Friday, December 17, 2010

Scene and Heard

Happy Friday! Live theater is best, but theater-themed links are a moderately close second:

-When sets spread into the seats: The New York Times takes a look at environmental theater design.

-In Moscow, a bitter dispute rages over an opera house. (The Independent)

-What happens when 300 Los Angelenos perform spontaneous street theater? In the Heights creator Lin-Manuel Miranda has a pretty fun lunch, that’s what (YouTube).

-Using theater to cultivate peace in the Congo. (The Common Ground Blog)

The Guardian takes note as Belarus Free Theatre teaches a crowd of eager Londoners the true meaning of the phrase “brave performance.”

“Stephen-squared”—Sondheim and Colbert, together at last (Culture Monster).

Friday, December 10, 2010

Scene and Heard

As our favorite curmudgeon-in-residence continues to Tweet his frozen heart out, check out these links from the world wide web:

Goodman Artistic Associate and playwright of The Trinity River Plays—which opens at the Goodman next month—Regina Taylor, writes about her inspiration on Black America Web.

Jeff Daniels on switch hitting God of Carnage.

Was Scrooge really all that bad a boss?

The mayor of Yerevan, Armenia, reminds us why it’s important to secure your seats early.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Making of Chinglish

By Tanya Palmer, Director of New Play Development

The plays that I respond to the most are plays that ask a lot of us. They challenge designers and directors by creating complex, imaginative worlds that demand brilliant creative solutions to realize them onstage. They demand a lot of actors because the characters who inhabit them are never simple or predictable in their behavior or their psychology. And they demand a lot of audiences because they ask them to listen closely with their heads and hearts.

Chinglish—David Henry Hwang’s latest work, which will make its debut at the Goodman this June—is definitely a demanding play, not just on all those folks I mentioned, but on its producers too. But boy does it give a lot back. Set in a smallish city in contemporary western China, the play tells the story of an American businessman who travels there in hopes of taking advantage of China’s “economic miracle,” but soon discovers that he truly doesn’t understand what’s happening around him. Written in both English and Mandarin, the play addresses the issue of translation and how difficult it is for people from two different cultures to communicate. Chinglish is a demanding play to work on because it asks a bunch of people from different cultural backgrounds to get together in a room. It asks Americans who generally, as the play tells us “don’t speak a single f***ing foreign language,” to wrap their head around Mandarin, and it takes us into a country and a culture that many of us think we know something about, but most of us really don’t. But it does it with such incredible humor, skill, and intelligence that it feels almost effortless.

A few weeks ago, a group of the collaborators working on the play—who ranged from the usual collection of actors, directors, and designers, to a Hong Kong-based playwright and translator who is working closely with David Henry Hwang on the Mandarin translations in the play, to a cultural ambassador who had guided Hwang and a group of New York producers through the ins and outs of Chinese bureaucracies—gathered to workshop the play at the Lark Play Development Center in New York City.

Workshopping a play is something we do all the time. It usually involves casting a group of actors—some of whom may go on to perform in the final production, some of whom may not—gathering them around a table, and reading the play. Then we discuss the script as a group. Perhaps the writer will go away and make some changes—and then ultimately a small audience of interested parties is invited to come and hear the play read out loud. This was what happened this time around as well, but with a lot of added hurdles in the way.

First off, the casting. David has written a play that is essentially half in Mandarin (though don’t worry—there are subtitles, so all of us non-Mandarin speakers can follow along). It can be tricky enough to find Asian actors who speak Mandarin, but one of the characters is an Australian-born English teacher named Peter who speaks fluent Mandarin. Certainly there are westerners out there who can speak fluent Mandarin – maybe even a few Australians. But can they act? Miraculously, the crack casting teams from the Goodman and The Public Theater in New York tracked down a wonderful young actor named Benjamin Thys. Originally from Belgium, Benjamin had worked and studied in China, and happened to be in New York pursuing an MFA in acting at New York’s New School. He was offered an opportunity to take part in the workshop, and the play was cast.

Then, the subtitles. Sean, a videographer and fluent Mandarin speaker, has been part of the creative team from early on, and has been invaluable in putting together the subtitles that serve not only a useful function (we get to understand what the actors are saying when they speak Mandarin) but also a critical thematic and comic function—this is, after all. a play about translation, and how slippery language can be. There’s what people mean to say—and then there’s what the translators translate. Rarely are they the same.

