Studio’s new audio play is an anthem for a world on the brink

Award-winning Chicago writer Ike Holter brings his sharp humor to a new decade with odds already stacked against you.

As the world collectively plans to close the door (and maybe throw away the key?) on 2020, Studio Theatre offers a reflection on this complicated, unexpected, and consequential moment in history with the world premiere of I Hate It Here: Stories from the End of the Old World, a Studio-commissioned audio play written and directed by Ike Holter. Audiences can listen for free on Studio’s website from December 10, 2020, through March 7, 2021. With sharp humor and keen observation, Holter uses vignettes, monologues, and song to take listeners from an office to a wedding, high school, outdoor brunch, front porch, and more to capture the many ways it feels to live in a world wracked by changes both personal and systemic.

Writer and Director Ike Holter

“Ike’s work is smart, funny, daring, and theatrical—a great match for Studio’s first commissions of audio work,” said Studio Artistic Director David Muse. “What he’s created feels very new and very Ike. He describes this set of scenes and monologues as an album, a sampling of what it feels like to live through this moment, and I think people will really respond to his craft and ambition.”

I Hate It Here is supported by Studio R&D, Studio’s incubator for new work, and was part of the largest-ever round of commissions in the Studio’s history, awarded in spring 2020. As part of that initiative, Studio allocated funds specifically to support the creation of audio plays, part of its ongoing exploration of alternate modes of theatrical storytelling in response to the present moment.

I Hate It Here features a cast of Studio veterans—Jennifer Mendenhall (Circle/Mirror/Transformation and many others) and Jaysen Wright (Wig Out!)—alongside cherished current and former members of Chicago’s theater community, including Sydney Charles, Kirsten Fitzgerald, and Tony Santiago, as well as Gabriel Ruiz, now in New York, and Behzad Dabu, who is now based in Los Angeles.

I Hate It Here is part of Studio In Your Ears, the theater’s series of free audio dramas that also includes an adaptation of Sarah Burgess’s political drama Kings (see “In time for the election, an audio play about political scheming from Studio”).


An anthem for our time, I Hate it Here  looks at the ways people do (and don’t) deal with a world on the brink of explosion. Commissioned by Studio to create an audio work, award-winning Chicago writer Ike Holter brings his sharp humor to the complexities of stepping into a new decade with the odds already stacked against your favor.


Ike Holter (Playwright and Director) is a Chicago playwright and winner of the Windham Campbell Prize for Drama, one of the most prestigious awards for writing in the world. He is the writer of several award-winning plays, including Exit StrategyHit the Wall, and Lottery Day, which have been seen all across the country. He was a writer for the Emmy-nominated Fosse/Verdon on FX, which won the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Long Form Adaptation. He is under commission at South Coast Rep and Playwrights Horizons.


Sydney Charles (Ensemble) is an actor, activist, art maker, and creator. Her theater credits include The Color Purple at Drury Lane Theatre, Nina Simone: Four Women at Northlight Theatre, Flyin’ West at American Blues Theater, and Lottery Day and Father Comes Home from the Wars at the Goodman Theatre. Sydney can also be seen in television episodes of The HavenThe TShameless, and The Chi. She recently served as assistant director for Bug at Steppenwolf Theatre, and was associate director for the world premiere of His Shadow at 16th Street Theatre and The Shipment at Red Tape Theatre. She is an artistic associate with Firebrand Theatre. Sydney is represented by Stewart Talent and is a member of Actors’ Equity Association and the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

Behzad Dabu (Ensemble) is an actor, writer, producer, and activist based out of Los Angeles and Chicago. He is a proud company member at TimeLine Theatre Company, which presents stories inspired by history that connect with current sociopolitical issues. Behzad originated the role of Amit in Samsara at Victory Gardens Theater, for which he was nominated for a Jeff Award for Best Actor. He also originated the role of Abe in the Pulitzer Prize-winning and Tony-nominated play Disgraced, which he performed at American Theatre Company, the Goodman Theatre, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Seattle Rep, and the Mark Taper Forum at Center Theatre Group. His television credits include Simon Drake on How to Get Away with Murder (ABC), Amir on The Chi (Showtime), and Disney’s The Lion Guard. He also appeared in episodes of The Good PlaceAll RiseChicago P.D.Drive Share, and You’re So Talented. His film credits include HoopKing RatMondo HollywoodlandImperfections, and Older Children. He has also been in seen in various national commercials. He is a founding member of The Chicago Inclusion Project, which seeks to level the playing field and provide resources in the arts for people of color, women, LGBTQ people, and people with disabilities. He holds a BFA in Acting from Columbia College Chicago.

