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!

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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.

Keeping Busy

News & Other Fun Stuff, Plays I've Seen, Show Information

It was another busy month in February!

I had a great time working on Adam Webster’s short play NOTHING TO FEAR for RhinoFest, which included a chance to meet a bunch of great people and work with some new-to-me actors.

It was great fun to check out Promethean Theatre Ensemble’s short run of An Evening of Shakespeare: Lonely Hearts and Twisted Love at the Red Lion Lincoln Square. An Evening of Shakespeare (“EoS”) has become a wonderful annual tradition for Promethean over the years, and this year’s installment delivered great scene work in an intimate setting, with some well-known familiar scenes mixed in with others that aren’t performed as frequently.

Next up, I’m directing a night of the side project’s upcoming HOME: A Festival of Storytelling III, a three-week festival featuring the work of about 30 storytellers and 10 directors.  Details are on my Upcoming page. I’ll be working with three stories/storytellers for the March 29 performance, starting with a 5-minute story from Evelyn Keolian and a 10-minute story from Jack Schultz, both of whom are new to the storytelling scene. Then we’ll round out the evening with a 15-minute shared piece from veteran storyteller Don Hall (of The Moth and more) and poet Dana Jerman. It’s shaping up to be a very cool evening, and I’m excited to work with Evelyn, Jack, Don, and Dana.

Also in March (next week, in fact!), I’ll be teaching a pair of Shakespeare Audition Workshops for Midsommer Flight, one focused on Monologues and the other on Cold Reading. I’m so excited to get back to teaching. There’s still time to sign up if you’re interested – the workshops are a great value (they work out to only $12.50 an hour and include a ton of personalized instruction) and they should be a lot of fun.

Being this busy can feel a little overwhelming, but I’m having fun with all of these projects and I’m lucky to have them on my plate. Happy March!

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!

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?

 

New Works

Plays I've Seen

Recently, I’ve been getting out to see a lot of theatre, and in particular, I’ve seen several new works.  They have all been totally different from each other, but it’s been interesting to consider them all within the category of new work.

The first was Witch Slap at Babes with Blades Theatre Company, a broad, slapstick comedy with an all-female cast, focusing on a group of real witches trying to avoid being found out during the Salem witch trials. The show was totally fun, complete with broomstick fights (i.e. quarterstaff fights) and “magic” special effects. I was particularly impressed with the ambition of the script’s requirements to show the witches’ magic onstage. Doors opened and closed by a wave of a hand from across the room; bottles fell off shelves on command, and characters transformed in plain sight. I would venture to say that not many small theatre companies would develop a new script with such technical challenges, but the Babes totally pulled it off. The show was both fun and funny with some great comedic performances, and the special effects just added to the enjoyment. The show ran in September, and I only wish they had been able to carry the run into October, since it seemed like such a great piece of popcorn theatre for Halloween.

The second new play I saw was Miracles in the Fall at Polarity Ensemble Theatre. You couldn’t find a more different show from Witch Slap if you tried. This one, set in late 1960s Detroit, focused on a troubled Catholic family, and particularly on the grown daughter’s life as a nun and her friendship with a priest. The script was lovely, with remarkable depth of emotion and a story that I haven’t seen told before. More than that, the acting across the board in the four-person cast was excellent. And while it was a completely different kind of show from Witch Slap, I was impressed again with the technical elements, from the simple but effective set that transformed from church to churchyard to family home to hospital room; to the family meal onstage that included real food and a climactic moment of ripping the tablecloth (and everything on it) off the table. Polarity has a great track record for developing excellent new works, and this one definitely delivered.

The third new play I’ve seen recently was Antony and Cleopatra: UNDONE with Skyline Stageworks. This one, again, was completely different from the prior two shows, particularly because it was a new adaptation rather than a totally new work. The play is a “free adaptation” of Shakepeare’s play, which heavily edits the text and reduces the show to four actors. This version of the play puts Antony and Cleo’s relationship front and center, condensing the politics to only the bare essentials for the story. Because I am friends with the playwright (who also played Cleopatra), I know that this show was a true labor of love for her that took many years to bring to fruition. While the other two plays that I saw were conceived and created through development processes within the companies that produced them, this one followed a different path; the script existed first, and then the playwright produced the show herself. As someone who has done a lot of “creating my own work” in my own career, I deeply respect her resolve and dedication to bring her vision to life. The end result was a passionate, clearly told version of the Antony and Cleopatra love story, and I’m interested to see what she’ll do with Skyline Stageworks next.

All in all, this recent binge of new work has given me a lot to think about. What is it about a play that will make it last for the ages? Will any of these three new plays have a life beyond their inaugural productions? And if so, what about them determines their longevity (or lack thereof)? Even when a script has merit, that doesn’t always guarantee its place in the theatre canon. So why do some stories get told and re-told, while others disappear?

Stratford 2014

Life in the Theatre, Plays I've Seen

I’ve gotten a little behind in posting, so I have a bit of catching up to do!

