Millikin University - Decatur, IL
Joe Machota '93: Agent of Change

After earning his master's degree at the prestigious Boston Conservatory of Music in 1995, Joe Machota '93 began a successful career in musical theatre (see sidebar). Yet after 10 years of starring in Vegas productions, national touring company musicals and Broadway hits, Machota turned away from the spotlight to begin a new career as a talent agent.

"Understanding the business side of musical theatre is how I continued to work," Machota explains. "I've always felt that my real strengths are my networking and people skills."

So, while singing and dancing his way through "Mamma Mia" on Broadway each night, Machota interned at a friend's talent agency during the day. Even though his day job paid only $100 a week, Machota says after his second week interning, "I knew this was what I wanted."

Although his friend offered to hire him full-time, he decided to pursue a job with Creative Artists Agency (CAA), a prominent talent agency representing entertainment and sports figures.

"They were planning to expand their New York office and wanted to hire someone with knowledge of theatre," Machota says. "I applied online and was hired six weeks later."

Starting in their lowest-paid position as a floater, Machota was told there would be no opportunity for him to go through CAA's training program to become an agent, meaning he would have no chance to work with the agency's clients. But within a year, he earned his way into the training program and after just eight months as a trainee, he was working as an agent. In 2010 and again in 2011, he was included in the list of Broadway's 50 Most Powerful People on BroadwaySpotted (a social networking site devoted to theatre), and was also named to Out magazine's 2010 "Out 100" list of influential LGBT members.

Now, Machota excels at helping clients win the type of plum roles he once sought. Working in CAA's talent department, he strives to create the perfect partnership, mating performers currently under agency contract with theatre projects looking for just the right person to fill a role.

But he's also on the lookout for fresh faces to bring on board. "Part of my job is keeping an eye out for talented people who would be a good fit for our agency," he says.

Joe Machota's theatre credits include:

  • 1996 hired to understudy Michael Crawford in the MGM Grand production, "EFX," in Las Vegas.
  • 1996 left "EFX" to star as Joseph in a touring production of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat."
  • 1998 traded his coat of many colors for a pair of dancing shoes, starring in the lead role of "Ren" in the first national tour of the musical, "Footloose."
  • 2001 originated the role of "Sky" in the Broadway production of "Mamma Mia."

What made Machota such a good fit as a talent agent? He firmly believes the education and experience he gained at Millikin are the keys to his success.

"In some ways, I've never worked as hard as I did while I was a student at Millikin," he says. "Those professors work you 24/7, and that's such a great training ground for the real world … it's really paid off for me."

Machota also credits Millikin professors with helping him become a stronger, more versatile performer, which in turn aided him in his transition from the stage to his new career. "I cannot rave enough about the faculty at Millikin," he says. "From [faculty members] Lynn Snyder to Barry Pearson, Laura Ledford and David Golden - they're amazing. I also appreciate Darlene Harshbarger and Gary Shull, who taught dance. I was not a gifted dancer! We all know our strengths, but they really helped me work on my weaknesses. Their emphasis on being a well-rounded performer was such a huge help to me."

In an effort to "pay it forward," Machota has returned to campus as a guest artist, speaking with students and faculty about careers in musical theatre. "Musical theatre is a competitive landscape, and Millikin provides a healthy way to prepare for the real world," he says.

"There's constantly something to audition for - lots of productions are going on all the time and you're encouraged to perform from your first year. When you graduate, you're so prepared for all the auditions and competition required to get a job."

In recognition of his loyalty to Millikin and in celebration of his successful career, he was named Young Alumnus of the Year in 2003.

"My most treasured award is the Young Alumnus Award I received from Millikin," Machota says. "To have that recognition from a place I so cherish means so much to me." ?

by Margaret Friend

Autumn Gullifer '97: Three's Company

Xena, Roxy and Riche, also known as the TriPoms, are more than just a namesake. They personally taste-test each and every batch made by their "parents" to ensure their canine friends are getting nothing but the best.

