DARCI NALEPA was asked to join The Gift Ensemble in 2015, but her love of The Gift Theatre and its body of work took place long before that. The first production she ever experienced at The Gift was Suicide, Incorporated. She sat on the stool next to the water cooler and it was the best seat in the house. At that same time, she was being taught the values of The Gift by Artistic Director, Michael Patrick Thornton and Sheldon Patinkin at The School at Steppenwolf during the Summer of 2010. As a student of theirs, she learned to put the work outside of herself, dedicate performances to honor those in need and those that came before, and that when it comes to Ensemble the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts.
Originally from the northwest suburbs of Chicago, Darci earned a degree in Theatre at Augustana College before she made the move to the city and started auditioning. She pursued a variety of work in musical theatre such as The Sweet Smell of Success (Circle Theatre), The Mystery of Edwin Drood (Noble Fool Theatricals), and Company (Griffin Theatre). She stretched her acting muscles with productions like Venus (The Mill Theatre), a six-hour devised version of The Ring Cycle (The Building Stage) where she played Brunhilde, and Love and Money (Steep Theatre). She has a soft spot for period style plays like Northanger Abbey (Remy Bumppo), Flare Path (Griffin Theatre), and Into the Breeches (Northlight Theatre). Some other all-time favorites include The Drunken City (Steppenwolf Theatre) and Cry It Out (Northlight Theatre).
The acting opportunities at The Gift have been some of Darci’s most challenging and for her, most memorable. She stepped into the very high heels of Mrs. Dalton in Dirty. She fought for her son to have a better father figure in Thinner Than Water. As Emilia she found a handkerchief and a devastating truth in Othello. And in Good for Otto she clung to the hope of creating a home for a traumatized girl alongside other brave humans doing their best to survive while being affected by mental illness. Darci lived A Life Extra Ordinary, partied hard in A Swell in the Ground, and took a look at the big questions in Cosmologies.
Alongside acting, Darci is a teacher. She trained to teach the acting technique, Meisner, under Amy Morton, Audrey Francis, and Laura Hooper. She taught at The School at Steppenwolf for 9 years first as an assistant then as a lead teacher; and also worked with amazing artists at Black Box Acting. And now Darci teaches acting to students ages 6 to 17 helping them explore acting through creativity and honesty. Darci believes that one should never stop questioning, learning, and growing.
In the Summer of 2019, Darci moved to Nashville, Tennessee with her husband. She bought a house and had her first baby as the pandemic began. The last event she went to that was indoors and brimming with people was the annual Gift Gala in February of 2020. She can still put herself in that room, warmly lit, filled with loud laughter and hugs and well wishes and “what are you working on?” and familiar faces. The faces of her family. The Gift is not just a theatre. The Gift is a home where she, alongside her brothers and sisters, make stories come to life in order to hold communion with people she knew and people she’ll never meet. It’s all so fleeting. At every final performance, Darci listens to the words of her colleagues backstage. She pictures the words being spoken into the air afloat one more time and then vanishing like smoke. She can’t wait for first and final performances again at The Gift among the beating hearts of the living and in honor of those who watch from the other side of the curtain.