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Victor Wong Fellows 2024

by The Second City

FEB 28, 2024

For Immediate Release

THE SECOND CITY PROUDLY ANNOUNCES THE RECIPIENTS OF THE SECOND ANNUAL VICTOR WONG FELLOWSHIP FOR AAPI VOICES IN COMEDY

CHICAGO — Legendary Chicago comedy institution The Second City is proud to announce the second annual Victor Wong Fellowship, a program to train and mentor up-and-coming Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) comedic talent. Named for The Second City’s first Asian American performer and funded by the family foundation of Peng Zhao, CEO of Citadel Securities, the fellowship will focus on developing the next generation of AAPI talent both on stage and “behind the scenes”. The Victor Wong Fellowship is the first program by a major comedy theatre to exclusively endow AAPI talent.

The 2024 Victor Wong Fellows, selected for their exceptional talent and unique voices, are:

  • Ian Voltaire Deanes
  • Grace Goze
  • Robert Kalia Kapaku
  • Devin Jeong-Wright
  • Johanna Medrano
  • Esther Oh
  • Brian Park
  • Frederic Powers
  • Ateeq Rehman
  • Becca Nix Tham

Under the Program Leadership of Jonald Reyes and Showcase Director Evan Mills, with Sophia Rafiqi as Assistant Director, Renee Hansel as Production Manager, and Music Director Maya Tanaka Allwardt the fellows will embark on an in-depth master program in improvisation and comedy that will conclude with a series of public and industry showcases every Tuesday in May starting at 8pm (5/7, 5/14, 5/21, 5/28)

“Beyond professional success on stage and screen, the skills of improvisation are a kind of super-power for life,” said Parisa Jalili, COO of The Second City.  “We are thrilled that this gift will allow us to train emerging AAPI talent to both hone their comedy skills as well as their skills to be deeply collaborative, resilient, and creative individuals.”

“Comedy connects us by validating our shared experiences and opening our minds to new ones,” said Mr. Zhao and Ms. Chen. “Further diversifying the comedic community will help move this important medium—and the society it serves—forward. We are excited to help bring the unique perspectives of AAPI talent to the stage.”

The Second City is excited to set the stage for this new era of comedic talent and amplify the voices of the AAPI community.

For more information about The Victor Wong Fellowship and other initiatives at The Second City, please contact: Colleen Fahey VP of Marketing, The Second City cfahey@secondcity.com (312) 662-4516

The Victor Wong Fellowship builds on Mr. Zhao and his families longstanding commitment to accelerating opportunity and prosperity for the 23 million members of the AAPI community in the United States. Mr. Zhao is a founding board member of The Asian American Foundation (TAAF), which has become a catalyzing force for improving AAPI advocacy, power, and representation across American society. Mr. Zhao and Ms. Chen have convened and funded a variety of other initiatives focused on supporting Chicago and the AAPI community, including most recently The Peng Zhao and Cherry Chen Fund for AAPI Voices in partnership with Kartemquin Films.

Meet The Fellows:

Ian Voltaire Deanes (he/him) was born and raised on Chicago’s south side. An actor who loves Chicago’s rich theatre scene, from Improv and Sketch to Theatre. He currently can be seen performing with Satirical Race Theory at the iO Theater. Selected Previous Credits and Training include: “Kentucky” w/ The Gift Theatre, “Not One Batu” w/ Nothing Without a Company, “Fabulations: Or “The Re-Education of Undine” w/ Pulse Theatre, School At Steppenwolf – Class of 2017, Shout out to ChicagoMMA, Bel Air Martial Arts & Fitness, Taylor Barfield, Aaron Reese Boseman, and the theatre companies mentioned – I love y’all.

Grace Goze (she/her) is a comedian, improviser, and writer who grew up in Crystal Lake, Illinois. She moved to Chicago to obtain her MFA in Screenwriting with a concentration in comedy from DePaul University after earning an undergraduate degree in Creative Writing from Ball State University. Grace does various goofs and gags around the city, including performing with Clued In: The Improvised Murder Mystery (Second City) and Hitch*Cocktails (Annoyance Theater). Off stage, Grace loves to watch so-bad-they’re-good movies, lay by the lake, and visit the American Girl Doll store as if it were a museum. Stalk her on Instagram @mazingg.

Robert Kalia Kapaku (he/him) grew up in Beavercreek, Ohio, and has a master’s degree in mechanical engineering that he absolutely never uses. Robert has studied and performed with improvisation groups such as Breakfast Anytime!, Malarkey Comedy, and ComedySportz throughout the U.S. He performs regularly as a member of ComedySportz Chicago in their Friday and Saturday shows located at iO Theater. When not doing improv, Robert loves to travel the world, hike multi-day treks, visit ‘ohana in Hawai’i, and pet every dog or cat he meets. Find him on Instagram @robert.kalia.kapaku.