The first of the TriPoms, Xena, is 4-years-old, tri-colored and five and a half pounds of pure personality.

"You never have to guess what she is thinking," Gullifer says. "It is written all over her face."

Roxy is believed to be 8-years-old, blonde, and a puppy mill rescue who is absolutely addicted to Gullifer.

"She didn't know how to be held, loved and cared for at first," she says. "She was skinny and scared, but now she is a beautiful little girl who is spoiled like you wouldn't believe!"

And last, but not least, is Riche, the 3-year-old, all black, male of the TriPoms.

"He is happy-go-lucky, loves to play fetch, absolutely loves the cold and snow and also loves to cuddle," Gullifer says. "He will run up on us and throw himself upside down for belly scratches!"

In case you couldn't tell by the fact that they started and named an entire business for them, these three dogs are more than just companions to Gullifer and Bryant.

"Our three Pomeranians are our little poof-ball kids!"

What are small, business-savvy and furry all over? Xena, Roxy and Riche, three Pomeranians known as the TriPoms. Using her dogs as the inspiration behind her business, as well as the face of it, Autumn Gullifer '97 proves that running your own business can be a treat.

Gullifer operates TriPom Chews out of her home in Bath, Maine, with her fiancé and co-owner, Ken Bryant. According to Gullifer, educating others on the dangers of dog treats and food made in China has been the biggest perk of owning her own business.

TriPom Chews are all-natural, homemade chicken jerky dog and cat treats packaged by the owners themselves, using no preservatives or additives. The business was started in February 2010 after Gullifer and Bryant found FDA warnings issued specifically for chicken jerky dog treats made in China - the same chicken jerky that is sold on store shelves today.

"We started to come across hundreds of reviews online about this Chinese-made chicken jerky and how it was killing dogs or making them horribly sick," Gullifer says.

According to Gullifer, Chinese chicken jerky causes Fanconi Syndrome, which affects the kidneys. Although researchers have been unable to determine which ingredient in this jerky causes the syndrome, Gullifer and Bryant know of many people who have either lost their dogs to this, or have spent thousands of dollars on veterinary bills in an effort to save them.

Recently, there has been yet another warning from the FDA regarding chicken jerky from China, and this time the media picked up on the story. Gullifer's business has since exploded with orders coming in from all around the country.

Originally operating out of Chicago, Gullifer and Bryant experimented for a year with different cooking techniques, using their TriPoms as taste-testers. Once they perfected the recipe, they gave sample treats to the pets of friends and family members, who demanded more.

"We really believed we had a great product and were fulfilling a need within the pet treat realm," she says.

After researching the aspects of owning and managing a business, Gullifer and Bryant began marketing and selling online in March 2010, and by April, their treats were being sold in a pet store. However, working full-time jobs in human resources and IT, respectively, and running their treat-making operation on nights and weekends proved to be a heavy work load.

"It got to a point where we didn't have time to develop any more products or make any more jerky than we already were, and we were barely keeping up with sales," Gullifer says. "In June, we decided to move to Maine and do this full-time."

Their mid-August move helped them turn an up-and-coming mom and pop shop into a thriving business. After just two months of building their reputation by attending dog-related charity events and craft shows, Gullifer and Bryant were selling TriPom Chews in 17 stores, not only in Maine, but also in Massachusetts, New Jersey and their original flagship store in Chicago.

"Maine has a very 'buy local' mentality, and we knew people would appreciate and support our business," she says. "I'm not saying it wouldn't have survived in Chicago, but there are fewer road blocks here. For example, in Chicago, we wouldn't be able to legally run this business out of our home, but we can in Maine."

When thinking about the success of her business, Gullifer credits the education she received at Millikin as the strong foundation she needs to remain successful. As a theatre major with an emphasis in directing, she acquired most of her management experience by stage-managing main stage productions. "Stage management was like a full-time job on top of 20 or more credit hours per semester," Gullifer says. "I gained a very strong work ethic at Millikin, which translated over to my career and now to my business and being self-employed."

