Post-Mortem: Same Time, Next Year by Bernard Slade, MadKap Productions

This winter I was happy to be involved as the Assistant Director for Same Time, Next Year, produced by MadKap Productions. This was my first official Chicago area theatre credit. And therefore, it will always have a special place in my heart.

The production ran for three very successful weeks at the Skokie Theatre. For those not familiar with the play, it is a visceral trip down the memory lanes of the 1940s through 1970s, as told by an adulterous couple meeting every year in the same place. Each scene takes place five years apart. These are the two elements that still work beautifully for this play: nostalgia and the idea that you are not the same person you were five years ago. There are ups and downs during this affair, a predictable pregnancy scene, a timely hippie scene, and some archaic dialogue, yet, the morsel of honesty and humanity at the center shines.

Assisting Directing is a strange job. Until one establishes a working relationship with the director, it is hard to predict how little or how big one’s influence in the rehearsal room will be. Directors often work in indirect ways in order to ultimately influence or coach an actor or production into unfamiliar territory. So as an assistant, I find that I am at my best directly before and after a rehearsal. Those are the periods in which I am discussing with the director the quirks of the rehearsal and the shortcomings being foreseen. Usually this pre and post rehearsal moment is needed to organize thoughts before diving in or going home to the impending barrage of emails. Directing is a lonely profession. We rarely co-direct (it’s great when we do though!) and having an experienced assistant who knows the nuances of the craft is a relief. That’s what I try to be when I assist. A resource both in and out of the rehearsal room 

Same Time, Next Year was a wonderful experience that allowed me to do the aforementioned things. Plus, it was great to be in a rehearsal room with only two actors, witnessing that relationship develop over the short rehearsal time. The four of us in the room could focus on the nuances of the dialogue, 180 degree character shifts, and complexity of telling a story from 40 years ago about 70 years ago. This was a great experience and I hope my next assistant position is just as fulfilling. 

 

Afterthoughts: finding gräfenburg, written & directed by Graham Brown, produced by trip

The theatre company trip seeks to “bridge the gap between artist and audience.” Graham Brown, writer and director of the latest trip experience, finding gräfenburg, creates an entanglement of sexual exploration, innocuous flirtation, and office politics in a beautiful gallery space at Hairpin Arts Center, overlooking the bustling intersection of Milwaukee and Diversey.

There is minimal lighting, no central playing space, no seating, and anyone around you could be an actor. This is part of the joy of witnessing this theatrical experience: it feels both familiar and unexpected. This was the feeling of a veteran theatregoer anticipating the unexpected, but being blindsided while waiting.

That is the surface allure of finding gräfenburg. And it works. Ultimately. I will admit having some issues with the first phase of the piece, in which the jump cuts between scenes suffered from partial realized dramaturgy, akin to a poorly conceived long-form improvisation. Space and time were marginalized by relationship and wit. The wide open ground plan of the gallery did not help. Once the play shifted into longer, more focused scenes, I enjoyed the story being told in addition to the marvelous theatrical event I was witnessing.

Sure it is an old trick to hide actors within the audience, but this production blurred that line. What if that actor in the audience was eyeing you the entire time and then began to speak lines? What if there were actors in the audience that never spoke any lines? finding gräfenburg entices one to think like that. This is what succeeds. It’s not just a play. You can go to any theatre in town and sit in a dark room and watch, or, you can go and take a trip. 

Afterthoughts: Really Really by Paul Downs Colaizzo, produced by Interrobang Theatre Project

Theatre leaves you with images and thoughts to be perused again by way of conversation or private meditation. Great theatre adds in leftover feelings that electrify a connectivity to the work, humanity, and a fierce debate within one’s own head space. These feelings are usually described as cathartic or enjoyable. Really Really by Paul Downs Colaizzo and produced by Interrobang Theatre Project was one of the rare productions that throws those feelings into chaos. By the end of the production, one feels betrayed, used, tormented, and equally amazed by the onstage tightrope act. This is a play that needs to be produced on universities across the country to engage in dialogue about the state of sexual assault, obtuseness, and fragility on American campuses.

