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.

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!

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!

R&G ARE DEAD included in Windy City Times 2014 Highlights

News & Other Fun Stuff

Hey look! Mary Shen Barnidge at the Windy City Times included my production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead at Promethean Theatre Ensemble in her 2014 Chicago theatre highlights. Check out the article, Smart Moments in Theatre in 2014.

Congrats to the entire cast and crew!

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?


Naps, Glorious Naps

Life in the Theatre

Naps, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

Not my naps, although I love a good afternoon catnap as much as the next girl. No, I’m talking about when my baby naps. It is a truly, TRULY glorious thing to tiptoe out of her room in the middle of the day, with her blissfully sucking her fingers and dreaming about toys or boobs or whatever else she dreams about in the crib behind me.

Little Miss R was born on Halloween, 2013, so she is now nine and a half months old. The focus of this blog is about living and working in the theatre, not about adventures in parenting; but the truth is that those two worlds significantly intersect in my life right now. R has accompanied me to production meetings, technical rehearsals, and Shakespeare in the park performances. She has played patiently with her toys while I typed away on the computer, and sometimes not-so-patiently, too. We make it work.

Since she was born, she has had a tenacious aversion to naps. What can I say, she’s stubborn like her mother. Many days only yielded one twenty minute nap; the days she took even one real, full-length nap were days of celebration, and anomalies at that. Like happening upon a unicorn, or a nap-leaf-clover. So it is with not a little exuberance that I can say we seem to be hitting our stride in the nap department, finally. Two naps per day! On a schedule! Usually 90 minutes apiece!

But what does this have to do with theatre? In my case, a lot.

There will always be too much work and not enough time, and as stubborn as I am, I’ve been pushing through and getting the work done — at least the most critical work. But inserting an additional two or three hours back into my day is going to make a HUGE difference, both to how I approach those most critical items, and to my ability to tackle everything else. I can finally catch up on reading that stack of plays (many of them meaty Shakespeare scripts) awaiting my attention. I can better focus my critical and creative thinking skills on preparing future directing projects. I can more effectively update websites, manage social media campaigns, and do the multitude of other non-creative tasks that support my theatre work.

Of course, R woke up while I was writing this post and has been playing on the floor (pretty patiently, I might add) while I wrap things up. Right now I have to go stop her from eating my shoes.

Until her next nap, my friends.

Director’s Nightmare

Life in the Theatre

Most of us are familiar with the Actor’s Nightmare: that horrible dream in which you are going onstage for a play that you have never rehearsed (and immortalized in a play by Christopher Durang).

Last night I woke up at 2 AM from a goofy variation of that dream that I’m calling the Director’s Nightmare. It was final dress rehearsal for a show (I don’t know what) at some theatre (I don’t know where) with a huge cast (I don’t know who, except for two specific actors). At the beginning of the dream, I had the sinking realization that we had not worked, drilled, or polished any of the physical staging – not the blocking, nor choreography (there were dance numbers), nor stage combat.

I gave a pep talk to the actors. “I know we haven’t drilled everything like we should have. I suppose that’s partly my fault and I’m sorry. But we still have tonight, so let’s do as much as we can. Let’s get to work.” Then, as we broke to get ready to begin, an actress (who is actually in my current production of Much Ado) came up to me and asked if she could go get a sandwich.

Then we drilled the opening number, a huge piece of choreography with actors paired up to dance together. My two leads, playing a bride and a groom, couldn’t get the timing of a lift right, and were conspicuously off beat from the rest of the cast. The groom, by the way, was being played by a fight designer that I’ve worked with a lot, which I noted was odd. We drilled it over and over and they weren’t getting it and we were running out of time to rehearse and it was only the first number out of this whole big show that we had to work on.

Also, in a nice throwback to the early-90s, in order to keep running the dance I had to keep rewinding the music track on a boombox and pressing play, over and over again. Come to think of it, why was I doing that? There was no crew, no stage management, just me and the actors.

Anyway, then I woke up. And thankfully I laughed instead of cried. Ah, life in the theatre!

Currently Running: Much Ado About Nothing

Show Information

My Shakespeare in the park production of Much Ado About Nothing runs through August 24, on Saturdays at 6pm and Sundays at 2pm. You can visit the Midsommer Flight website for details about park locations, pre-show musical guests, and more.

I’m delighted that we have received great critical response to the show.

A rollicking, high-energy Much Ado About Nothing! Ashlee Edgemon [as Beatrice] and Martel Manning [as Benedick] offer us convincingly zesty, bawdy versions of the two lovers….Midsommer Flight gives us the meat of a marvelous play in a form that all can enjoy, for one evening turning a nothing scrap of city park into an imaginative something to behold. -Hugh Iglarsh, Newcity Stage. Read the whole review.

Beth Wolf and Midsommer Flight’s Much Ado About Nothing is highly entertaining… people should flock to it to see the magic that is created by this talented group through poetic language, superb story-telling, and strong direction and acting. -James Murray, Showbiz Chicago. Read the whole review.

hysterical! …a tightly packed comedy… the action clips. The barbs fly. The love grows. It’s time to fall in love with Shakespeare’s unlikely couple. -Katy Walsh of The Fourth Walsh. Read the whole review.

Amazing production….a delightful performance, accessible and involving. -Barbara Keer of Splash Chicago. Read the whole review.

The show is presented free to the public. Come early with a picnic to enjoy free Shakespeare in the park!