Thanking instructor Denise Myers and adviser Barry Pearson, vice president for academic affairs, for the chance to manage her first main stage production, Gullifer believes her stage-managing experience helped prepare her for life as a business owner.

"I may not have pursued my major, but I absolutely relied on my education as I grew into my career," she says. "Everything has been a stepping stone, but Millikin and the theatre department built a strong foundation."

Zollinger, Eric '97

The go-to-guy

While some parents worry that their toddlers may not be ready for kindergarten, Eric Zollinger’s mom was more concerned that the school might not be ready for her energetic son.

“Mother said school wasn’t quite ready for me,” recalls Zollinger ’97. He readily acknowledges the unbridled enthusiasm that earned him nicknames like “Energizer Bunny” and “Tigger” over the years: “I’m always bouncing around.”

The question these days is whether the competitive world of New York real estate is ready for Zollinger – and the answer, it seems, is a resounding yes.

In October 2010, after building a successful, 11-year career in the Manhattan residential real estate business, this up-and-comer launched his own firm: Zollinger & Associates.

According to Zollinger, his business brings a personal touch and sophisticated marketing to the sale of high-end properties, including new developments, condominiums, townhouses and cooperatives. The new enterprise should leverage Zollinger’s reputation as a matchmaker for upscale clients and properties.

“None of Eric’s success surprises me,” says Barry Pearson, Millikin’s vice president of academic affairs and associate professor of theatre. “His energy astounds you – and when he sets his mind to something, you have no doubt he’ll do it.”

Still, owning a boutique brokerage in the nation’s largest city was never part of Zollinger’s career plan. The musical theatre major originally set out to perform in the Big Apple.

And perform he did, doing voiceover work and gigs with MTV and children’s theatre. Over the years, his performances often took a reluctant Zollinger away from New York City.

“I fell in love with New York City … I found I didn’t want to leave,” says Zollinger, who carried his passion for performing into the world of real estate.

“You don’t need the stage to perform,” he says. “The whole city is a stage.”

Fortunately, the side jobs he held while working as an actor – including assistant to two top brokers and a leading interior designer – charted opportunities for Zollinger in the world of New York City real estate.

Those opportunities include helping a number of celebrities find their dream homes in New York City. While he has earned the right to do some Oscar-caliber name-dropping, Zollinger chooses discretion instead. “My clients are my business; they are everything to me,” he says.

Zollinger finds his reputation as the “go-to guy” for posh properties ironic. “I’m associated with high-end properties, but I didn’t grow up that way,” he says, noting that his middle-class roots guide the way he does business.

“My Indiana upbringing has served me well here; my family instilled the value of hard work in me,” he says. His father’s advice to “become the expert at what you do” continues to echo in the life of this third-generation entrepreneur.

Along with the family roots that helped shape his career, Zollinger is equally proud of his Millikin roots and makes a point to mention Millikin whenever he can.

“It’s important to reference where you came from,” he says.

Zollinger returned to Millikin in August 2010 to reconnect with those roots and is helping lead the charge to raise funds for Millikin’s new Center for Theatre and Dance (see page 30).

“Eric is an enthusiastic volunteer for the theatre alumni campaign for the Old Gym project,” says Peg Luy, vice president for alumni and development. “Eric’s enthusiasm for all things Millikin is almost unequalled.”

This same enthusiasm and training from Millikin inspires him to create the best experience possible when showing new properties to prospective owners.

“My theatre training has been so beneficial in my real estate career,” he says. “Selling real estate is all about listening … it’s a lot like improvisation. The way I see it, I do about six or seven shows a day.”

Along with that theatre training, Zollinger carries friendships from Millikin that continue to enrich his life. “The people I met at Millikin are not just college friends, they’re lifelong friends,” says Zollinger, who is part of a cozy contingent of Millikin theatre alums who landed in the Big Apple and have celebrated more than a few Thanksgivings together.

