Step Up Productions Gives Back Through Theater

It’s not hard to find a not-for-profit theater company, but not many donate a portion of their proceeds to other deserving organizations.

Elizabeth Antonucci founded Step Up Productions in 2009 before rebranding the company to become a nonprofit in 2013. It was a natural step for a woman who had worked with the Health, Education and Relief Foundation (HEAR) in Chicago.

“I was always raised to give back and donate your time and energy whenever you were able to, and it’s something that I’ve always been passionate about,” Antonucci says. “So I wanted to find a way to merge [theater and philanthropy].”

With each show, Antonucci donates a portion of ticket sales to a local organization that relates to the play’s themes. Step Up is currently working with House of the Good Shepherd, which has served women and children affected by domestic violence for more than 150 years, with their newest play, “Darlin’.”

“Darlin’” follows Clementine, a woman (Elizabeth Birnkrant) who realizes her life is not what she wanted it to be and decides to leave her family.

“[Clementine] talks about being concerned about feeling like she doesn’t fit in to the life with her husband and children,” Birnkrant says. “Joshua Rollins, the playwright, talks about the character feeling like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole of her circumstances. That’s not necessarily so unusual, but I think to have her voice and then to take action […] is pretty unusual.”

Clem eventually ends up at a motel in rural Iowa and meets Dee, the housekeeper, who is in an abusive relationship.

“[Dee] knows that this life is wrong for her, but it is all that she knows. It’s that struggle of, ‘How do I completely turn my life upside-down and make a change when it’s so comfortable?’” says Antonucci, who plays Dee.

Those who see a Step Up Productions play should not expect “a sugar-coated story,” Antonucci says, because that’s not what needs to be told. For her, theater is a medium that allows communication about topics that are otherwise hard to discuss. 

Antonucci adds that Step Up Productions is all about evoking reactions and feelings while inspiring audiences to embrace their own truth. While it’s not always easy to watch, both women hope the audience will feel a connection to these characters and their story.

“That’s really always my hope for the audience,” Birnkrant says, “That they’ve found some connection and that they walk out feeling a little less alone than when they walked in.”


Join Step Up Productions Sunday, April 6 at 2 p.m. for a benefit performance of “Darlin’” at Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport Ave., Chicago. A $45 ticket includes a drink ticket and post-show reception where members of House of the Good Shepherd will speak and lead discussion.


Interested in more nonprofit theater?

Adventure Stage Chicago (ASC) presents the world premiere of SPARK: Chapter One of The Prometheus Project,” which completely reimagines the myths of Prometheus and Pandora, running through May 8. ASC, a program of the Northwestern University Settlement House, creates and tells heroic stories about young people to inspire all of us to be heroes in our own lives.