAYES (Puppeteer) is a Chicago-based artist. Through puppetry, horror, and play, they invite people to see themselves as storytellers. Felix is honored to be back at Harold Washington sharing Ms. Brooks' story. They are a company member of Rough House and a gamemaster with Rough Magic.

WYATT WADDELL (Bass, Background Vocals) is known for his complex melodies, exuberant presence, and powerful yet versatile vocal range, which moves seamlessly between the raspy timbre of James Brown to the melodic whimsy of Paul McCartney. Wyatt has been bubbling at the edges of the Chicago underground and is now set to bring his infectious mix of R&B, pop and funk into the music world.

Staff & Creative Team Bios

NIC BARNUM (Production Manager) is a production manager and event producer in Chicago. He has worked on many theater productions and festivals throughout the years. He also helps produce countless events ranging from corporate to charitable to private parties. Nic graduated from Columbia College of Chicago with his bachelors in Audio Arts & Designs. In his free time he writes, records and performs music.

LIZI BREIT (Puppet Designer) Lizi Breit is a Chicago-based artist working primarily across illustration, animation, sculpture, and performance. She has been working with Manual Cinema since 2011, and is currently serving as associate designer. She is an artistic associate with The Neo-Futurists and a former member of Blair Thomas & Co. Her internet self lives at www.lizibreit.com.

NICK BROSTE (Sound Engineer) is an accomplished recording and live sound engineer with a passion for creating exceptional audio experiences. He has a Bachelor of Music degree in Jazz Studies from DePaul University. With years of experience in the field, he has worked with a diverse range of artists and events across different genres, including rock, jazz, and electronic music. Nick has a keen ear for detail and a deep understanding of sound technology, which he uses to create compelling mixes and masterful recordings. Nick is based in Chicago and works both in-studio and on-location.

CLAIRE CHRZAN (Lighting Designer) is excited to collaborate with Manual Cinema again after previously designing The End of TV. Other credits include; Evening at the Talk House, The Mutilated and The Room (A Red Orchid); The? Unicorn? Hour?, Saturn Returns, (The Neo-Futurists); The Distance, We're Gonna Die (Haven Theatre); Caught (Sideshow Theatre Company); After Miss Julie, The Night Season (Strawdog Theatre Company); Peerless (First Floor Theater); Pinocchio (Neverbird at Chicago Children's Theatre); Love and Human Remains, Good Person of Szechwan (Cor Theatre); The Terrible (The New Colony); The Guardians, Uncle Bob (Mary-Arrchie); The Hero's Journey, Best Beloved: The Just So Stories, The Pied Piper (Forks and Hope Ensemble). Claire also works as a production stage manager for various companies including Hubbard Street's HS2, The Joffrey Ballet's Joffrey Academy and Alonzo King LINES ballet. Clairechrzandesigns.com

MAYDI DÍAZ (Stage Manager, Live Sound Effects) is a Chicago based stage and tour manager. Since completing her BA in Arts Management from Columbia College Chicago and a MA in Theatre Production from the University of Galway, Maydi has worked on multiple areas of technical theater. Her recent stage management credits include Back In The Day (UrbanTheater Company), The Delicate Tears of the Waning Moon and La Peor de Todas (Water People Theater), Kiev (Aguijón Theater Co), Leonardo! (Manual Cinema, on-going), Memorabilia (La Vuelta Ensemble, on-going) and various shows with PlayMaker's Laboratory. When she's not at the theater, you can find Maydi folk dancing or doing calligraphy in coffee shops.

DREW DIR (Puppet Designer, MC Co-Artistic Director) is a writer, director, and puppet designer. Previously, he served as the Resident Dramaturg of Court Theatre and a lecturer in theater and performance studies at the University of Chicago. He holds a master’s degree in Text and Performance Studies from King’s College London and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

EVE L. EWING (Playwright) is a writer, scholar, and cultural organizer from Chicago. In addition to co-writing No Blue Memories with Nate Marshall, she is the award-winning author of four books: the poetry collections Electric Arches and 1919, the nonfiction work Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago's South Side, and a novel for young readers, Maya and the Robot. She has written several projects for Marvel Comics, most notably the Ironheart series, and is currently writing Black Panther. Ewing is an associate professor in the Department of Race, Diaspora, and Indigeneity at the University of Chicago. Her work has been published in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Times, and many other venues.