The longevity and loyalty found in his friendships are also a hallmark of his work philosophy.

“I’m not a one-deal person; I’m in this for the long haul,” he says. “You build a career based on the way you deal.” 

by Celeste Huttes ’88


Blake, Corey '96

Comic effect

Despite a successful career acting in commercials, television and films, Corey Michael Blake became disgruntled with the Hollywood scene and began searching for a new creative outlet.

The 1996 theatre alum eventually returned to Illinois, married and began the next stage of his professional development. In 2006, Blake founded Writers of the Round Table Inc., a literary development and publishing organization, to solve a problem he perceived in the business world: most writers weren’t great business people and businesses didn’t know how to communicate their needs to writers.

“I stayed with the company because I knew that I was good at pairing up talent with professionals,” Blake explains. “I was finding business people that needed artists but didn’t know how to communicate with them and writers who wanted to write and didn’t want to worry about the business at all. They couldn’t stand it and so many were terribly unprofessional.”

Blake found his niche working as the liaison between the business world and the creative professionals they needed to complete their projects.

“I started being the conduit,” Blake says. “I would find the work, then find the talent to match it, manage the process and make sure that we were exceeding the clients’ expectations.”

As Blake’s business grew, he found himself branching out beyond technical writing and marketing materials to assisting with screenplays and books.

In 2006, Robert Renteria contacted Blake and together, they developed “From the Barrio to the Boardroom,” a book that draws on Renteria’s personal experiences and seeks to promote education, a sense of pride and accomplishment, and self-esteem among young people.

Then, in 2009, Blake met a former investment banker with a fresh idea. Franco Arda, founder and CEO of SmarterComics, approached Blake with the idea of turning business bestsellers into comic books.

“We hired the artists and managed the process, building three prototype books together,” Blake says. “We did ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad,’ ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ and ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ just to prove or disprove the concept.”

SmarterComics eventually negotiated a deal with Blake’s company to publish the first six books in the series. 

Released this spring were comic versions of “Overachievement,” by Dr. John Eliot (see cover at right); “The Long Tail,” by Chris Anderson; “The Art of War,” by Sun Tzu; “How to Master the Art of Selling,” by Tom Hopkins; “Shut Up, Stop Whining and Get a Life,” by Larry Winget and “Mi Barrio,” by Robert Renteria.

Because SmarterComics is only producing comics based on business books, Blake’s company is free to develop comic book versions of other types of non-fiction. That has led to the upcoming October 2011 release of the Round Table Comic version of Alesia Shute’s “Everything’s Okay,” detailing her struggle through childhood cancer. A Round Table Comic version of Machiavelli’s “The Prince,” will also be released in the fall.

“We’ve recently negotiated a deal with Hachette to adapt the bestselling ‘Delivering Happiness’ by CEO, Tony Hsieh,” Blake says. 

Excerpted from an article by Seth Kravitz and adapted with permission from Technori, an online publication focused on Chicago entrepreneurs.

Sumner, Ann Louise '96

"The Role of Formaldehyde in Troposheric Ozone Chemistry." To most of us, this is Greek. To Ann Louise Sumner ’96 of Irvine, Calif., it’s the result of months of arctic research and analysis. And to over 100 scientists worldwide, it’s the dawn of an entirely new scientific field – snow phase photochemistry – which they now study, thanks to Sumner’s work.

Sumner conducted five years of study and groundbreaking research at Purdue University, earning her doctorate in analytical chemistry, with an emphasis in atmospheric chemistry. Under the direction of Dr. Paul Shepson, professor of chemistry and earth and atmospheric sciences, she spent seven months on the arctic snowpack of Canada and Greenland and three months in northern Michigan, measuring formaldehyde in the snowpack and in the atmosphere. She even independently designed and built an instrument to measure formaldehyde concentrations in air above the snowpack.   

Dr. Shepson explains, "In the course of her research she made a very important discovery – that snowpack photochemistry produces a variety of products that are emitted into the lower atmosphere and have a significant impact on the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere. Her work represents a significant contribution to development of an understanding of global atmospheric change."