And then, there’s coming up with the best way of translating David’s language from English to Mandarin—that’s where translator Candace Chong and China consultants Joanna and Ken Lee came into the mix. They have helped not only in shaping the language of the piece, but also in bringing an authenticity to the world of the play. Joanna and Ken arranged a trip for the playwright, director and producers to western China, where the play is set, and there they met Chinese bureaucrats and were guided through the world that the play conjures. Because the play is all about miscommunication—cultural, linguistic, and everything in between—a thorough understanding of what we’re misunderstanding about the Chinese language and culture is critical for David to craft his play. Candace, Joanna and Ken’s knowledge and understanding have been an integral part of this play coming to life.

They say it takes a village to raise a child—this is no less true of a play, particularly a play as ambitious as Chinglish. After this, rehearsing and staging the play should seem like a piece of cake.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Friday Link Time

Happy Friday everyone! Enjoy our findings from the wide theater web:

American Theatre magazine’s Richard Schechner explores the history of non-traditional casting, and I wonder: could future Scrooges take on a more feminine appearance? (We already have the gender-neutral nightgown.)

Speaking of Scrooge, the Goodman’s curmudgeon-in-residence falls in love again—with technology (sorry, Belle).

Stephen Sondheim and Frank Rich wear near-matching sweaters and meet in New York to talk Bernstein, new musical development, and Glee.

Gospel music, dance, and Langston Hughes: starting tonight, The Nativity is showing in the Goodman's Owen Theatre.

Around this time of year it’s easy to get jealous of the seasonal slumber of bears, but this video reminds us that it’s not all fun and games for our four-legged friends—professional stage actors in the animal kingdom have it rough, too.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Goings-on at the Goodman

By Lesley Gibson, Publications Coordinator
It’s been a busy and particularly events-filled few weeks here at the Goodman. A Christmas Carol finally opened this past Sunday night, with all the glitz, glamour, and melted cheese typical of opening-night festivities (the post-show party was held at The Melting Pot, a fondue eatery). And last week, Mayor and Maggie Daley appeared on the Goodman stage in a rededication ceremony for the theater, as part of our festivities for our 10th anniversary in the Loop. That event (which was conveniently held on a Monday afternoon) featured a dramatic drop-in performance by an uncharacteristically generous Scrooge, and a reading of August Wilson’s address from the theater’s 2000 inaugural festivities, by six Goodman regulars and/or Collective members—Brian Dennehy, Mary Beth Fisher, Henry Godinez, Ernest Perry Jr., Steve Pickering, and Regina Taylor (above). Fun times!

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Greatest Gift of this Holiday Season

By Mary Delaney

The first 20 minutes after learning my daughter was cast in A Christmas Carol was sheer delight even to goose bump level. Then something else began to seep in after that first layer of joy—worry. This was the first time Megan was in a professional theater production. Thoughts raced through my head. Will she be safe? Will she be happy? What if she gets sick? What if she breaks her arm? I relearned a valuable lesson the very next week when Megan broke her hand: don’t invite trouble. Thankfully, the cast came off a few days after her first rehearsal and the real fun began.

Goodman has been like the most luscious Christmas gift—the one you want to open very slowly to treasure every moment. It has surpassed our expectations in every way. The leadership, cast, crew and staff have been extremely professional, generous with their time and guidance, and kind beyond words. My fears were quashed the very first day when it was obvious that everyone within Goodman really cared about making the experience positive, safe and enriching for all of the kids. There is a young performer supervisor named Meg who is responsible for the six kids. She not only makes sure they are prepared for their parts but also takes them out for lunch and makes the break times fun.

The time investment is significant for our child and family but it is worth every minute. The late nights are tough on the kids unless they can sleep in and be late for school or do home schooling for a few weeks. Our school gave us flexibility to have Megan do some of her work at home and then take tests on Mondays (the cast’s day off) as it would be difficult to do both full time for these next five weeks. Commuting into the city has reintroduced us to what a wonderful city Chicago is especially this time of year. Megan’s siblings have had some major one-on-one time exploring the nooks and crannies of Chicago.