Devin Jeong-Wright (they/them), NYC-born and Boston-raised, is a product of progressive education that honed their understanding of complex narratives and our different human conditions. They attended the Theater School at Depaul and were a part of the inaugural class of its Comedy Arts major. There, Devin studied all facets of comedy, including sketch, improv, standup, producing, directing, writing and film. They have produced original work at the Annoyance Theater and Lincoln Lodge, including sketch reviews such as, Asian Americans for You, C*NT (a queer-femme sketch show), 50/50 (an auto-biographical play) and Little Miss Anthropes, a standup drag competition which they co-produce and perform at The Lincoln Lodge since June 2023. In their free time Jeong-Wright loves to write, play music, sew, dance, roller skate, and experience as many new things as possible. You can find Devin on Instagram @dzzzevin where they are guaranteed to entertain you.

Johanna Medrano (she/her) is from Lombard, Illinois, but has been making her mark in Chicago for the past decade. Currently, she performs a weekly sketch show with Missed Call, hosts Chicago’s BATSU! Game show and teaches improv and sketch-writing at the Annoyance Theater. For money, she’s a nurse. Just kidding. She works for BCG – it pays the bills. Notably, she’s a former DiOversity Scholar and cast member of the Huggable Riot Comedy Collective, Improvised Jane Bond, and founding member of CLUB ASIA – the only improv team in Chicago without a gimmick. Unrelatedly her toxic trait is spending gobs of money-making things she can buy for less. If you look closely at her yarn and fabric stash, you may spot a scarf. Ope! It’s only half of one. Special thanks to her family, especially sister Marybeth, for putting up with the chaos. Johanna is repped by Chicago Talent Network. Follow her on Instagram @jojo_in_chicago.

 

Esther Oh (she/her) is a performer, and writer from Philadelphia, PA, where she began her improvisational journey over 6 years ago. She has trained at the Philadelphia Improv Theater, the Walnut Street Theater, Second City, and the iO Theater. Since moving to Chicago in 2022, she has written and performed with Hot Soup, and is currently performing with Too Hot To Hoot, a Malarkey Comedy house team, on Wednesday nights. She enjoys exploring, climbing, writing, playing board games, and is so close to being able to do a split!

Brian Park (he/him) is from Hoffman Estates, IL and is thrilled to be performing with the Victor Wong crew! He wants to thank everyone for coming to the show and give an extra special shout out to all the family and friends! His comedy beginnings began in Burlington, VT at the Vermont Comedy Club. He built his improv chops in the Green Mountain state by performing on mainstage teams, touring company shows, and indie groups before moving to Chicago. While he enjoys improv the most, he has also written for the VT Comedy Club’s first Summer Comedy revue. When he isn’t performing improv comedy, he spends his time obsessing over cooking, playing through the PS5 gaming catalogue, and thinking about reading a book. Feel free to follow him on Instagram (parknbri).

Frederic Powers (he/him) is an improviser, voice actor, and content creator from Columbia, South Carolina, where he previously did improv and sketch at the University of South Carolina and with The Mothers at Trustus Theater. Since moving to Chicago five years ago, he’s continued his comedy education and can currently be found performing in Trigger Happy. He also keeps himself involved with a few Actual Play podcasts and D&D streams, including the currently ongoing These Silent Secrets, a Monsterhearts 2 podcast. He’s a huge fan of TTRPGs and fighting games (though he’s not what you’d call “good” at the latter), and he’s on a mission to teach as many people as possible how to play mahjong. You can find more information about him at fredericpowers.com or on his Instagram/TikTok/Twitter at @Freddie_PowPow!

Ateeq Rehman (he/him) is from Chicago, IL (ok fine! He’s from the suburbs but he’d drive into the city a lot!) He made comedy more than just a hobby after the pandemic when bread-making didn’t get a rise out of him. He can be seen weekly, performing improv with Creamboy and Stir Friday Night, sketch with Best of Annoyance Sketch, and will do standup occasionally if everyone asks nicely. He loves feeding his friends lavish meals with no recipes, reading, writing, and watching movies so terrible they are great. You can follow him on Instagram at @ateeqmr.

Becca Nix Tham (she/her) is from the Chicago suburb of Palatine but claims to be a true Chicagoan now that she has lived in the city for eight years. She is a proud Asian Jewish comedian, and Becca does it all- stand up, improv, and sketch comedy. She has performed at Laugh Factory, Annoyance Theatre, Lincoln Lodge, Flappers, Zanies, and more. She is a graduate of the iO Improv Program, as one of the first annual DiOversity scholars. Her comedy teams include the Jewish Comedy Project (sketch comedy that will be featured at the Steppenwolf Lookout Series), Club Asia (improv all around Chicago), and Trigger Happy (improv at the Annoyance Theatre). She is represented by Dream Team Chicago. You can check out her current hair color (and upcoming shows) on Instagram @beccahasokhair.