Sumner’s research has environmental significance, because it has improved scientists’ ability to predict concentrations of ozone, the main component of photochemical smog controlled by the Clean Air Act. As a result, she has produced more than 10 scientific publications from her Ph.D. research, won numerous awards, scholarships and research grants, and received the outstanding student paper award at the American Geophysical Union fall meeting.

According to Shepson, "Ann Louise was the best graduate student I have had, out of about 20 graduate students. She … does great credit to Millikin University."

Sumner is currently a postdoctoral researcher at University of California, Irvine, studying the role of heterogeneous processes in the chemistry of nitrogen oxides. Her results are reported directly to the California Air Resources Board, an organization that protects public health and the environment.

Sumner has proven the value of perseverance, tramping about the arctic in subzero temperatures, doing what she loves and working toward a better world for us all.

The complete article appeared in fall 2002 issue of Millikin Quarterly magazine.

Tester, Nicole '99

Paralyzed actor Christopher Reeve and others who have lost the use of their limbs due to spinal cord injury may have hope for assistance in recovery thanks to research being done by Millikin alumnus Nicole Tester ’99. Tester is a doctoral candidate with a pre-doctoral fellowship in neuroscience at the University of Florida’s College of Medicine.

“My research focuses on ways of enhancing anatomical recovery and recovery of locomotor function in the adult cat after spinal cord injury,” she says. “We are studying the effects of a chondroitinase enzyme and there is some reason to be encouraged that it may, ultimately, help humans who have been injured and lost the use of their limbs.” Tester is in her fifth year of research at UF’s McKnight Brain Institute. Since the beginning of the project, the suburban Chicago native has been part of a research team testing the impact of the enzyme on cats whose spinal cords have been injured.

“My mentor and I chose cats because of our lab’s experience with this particular animal model and the huge body of work regarding the locomotion of cats, which is of great use to us as we evaluate how their movement improves as we administer the therapy,” says Tester.

“There is a particular group of molecules thought to inhibit new growth after injury in the central nervous system and our goal is to promote axonal growth by changing the cellular environment.”  She says preliminarily results are promising.

“It’s quite a thrill that my mentor is already in talks with a pharmaceutical company to set up a scientific collaboration,” she says. “It is our hope that the studies evolving from this collaboration will lead to clinical trials for this therapy. I have been here since we began developing preliminary data and will likely be here when our research is the launchpad for trials to see how we can make this work for people as well as animals.”

Tester enjoys her work but says she spends nearly every waking hour in the laboratory and misses the relatively carefree days of undergraduate study at Millikin.  It was encouragement from Millikin [chemistry] Professors Ed Acheson and Clarence Josefson that led Tester to pursue a career in research.

Read the complete profile in the spring 2004 issue of Millikin Quarterly magazine.

Porter, Emilie '98

Although she finished her undergraduate work at Millikin less than five years ago, Emilie Porter ’98 of Mt. Vernon, Ill., has already made a name for herself in the field of biotechnology. The University of Wisconsin – Madison graduate student was honored in 2000 with a nationally recognized award for her work in the discovery of a molecule that can be developed into an antibiotic.

She won $20,000 in the Collegiate Inventors Competition for the discovery of a synthetic peptide that can be used to fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Although it may be years before it is developed into a drug, her discovery, which was announced in Business Week magazine (as well as several other news and scientific publications), is an important step in the right direction. It also bodes well for a promising career.

She says, “I am interested in working in the biotechnology industry in the area of pharmaceutical discovery, so having the experience of making a pharmaceutical discovery in graduate school--and winning an award for it-- should help me when I am looking for jobs. Also, we have applied for a patent on this molecule, so it was a good learning experience for me to go through some of the patent process.”

Porter credits the chemistry department at MU with helping her decide on a career direction early on. She says, “The chemistry faculty helped me figure out what my interests were and pointed me in the right direction. They were very helpful to me by encouraging me to get involved in undergraduate research and by being wonderful classroom teachers.”

