Mercy Street Theatre Company
is a not-for-profit nomadic ensemble of play-makers based in Chicago. 

We tell stories that examine the modern myth; stories of everyday interaction with the epic, iconic, and divine.

  Scott Olson and Alex Gudding

Scott Olson and Alex Gudding


"There’s a level of connectivity. That’s really what you want in life, you want to feel connected, you want to feel relevant you want to feel like a participant in the goings on of activities and events around you. That’s precisely what we are, just by being alive…”

- Neil DeGrasse Tyson

When I first started writing BURN three years ago, it was a different play. And I was a different person. We were all different people three years ago. We gained things. We’ve lost things. We’ve had failures and successes and hopes and doubts.  We’ve changed. Or maybe the things around us have. The apartments and houses we live in, the music we like, the perception of whether or not you’re a “mustache guy” or a "hat guy” (I tried both. Conclusion: I’m neither and no one is both). All those things change. And so do the people around us. They get new jobs, they move, they seem different, they die.

When I started BURN, no one in my family had ever died. Three years later, I’ve lost an uncle, a grandmother on both sides of my family, and a professor that was very influential in my education. This play has always been--in some part--about how people cope with death. When I wrote it three years ago, I think I was exploring that fear of death. I didn’t know what it was to lose someone. But now, three years later, it’s clear to me what that does to a person, what it does to a group of people. There’s always a sense of regret, a sense of “what could I have done to stop this?”. So now, for me, the question of the play isn’t "what happens”—now it’s “this is what happens. This is what always happens. So what do we do?"

Alex Gudding

But in the end, there’s nothing we can do. Everyone dies, and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. A lot of people find the impermanence—the idea that we have so little time—scary. Artist Candy Chang noticed this fear in her New Orleans community just after Hurricane Katrina hit. After losing someone she loved, Chang channeled her grief and depression into a public art project on an abandoned house in her New Orleans neighborhood to restore perspective and find consolation with her neighbors.  The project was called “Before I Die.” She took chalkboard paint and covered one side of the abandoned house with the repeating phrase, "Before I die, I want to" followed by a blank space. Chalk was left out for anyone to pick up and fill out a line on the board. They wrote all kinds of things.

"Before I die I want to… sing for millions, see my daughter graduate, straddle the International Date Line, see the leaves change many times, be someone’s cavalry, live off the grid, build a school, hold her one more time, abandon all insecurities, be completely myself…" 

 Candy made templates for the project available online to make it something everyone can engage with in any community. While I would love to do something like this in the Chicago theater community––especially considering the losses to the community over the past few years––I don't have a space to offer for people to write out what they want to do. But I do have the wonders of the internet. I've made a Google Form, available here, for anyone to fill out the question however they want. It's completely anonymous and the answers are visible to everyone who fills it out. Consider it a place online where, like the theater itself, we can understand each other in new and enlightening ways, restore perspective, and remember, above all else, that we are not alone. 

The characters of BURN certainly don’t start the play with that perspective. But maybe, over time, they’ll change. 



In just 12 MONTHS, our company has produced 4 WORLD PREMIERES. Those new productions supported over 60 LOCAL ARTISTS including actors, designers, managers and technicians. We have also continued to grow our own ensemble of 14 play-makers, ensuring that all voices are welcome at Mercy Street. 

In an effort to keep our momentum and continue bringing the epic, iconic, and divine to Chicago theatre, we're asking you to take part in our WHAT'S NEXT campaign!

Between now and March 20, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to Mercy Street Theatre Company. Your support allows us to bolster the work of new Chicago playwrights and continue our quest to cultivate unity through storytelling...


The Team

  J. Cody Spellman

J. Cody Spellman

IAN MICHAEL JAMES (Playwright) is an actor, playwright, and Resident Dramaturg for No Stakes Theater Project, which supports the development of emerging theater directors through staged readings, fostered collaborations, and productions of exceptional work. Previous works include Stature of God and A Wild Boy (both at Columbia College Chicago). Ian is happy to join Mercy Street this year as an Ensemble Member.

J. CODY SPELLMAN (Director) is a Chicago based director that received his BA in Theatre with a concentration in Directing from Columbia College Chicago in 2013. He has directed for Jackalope Theatre Co's Living Newspaper Festival, The Neapolitans Theatre Co., The Second City Training Center, Stage 773, The Fine Print Theatre Co., and Blood Oath Comedy.

