CHICAGO — Jay Espano, a Chicago actor, director, and filmmaker whose theater training includes education in The Philippines as well as an MFA from Chicago's Columbia College, has been named Artistic Director of PrideArts. Cheri Tatar, President of the PrideArts Board of Directors made the announcement today.
In 1998, Espano joined the prestigious Tanghalang Pilipino Actors Company, where he trained with acclaimed director Nonon Padilla. He received a musical theater scholarship at LASALLE College of the Arts in Singapore in 2004, and after graduation worked extensively as an actor throughout Southeast Asia and the Pacific, doing TV, theater, and film.
Espano moved to Chicago in 2008 and earned a Master of Fine Arts degree at Columbia College in 2016. He has performed with many Chicago storefront theater companies, including Silk Road Rising, The New Colony, Prologue, Ghostlight, Halcyon, and PrideArts. He has also been engaged in filmmaking, as the writer-director of the short film MAHAL and as an actor in other short films. Españo will be responsible for programming the PrideArts 2021-22 season, which will be announced in the coming weeks. Most recently with PrideArts, Españo performed in their production of Joe DiPietro's play F…ING MEN.
Espano says, "My goal is to continue PrideArts' tradition of telling a diversity of queer community stories that not only entertain, but also encourage the audience to reflect on their own views, beliefs and biases. It's particularly exciting for me to be an artistic director in this moment as we return from the COVID pandemic. This is the perfect opportunity to try on new ideas, with the understanding that as we try new ideas, we will be having some successes and making missteps as we move forward. And that's all part of change and we'll just have to learn from it."
Tatar says, "We are thrilled to have Jay joining the company as Artistic Director. The range of his training and experience, from Philippines to Chicago, gives him a unique perspective on the diverse and changing community in which we all live today."
BIO - JAY ESPANO
Born in Manila, The Philippines to a photographer and small shop owner. Jay started his career at the age of 17, apprenticing as an actor and dabbling in production work such as stage management, sound design, set building, prop making and assistant directing. He also assisted in the summer theater programs of various theater companies — responsibilities which eventually led him to teach summer camp every year.
He joined the prestigious Tanghalang Pilipino's Actors Company in 1998, where he trained with acclaimed Filipino director Nonon Padilla. It was there he realized his vision for a theater acting career. Being part of the Actors Company opened doors for Jay to venture in television and film, and he acted in several commercials, television series and films. Notably, he was a regular cast member of Koko KwikKwak - a spin-off of Batibot (Philippine SESAME STREET). He toured The Philippines with that show's mascots, performing for kids throughout the country.
In 2000, Jay was one of many Filipino actors who were cast in the Action Theater Singapore's hit musical CHANG AND ENG, which toured Asia for several years. It was the story of the first Siamese twins smuggled into the US to become slave performers. Jay understudied the role of Eng.
Jay received a Musical Theater scholarship at LASALLE College of the Arts in Singapore in 2004. After graduation, he based himself in Singapore doing TV, theater, and film in Southeast Asia. He then landed a permanent teaching artist position with Acts of Life. Through Acts of Life, he collaborated on and directed several shows for different companies such as Singapore Dance Theater, and Singapore Symphony Orchestra.
In 2008, Jay represented Singapore in the World Championship of Performing Arts in Los Angeles, California, and received silver medals for acting and singing. After the competition, Jay opted to try his luck in the US. He enrolled at Columbia College Chicago to study Movement Analysis. After finishing the movement program, he joined Li'l Buds Theater Company as a teaching artist. With Li'l Buds, he wrote and directed several of their homegrown shows.
Since moving to the Chicago area, Jay has worked with storefront theater companies such as Silk Road Rising, Prologue, Ghostlight, Halcyon, and PrideArts. He has played the role of the King in Rodgers and Hammerstein's THE KING AND I with various theater companies in the US and in Canada.
His experience as an actor piqued his interest in working behind the camera. He applied for a scholarship at Columbia College Chicago and got into the MFA program for Film Directing. At Columbia College Chicago, Jay wrote, produced, and designed sets for several films. His thesis film, MAHAL, garnered multiple awards here and abroad and is on its way to becoming a full-length screenplay.
As if he's not busy enough, Jay also teaches yoga for Corepower Yoga.
PrideArts tells queer stories on a variety of platforms, including both live and virtual performances. Since its founding in 2010, PrideArts has had several chapters, including operating as an itinerant theater for their first six seasons, and as the developer and primary tenant in the Pride Arts Center from 2016-21. The newest post-COVID chapter is still in development.
Pre-COVID, the company produced full seasons of plays and musicals, as well as events including cabaret, film, and more. The company has earned 39 Jeff Awards and nominations, and six nominations in the most recent (2019) ALTA Awards from the Alliance of Latinx Theater Artists of Chicago. Programming has reflected the diversity of the queer community by including work made by and illuminating the experiences of women, gay men, transgender people, and BIPOC.
PrideArts is supported by The MacArthur Fund for Arts & Culture at The Richard Driehaus Foundation, The Illinois Arts Council, City of Chicago's City Arts Fund, the Elliott Fredland Charitable Trust, The Pauls Foundation, The Heath Fund, The Service Club of Chicago, the AmazonSmile Foundation, Arts and Business Foundation, Tap Root Foundation, Arts and Business Council, and Alphawood Foundation.
PrideArts is a member of the Smart Growth Program of the Chicago Community Trust. PrideArts is a member of the LGBT Chamber of Commerce of Illinois, Northalsted Business Association, Lakeview East, Uptown United, and The League of Chicago Theatre.
For more information and to donate, visit www.pridearts.org or call 1.773 857 0222.