She offers this advice to anyone considering a degree in science “Get involved in research very early on. Coursework is important for understanding the basics, but research is where you get the experience of actually doing science. Starting undergraduate research early really helped me to find my calling.”

The complete article appeared in the summer ???? issue of Millikin Quarterly Magazine.

Washington, Darren '92

Single alum takes family life seriously

“Building stable family values is the key to curing society’s ills,” says Darren Washington, a 1992 graduate who is director of external affairs for SBC in northwest Indiana.

Washington “talks the talk” as a sought-after public speaker on topics such as character building, self-improvement, substance abuse and abstinence. He “walks the walk” by putting his life on display as a single, black male who chooses abstinence, has a prominent job and is president of the school board in his hometown of Gary, Ind.

Although Washington earned a political science degree from Millikin and holds a master’s degree in public affairs from Indiana University Northwest, he believes family values should not be a political issue. “I have to practice what I preach in order to be believed by the people I’m trying to reach,” says Washington, who founded Abstinence for Singles and speaks to youth and adults about healthy, safe life choices and respecting themselves and others. “I have to use my life to show young people, especially young men, that they need to focus on education and not sex.”

Washington says his ideas and goals for his life were formed in college, and he credits his Millikin years for giving him a career focus. “I didn’t take education seriously at first,” he says, explaining that his priorities were playing basketball and having fun. “I ended up on academic probation, so I changed my focus to getting an education and being involved on campus.”

Campus activities gave Washington his first taste of organized democracy, and he knew it was a good fit.  After graduating, Washington interned at the United Way of Central Indiana, where he developed the first youth leadership program and served as an Indiana State Senate intern. Next, he served as the executive director of the Indiana Commission on the Social Status of Black Males, working with state and local elected officials to create city and county commissions before moving to corporate America as an area mall manager in Lafayette, Ind., and Toledo, Ohio, with the Simon Property Group.

In 2001, he joined SBC and returned to his hometown, hoping to make a difference in this economically depressed area.  As part of his commitment to the Gary school system, Washington spends Friday mornings reading to kindergarten and first grade students at a nearby elementary school. “It is a great joy for me,” he says. “I was used to working with junior high and high school students, but now I realize even more how important it is to start teaching children good morals and the value of an education at a young age.” As board president, he also holds office hours, speaking with parents, teachers and others to share ideas for improving the school district, where more than 60 percent of the students come from low-income families. 

Washington, who is also a certified HIV/AIDS counselor, hopes to someday get married and have a family, but realizes his focus will need to change when that happens. “I’ll still promote my lifestyle messages, but I hope to train other young people to give the presentations,” he says. For now, Washington is busy writing his first book on abstinence and looking at options for becoming more politically active.

“God has blessed me and I believe we are all on this Earth to help future generations avoid the same potholes.”    

The complete article appeared in the Spring 2005 issue of Millikin Quarterly magazine.

Jackson, Darlene '90

Bringing down the house

Darlene Jackson had planned to become a podiatrist. Instead of caring for feet, though, this 1990 graduate gets feet around the world moving to the beat as “Lady D,” a popular Chicago DJ of house music.

“House is an umbrella term that means any music that has soul, that you vibe with and that takes you higher spiritually,” she said in an April interview with 5 Magazine, a Chicago online publication. Jackson spins house music at clubs throughout Chicago — including Smart Bar, House of Blues, Le Passage, Moonshine, Evil Olive, Zentra and more — plus you’ll find her giving music her own special spin at parties and dance clubs around the world, including in Europe and Asia.

It isn’t the career path she planned to walk. After graduating from Millikin in 1990 with a biology degree, Jackson briefly attended podiatry school in Chicago before having a change of heart. “The program could not handle my creative and free-spirited nature,” Jackson says, “and I had to hang up my stethoscope, so to speak. In actuality, it wasn’t a conscious decision to leave for deejaying, but once I had a taste of traveling and experiencing the global dance community, I was hooked on the lifestyle.”