SARAH FORNACE (Director, MC Co-Artistic Director) is a director, puppeteer, choreographer, and narrative designer based in Chicago. She is a co-Artistic Director of Manual Cinema. Outside of Manual Cinema, Sarah has worked as a performer or choreographer with Redmoon Theatre, Lookingglass Theatre Company, Court Theatre, Steppenwolf Garage, and Blair Thomas and Co. Most recently, Sarah wrote the story mode for the video game Rivals of Aether. In 2017, she directed and edited the first episode of the web series, The Doula is IN. In 2016, she directed and devised an "animotion" production of Shakespeare's Hamlet with Rokoko Studios for HamletScen at Kromborg Castle in Elsinore, Denmark.

BEN KAUFFMAN (Sound Designer, MC Co-Artistic Director) is a composer, director, interactive media artist and co-Artistic Director of Manual Cinema. His film and interactive work has been shown at The Jay Pritzker Pavilion (Chicago), The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum (Chicago), and CUNY’s Baruch College (NYC). He has lectured and given workshops at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York University and Parsons the New School of Design. His past Composer/ Sound Designer credits with Manual Cinema include Ada/ Ava, The End of TV, and the New York Times documentary The Forger. He holds a Master’s degree from New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP).

NATE MARSHALL (Playwright) is a writer and educator from the South Side of Chicago. He is the author and editor of numerous books including FINNA and Wild Hundreds. He is also the author of the audio drama Bruh Rabbit & The Fantastic Telling of Remington Ellis, Esq. and co-author of the Webby nominated audio drama Lake Song. Marshall is an assistant professor in the creative writing program at The University of Wisconsin-Madison.

MIKE USREY (Tech Director) “That may be the most important thing to understand about humans. It is the unknown that defines our existence. We are constantly searching, not just for answers to our questions, but for new questions. We are explorers. We explore our lives day by day, and we explore the galaxy trying to expand the boundaries of our knowledge. And that is why I am here: not to conquer you with weapons or ideas, but to coexist and learn.” – Benjamin Lafayette Sisko

MIEKA VAN DER PLOEG (Costume and Wig Designer) Theatre credits include designs with Goodman Theatre, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Steppenwolf, Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Great Lakes Theater, Idaho Shakespeare Festival, American Players Theatre, Court Theater, People’s Light, Writers Theatre, Lyric Opera Unlimited, Lookingglass Theatre, Paramount Theatre, Marriott Theatre, Remy Bumppo, Second City, Redmoon, The Hypocrites, Chicago Children’s Theatre, Children's Theatre of Charlotte, About Face Theatre, Steep Theatre, Theater Wit, Albany Park Theater Project, Manual Cinema, and the Under the Radar Festival at The Public Theatre. She won a non-Equity Jeff award in 2020 for First Love is the Revolution, at Steep Theatre. She is proud to be a member of USA829.

AYANNA WOODS (Music Director, Composer) is a Grammy-nominated performer, composer and bandleader from Chicago. Her music explores the spaces between acoustic and electronic, traditional and esoteric, wildly improvisational and mathematically rigorous. She’s currently the composer-in-residence for The Crossing and Chanticleer, and will be releasing an EP for her band Yadda Yadda later this year.

JAMILA WOODS (Composer) is a writer and musician born and raised on the South Side of Chicago. An award-winning poet & internationally touring artist, Jamila’s work often blurs boundaries between poem and song. She has released two critically acclaimed studio albums, HEAVN in 2017 and LEGACY! LEGACY! in 2019. Her poetry has been published in POETRY, Poets.org, and The Offing, and was featured in the 2020 Library of America anthology “African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle & Song.” In 2022 she served as artist-in-residence at the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at New York University, teaching workshops on songwriting and live performance. Her third album will be released on Jagjaguwar Records this f

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