Our Story

the opportunities of extinction, 2018. Written by Sam Chanse, directed by Jen Poulin. (Austin D. Oie)

the opportunities of extinction, 2018. Written by Sam Chanse, directed by Jen Poulin. (Austin D. Oie)


My First Time, an off-Broadway hit written by New York producer Ken Davenport, receives its Chicago Premiere under the direction of founding artistic director Benjamin Brownson. Featuring actor Leslie Ruettiger, it runs every weekend in June and July at the Greenhouse Theatre Center to commercial success. It is remounted in September and October, with Ruettiger rejoined by three new castmates, including Spenser Davis.

Spenser Davis and Leslie Ruettiger join the company as Literary Manager and Casting Director, respectively.

Benjamin Brownson’s play Beautiful Broken receives workshops at both Chicago’s Greenhouse Theatre Center and the Park Theatre in Holland, Michigan.


In March, the company produces the World Premiere of Beautiful Broken by artistic director Benjamin Brownson, directed by guest artist Thomas Murray. It features company members Spenser Davis and Leslie Ruettiger. In July, Brownson directs the Chicago Premiere of ROOMS: a rock romance, with musical direction by Austin Cook. The musical is called “the Surprise Hit of the Summer” by Chicago Sun-Times.

The company establishes the annual Bechdel Fest, a festival of short plays predominantly written and directed by female-identifying artists. All stories pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test and feature an ensemble consisting entirely of women.

David Weiss joins BNT as Company Dramaturg.


Ivy Reid and Elise Spoerlein join the company.

The Midwest Premiere of Michael Perlman’s From White Plains, directed by company member Spenser Davis, opens in February at the Greenhouse Theatre Center. It features company member David Weiss.

AWARD: The company is one of the recipients of the Legacy Gift from Theatre Seven, an arts organization (and artistic sibling of sorts) that closed its doors after nearly a decade of producing quality storefront theater.

My First Time receives a commercial remount, co-produced by BNT and the Greenhouse Theatre Center. It features company members Spenser Davis and Elise Spoerlein, alongside artistic associate Teresa Kuruvilla. It opens in July and closes in November after two extensions. In the meantime, the second iteration of Bechdel Fest is produced in October.


After three consecutive years of producing theatre non-stop, the company agrees to slow down for the sake of infrastructure building.

Elise Spoerlein is named Associate Artistic Director and Spenser Davis becomes Director of Programming. Caitlin Boylan, Samuel Brownson, Teresa Kuruvilla and Aria Szalai-Raymond are the company’s first round of Artistic Associates.

In February, the company hosts a workshop of Stilwater by Benjamin Brownson. In August, they produce their first fundraising event, a lip-sync-competition between theatre companies called Lip Sync or Swim.

In a move that’s been vital to the growth and strength of our company, BNT becomes one of the city’s first entirely Pay-What-You-Can theatre companies, promoting economic accessibility by allowing patrons to set their own ticket prices for all Mainstage productions going forward.

In September, Bechdel Fest 3: Find Your Voice runs at The Den Theatre in Wicker Park. Its the company’s first foray into Pay-What-You-Can programming.

AWARDBechdel Fest 3 wins the BroadwayWorld Chicago Award for Best Special Theatrical Event.

In November, the company introduces their new play development program The Paper Trail. Michael Allen Harris’s Kingdom is the first play born out of the new initiative.


That Spring, the company produces the World Premiere of A Phase, written and directed by company members Elise Spoerlein and Spenser Davis, respectively. It features company member David Weiss. In the Summer, Benjamin Brownson directs the Chicago Premiere of Human Terrain by Jennifer Blackmer. Lip Sync or Swim 2 and Bechdel Fest 4 are also staged.

AWARD: BNT receives the 50/50 Applause Award, celebrating theatres across the country who produce work with an eye towards gender parity in the arts.

Jen Poulin joins the company. Michael Allen Harris becomes BNT’s first Resident Playwright.

Michele Stine’s Options is the next play developed through The Paper Trail.

PerformInk includes Human Terrain on their Best Ten Plays end-of-year list.


At The Table, directed by company member Spenser Davis and featuring ensemble members Benjamin Brownson, Elise Spoerlein and David Weiss, opens in the 40-seat Berger Park Coach House in February. It is met with critical acclaim and sells out its run. That Summer, it is remounted at The Den Theatre’s 99-seat Mainstage, where it continues selling out and twice-extends before bowing at the end of August.

