Assistant Directing at Remy Bumppo

Life in the Theatre, Show Information

Great news! I’ll be assistant directing THE LIFE OF GALILEO, directed by Remy Bumppo Artistic Director Nick Sandys, in the spring of 2016. I am so excited to work with Remy Bumppo and Nick for the first time.

Check out the full Remy Bumppo season press release, including a full listing of cast and crew. I’ll be sure to post more details next spring as we get closer to the show.

Catching Up

Life in the Theatre, Plays I've Seen

Blerg…so I’ve gotten waaay behind on this blog. In my defense, I’ve been hard at work on Macbeth and all things Midsommer Flight. But even so, it has been a while, and I’m overdue to catch up.

Since my last post, I’ve seen quite a few shows around town. BALM IN GILEAD at Griffin, TIGER AT THE GATES at Promethean, TRAVESTIES at Remy Bumppo, ANNA IN THE AFTERLIFE at Polarity, BEAST ON THE MOON at Raven, and A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM at Two Pence. Of course, there are also quite a few others that I wanted to see but just didn’t make it before they closed. Anyway, I couldn’t begin to discuss all of these shows without spending the rest of the afternoon on this blog post, so suffice it to say I enjoyed all of them for different reasons. Some were truly inspiring; many included excellent work by friends and colleagues; all were thought-provoking in their own ways.

I’ve also been deeply entrenched in rehearsals for Macbeth in the parks. I am getting really excited for this one. It just feels like a dream team this year: the cast is strong from top to bottom; the fight director, vocal coach and assistant director are bringing so much to our rehearsal process; I can’t wait to see the costumes from our designer next week. Yes, next week! We go into tech (a bit of a misnomer since this show doesn’t have much tech) next week and open in less than two weeks.

It’s been an interesting challenge working on such a dark play when we are performing in a park setting. There are definitely some choices I’ve made that are specific to this setting, that I would be doing differently if we were presenting the show in a black box. There’s just not as much room for subtlety when we’re working outside and need to be heard across the length of a football field. But we are still making choices that are rooted in the text, and these actors are just killing it. I can’t wait to open this one and share their work with the world.

Also, it finally feels like summer outside, so I’m excited to relax and enjoy it a little after the show opens. Then again, who am I kidding? Every time I think I’ll have a break, something else comes up to keep me busy. Not that I’d have it any other way, I suppose, when it’s all good stuff!

On Auditions

Life in the Theatre

I just got through auditions for Macbeth, which I’ll be directing this summer for Midsommer Flight (check out the Upcoming page for details). As so often happens, there were too many talented actors and not enough roles to go around, which is such a fantastic problem to have.

Recently I taught an audition workshop in which I shared a handout of Audition Dos and Don’ts for actors. But there is so much more that I wish actors knew about auditions. I’m sure this has all been said before in other places, but it bears repeating — not just for actors to hear, but for them to take to heart.

It’s not all about talent. Yes, of course we want talented people in the show, and I wouldn’t choose anyone who doesn’t have the chops to be a part of the cast. But so many talented people aren’t making it into this one and I’m truly disappointed to have to cut those people. Ultimately they just weren’t the #1 best fit for the limited roles available. Maybe they were too young, or the wrong look against other actors we selected, or too subtle for a Shakespeare-in-the-park production even though they’d be killer in a black box. Maybe someone had too many conflicts or not enough fight experience or was simply an unknown quantity who lost out to an actor with whom I’ve worked before. I spent a fair amount of time agonizing over headshots and lamenting the loss of people I had to place in the “discard” pile. For many of them, I vowed that I need to find a project in the future that fits them so that we can work together. For many of them, I made notes about how amazing they will be in those roles in 5-10 years, or in someone else’s production of this play. For many of them, I just want to give them a hug and be able to say thank you.

The waiting is the hardest part for us, too. Back when I was still acting, the worst part of the audition process, by far, was the waiting. Waiting to find out if I got called back, waiting to hear if I got the part. What actors don’t realize, perhaps, is that the waiting is the hardest part for directors, too. We send out casting offers and then wait to hear back from actors accepting the roles. Some reply right away, excited at the opportunity, ready to accept immediately. But others, even those who seemed so excited about the show, make us wait for a day or two or five, immune to our follow-up emails and calls, while we bite our nails, just wishing and hoping that this incredible actor whom we love and have set our hearts on will say yes. We fear and obsess and check our email 1,437 times a day for updates. And that leads to my next point…