I can’t wait for the moment when Megan comes home every day to hear of the new discoveries learned and friends made. From watching people fly, to standing on house sets as they move on and off stage, the theater has become a place filled with magic and wonder for her. Right before performances began they had a tech week, where they have meticulously covered every production detail necessary to share the story. Hours were spent on each scene making sure the sets, lights, crew and actors’ timing aligned.

Most of all, the people have made this experience into a precious gift. I’ve been so touched at how the talented cast of adults take the time to share helpful hints and include the kids in a well needed laugh or hug after a tiring session. In a few short weeks the cast has gone from strangers in a room to Megan’s second family. Mr. Bill Brown’s general happy outlook on life, love of theater, and gift in direction has also been such a blessing to this show.

I look forward to seeing the play over and over again. I will look on it with new eyes, childlike eyes, ones that see the true meaning in the play, in Christmas and mankind. This is a story of second chances, life choices, love and hope. What a wonderful gift it is, Goodman Theatre is, life is. I hope you come see it!

So here’s to the Christmas season, a whirlwind six weeks, a healed broken hand, and no worries. Thank you Goodman, the people and organization!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Who is Belinda?

By Megan Delaney, Belinda Cratchit and Fan in A Christmas Carol

A few weeks ago, young performer Megan Delaney wrote about her experiences playing Fan, Young Scrooge’s sister in A Christmas Carol. This week she returns to the blog to expand upon her other A Christmas Carol role—Belinda Cratchit.

Belinda is my other role in A Christmas Carol. She is probably my favorite role because I get to be a part of such a great family. Belinda is one of the Cratchits, so in the play I have two brothers, two sisters, and a mom and dad in my family. Three of us kids have red hair just like the actress who plays our mom in the play.

I already love my Cratchit family like I love my own. They are all so kind and funny. Ron [Rains], who plays the dad is probably the funniest because he says so many jokes and makes so many funny sounds. Christine [Sherrill] who plays the mom is such a good actor, because tears come down her eyes when we cry in the scene when Tiny Tim is dead. And then there is Emma [Gordon] who plays Emily Cratchit. We already act like sisters. She and I both have red hair and all the same interests so we have a great time together. We even carpool to practice together. We found out two days before the first rehearsal that her cousin is in my class at school. We met for the first time ever on the first day of rehearsal, and had our first sleepover a few days later. Then there is Peyton [Young] who also plays my sister, but she is older than me. I am her understudy and it is so funny because she is more then a foot taller than me and she is 16 in the play and in real life! Grant [Mitchell] plays my brother in the play. I call him Ginger Ninja because he was a ninja for Halloween. Lastly there is Cameron [Conforti] who plays Tiny Tim. He is so cute and funny. He cheers the whole cast up. This week we had to act out the saddest scene in the play, where Tiny Tim is dead. We all had to cry. It was fun to sit there being sad and to try to figure out how to have real tears come down our cheeks. I thought about it for a few minutes as I sat there fake crying and then all of a sudden real tears ran down my cheeks.

I have a blast and hope to see everyone at the show!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Christmas in Chicago

By Lesley Gibson, Publications Coordinator

Christmas is slowly creeping into downtown Chicago. For weeks now, workers have been busy constructing the Christkindlmarket in Daley Plaza—a block from Goodman Theatre—and since late October the sounds of the season have been wafting through the halls here at the Goodman, courtesy of the rehearsing cast of A Christmas Carol.

Whether or not one celebrates, enjoys, or can barely tolerate the Christmas season, it’s hard not to look forward to A Christmas Carol. It is, after all, based on the work of Charles Dickens, arguably one of the best story tellers in the history of the English language. Plus, there are ghosts! And time-traveling. And actors flying above the stage. And even with all of these fantastical elements, it maintains its integrity as a story of one man’s personal redemption. What’s not to like?

