Monday, April 20, 2009

Playwright Lynn Nottage awarded the 2009 Pulitzer for Ruined

Just announced on April 20, 2009: Lynn Nottage is the winner of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize in Drama for Ruined!

Goodman Theatre, which commissioned this work, is so proud of Lynn and this extraordinary accomplishment—and we hope that you will share in this honor. Ruined premiered at Goodman Theatre in the Owen this November and then moved to Manhattan Theatre Club in New York. To learn more about this production, and the Pulitzer Prize, click here.

Please share your thoughts and experiences of Ruined, and Lynn's entire body of work, by commenting below.

Let the celebration begin!

My Top Five Concert-Going Experiences

Posted by Mattie Hawkinson (Young Esme/Alice in Rock ’n’ Roll)

Hi, I’m Mattie Hawkinson (playing Young Esme/Alice in Rock ’n’ Roll). The cast of Rock ’n’ Roll agreed to make lists of our top five concert-going experiences for this blog, and I’m the first to post. My list probably pales in comparison to the one my character Esme would write. There was no Syd Barrett in ’68. There were no Beach Boys from behind the Iron Curtain either. I’m lucky to be in a play where all the characters have better musical taste than me. But these are my sentimental faves:

1) Violent Femmes at Bumbershoot (94?). I stole my mom’s car to get there, and the long-term grounding was worth joining thousands of people in a stadium for the whisper chorus of “Blister in the Sun.” It was the first big show I’d ever seen. It was kind of hilarious to be a teenager in Seattle back then—it had to be 85 degrees, but the flannel shirts never came off. We loved Mudhoney, Liz Phair and Built to Spill. Ok, I still love Built to Spill.

2) Mid ’90s. The then-totally-unknown band Modest Mouse was playing in Bellingham, WA, at Arts Alliance, which was just a black box theater that seated about 12 people. The bullhorn Isaac Brock used wasn’t really necessary. All the 16-year-olds in hoodies were listening. And they still are.

3) Gillian Welch with David Rawlings in New York, recently. These two have been touched by the guitar gods. They make me want to speak in a fake Southern accent. David’s solo on “Black Star” is one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard.

4) Kurt Elling, September 14, 2001. I had been stranded at an airport in Newark after September 11th, and it took me days to find a way home to Chicago. As soon as I walked through the door, my roommate said that he had tickets to see Kurt Elling at Park West. I was still pretty shaken up, and I didn’t know if I was ready to be in a huge venue with other people yet. But when Kurt Elling sang “Nothing's Gonna Harm You” from his album Flirting With Twilight, it was like the entire crowd exhaled.

5) The Who. Amazing.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Workshopping Ghostwritten, Part 2: The Sundance Institute Theatre Lab

Posted by Tiffany Villarin (Bea in Ghostwritten)

Working on Ghostwritten at The Sundance Institute Theatre Lab (or “Theater Geek Camp,” as I like to call it) was one of the most satisfying experiences I’ve ever had.

It was July 2007 and I had never been on a mountain, so I stuck pretty close to the recommended packing list: ChapStick, sunscreen, bug spray, flashlight, sweaters for the early mornings and late nights and hiking footwear.

I was part of a company of about 30 actors working on six new plays. Let me tell you, Sundance does not mess around.

Our first night at orientation, Producing Artistic Director Philip Himberg said, “We, the staff, are committed to maintaining an environment where you don’t have to think about living.”

There was maid service once a week, minivan drivers who did runs up and down the mountain three times a day and a big meal tent!

I stayed with my two roommates in the beautifully furnished Hillam House on the dark side of the mountain. (I could see Robert Redford’s property from our porch, and I still say I’d marry that man circa “The Great Gatsby.”) We only had Internet connection and cell phone reception in a few locations at base camp, so we really were isolated from the outside world and able to fully focus on our work as artists. What a tremendous gift!

It was comforting to return to Ghostwritten seven months after the Goodman workshop. But it was odd to come back to the play with the new group of actors and it was challenging to let go of comparisons to the previous workshop. We rehearsed every other day, and each time Naomi had new pages for us to read. There’s nothing better than new pages. It’s so exciting!

And Lisa kept our imaginations humming. Our first homework assignment was to improv the voice and body of the best cook we know. We had a barbeque lesson from Alabama, a “best hangover cure” from the Philippines and a spaghetti with clam sauce lesson from my dad in Indiana.