The Chicago dance community is apparently hooked on her, too.

“The Chicago house scene would be incomplete without Lady D,” according to, a web site that plays independent music from MP3 downloads, radio streams and full album streams.

When she’s not working solo, Jackson is one-fourth of SuperJane, a DJ collective of four women. Though each spins house music, each DJ is marked by her own unique style. “I love each of the women I play with and trust them as friends and confidantes,” Jackson told 5 Magazine.
Jackson also produces music as co-owner of D’lectable, an independent recording label, and is a host and producer at radio station WBEW 89.5-FM. “It’s been great so far; I just completed a year there,” she says. Content from the station is broadcast on, a content sharing, social networking site.

In February, Jackson returned to Millikin as the keynote speaker for a Leadership in Diversity summit on campus, where she discussed how her work at the radio station provides a forum for the community to discuss diversity.

“I think it was great for the students to see someone so successful and innovative in finding new ways to talk about race,” says Sandra McKenna, a Millikin English instructor.

“I was completely honored to be asked back to MU to speak on a topic I hold dear,” Jackson says, “and I was pleased to be able to use my life experiences to offer leadership to the students who definitely need encouragement. To see the strides that have been made at MU in the area of diversity — from multicultural students to faculty — gives me hope for the future.”

by Natalie Perfetti ’09

The complete article appeared in the Summer 2008 issue of Millikin Quarterly magazine.

Feuerstein, Corri ’96

Corri Feuerstein ’96 of Chicago loves to make a production out of feeding people. In her free time, she loves making dinners for large groups of friends or even for just one person, but her gusto for feeding people, and theatre, led her to another outlet for quelling her appetite.

Born and raised in the Chicagoland area, Feuerstein says she can’t remember not being interested in music and theatre. She graduated from The Chicago Academy for the Arts, and chose Millikin because of its small environment. She enjoyed the atmosphere at Millikin, which offered more opportunities for self-created work than a larger school.

In 1997, Feuerstein joined fellow Millikin alum Lisa Hackman ’96 at a Chicago coffee shop to brainstorm ideas for a theatre company. “It’s a classic scenario — friends from college get a theatre company together,” Feuerstein says. “but we were determined to work hard to make sure it stayed afloat.” Will Act For Food (WAFF) was cooked up that day.

WAFF, a not-for-profit theatre company based in Chicago, has offered discounted theatre tickets to patrons who donate non-perishable food items. In addition, WAFF designates one night during each production as a Cans For Cash event, where patrons may donate food in lieu of admission price to the show and an after-show gala. WAFF annually sponsors Starving Artist Week during which local theaters and businesses serve as collection spots for food donations.

Each season, WAFF chooses one food bank or shelter to receive the donated food items. During the 2001 season, WAFF donated more than a half ton of food to Residents for Effective Shelter Transitions, and more than one ton of food to the Greater Chicago Food Depository in 2002.

All staff members volunteer their time and talent and have other paying jobs. “None are paid for their services, except our technical staff,” says Feuerstein, who serves as the artistic director. The company strives for a three-show season, not including special events, and stages productions at various theatres around the Chicago area. Its next production, “The Memory of Water,” will be held at Strawdog Theater, 3829 N. Broadway, from Sept. 18 through Oct. 18, 2003.

“It’s a wonderful group of people who work harder than I could have hoped for and are more passionate than I could have imagined,” Feuerstein says. “I’m always amazed at how many people support us and am constantly in awe of the passion and commitment I see. They are talented, dedicated and many take time from bigger theatres to work with us.”

Want to know more? Check out:

The complete article appeared in fall 2003 issue of Millikin Quarterly magazine.

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Millikin University - Decatur, IL
Millikin University - Decatur, IL
Millikin University - Decatur, IL
Millikin University - Decatur, IL
Millikin University - Decatur, IL
Millikin University - Decatur, IL