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For My Birthday, I Celebrated Victory Gardens Theater

For years, I didn't pay much attention to my birthday, then Mother told me (and I am paraphrasing) that to honor your birthday is to proclaim to the Universe that "I Am." She was wise like that, so I took her words to heart and started not only celebrating my birthday, but doing things that made me feel more alive. At first it was taking on a physical challenge, like parachuting or hiking or dancing. Of course, no gift compares with the one Roger gave me in this video (in collaboration with Catherine Weissenberg, Scott Dummler and Kelly Eddington), where he asks me to look into my eyes and feel him staring back, thus creating the soul-to-soul connection we continue to share today...

In recent years, I've found my joy in brainstorming ways to make the world a better place or helping to raise money for causes or institutions that give back to the community and that give me joy. So for this October 2019, it gave me great pleasure to celebrate Victory Gardens Theater (VGT), the wonderful performing arts venue and true cultural treasure that partners with Chicago Public Schools to champion the arts for our city's youth (you can donate to them here). VGT recently held its Chicago Stories Gala, where I made my debut as a playwright, and was elated to be joined by three phenomenal women, who were also being honored that evening. 

They included Impact Honorees Phillipa Soo, star of "Hamilton" (far left), actress Justina Machado (far right), known for her roles on "One Day at a Time," "Six Feet Under" and "Queen of the South" She told a heartwarming story about how her encouraging mother Sheila took her to auditions...

...and my fellow playwright also making her debut that night, Stacy Janiak, Managing Partner and Chief Growth Officer at Deloitte, whose play was about a young man who transforms his community. She is involved in many efforts that help improve Chicago. What a perfect night to be there!

Erica Daniels, Executive Director of Victory Gardens Theater, was accompanied by Chay Yew, Artistic Director of VGT, and kicked off the evening with a great speech.

I was thrilled to have Oscar-nominated filmmaker Steve James ("Hoop Dreams," "Life Itself" "Abacus, Small Enough to Jail") introduce my play, "The Great Debate: It's Out of this World"...

If you think you are seeing Sojourner Truth, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln onstage during my play, you would be correct. Somehow a triple quantum physics event created a materialization stacking ions in other dimensions...You had to be there!

Each of the actors did a wonderful job of inhabiting their roles: Debra Neal as Sojourner Truth, Jelani Pitcher as Martin Luther King, Jr., Lawrence Grimm as Abraham Lincoln and Steven N. Miller as The Moderator. I had an almost out-of-body experience hearing my words come out of the mouths of those great actors! They were directed by Lanise A. Shelley. This was even better than I imagined because of what they brought to my play about a Presidential debate that was truly from another dimension (you can find the full cast and director bios here). 

The radiantly beautiful and talented actress, singer and director Rashada Dawan also made a surprise appearance, bringing down the house with her singular voice. She is so awesome... is the handsome crooner Jimmy Demers, who flew in from Santa Barbara to add a showstopper patriotic finale. It just brought the whole production full circle! 

I was giddy with emotion when I took to the podium afterwards to share words of hope with the audience...

It was so wonderful to be joined at the event by guests who flew in from different cities to be with us including Jamilah Dorsey, Dr. Rose Moten, and Detroit philanthropist Sonya Smith, and my daughter, Sonia Evans... brilliant and gorgeous granddaughter Raven cheered me on! She is pictured here with me as "The Birthday Queen" (people say we look alike, I should be so lucky)...

...wonderful friends and family including Marlene, Chris, Carolyn, and son Jay...

...and more wonderful friends and family, l-r: Myrin New, Marlene McGuirt, filmmaker Pamela Sherrod Anderson and Carolyn Chambless...

..."Life Itself" filmmaker Steve James and his wife Judy (on left), son Jay on right.

I was also surprised with a birthday cake...

...while being serenaded by Rashada. Actor and college friend LeRoi Whethers from New York looks on from the right.

On my phone, a birthday song was sent to me by family friend, the very talented and beautiful entertainer, Ebonique...

The most enthusiastic live auction followed that evening...The highest Bidder of one gift was Penny Brown, who will receive a special evening in my home including a  gourmet meal for 6 donated and prepared by celebrity Chef Jason Vincent of Giant (BonAppetit #best); while being shown exclusive never-seen clips of a film from award winning filmmaker Mary Mazzio, and partaking of a wine-tasting led by James Beard nominated sommelier Brian Duncan. Wow!  

...We had music from a fab spirited band...

...led by a charismatic band leader...

...and we danced the night away!

My friend, classical pianist George Lepauw, flew in from Paris and serenaded me with a birthday sonata. He will host the 249th Birthday of Beethoven with a variety festival December 13-16 in Chicago. And he is planning a worldwide celebration for the 250th Birthday of Beethoven in 2020. Click here for more information. 

A great time was had by all! And Victory Gardens Theatre raised over $700,000! Now that's what I call a celebration!

Most photos are courtesy of Timothy Schmidt, Victory Gardens Theater. Some photos are courtesy of Myrin New, and videos are from my personal collection.

Chaz Ebert

Chaz is the CEO of several Ebert enterprises, including the President of The Ebert Company Ltd, and of Ebert Digital LLC, Publisher of, President of Ebert Productions and Chairman of the Board of The Roger and Chaz Ebert Foundation, and Co-Founder and Producer of Ebertfest, the film festival now in its 24th year.

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