On the Scene
Chanel Coney is board chair of Congo Square Theatre. 0

She played rugby and says running a board is harder

September 27th, 2016

Chanel Coney played rugby for Princeton University. It was a cakewalk, she says, compared to the hard work required to lead a nonprofit board.

That, Coney says, is “a full-court press, full energy type of commitment every day,” especially for a small organization like Congo Square Theatre, which just a few years ago was drowning in debt.

Coney, a business development associate at GCM Grosvenor financial company, is board chair of Congo Square and has helped turn the theater around financially.

On Wednesday it will honor Hollywood actor and Chicago native Harry Lennix (co-stars of “The Blacklist”) and Laysha Ward, an executive vice president at Target and graduate of the University of Chicago.

Coney is a familiar name in town. Her father is Les Coney, the Mesirow Financial executive who serves on numerous cultural boards and was a founding board member of Congo Square Theatre. He’s shared insights with his daughter, but she’s been the force behind Congo Square’s transformation.

Along with starting an annual gala last year, the younger Coney beefed up the board from four to 15 members. With a nearly $40,000 debt erased, there’s a renewed emphasis now on the craft of staging plays.

Coney attended the University of Chicago Lab School before heading to Princeton. A good math and science student, she considered an electrical engineering degree. “It’s an area where there are no subjective decisions. As an African American woman, that was important. Getting the right answer can’t be disputed,” she says.

Coney also studied religion, the latter of which examines the human condition. It would become her major as it dovetailed nicely with her passion for theater, which shines a light on life.

Growing up Coney had performed with the Lookingglass traveling ensemble and she did an internship on the business side of Steppenwolf Theater. “It opened my mind to different ways to be involved.”

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