Rejection hurts us, too. OK, I know this one sounds ridiculous. Of course I understand that in the casting process, the director holds most of the cards. We get to sit on the “safe” side of the table, we get to make the casting choices, we are in the position of power. But actors hold one important trump card: the decline. In truth, I’ve never fully understood actors who decline roles. I mean, yes, I understand that occasionally an actor gets cast in another role in the interim, or some real schedule conflict arises between the callback and the offer, and I would never hold anything against someone in this situation. But usually, I strive to send out offers within 12-24 hours of callbacks, in which case if an actor cites “schedule conflicts” it feels like a bait and switch — like, what could have possibly changed in those 12 hours from 10pm to 10am the next day? Why did the actor attend the callback and get me all excited for them, when they couldn’t do the show in the first place? I understand that sometimes it’s not about whether they got an offer, but whether they got THE offer for a role they wanted. But if I’m offering a role — any role — it’s because you asked me to cast you by coming to the audition, and because I fell in love with something about you for that particular role. So if you say no, even though I know it’s not actually personal, it still makes me feel things and exclaim bad words and wonder what I could have done differently to make you say yes. Just like actors do every day, I’ll move on and be OK, but rejection hurts on either side of the table.

We make the best choices we can for each project; just because there wasn’t a role (or THE role) for you this time doesn’t mean there won’t be down the road. Ultimately, although I am sad that I can’t find a place for all of these talented actors in this show, I am also incredibly excited for the cast that we are putting together. I know that I am making the right choices for THIS production of THIS play at THIS moment. And I have Dionysian Faith* that I will indeed work with some of the “rejected” actors in the future. In fact, I know this for certain because it has happened on this very show: the actor we have cast as the Big Mac himself is someone I’ve known for a few years, and who has auditioned for me previously but just wasn’t quite the right fit for earlier projects. Only now, for this show, he is Macbeth. Imagine if he had become discouraged after auditioning for me previously, and had decided not to come out for this one.

Auditions are a gift. I guess some directors dislike auditions because they can be tedious or hard, or just feel like “necessary evils” in order to get to the rehearsal phase. But I have always loved auditions. It feels like such a spectacular gift that all these actors want to come work on one of MY shows. They are giving their time and energy and talent, and demonstrating by word and deed that they want to make a commitment to a project about which I care deeply. What an amazing, affirming, astonishing gift.

That’s the thought I want to end on — what a gift I’ve been given, over and over again with each show I have directed, and how grateful I am. Heartfelt thanks to all the actors who auditioned for me for Macbeth, and I hope we meet again.

*Dionysian Faith is a thing I just made up.

Seeing lots of shows

Life in the Theatre, Plays I've Seen

After a busy month where I didn’t get to see a lot of theatre, last week I started catching up. I saw three shows last week, with another two shows planned for this week. Even then there will be more to see, but at least I’ll feel a little more caught up!

First I saw 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea at Strawdog in Hugen Hall. It was a great, imaginative, immersive piece of storytelling, and I was also so excited for my friend Lee who did a fantastic job in one of the lead roles. Next up was Titus Andronicus at Babes With Blades, with an all-female cast who were all balls-to-the-wall. The show was wholly un-apologetic about the violence and theatricality of the play, and it was fun to see such fierce women attack these roles, especially several of my friends in the show. Last was Endgame at The Hypocrites. The acting from all four performers was stellar, and there was a fascinating ambient design aesthetic in the audience that off-set the strictly-Beckett play on stage. I consistently love The Hypocrites’ work, especially because their gorgeous creative risk-taking is often beyond anything I could ever imagine.

It’s often hard for theatre artists to make it out to see other theatre, when we are so busy with creative projects of our own. But I love getting out into the audience to see other people’s work. Not only is it fun; not only is it important to support other artists; but also it is vital to my own ongoing creative development. It’s always valuable to see a diversity of work and think about what elements I like or dislike, what choices I might make differently (if any), or what wonderful things I could never have come up with on my own.

Up Next: HOME, A Festival of Storytelling

Life in the Theatre, Show Information

I’m delighted to be directing an evening of storytelling for the side project‘s third annual Festival of Storytelling. I’ve had the pleasure to work with four tellers: Don Hall, Dana Jerman, Jack Schultz, and Evelyn Keolian. These four great human beings are going to perform tomorrow, Sunday, at 7:30pm up at the side project. More details are on the Upcoming page.

It’s been a fun challenge to figure out how to approach storytelling as a distinct thing from a theatrical production. With a play, I can walk into a rehearsal room with my ideas, and then work with the actors, designers, and crew to bring those ideas to life. In contrast, with storytelling the stories are personal to the tellers, so it would feel weird if I tried to impose some big grand vision of my own. Instead, I’ve been trying to listen more, ask more questions, and help facilitate their ideas. It’s been a unique process for me and a great learning experience.

All three stories — Evelyn’s about moving to Chicago from L.A., Jack’s about his big brother, and Don & Dana’s about their journey to finding each other — are wonderful, touching, funny, interesting, personal tales. I’m so grateful to each of them for sharing their stories with me. Come check it out tomorrow night!