AWARDSAt The Table garners 4 Joseph Jefferson Awards for Best Production/Play, Best Director/Play (Spenser Davis), Best Ensemble, and Best Supporting Actress/Play (Echaka Agba). Kim Boler receives a Best Actress/Play nomination for her performance in Human Terrain. Later that year, Time Out Chicago awards At The Table with Best Ensemble of the Year, as well as Best Featured Performance and Best Breakout Performance, both for Agba, who also wins the Black Theatre Alliance Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play.

The fifth iteration of Bechdel Fest, subtitled “Identity Crisis,” is staged at The Den Theatre less than a month later.

Echaka Agba, Rose Hamill, Martin Hanna and Johnard Washington join the company. Kim Boler, JD Caudill, Devon Green, Ada Grey, Rob Koon, RjW Mays, Adam Soule, Watson Swift are made artistic associates. Jennifer Blackmer becomes BNT’s second Resident Playwright.

At The Table is included on the Best-of-Year lists for Chicago Tribune, Time Out Chicago, Newcity Stage, and Ada Grey.


AWARD: BNT is named the 2018 recipient of Broadway in Chicago’s Emerging Theatre Award, presented by the League of Chicago Theatres and voted on by our peers. The award came with a monetary reward and marketing support for the impending season.

BNT becomes a Resident Company at The Den Theatre, 1331 N. Milwaukee, its first residency since the company’s start.

AWARD: BNT is one of the inaugural recipients of a grant from the Bayless Family Foundation, formed by celebrity chef Rick Bayless to fund and further support arts in Chicago. BNT is the youngest recipient in the group by nearly ten years.

First production of the year is the World Premiere of Kingdom, written by BNT Resident Playwright Michael Allen Harris and featuring artistic associates RjW Mays and Watson Swift; this play had been the first new work to come out of the company’s Paper Trail development series. Following that is The Opportunities of Extinction, directed by company member Jen Poulin and featuring company member Echaka Agba and artistic associate Aria Szalai-Raymond.

AWARD: Kingdom received 2 Black Theatre Alliance Awards for Best Writing/Play (Michael Allen Harris) and Best Featured Actress (RjW Mays); it was also nominated for Best Director/Play (Kanomé Jones) and Best Featured Actor for both Watson Swift and Christopher McMorris. The production was also nominated for 2 Joseph Jefferson Awards, for Best New Play and Best Supporting Performer/Play (RjW Mays).

Elise Marie Davis (previously Elise Spoerlein) becomes the company’s new Artistic Director; Rose Hamill is promoted to Managing Director. Bechdel Fest 6: Revolution is staged at Steppenwolf’s 1700 Theater as part of the LookOut Series in late July to sold-out audiences. This is followed by the World Premiere of Plainclothes, written by company member Spenser Davis, and co-directed by Davis and Kanomé Jones. The cast included artistic director Elise Marie Davis, company member David Weiss, and artistic associates Kim Boler, Teresa Kuruvilla, RjW Mays, and Adam Soule.

Cynthia Hines’s Exposure and Liam Fitzgerald’s Peg are both developed through The Paper Trail.

Kingdom is named “One of the Best of the Year” by Chicago Reader and Windy City Times. Plainclothes is shortlisted for the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Award, given annually by the American Theatre Critics Association.


The Midwest Premiere of Girl in the Red Corner by Stephen Spotswood opens in February, directed by guest artist Elizabeth Laidlaw. It features artistic director Elise Marie Davis and artistic associate Kim Boler and extends into mid-March.

AWARDS: Plainclothes received 2 Joseph Jefferson Award nominations for Best New Play (Spenser Davis) and Best Ensemble; it was also the 2019 recipient of the M. Elizabeth Osborn New Play Award and a finalist of the Harold & Mimi Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award, both given by the American Theatre Critics Association. Girl in the Red Corner also received 2 Jeff Award nominations for Best Featured Performance/Play (August N. Forman) and Best Fight Choreography (John Tovar)

In April, the Midwest Premiere of Language Rooms by Yussef El Guindi opened under the direction of guest artist Kaiser Zaki Ahmed.

More to come…