Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Hairy Ape Gets a Chill

Posted by Robert McLean of The Hypocrites

Robert McLean
I’ve always been a fan of the first read-through, when the cast and director gather together to read through the play for the first time. No one is tired yet. No one is frustrated. Nothing has failed, nothing is behind schedule and every joke is funny.

I was looking forward to the first read-through of The Hairy Ape for all those reasons, and also because it’s a project I’m especially excited to be working on. It’s the kind of production I think you could really only do in Chicago: a classic (but rarely produced) work of a major playwright utilizing a cast of great actors with a director who has an uncanny knack for finding a visually stunning piece of truth in an otherwise familiar script—all as part of a highly visible festival in a downtown theater. And The Hypocrites get to maintain our reputation as a scrappy young (cough) company by rehearsing in a building that is cold enough to cool sides of beef.

It’s always a thrill to hear the words of the play spoken aloud for the first time, and to see the costume sketches and set models, which give us our first glimpse into the visual reality of the world we’ll all be creating together. The first read-through is when you learn little details about the production, like the fact that we’ll be turning the Owen Theatre around 180 degrees, utilizing the three levels of balconies as playing spaces. And you learn the subtleties of the space you’ll be spending your rehearsal weeks in. You know, the little things, like that it’s as cold as a brass monkey.

Ok, I promised myself I wouldn’t dwell on how cold our rehearsal space (known as The Horn) is in this post, the first in a weekly series of blog entries that will take you behind-the-scenes of The Hairy Ape. But I think the temperature of the space plays a significant role in our rehearsal process…

I knew it was coming. I mean, after all, I rehearsed The Three Penny Opera in The Horn just this last summer, and it was just as hot then as it is cold now. We were drenched in sweat, downing water like mad and flocking outside for fresh air during the breaks. It was miserable. Nonetheless, I promise you that I will wax nostalgic over how good all that hot, humid, sweaty misery sounds before The Hairy Ape rehearsal process is over. Our fearless leader Sean Graney has assured us that this will be a very physical show and that we will definitely be moving around a lot, so that should help keep us from freezing to death. But a first read-through isn’t the most physically demanding of activities, so during today’s meeting there were a lot of scarves and gloves and fleece-lined hats with ear flaps.

Ultimately, I don’t really care how cold it was today, and how cold it’s going to be over the next couple weeks. The discomfort will fade eventually. When I think about Three Penny, I remember the people and the performances first, not the hot rehearsal room. I remember the discomfort, but I don’t still feel it. I do, however, still feel the pride that I took in being a part of that show. It was worth it then, and it will be worth it this time. If we do our job right, The Hairy Ape will be visceral and immediate and speak to the need in all of us to belong—and that is what I will remember in August when it’s hot again.

Besides, when we see our friend and fellow actor Greg dressed like a gorilla, we all forget how cold we are.

Stay warm and check back soon for our next post about The Hairy Ape,


  1. I can't wait for this one! It sounds so bizarre... Hey, Robert, why do you call your rehearsal space "The Horn"?

  2. Hi Jenny, thanks for your comment.

    That is a perfectly valid question. Sean Graney, like many of us in the company, is a huge fan of Eugene Ionesco. In fact our company name is derived from Ionesco's book "Notes and Counternotes." If you have ever seen our logo, you will notice that there is an odd looking doo-dad next to our name. The doo-dad is actually a profile of the head of a Rhinoceros, in tribute to Ionesco's play of the same name. We wanted to acknowledge our love of absurdism in general, and Ionesco in particular, in naming our new home. We put several name options up for a vote, and "The Horn" was the clear winner.

    Thanks for reading!


  3. Who's replacing Jen Grace, since she's off to New York and Cromer's "Our Town?"

  4. Jennifer Grace's roles are now being played by Jennifer Coombs, who recently played Polly Peachum in our production of "The Three Penny Opera." So while we're sad to loose one Jennifer, we're happy to not have to learn a new first name.

    In all seriousness, we're thrilled that Jennifer G. is getting the opportunity to do "Our Town" in New York and wish her and the whole production all the success in the world. Jennifer C. is already up to speed in rehearsals, and is a great addition to the cast.