  Olivia Charles, Alex Gudding, and Scott Olson

Olivia Charles, Alex Gudding, and Scott Olson

ALEX GUDDING (Sam) is very excited to be working with Mercy Street for the first time. Alex was last seen in Jackalope Theatre’s Four with Theatre on the Lake, and has worked in various capacities with Northlight Theatre, Red Theatre, Abyss Theatre Group, and Chicago Dramatists. He is also the Development Director for No Stakes Theater Project, a fiscally-sponsored organization that supports the development of emerging theater directors. He graduated with a BFA in Acting from UW Stevens Point.

SCOTT OLSON (Dad) is happy to be working with the people of Mercy Street Theatre.  He most recently appeared in THE GILDED AGE at City Lit, FULFILLMENT at American Theatre Company, THE LYONS & THE LIEUTENANT OF INSIHMORE with Aston Rep, PORCELAIN with Prologue Theatre, and as Bennett in Remy Bumppo’s Jeff-Nominated production of TRAVESTIES.  Scott has also worked with Timeline, Red Orchid, Redtwist, and Chicago Dramatists among many other theatres.  When not on stage, Scott teaches acting as a faculty member of Columbia College’s Theatre department.  

OLIVIA CHARLES (Barb) started working the Chicago stage in 2010. Roles have included Sr. Margeret (understudy, "The Amen Corner") and Candylady ("Hoodoo Love") with eta Creative Arts; Ruby (understudy) for Congo Square's Jeff-nominated "King Hedley II". Online roles include Aubrey in radio production of "As You LIke It" and the Player Queen in web series of "Hamlet".

  Poster Art by Jake Fruend, Christopher Semel, & Alaina Moore

Poster Art by Jake Fruend, Christopher Semel, & Alaina Moore

ELYSE BALOGH (Set & Props Designer) is thrilled to be working with Mercy Street for the second time! Recent designs include Merry Christmas, Mulch Pile!(Mercy Street), Mr. Popper's Penguins (Lifeline), and Magic Treehouse: A Night in New Orleans (Emerald City). Upcoming designs: Skippyjon Jones (Emerald City), Christina, The Girl King (Cor), and Photograph 51 (20%).  www.elysebalogh.com

CHLOE CAPPUCCILLI (Costume Designer) has a BFA in costume design from Columbia College Chicago. Her previous work includes The Tempest, True West, Human Rites, Six Postcards, Antigone(CCC), Half Life of Memory (Cold Basement Dramatics), Moon Shoot, American Revolution (Theater Unspeakable). 

GROVER HOLLOWAY (Sound Designer) is a graduate of Northwestern University. Past sound designs include Hit the Wall, True West, Melancholy Play (Northwestern University), 10 Questions… (Next Act Theatre), Titanic (73rd Annual Dolphin Show), and Black Playwrights Festival (Black Ensemble Theater). He also works as a sound engineer for Utah Shakespeare Festival and Special K.

SLICK JORGENSEN (Lighting Designer) graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in Lighting Design. They have served as lighting designer with Definition Theatre Company, Mercy Street Theatre Company, and Tibbits Opera House. Primarily dance based they have worked at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, Gallim Dance, and Thodos Dance Chicago.

EMILY LOWNEY (Stage Manager) is originally from Wisconsin where she studied theatre design and technology at UW Stevens Point. She moved to Chicago in August and is loving the city! For the last four months, Emily was a stage management intern at The Goodman Theatre.    

DANIELLE STACK (Production Manager) is proud to present BURN by Ian Michael James. Originally from Texas, she holds a BFA in Theatre Performance from Baylor University. Danielle is the Producing Director of Mercy Street Theatrr and the Production Manager of Jackalope Theatre Company.

  Olivia Charles, Alex Gudding, and Scott Olson

Olivia Charles, Alex Gudding, and Scott Olson


Artistic Director Julia Rohed
Producing Director Danielle Stack
Associate Artistic Director Jake Fruend
Outreach & Development Coordinator Jerico Bleu
Marketing & PR Coordinator Francisco Lopez


Jerico Bleu
E.J.C. Calvert

Rachel DuBose
Michael Evans
Jake Fruend
Kate Grudichak
Nellsyn Hill
Ian Michael James
Francisco Lopez
Sonja Lynn Mata
Rachel Minkoff
Dakota Parobek
Julia Rohed
Danielle Stack
Dusty Wilson
Clint Worthington

Board of Directors

Julia Rohed
Danielle Stack
Karrie Dowling
Lydia Gordon
Andrew Saenz