That was some aloof thoughts about the feelings evoked from the production, now for how it elicited those feelings. What worked? A stellar cast of beautiful and wonderfully talented actors who perpetuated the Chicago ideal that ensemble trumps all. There is no black and white character in this play, everyone exists in a dirty gray. This gray overshadows the characters so that by the end one is questioning every decision made onstage and therefore concluding over and over again where one personally falls on the issue. This cast was maneuvered by superb directing and a smart script that avoided labeling its characters as anything other complex, contradictory, and human.

The final image of the play is a cacophony of visceral theatre. I sat in a foggy state as the play ended. This fogginess was not from lack of understanding but from being astounded that a production ventured into a darkness. The production climaxed, withdrew, and then tossed the audience aside. This is the theatrical language of this production and it evokes a queasy feeling of self-edit during discussion.  

The set was a box. But it was the kind of boxed set that makes designers and directors want to chase a boxed set. This unit set was shared as two separate, believable college apartments. The design captured the uniformity the made-for-students apartment communities existing on the peripheral of universities. Every aspect of this design meshed together.

This script denies a safe side of the argument to fall into. It forces you to confront issues that are not simply she said/he said. This rewards the audience at the end with a night of theatre to be remembered months and years later.

The one small issue I had was the seemingly superfluous scenes in which Haley is direct addressing the audience as the Future Leaders of America. She does so in a less prepared state each time, as the world of the play beings to break down, and the scenes serve as a segue between the apartment scenes. During the production this stood out; however, this jarring effect was later revisited during the brilliant ending. I wonder if these scenes are a necessary hurdle to achieve the dénouement, or if they could be incorporated more into the private world of the play.

I am beyond excited to see what Interrobang Theatre Project produces next. This is a company that is not fretting from its ambitious tagline: Changing Our World One Play at a Time.

Go see their next production. Really.

The Crownless King: Part II, produced by House Theatre

One of the most fascinating aspects of theatre is that sometimes a lasting impression is made not necessarily by phenomenal acting, an emotional story, or an engaging narrative. Sometimes this impression is made by the monumental will of theatricality, artistic vision, and ingenuity. One of my favorite productions I have ever seen was Mondo Bizzaro's Flight at the New Orleans Fringe Festival. That production seduced me into believing the impossible was happening before my own eyes. The Crownless King, produced by House Theatre and presented at Chopin Theatre, warranted a similar experience. The exception was that I was moved by the theatrical will to produce an original, fantasy trilogy over the course of three years. A daring move that, if it pays off, will successfully ignite the imagination of artists and patrons alike. The reason the production sticks is because it dared to be impractical. I'm guaranteed to remember it because of this boldness, even present within the beautiful program that converted into a large map of the fantasy realm.

Kennedy Center Directing Intensive: Directing the New Play

During late July and early August I was privileged to attend the Kennedy Center's New Play Intensive (also known as the MFA Playwrighting Intensive). I spent a week with some of the best young directors from across the nation, discussing, theorizing and working on new theatre. There were big ideas and there were problem solving sessions. The workshop was led by Michael Rau and Will Davis and involved work that focused on visual storytelling and artistic vision. Michael and Will had an amazing ability to make practical the big ideas of implicit and explicit visions, narrative and non-narrative events, and dramatic criticism. We worked on Crumble (Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake) by Sheila Callaghan and Which Which Hwich by Mac Wellman. Additionally, I served as an Assistant Director to Actor's Theatre of Louisville's workshop of Lucas Hnath's The Christians, directed by Les Waters.

The entire experience was a fulfilling journey of artistic self-examination, review of process, and all-around good time.

I look forward to running into and seeing the work of the artists that I met in the next decades.

