(L to R)Matthew Brumlow as Austin and Stephen Louis Grush as Lee in Season 24's production of True West. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

PJ Paparelli, Artistic Director

  American Theater Company mourns the loss of its leader and artistic director PJ Paparelli, who passed away on May 21 from injuries due to a car accident in Scotland. The Theater sends its deepest condolences to his family, and requests all respect their privacy at this difficult time. Details on a Chicago memorial service are forthcoming.

During PJ's tenure ATC developed and produced many world or regional premieres including Dan LeFranc’s The Big Meal, which had its NY premiere Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons, and Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar, which received the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.  Since 2007, ATC received over 15 Joseph Jefferson Award Nominations, two Princess Grace Fellowships, and a TCG/Fox Fellowship.  His ATC play directing credits include columbinus; The Catholic Repertory: Doubt & Agnes of God; Escape; The Amish Project; Lisa Loomer’s Distracted; True West (African American and Caucasian casts) in collaboration with Congo Square Theatre Company; and the regional premiere of Speech & Debate (TimeOut Chicago & New City’s top 10 productions of 2007).  His ATC musicals include Yeast Nation (the triumph of life), the new musical from the Tony Award winning writers of Urinetown; Hedwig and the Angry Inch in collaboration with About Face Theatre; and The Original Grease, revising and restoring the landmark musical to its original Chicago roots.  PJ’s collaboration with creator Jim Jacobs in restoring scenes and six previously unreleased songs brought national attention to ATC.  The company received the 2011 Jeff Award for Best Musical, and the sold-out production ran for over four months.   PJ made New City’s “Top 50 Most Influential Theatre Players in Chicago” in 2013, 2011 & 2008. 

At ATC, PJ shepherded new work from some of America’s top writers including Craig Lucas, Neil LaBute, David Henry Hwang, Ayad Akhtar, Bill Cain, Naomi Iizuka, Stephen Karam, Regina Taylor, Tarell Alvin McCraney, Kristoffer Diaz, Itamar Moses, Dan LeFranc, and members of the Tectonic Theatre Project.  PJ launched 2 new play festivals: 10 x 10 and Unplugged, and formed a partnership with Northwestern University’s MFA playwrighting program. 

In 2002, PJ conceived, co-wrote, and directed columbinus, a documentary-style play about modern adolescence through the lens of the Columbine Shootings.  columbinus was created out of over four years of interviews with teenagers throughout the country and community members in Littleton, CO.  The play premiered in a co-production between Round House Theatre and Perseverance Theatre, and moved Off-Broadway to New York Theatre Workshop.  Ten years later, PJ returned to Littleton to re-interview survivors and wrote a third act.  The revised, three act version premiered at ATC and garnered critical praise from the New York Times, NPR, and the Wall Street Journal.  columbinus was nominated for two 2006 Lucille Lortel Awards, five 2005 Helen Hayes Awards and five 2013 Joseph Jefferson Awards, is published by Dramatic Publishing, and has seen over 100 productions around the world.  In 2010, he co-wrote the play Every Year is This Year with & about the legendary Maria Irene Fornes for ATC’s 25th Anniversary The Silver Project: 33 new plays exploring American events between 1985-2010.  His next documentary play, The Project(s), explores the history of Chicago’s public housing.  The Project(s) was developed at The Orchard Project; and received grants from the Chicago Community Trust and a MacArthur Foundation International Connections Grant for a collaboration with the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow, Scotland.   

From 2004-07, he was the Artistic Director of Perseverance Theatre in Juneau, Alaska.  During his tenure, Perseverance expanded its staff, completed a $1.1M facility expansion/renovation and $1M Endowment campaign and sent productions Off-Broadway, Washington DC, and around the country. His directing credits include Equus, The Who’s Tommy, Hamlet, Twelfth Night, Hair, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Voyage, and columbinus.  PJ conceived and co-adapted Raven Odyssey, a theatrical journey of Alaska Native Raven stories, gathered through interviews with Elders from over ten villages across the state.  Other projects under PJ’s guidance were revised versions of The Laramie Project and The People’s Temple by members of the Tectonic Theatre Project (went on to The Guthrie Theatre) and Tlingit Macbeth, which presented at the Kennedy Center’s Shakespeare in Washington Festival in 2007.  He was appointed to the Mayor’s Performing Arts Center Commission in Juneau.

From 1998-2004, he served as the Associate Director of the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, DC, where his directing credits include Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet, Love Letters (with Dixie Carter and Hal Holbrook), All’s Well That Ends Well (Classical Acting Conservatory), The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and The Merchant of Venice at the Shakespeare Free For All, and many plays in the Re-Discovery Series. He was associate director on Much Ado About Nothing starring Karen Ziemba, and The Oedipus Plays starring Avery Brooks at the Athens Festival in Greece.  In 2011, he returned to direct The Two Gentlemen of Verona for the Theatre’s 25th Anniversary.   His DC productions include Romeo and Juliet (The Folger), a collaboration with Terrence McNally on a new version of Corpus Christi at Source Theatre (2003 GLAAD Media Award), The Diaries (Signature Theatre) and Love’s Labour’s Lost (Washington Shakespeare).  The Washington Post called PJ, “One of the most exciting talents working in Washington.” 

Other directing credits include Romeo and Juliet (Shakespeare Festival of St. Louis), Twelfth Night at Shakespeare Santa Cruz (2005 Newsweek’s Top 5 summer productions), The Merchant of Venice (American Shakespeare Center), Escape (Provincetown Tennessee Williams Festival), Action (Circle Rep) and True West in Russian at the Moscow Art Theatre School.   He served on the artistic advisory board for the Shakespeare Festival of St. Louis.

He worked in education/administration at The Public Theater, Pittsburgh Public, and Circle Rep, and has directed and/or taught Shakespeare at DePaul University, The Juilliard School, the Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College, North Carolina School of the Arts, University of Alaska, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Catholic University, University of Pennsylvania, and Johns Hopkins University.  

He received a BFA in Directing from Carnegie Mellon University and pursued graduate studies in acting at the Moscow Art Theatre School. He was a member of SDC and wass represented by Creative Artists Agency in New York.