Chicago expats in L.A. respond in droves to form theatre and film group called Windy City Players

Carmen Mormino was in rehearsals to play the devil in David Mamet’s play “Bobby Gould in Hell” in North Hollywood when the lead actress dropped out.

Vagabond Players Theatre Company asked Mormino to help find a replacement, and he posted a notice on Columbia College’s West Coast alumni listserv. Vagabond was inundated with actresses originally from Chicago who were eager to fill the role.

“They were all so committed and prepared, and I realized this was just the tip of the iceberg as far as the talent and commitment of Chicagoans out here,” said Mormino, who graduated from Columbia in 1986.

This got Mormino’s wheels turning, and he put out another message on the Columbia alumni board: was anyone else interested in forming a Los Angeles-based theatre company composed of Chicagoans?

Ninety-five Chicago expats filled Columbia’s West Coast office last May for the first meeting of the Windy City Players, Mormino’s fledgling theatre and film group.

“Once people got wind of what we’re doing, they were bouncing off the walls for the opportunity to work with likeminded, talented and committed people,” Mormino said.

“We had actors, directors, producers, writers, PR people, lawyers,” he continued. “We started to see the resources we had at our fingertips.”

Mormino plans four major productions of new Chicago-oriented plays next year with all-Chicago cast and crew. He’s hoping to make arrangements with Columbia and DePaul and Northwestern universities to find a home for Windy City Players.

The film division, Windy City Films, headed by Michael Hoffman (“Love Relations”) and Dan Halperin (“Road Kings”) is launching a screenplay competition. They plan to pick five scripts for their first production slate, with budgets of $500,000 and up.

“We’d like to bring most of these films to Chicago, and give Chicagoans the opportunity to work,” Mormino said.

Even as the group coalesces around its production plans, the Windy City Players are already operating as a networking vehicle for Chicagoans who are established industry players and newcomers alike.

“We want to help people avoid those two magical words when they land in L.A.,” Mormino said: “?Now what?'”

“L.A. is a tough town,” he continued. “I’ve been out here a long time and I’m continually dumbfounded by the way people think. Nobody has the work ethic and business sense that Chicago has. I want to expose L.A. to what the Chicago community is all about, expose them to the talent that Chicago produces.”

Windy City Players’ core team includes: Mormino as producing director; business director, Goodman Theatre vet Julie Granata; artistic director Aaron Vanek, formerly of Next Wave Films; managing director Thomas Ladd, Columbia’s West Coast director of major gifts; development director Abby Sherman, former development VP for Ventura Entertainment Group; marketing director, PR rep Deborah Brosseau; literary director Sarah Schroeder, Columbia’s west coast alumni coordinator; and technical director, production designer Katherine Bulovic (“Peoria Babylon”).

WCP will hold a major fundraiser in October. Mormino promises appearances from Chicago celebrities and the performance of a Chicago play. The group’s next big meeting will be in late July or early August.

A theatre veteran who trained with Uta Hagen, Mormino has had supporting roles in films including “The Odd Couple II” and “One Hour Photo,” and has appeared in TV series including “24,” and “ER.”

Reach Mormino at 818/693-2181 or email