Updates, Up Next, Up Up Up!

Life in the Theatre, Plays I've Seen, Show Information

January has been a busy month!  I now have more details about RHINOFEST, where I’ll be directing a short piece in February. You can check out the details on the Upcoming page of this site.

I have also lined up another small gig for March, directing an evening of storytelling at the side project‘s HOME: A FESTIVAL OF STORYTELLING III. Details will be posted soon on the Upcoming page, as well. The side project is a fantastic company, and I’m so excited to be working with them for the first time.

I’ve seen two shows so far this month: FATHER RUFFIAN at City Lit, which was a new adaptation of Shakespeare’s HENRY IV plays, and PUSH BUTTON MURDER at the side project, an intriguing look into the world of secret military drone operations. Two completely different shows, but both with some great interesting choices and really strong acting.

I’m also hard at work planning the Midsommer Flight 2015 season, which is shaping up to be pretty exciting. I’m dying to share the news as soon as I can…stay tuned.

Not a bad start to the year so far. Onward and upward!

Up Next: RHINO

Life in the Theatre, Show Information

Exactly one week ago, I wrote out a resolution right here on this blog that I hoped to pick up at least one small directing project in 2015 that I didn’t have planned yet – a reading, a festival, an assistant directing gig, or something similar.

Well… it’s barely halfway through January, and I’ve already achieved that resolution. I think the universe is telling me to set bigger goals.

Anyway, I’m delighted to announce that I’ll be directing a short piece at the 26th Annual RHINOFEST. For the uninitiated, RHINOFEST is the longest-running multi-arts fringe festival in Chicago.

The full festival runs from January 10 – March 1, and our piece will go up the weekend of February 21-22. More details forthcoming!

Happy New Year

Life in the Theatre

It’s a new year, a new beginning, time to begin new projects and make new resolutions. I woke up today with that tight feeling in my stomach that tells me, “do something! be productive! get a move on, create something, plan a project, take control of your career! go forth and conquer! (and if you don’t do all of this RIGHT NOW, you are a total failure and may as well give up!)” You know, that feeling in your gut that is simultaneously motivating and totally paralyzing and destructive.

But I should back up.

Not surprisingly, the holidays were a busy time, and my blog writing (along with most other theatre-oriented activities) has taken a backseat recently. We enjoyed a lot of time with family, from traveling to California to see my parents for Thanksgiving, to hanging out with my husband’s family in the Chicago suburbs in December. We enjoyed a lovely break at the end of an eventful year.

I did at least get to see a few shows during that time, though. It was a pleasure to see Promethean Theatre Ensemble’s THE WINTER’S TALE, returning for an evening to my old company and spending time with friends. The show was lovely, with passionate performances and clear storytelling. A few weeks ago I saw Piccolo’s THE LOVE OF THREE ORANGES, a holiday panto that was hysterical, smart, over-the-top and fun. Then right after Christmas I saw The Hypocrites’ H.M.S. PINAFORE, which can only be described as utterly delightful. The energy, excitement, and joy that The Hypocrites bring to their shows is both infectious and inspiring.

I should also take a moment to appreciate my 2014 year in review: I directed two plays: MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING at Midsommer Flight, and ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD at Promethean Theatre Ensemble. On those shows, I met and worked with a slew of new wonderful people, along with a bunch of my old favorite people. We created two beautiful shows of which I am immensely proud, that represented the kind of theatre I want to make and to see. I’m thankful that they both received overwhelmingly positive responses from audiences and critics, and I’m so grateful to all of the people who went on those journeys with me and helped make those productions great.

Also in 2014, I saw at least 16 plays (that I can recall), most of which I saw in the latter half of the year when I re-committed to seeing lots of theatre. I wrote two grant applications for Midsommer Flight and received them both. I reached out to theatre friends and acquaintances, which led to the opportunity to submit directing project ideas to several companies. I was a reader for a play competition. Unrelated to theatre, I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, got out on a few date nights with the hubby (no small feat with a baby at home), and took an anniversary trip with my husband for a couple days to Michigan. Oh, and I spent my days as a stay-at-home mom, which I’m delighted to call a success, since my daughter is, you know, still alive (and so am I).

There were challenges this year too, of course: some family health issues, the constant struggle to balance mommyhood with theatre, and the inevitable self-doubt that comes with that struggle. But taken altogether, this was a pretty great year. And when I write it all down like this and actually look at what I’ve been doing, it seems easier to tell that anxious feeling in my tummy to take a hike.