In celebration of tonight’s first performance, please enjoy this photo of a very Scrooge-like pooch, taken last weekend at the Goodman’s annual Pooch on Scrooge event.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

“That was quite a risk you took,”

By Jeffrey Fauver, Publicity Manager

Martha whispered in a hushed tone, responding to a comment about Bob’s rehearsal process for The Seagull. The audience laughed. This was the basic premise of the Artists Talk discussion for The Seagull on November 7—with director Robert Falls and actors Mary Beth Fisher and Francis Guinan, moderated by Steppenwolf’s Artistic Director Martha Lavey—a moment of brilliance or hilarity, followed by a burst of laughter, gasp or other response. My job this unseasonably warm evening in November? Meet the panelists. Take photos. Make sure we start on time. Provide the obligatory support to audience response when necessary. Goodman Casting Director Adam Belcuore and I had worked diligently for several weeks in preparation for the discussion, and being that this was our second Artists Talk we figured it would go pretty smoothly.

It ran so much more than smoothly. This was a master class in acting, directing, the rehearsal process, season selection and artistic administration. When I wasn’t clicking away with the digital camera and listening intently to these giants of Chicago theater, I caught myself scanning the full house wondering: where are the budding actors and directors of the Midwest? They need to be hearing this.

It’s difficult to pick out only a few gems in a bucket full of diamonds, but here goes:

***A major topic of discussion was the length of the rehearsal process: eight weeks (unprecedented in Chicago; normal abroad). Bob was careful to point out at the top that although the eight weeks he had were invaluable, a brilliant show can certainly be produced in three (just as much as a terrible show can be produced in 10). The proof is in the pudding—none of this matters if it doesn’t work on stage.

***Mary Beth described performing The Seagull as a really specific kind of long-form improvisation (Bob added, “theatrical jazz”). If the company of actors can agree—and they did, according to Mary Beth—on the intentions of the characters, the events of the play and the given circumstances, the story will be told. Staging—not necessary.

***A new vocabulary! In another rehearsal process, Bob could have said to an actor “That moment was brilliant!” to acknowledge a particularly, well…beautiful moment. To truly find benefit in this process, however, a comment like that would negate the thousands of other moments that could have arisen in that scene.

*** Much of the word-of-mouth about the production has focused on this being a “departure” for Bob from his previous work. “This is nothing like Desire Under the Elms, Johnstown Flood or King Lear,” patrons might say. “There’s no floating house (where are the elms?).” Or, “Oh my gosh there’s water everywhere!” These are accurate—though cursory—physical descriptions of said productions. But did they not guide him to this place in his career? Just as Long Day’s Journey into Night and Death of a Salesman did before that? As I see it, and as I understood from last Sunday’s discussion, The Seagull is not a departure. It is, like every production for every director, actor and designer, a culmination.

Wanna see The Seagull? You only have until November 21. Get your act together and get your tix!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Revisiting A Christmas Carol

By John Lister, Mr. Fezziwig in A Christmas Carol

I did A Christmas Carol for five years in a row here at the Goodman, but it has been three years since the last production. Coming back this year feels like coming home for the holidays after not being there for a few years. The silverware and table are the same, but there are new faces and stories I have not heard before.

It's weird, because there are many similarities and some of the same people. But, I have never played Mr. Fezziwig before and never worked with many of these folks. This show, unlike any other, has a built-in comfort factor, because of the well-known story and the season. When a show works, it becomes a family, and this is the best time of year to be around family. Also, being downtown with the Christmas market and the lights adds to the feeling.

One thing that always amazes me is how I can hear new things in basically the same script. With different actors saying the same lines year after year you would expect it to get stale, but everyone brings their own stuff to it, and throughout the process I hear words and intentions I did not know were there. The show really is different and not just because there are new ideas, but more because there are new and different people. I am really looking forward to seeing where we all end up on this journey.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Learning the Fezziwig Dance

By Megan Delaney, Belinda Cratchit and Fan in A Christmas Carol

One of my favorite scenes is at Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig's party where we get to dance. We started learning the dance on day two of rehearsal. Ms. Susan and Ms. Robyn are our dance teachers. They are both really great and have tons of experience. The first day we did everything in a line, learning moves like one called “sevens” and two types of jigs. The one called sevens is really fun because it moves really fast with seven steps in one direction or the other. On the second day they gave us partners. One thing that is a bit uncomfortable at first is dancing with boys because in fourth grade, girls and boys don't usually dance together nowadays. Back in 1860 it was more normal. But after the first few times dancing I remembered it is my character dancing and then it becomes fun.