Kirsten Fitzgerald (Ensemble) is a member of the Artistic Ensemble and the Artistic Director at A Red Orchid Theatre in Chicago. Kirsten’s recent acting credits include the world premieres of Grey House by Levi Holloway and Pilgrims Progress and Traitor by Brett Neveu at A Red Orchid, in addition to Roe and Sweat at the Goodman Theatre, Lettie and Appropriate at Victory Gardens Theater, and Mary Page Marlow and The Qualms at Steppenwolf Theatre. Her television credits include The Exorcist, Sirens, Chicago Med, Chicago Justice, Chicago Fire, Underemployed, and ER. Film credits include Widows, Killing Eleanor, and Working Man.

Jennifer Mendenhall (Ensemble) has been a DC-area actor for many years; Studio Theatre was one of her first artistic homes in the city. She has appeared in Studio’s productions of The New Electric BallroomCircle/Mirror/TransformationA Beautiful ViewCrestfall, and many more. She met Ike Holter at The Kennedy Center Playwrights Initiatives, where she served as a reader for many years. She is a company member of Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, where her performances include CherokeeClyborne ParkMeasure for PleasureGraceLenny and LouHomebody/KabulCooking With ElvisThe Day Room, and many more. Most recently, she appeared as Q in Handbagged at Round House Theatre; Hooded, Or Being Black For Dummies at Mosaic Theater Company; Cripple of Inishmaan at Scena Theatre; Pluto and Angels in America at Forum Theatre; After the FallImagining MadoffApples from the DesertThe Accident, and Andy and the Shadows at Theater J; Ambition Facing WestThe MonumentYou Are Here, and Slaughter City at Theater Alliance; Teddy Roosevelt and the Treasure of Ursa Major at The Kennedy Center; dark play, or stories for boys at the Humana Festival; and Cradle of Man at Florida Stage. As audio book narrator Kate Reading, she has recorded hundreds of books of all genres. Her awards include a Helen Hayes for Outstanding Lead Actress, a Mary Goldwater Award from Theatre Lobby, Audie Award from the Audio Publishers Association, the AudioFile Earphones Award, and Audio Book Reader of the Year from Publisher’s Weekly.

Gabriel Ruiz‘s (Music Director; Ensemble) New York credits include Blood and Gifts at Lincoln Center Theater. Chicago credits include You Got OlderThe RembrandtThe Way WestHow Long Will I Cry?, and The Motherf**ker with the Hat at Steppenwolf Theatre; Next to Normal, Company, and Arcadia at Writers Theatre; The Wolf at the End of the Block and White Tie Ball at Teatro Vista; The Upstairs Concierge at the Goodman Theatre; Cry it Out and Mansfield Park at Northlight Theatre; Photograph 51, Agamemnon, and Man in the Ring at Court Theatre; Native Gardens at Victory Gardens Theater; Singin’ in the Rain and City of Angels at The Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire; Creditors with Remy Bumppo Theatre Company; Working at Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place; Richard III and Short Shakespeare! A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Chicago Shakespeare Theater; and Arabian Nights at Lookingglass Theatre Company. Gabriel’s regional credits include Native Gardens at Cincinnati Playhouse, Harvey at Milwaukee Rep, and Why Torture Is Wrong… at Forward Theater Company. His television and film credits include Chicago P.D.Chicago Fire, and Chicago Justice on NBC, APB on Fox, Electric Dreams for Channel 4, and Boss on Starz.

Tony Santiago (Ensemble) has appeared in The Wolf at the End of the Block and Put Your House in Order, both by Ike Holder, as well as The Hairy Ape and The America Play. His producing credits include The JungleRomulusThe Mixtape ProjectThe Midnight SocietyGood Friday, and Queer, Ill + Okay. His directing credits include A Story Told in Seven Fights at The Neo-Futurists and Empower! with Lyric Opera of Chicago. Tony is the Executive Producer of the pop-up production company The Roustabouts, where his acting credits include Winehouse, A Tribute To AmyStay Lit, and Put Your House in Order. Tony is the curator for Theater on the Lake and the Theater and Programs Manager for Arts + Public Life at the University of Chicago.

Jaysen Wright (Ensemble) has appeared in Studio Theatre’s productions of Wig Out!, Choir Boy, and The Rocky Horror Show. Other credits include The Royale, Now Comes the Night, and Take Me Out at 1st Stage; The Royale at Olney Theatre Center; Jubilee and Smart People at Arena Stage; The Importance of Being Earnest at Everyman Theatre; Actually and Sons of the Prophet at Theater J; Macbeth at Folger Theatre; The Wiz and A Christmas Carol at Ford’s Theatre; Choir Boy at Marin Theatre Company; and Measure for Measure, Wallenstein, and Coriolanus at Shakespeare Theatre Company. Upcoming performances include The Till Trilogy at Mosaic Theater Company and Acoustic Rooster at The Kennedy Center. He received a BA in Theatre from Grinnell College and an MFA in Acting from Indiana University.