Our amazing dramaturg Jocelyn Clark coined us the phrase “fabulate,” and in another improv, we paired up to share a personal story—something secretive and dark, along the lines of Rumplestiltskin betrayal. (As actors, we tend to have those kinds of stories readily available.) Then our partner had to “fabulate” the story by retelling it with exaggeration, magic, twists and turns. That exercise tapped me in to the tone of Ghostwritten. For me, Ghostwritten is a fabulation of a fairy tale with the search for home and self discovery.

Naomi had written a solid Act One, and we spent our third week rehearsing it at music stands for the final presentation. We were the last cast to perform, and had prepared a surprise for everyon. After we read Act One, we arranged our chairs in a half-circle on the stage, and Lisa handed us the first three scenes of Act Two. Literally hot off the press, the pages were still warm as we did our cold reading. The raw energy of sharing new pages in front of an audience was the perfect way to end our time on the mountain. The audience was left hanging—and so were we.

Needless to say, I was a wreck when I boarded the plane to return to Chicago. The play still didn’t have an ending. And it would be another three months until I heard anything about Ghostwritten again.

Go Behind the Scenes with the Cast of Rock ’n’ Roll

Go behind the scenes with the cast of Rock ’n’ Roll, an extraordinary theatrical event from four-time Tony Award-winner Tom Stoppard (The Coast of Utopia).

We also want you to feel welcome to respond—either to the thoughts of our artists, or your own feelings on Rock ’n’ Roll. We'll see you at the theater!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Workshopping Ghostwritten

Posted by Tiffany Villarin (Bea in Ghostwritten)

Phone ringing.

“Hi. It’s Goodman Theatre. Lisa Portes gave us your name. Would you be available for a four-day workshop with Naomi Iizuka?”

“Whoa, whoa,” I thought in my head. “Naomi Iizuka? The Naomi Iizuka?! Yes! Of course!”

It was December 2006, and I had only ever walked into the Goodman as an audience member. As an undergrad at the Theatre School at DePaul, I spent many afternoons digging around the library for any and all plays written by Asian American artists. And now here was my opportunity to actually work with one.

On that first day there was no script, for it had not been written.
On that first day we started with a question:

“What is your first memory of tasting something?”

“Oh gosh. No one’s ever asked me that before,” I said nervously. “Ramen noodles. But the good kind. The Asian kind…um, Ichiban. I had them almost every day after kindergarten when I was five. My sister loved the noodles, but I loved the broth. It was salty.”

One by one, we went around the room calling up the memory files. Files that held our first culinary experiences, our best culinary experiences, our most awkward culinary experiences, the things that haunt us, the times we lied and our recollections of Rumpelstiltskin.

Lisa, Naomi and Tanya Palmer (the Goodman’s Literary Manager) listened, prodded and took notes. It was challenging, fun and sometimes therapeutic (okay mostly therapeutic). But we didn’t know what was going on. I mean, sure my stories are kind of interesting, but I’m pretty sure the Goodman didn’t call me in here just to talk about myself. Isn’t there a script for us to work on?

Finally, after two days of personal story telling and many group and individual improvs, Naomi gave us the first 25 pages of the play. It was thrilling! There were six characters—somewhat like the six actors in the room—very distinct, with strong points of view, and already on a journey somewhere. And we had a title: Ghostwritten. It didn’t make really make sense then, but I liked it. We rehearsed for a day and a half, did a reading around the table for the Goodman staff, and then went home.

That first four-day workshop stayed with me for a long time. I remember reading Bea’s first monologue about her earliest memory and how it connected to my own story of what haunts me. It was strange and rewarding. And I didn’t want it to be over. What would happen to Bea?

Phone ringing. Three months later.

“Hi. It’s the Sundance Theatre Lab. Lisa Portes and Naomi Iizuka gave us your name. Would you be available for a three-week workshop for Ghostwritten?”

More to come…

Friday, April 3, 2009

Go Behind the Scenes with the Cast of Ghostwritten

Go behind the scenes of Ghostwritten with Tiffany Villarin, who plays Bea in this powerful, haunting, quirky new play from Naomi Iizuka.

We also want you to feel welcome to respond—either to the thoughts of our artists, or your own feelings on Ghostwritten. We'll see you at the theater!