So, here’s what up for 2015. I have specific plans to direct two shows this year (no spoilers…details forthcoming). I am working on plans for Midsommer Flight’s next Shakespearean adventures, including trying to build some new initiatives with the company (again, details forthcoming!), and continuing to do the administrative work to keep the company afloat. This year, I hope to do a better job of asking for help with all the Midsommer Flight stuff. Aside from these planned activities, I hope to pick up at least one small project this year like a staged reading, a short play festival, or an assistant directing gig. And I’m going to work hard to see lots of shows, read new scripts, and stay open to any other opportunities that might come up.

Take a moment to appreciate all that you accomplished in 2014, and then roll up your sleeves and get to work on whatever is next. I wish you an exciting, productive, creative, and fulfilling 2015.


Taking Risks

Life in the Theatre, Plays I've Seen

I’ve seen some great theatre in the past two weeks. While the three shows I’ve seen recently are an eclectic mix, they share one thing in common: risk. Luckily, I’d say that in all three cases, the risk was rewarded.

Two weeks ago I saw At Home At the Zoo at City Lit. In a sense, the script is straightforward: Act One, husband and wife talk in their apartment. Act Two, the husband and a stranger meet and talk on a park bench. What ultimately happens, however, is shocking. And the actors gave honest, raw, wonderfully surprising performances, diving in without reserve. It took guts (both for them and for the director who guided them) to attack the script so actively and emotionally, and it also took skill to succeed so wildly. It was a great night at the theatre.

Last week I saw Aston Rep’s The Lieutenant of Inishmore. Anyone familiar with Martin McDonagh knows that there is risk inherent in that script. The story is crazy, the characters are insane, and the plot twists are ridiculous. But if done right, it really works. Aston Rep went for it and succeeded. The show was fun, funny, well acted, and exciting.

Yesterday I saw Prologue Theatre Company’s Welcome to America, a one-woman show about Christina Riggs, the Arkansas mother who ended up on death row after killing her two children. This show was risky in a different way: a heart wrenching story, an (on paper) unsympathetic character, an uncomfortable gamut of emotions. It took real bravery for Prologue to take on this show, not only to present it to an audience, but also for the cast and crew to live with the show for such a long time. For artists, there is real personal risk involved in a taking on a play like that, knowing that you will have to carry around that story or that character for months. It paid off, though: the actress who played Riggs turned in a moving and skillful performance.

All of these great risky shows have got me asking myself how gutsy I’m prepared to be. I’ve been reading lots of plays lately and wondering whether I am brave enough to do some of them. To put subversive material onstage, or to tackle a really big and difficult show? I want to be brave in the choices I make, but some of those ideas are a little scary. Then again, I suppose it would have to be scary in order to be brave. And ultimately, is a show worth doing if there isn’t at least a little risk involved?

Keeping Busy Between Projects

Life in the Theatre, Plays I've Seen

One of the most important things about being a theatre artist, I think, is what you do when you don’t have a show going on. It’s easy to be an active and engaged member of the theatre community when you are going to rehearsal every night. But what about when you are between projects? How do you still feel creative, motivated, connected?

I’ve often struggled in the past with how to remain engaged and feel “productive” when I don’t have a specific project on my plate. It can be tough to get motivated to do any real work when there isn’t a tangible goal (i.e. a production) at the end of that road. The power of inertia can be strong: objects at rest stay at rest, and suddenly weeks or months can go by with nothing to show for it.

The great thing about inertia, of course, is that it works the opposite way, too. Objects in motion stay in motion. So I’ve been trying lately to be more deliberate about accomplishing specific theatre-related goals — seeing shows, reading plays, staying connected with friends and colleagues — and so far this fall, I’m delighted that my inertia is keeping me in motion. It’s helpful, too, that I do have one project on the far horizon, even though it’s not until next summer. But at least it’s a goalpost to look toward when I need to focus up.

In the past week alone I saw two shows and read five new-to-me scripts, which feels pretty good. And as a quick sidebar, since I’ve been reporting lately on all the shows I’m seeing, here’s the skinny on the shows I saw this past week. First was FAIL/SAFE at Strawdog, a Cold War drama that imagines a scenario in which the U.S. mistakenly sends bomber pilots to Moscow, and then must find a way to deal with the consequences. Strawdog’s intimate Hugen Hall space made the drama feel immediate and modern, despite the Cold War setting. The acting was great, and a few of the actors in particular were especially on fire. Second I saw JEKYLL & HYDE at Idle Muse, a perfectly terrifying show in time for Halloween. The acting was strong, and the design — especially the lighting and use of fog effects — added to the chilling affect of the show. I enjoyed them both!

Anyway, back to inertia between projects. Right now I’m happy with how much I’m keeping busy, and I’m trying to set some specific goals to keep me going. I’m curious about what other people do when they are between projects: do you have a plan that you follow? Is there something specific that you wish you did better? What are your strategies for staying active when you are between shows?