 

Meet The Creative Team:

 

Jonald Reyes – Victor Wong Program Lead (he/him) is a writer, performer, and director from Chicago by way of Rutgers University in New Jersey. He has trained at The Second City, iO, Annoyance, Chicago Dramatists and the Neo-Futurists. As a director, Jonald was honored to be named Chicago Reader’s “Best of Chicago” Best Stage Director in 2016. He was a member of the Directors Lab at Lincoln Center Theater (2017) and DirectorsLabChicago (2016). His recent directing credits include The Second City Touring Company; Stir Friday Night’s We Are Asian. We Do Comedy. (Steppenwolf Theatre’s LookOut Series); Hyde Ya Kids, Hyde Ya Park (The Revival); and the 30th anniversary of “Splatter Theater” (Annoyance). He has been the Assistant to the Director for Do You Believe In Madness? (The Second City’s 108th Mainstage revue); The Second City’s Left Leaning and Always Right (Berkeley Rep); and Generation Gap (Kennedy Center). Jonald is a founding member of Stepping Stone Theater and is on the Board of Directors for APIDA Arts. In addition, he currently serves as the Artistic Director of The Second City Training Center in Brooklyn, NY. More info at jonaldjude.com.

Evan MillsDirector (he/him) began working at Second City in 2018, spending a summer performing at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. in Generation Gap. Evan was also a 2017 Bob Curry Fellowship recipient, has performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in the Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, and has toured with the Second City Touring Company. He has written and performed in three Main Stage Revues, including Together at Last, Do The Right Thing, No Worries If Not (Two Jeff Award Nominations including Best Performer and Ensemble in a Revue) and the current Don’t Quit Your Daydream (Jeff Winner for Best Performer in a Revue and nomination for Ensemble in a Revue). He has most recently been named one of the Chicago Tribune’s “Ten Best Theater Performances” two years in a row for both this year (2023) and last (2022). Evan is the co-creator and writer of Queer Eye: The Musical Parody, can be seen in the 2023 CBS Showcase, and was named a Just For Laughs New Face of ‘23.

Sophia Rafiqi Assistant Director (she/her) is an actor/comedian born and raised in Chicagoland. After graduating from Northwestern University, Sophia began training at iO Chicago and The Second City, most recently earning a spot in NBC Universal’s Bob Curry Fellowship. She can be seen improvising at iO Chicago and performing in and producing original sketch comedy throughout the city. Recent credits include NBC Universal’s Breakout Comedy Festival and acceptance of her original web content into the New York Television Film Festival. Sophia grew up with a dance background, training for 12+ years in ballet, jazz, tap, contemporary, and modern dance, and is also fluent in Urdu and Punjabi.

Renee HanselProduction Manager (she/her) is a Production Manager with experience in theatrical operations. Currently, she serves as a Production Manager of the Second City Training Center in Chicago and oversees production logistics, ensuring smooth execution of every project. Her strong organizational skills make her the go-to resource for any production-related needs. Renee holds a master’s degree in Performing Arts Administration from Roosevelt University and a bachelor’s degree in Theater from the University of Illinois – Chicago. Originally from O’ahu, Hawai’i, Renee is honored to be a part of the Victor Wong Fellowship. She is also a graduate of the Second City Conservatory program and served as an ensemble member of the Second City House Ensemble team “Supermodel U.N.” She is excited for you to see the show!

Amanda MurphyMusic Development Coordinator (she/her) is the Music Development Coordinator for The Second City company and the mentor and curriculum lead for The Victor Wong Fellowship Music Directors. She has been working across The Second City for over a decade as a Music Director, Faculty, Voice Teacher, Composer, and Sound Designer. Her Second City Theatricals music director credits include two Second City ‘Salute to Pride’ shows and Improv Extravaganza Explosion in the UP Theater. Working with the VFW MD’s has been an honor, and a delight!

Maya Tanaka AllwardtMusic Director (she/her) is a jazz fusion pianist and composer. She has competed nationally and internationally and holds 2 gold medals, performing at venues such as B.B. Kings, Andy’s Jazz Club, and Carnegie Hall, and with artists such as Gordon Goodwin, Wayne Bergeron, and Jiggs Whigham. Maya was a member of the 2022 Disneyland All-American College Band and is a Yamaha sponsored artist. @mayatanakamusic

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