 

***

I can now say that The Christians will be produced during the Humana Festival at Actor's Theatre of Louisville this March! I wish I could make it there and see it as it will be an amazing experience.

The Solid Sand Below at Goodman Theatre's New Stages Festival

Before moving from Chicago to Seattle this past December, I was delighted to catch Martín Zimmerman's The Solid Sand Below at Goodman Theatre's New Stages Festival. This was the play I worked on at the O'Neill this past summer.

It was a great jolt of nostalgia for the O'Neill, as well as a moving production. The script is one of my favorite from the past year and the New Stages Festival is free to the public.

Missed | Connected Inspiration: A Writing Project Experimenting in Online Theatricality

Missed connections have always fascinated me. It's the hope, loneliness, and hapless quest for happiness that moves me. The idea that a tiny connection amidst a crowded train or a glance after a cup of coffee can led to a tale of true love and destiny, or, in most cases, a laughable read, is inspiring. I have always thought there was an bit of theatricality within missed connections, a case of seeing and being seen; that is, spectating, attention, and voyeurism. Also,Missed Connections itself has become a hybrid genre of online writing. Many posts are faked and many are more akin to journal entries or public ventings than personal ads. Additionally, I've pondered about the people who respond to these posts, who are they? I believe when we read the posts we subconsciously, or consciously depending on who we are, search for ourselves. We believe that someone had to notice us.  These two concepts blur the lines of writer and audience, especially when the writer is just that, a fiction writer. Now, applying this idea to the theatre and one arrives at Boal's Theatre of the Opressed, specifically the concept of spectator, actor, and spect-actor.

Back in 2008 and 2009 I would periodically write fictional missed connections on the New Orleans Craigslist board for fun, for exercise, and for my own artistic experimentation. I was delighted when people replied. I loved the people who simply said things such as, "I never respond to these things but I just wanted to say I really liked what you wrote. Good luck in your search." Beyond the flattery were the replies in which the authors genuinely thought they were the subject of the missed connection. And so, my experiment came and went periodically, resurfacing briefly in Lubbock in 2010 and 2011 and continuously within the depths of my own mind. Fast-forward to Chicago in 2013 and I was searching for an outlet for both writing and theatre. So Missed | Connected Inspiration was born.

Missed | Connected Inspiration is an online theatrical endeavor that invites the reader to become a participate in creating an event centering around the posting of fictional "missed connections" on both a blog and Craigslist.org. Your experience with Missed | Connected Inspiration will be unique and has the possibility to bloom and shape the characters at the center of the original posting.

This is very much an experiment in form and narrative more than anything else. I do not know where it will lead or if I'll get anyone to respond via the blog. I currently have a stock of about 35 missed connections from Chicago and will be posting them slowly over the next month or so, as well as updating the project to center on Seattle. About 70% of my posts on Craigslist do receive replies and many of them are rather good. This project excites me because it is a writing experiment that I cannot complete on my own, much like theatre.

For more information, including a disclaimer and a guide, please check out the Missed | Connected Inspiration blog.

Assistant Directing at the O'Neill Playwrights Conference

A few days ago I returned from Waterford, Connecticut where I was the Assistant Director on The Solid Sand Below by Martín Zimmerman. I worked with director Kent Thompson and dramaturg Tessa LaNeve on the development of Zimmerman's script.

New play development is central to my path in the theatre and being able to work closely with these three professionals on the O'Neill's proven process was monumental. I've taken so many ideas and workshop methods home with me and I hope to put them to use soon.  

The artistic team together with everyone at the O'Neill was welcoming, friendly, and so much fun. I've never been to any place similar. What a magical and artistically enlightening place.  

I was also able to see three new musicals and five new plays.  

 If you are interested in more information about Martín Zimmerman's The Solid Sand Below please see his website.

Fault/Line Performs Amidst a Flooding Prague

Fault/Line performed earlier this month in Prague and was a rousing success. Each night brought in a new multicultural audience . We had Czechs, Germans, Austrians, Dutch, Italians, Australians, Malaysians and even a few Americans!