A little over a week ago, my friend Anne and I made our annual trip up to the Stratford Theatre Festival in Canada. This marked our twelfth year making the pilgrimage for great food, shopping, and of course, theatre. We look forward to this trip every year as a wonderful escape from the “real world” and a chance to re-focus our minds on ourselves, our careers, or whatever else in our life needs attention. Fall is the perfect time for it; to me, autumn always feels like a new beginning.

So, we ate amazing meals, shopped more than we should have, talked for hours in the car, and saw some thought-provoking and exciting theatre.

The first night, we saw Antony & Cleopatra, and disappointingly, we saw an understudy for Enobarbus. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem; we’ve seen understudies perform at Stratford before, and usually they turn in wonderful performances. Typically, they know the role and have had put-in rehearsals, and are prepared for the task. Unfortunately, the poor Enobarbus understudy that we saw didn’t seem to know his lines, which was both surprising and disorienting — for us in the audience as well as the other actors. I felt that the whole show missed the mark in its level of urgency and passion, but it’s hard to know whether that was the production itself, or whether it was just an “off” night due poor Enobarbus’ significant line problems. The performance did, however, give me a lot to think about, and made me want to re-visit the Antony & Cleopatra script.

The second night was significantly better. We saw Colm Feore’s King Lear, and it was, in a word, astonishing. Feore’s performance was both strong and frail; infuriating and heartbreaking. While the night definitely belonged to him, the storytelling was clearer in this production than any other I’ve seen largely thanks to the treatment of the two older sisters. Most productions that I’ve seen paint Goneril and Regan as evil from the start, insincere and conniving in their pronouncement of love for their father, and scheming to their last breaths. However, in this production, I believed their words of love in the first scene; if they were over-exaggerated, it was because they were simply humoring their father, but not with insincerity. Later, I believed Goneril’s genuine astonishment at her father’s behavior, and the behavior of his men, in her home. Later still, in that terribly sad scene in which Regan and Goneril go back and forth, reducing the number of Lear’s train they will welcome into their homes, I actually heard their argument: “What need you five and twenty, or ten or five, / to follow in a house where twice so many / Have a command to tend you?” They can’t understand why he needs his men (who are prone to “epicurism and lust”), when their servants can provide everything he could possibly need.

Further, I also understood strongly that Goneril and Regan were not only acting for themselves, but were beholden to their husbands in an age where women did not hold significant power of their own. Their fealty to their husbands echoed Cordelia’s initial argument: “Why have my sisters husbands if they say / they love you all? Haply, when I shall wed / That lord whose hand my plight shall carry / Half my love with him, half my care and duty.”

Now, none of this is to say that Goneril and Regan were blameless — not in the least. Even as I recognized their point of view, I still felt for Lear, and the women were absolutely complicit in the atrocities that transpired. But allowing them a true character arc, instead of treating them as villainesses from the start, made the story a much more powerful family drama, and ultimately a much sadder tragedy. This production changed how I view the play, which is a rare thing to happen to me with Shakespeare plays.

This trip is one of my favorite traditions, and this was another great year. ‘Til next year, Stratford.

Twelve Hours

Plays I've Seen

On Saturday, I saw The Hypocrites’ All Our Tragic, a 12 hour epic marathon of all 32 surviving Greek plays by Aeschylus, Euripides, and Sophocles.

I know, I know. You’re probably thinking, “12 hours of Greek tragedy? Oy vey.”

But truly, it was one of the most astonishing pieces of theatre I’ve ever seen, a once-in-a-lifetime theatregoing experience. It was, frankly, overwhelming, which is why it has taken me a few days to sit down and actually write about it. I sort of don’t know where to begin.

The 12 hours flew by, not only because of the brave and beautiful work onstage, but also thanks to The Hypocrites taking such great care of us, with frequent intermissions, multiple meals and snacks provided, and their new comfortable theatre space at The Den.

I came away with so many dorky behind-the-scenes questions too. What on earth could that rehearsal process have been like? Just how many costumes and wigs are there? Do they actually do a full fight call before each performance? Does it take three hours??

But mostly, I was struck by the incredible work of the artists. The brilliant script, masterful direction, stunning design. And, of course, the actors. These amazing actors who run a marathon at full speed, and then do it all over again day after day, week after week. They each play multiple epic roles, transitioning seamlessly and attacking each successive one with more passion than the last. They have seemingly boundless energy and depth of emotion. The show they create is hysterically funny, never missing an opportunity for a laugh; and also deeply wrenching, never flinching from going to the deepest darkest places that Greek tragedy demands. Life is full of joy and pain in equal measure; they are two sides of the same coin.

I don’t know what I expected to take away from the day, but surely I did not go in expecting to be uplifted. Yet, inexplicably, they manage to conclude these sometimes horrific, often heartbreaking stories with an overwhelming sense of joy. Bad things happen, but we can move on. We have that choice. We are each our own Furies, and we alone have the power to overcome them. The world keeps spinning.

Coda. This was especially poignant in light of the sad news in the Chicago theatre community recently. I didn’t know personally any of the six Chicago theatre artists who passed away last week, but the deaths have taken a prominent place in my news feed as friends and colleagues mourn the losses. Even as I extend my deepest sympathies to those directly affected, it is comforting to see the unity with which our community has faced such tragedy. The show was a powerful reminder, a call to arms even: life goes on for the living.