Sivan Battat (she/they) (Assistant Director) is an Iraqi-Jewish theater director, cultural worker, community organizer, and educator based in New York. Recent credits include Who the F*ck is Ahmed by Michael Zalta for the Rough Draft Festival at the Laguardia Performing Arts Center, She He Me by Raphael Khouri for National Queer Theatre, Coexistence My Ass by Noam Shuster at Harvard University and National Tour, Pie Shop Play by Alice Pencavel for the Corkscrew Festival, and East o’, West o’! by Michelle J. Rodriguez for Ars Nova’s ANTFest. Sivan is the former Artistic Apprentice at Studio Theatre, and has worked as an assistant/associate with directors including Whitney White, Sam Gold, Rebecca Taichman, Neil Pepe, and Gaye Taylor Upchurch, among others. As a cultural worker, Sivan has worked with NYC-based Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ) in numerous capacities, most recently creative directing the first ever JFREJ Mimouna, a celebration of identity and ritual, and curated Salon al-Mahjar, a performance salon for queer and trans MENASA artists.

Luisa Sánchez Colón’s (Stage Manager) New York theater credits include Shipwreck (audio play), The Line (virtual play), the Under the Radar Festival, MojadaWhite Noise, Miss You Like Hell, and Oedipus El Rey at The Public and Greater Clements at Lincoln Center Theater. Other New York theater credits include The Paper Hat Game, Gruesome Playground Injuries, and The Fire This Time Festival. She worked on the national tour of Biscuit and Dog Loves Books. Internationally, she worked on the Royal Court Theatre’s production of Hangmen.

Mikhail Fiksel (Sound Designer) is a designer, composer, musician, and DJ, based in Chicago and Brooklyn. He previously designed and composed for Studio Theatre’s production of The Wolves and served as sound designer for Studio’s earlier In Your Ears production of Kings. His other theatrical credits include productions with The Public Theater, Signature Theatre, Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Goodman Theatre, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Victory Gardens Theater, Writers Theatre, The Geffen, The Old Globe, Playwrights Horizons, The Civilians, Pigpen Theatre Co., La Jolla Playhouse, South Coast Rep, Manhattan Theatre Club, Center Theatre Group, Albany Park Theatre Project, and Third Rail Projects. Mikhail’s audio work includes multiple audio plays and podcasts with Make-Believe Association, where he is Head of Audio Production, as well as projects with Audible, WBEZ, and All Classical Portland. He is a member of USA and the Theatrical Sound Designers and Composers Association.

Adrien-Alice Hansel (Dramaturg) is the Literary Director at Studio, where she has dramaturged the world premieres of Queen of BaselThe RemainsNo SistersI Wanna Fucking Tear You Apart, Animal, Red Speedo, Dirt, Lungs, and The History of Kisses as well as productions of Cry It Out, Translations, Curve of Departure, The EffectWig Out!Straight White MenCloud 9Hedda GablerConstellationsJumpers for GoalpostsBad Jews (twice), The Apple Family PlaysInvisible ManSucker PunchThe Golden Dragon, and The New Electric Ballroom, among others. Prior to joining Studio, she spent eight seasons at the Actors Theatre of Louisville, where she headed the literary department and coordinated project scouting, selection, and development for the Humana Festival of New American Plays.  She is the co-editor of eight anthologies of plays from Actors Theatre and editor of eight editions of plays through Studio. Adrien-Alice holds an MFA from the Yale School of Drama.

Noel Nichols (Sound Engineer) is a sound designer, engineer, and artist based in the New York area and hailing from Arizona. Noel’s design credits include ain’t no dead thing, We are Proud to Present a Presentation…, and How to Relearn Yourself at Yale Cabaret; Fun Home and In His Hands for the Yale School of Drama; Latinos Who Look Like Ricky Martin at Verano Cabaret; Ghost Card for Fullstop Collective; and Counting Pebbles for Faultline Ensemble. Select engineering credits include The Prisoner at Yale Rep, the 2019 Carlotta Festival of New Plays at the Yale School of Drama, and Sundown Yellow Moon and Underground Railroad Game at Ars Nova.


Studio Theatre is Washington’s premier venue for contemporary theater, “where local audiences will find today’s edgiest playwrights” (Variety). One of the most respected midsized theaters in the country, Studio produces exceptional contemporary drama in deliberately intimate spaces. Drawing inspiration from great ensembles—where people work together with a spirit of generosity and professional rigor—Studio brings characteristic thoughtfulness and daring to its work onstage and off, through its new work incubator and engagement, education, and workforce training initiatives. Studio serves nearly 75,000 people each year, including more than 1,000 youth and young adults through community engagement initiatives. Founded in 1978, the quality of Studio’s work has been recognized by sustained community support, as well as 70 Helen Hayes Awards for excellence in professional theater.


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