We are currently considering bringing the piece to festivals in the States. Stay tuned! 

A Play Created by Improvisation: A Experiment in Process

During a six week process in April and May, I worked with eight wonderful actors on creating a theatrical world through improvisations. The result was a one night performance of The Mileage Out of Misery. We used improvisations to create a world full of rich history and relationships. The result was clunky, but we proved that working this way was beneficial. The process was amazing and I learned much for the next time I attempt to produce this sort of work again. 

Here a blurb I wrote for special invites to our performance:

The Mileage Out of Misery is a play that offers a brief glimpse of eight individuals living in a small town in Misery, Montana. The piece was created solely through improvisation over the past six weeks by a group of actors and a director. The result is a play that examines the toxicity of secrets, lies, and betrayal within a close-knit group of friends. To call it simply a play may not be doing the entire process justice. What has been created is a world in which these characters inhabit, a world in which they continue to live beyond the confines of two acts. The history, events, and relationships that have been birthed are perhaps more akin to a multiple seasoned television show than a two hour play. 

What you will see is only a glimpse of this world through a very rough workshopped performance. We invite you to participate in this culmination of our little experimental process.

The piece will be about 90 minutes long and admission is free.

Sunday, May 12th, 8PM -- Lab Theatre

Featuring and Created by:

Kate Dressler

Amanda Espinoza

Jamy Gillespie

Joel Ison

Charlie Schweiterman

Jared Strange

Liz Stromsness

Randy Woolley

directed by Ryan Bruce

Homeland Security, Waterboarding, and Daytime Television: Fault Line Premieres June 4th in Prague

Over the past six months, I have been working with a fine company of theatre artists on devising a piece about post-9/11 CIA operations. The result is Fault Line, premiering at the Meet Factory in Prague, Czech Republic on June 4th, running until June 7th.

I play the role of the Detainee, as well as several other characters, including myself.

The devising process was a wonderful experience and allowed me to use all of the theatrical skills (even the ones I'm not good at!) I have in my arsenal.

After Prague, I will be joining the team at the O'Neill Playwrights Center in July as part of my SDC/KCACTF fellowship.

National SDC Fellow

Based on my work during the national KCACTF festival I was awarded the National SDC/KCACTF Directing Fellowship along with two of my wonderful peers. Together, the three of us are the 2013 Fellows.

I was also offered a fellowship at the O'Neill Center Playwrights Conference for July in Waterford, CT!

National KCACTF and Washington, D.C

I was in Washington, D.C from April 15th until April 20th attending the national Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. I was participating in the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society's (SDC) Directing Initiative with nine of my amazing peers.

We had master classes, projects with designers, attending many play readings, and saw several productions around the DC area.

We met and had classes with the likes of:

Moises Kaufman, Jimmy Maize, Elenore Holdridge, Blanka Zirka, Daniella Topol, Serge Seiden, Molly Smith, Wendy Goldberg, G.W Mercer, and Laura Penn!

Attended performances of 4000 Miles at Studio Theatre, How to Write a New Book for the Bible at Round House Theatre, and Wallenstein at Shakespeare Theatre Company. 

It was a great experience!

National Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival

On April 15th, 2013 I will be arriving in Washington, D.C. to compete at the national level for the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival/Stage Directors and Choreographers Society's Student Directing Initiative. The five day program will include master classes and prepared work being presented by ten of the finest student directors in the nation. 

My thanks go out to my three actors who got me to the National Festival. Jamy Gillespie, Randall Rapstine, and Joel Ison worked so hard on our scene from Eugene O'Neill's Beyond the Horizon. The scene competed against five other scenes from directors in Region VI (New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Missouri) in February at the Regional Festival at Centenary College in Shreveport, Louisiana. Also, thanks to Maria Albutra for working sound for me!