I am a Fezziwig guest so in the show I dance at the party. My partner is Grant who plays Boy Scrooge and Peter Cratchit. By the third rehearsal everything came together and you could really see how it would look on stage. We have rehearsed the dance scene five times and it seems like we are ready now for the show.

One part that is fun is that the character Belle starts doing the sevens dance and we have to pretend that we don’t know how to do sevens even when we are good at them! After I pretend to learn the dance on stage, I then get to act like I am teaching Eric who plays Young Scrooge to do the dance the sevens. When he starts to dance on his own, he does really bad! It is fun to be the kid who teaches an adult how to dance even if it is only pretend.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Becoming Fan

By Megan Delaney, Belinda Cratchit and Fan in A Christmas Carol

It is fun to play someone in a play because you really get to become them. It is interesting to learn more about who they are and what they did back then.

Fan is one of my characters. She is Ebenezer's little sister. Even though she is younger than him, she tries to be really grown up. She loves Ebenezer very much. They grew up in a house with a really crabby dad. Their father seems like he was also very controlling of his money. He wanted to save money so he wasn't even going to have his son come home for Christmas. In the play, Fan is so excited because she got her dad to say "yes" to letting Ebenezer come home. She also felt grown up because she got to take a coach which is a horse and buggy ride to go pick him up.

My parents won't even let me walk three blocks alone and Fan had to travel really far away with a stranger taking her. It is incredible to think how the kids back then had to grow up so fast.

Fan dies when she has a baby at a young age which is one of the reasons Ebenezer becomes mean when he grows older. He forgets how to love and how to be happy.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Digging into Chekhov

By Neena Arndt, Literary Associate and Dramaturg for The Seagull

It’s easy to put on a Chekhov play. Lots of people do it. What’s hard is doing a Chekhov play well.

We who work in the theater know that. We know that Chekhov’s characters can seem out-of-date, that their meandering dialogue and inactivity can have a soporific effect on even the most avid playgoer. We have been put to sleep by Chekhov plays ourselves. We also know that the problem with most Chekhov productions is not Chekhov’s writing. The problem is that his writing is so subtle and nuanced that it is difficult for theater artists—especially those living in a culture and time period wholly different from Chekhov’s—to interpret. Even for those with talent and skill, Chekhov is hard. We who explore Chekhov are like ’49ers. (I mean the gold-seeking ones, not the football team, but feel free to invent your own Chekhov-is-like-football metaphor.) The ’49ers knew there was gold under the ground. They armed themselves with the best tools they could find. They worked hard. Some became dazzlingly rich; most did not. In Chekhov’s text, gold gleams underground. But it takes a skilled digger, and maybe a little luck, to shovel it up.

For those reasons, The Seagull is a brave and daunting choice. With our exceptional cast, led by intrepid director Robert Falls, it seemed from the beginning that we had a fighting chance at putting up a good Seagull. But not without a lot of work.

Over an extended rehearsal process, we dug deep. We explored character, we analyzed text, we used research to understand the society that the characters inhabit. We had a dance consultant, Béa Rashid, teach us Russian folk dances. Seasoned actors explored the play in ways they had never explored any play before. Some days, the exploration seemed to be going nowhere. Other days, we surged ahead, pulling shimmering nuggets from the ground one after another.

On stage, you will see the results of those weeks of hard work. We lay our gold before you.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The First Rehearsal

By Megan Delaney, Fan and Belinda Cratchit in A Christmas Carol

Today was my first day at A Christmas Carol practice. I got to see and meet all the cast members. I was amazed at how all of them were so funny and nice. Three of the Cratchit kids have red hair, just like the actress who plays our mom Mrs. Cratchit.

The first practice is when you read through your lines. Everyone sat around a table and did their part. It was amazing to see how all of the actors could read their lines sitting down but actually sound like they were on stage. They were perfect! Can you believe that the reading of the play only took 31 minutes, but the play is actually two hours long? That means we will use up another 90 minutes with action. The other thing we learned about today was the set. Alden the stage manager walked us through the set design using a miniature mock-up. It is a little dark box that is only 18 inches long and wide but it looks just like the real set. I felt like I was playing with a doll house. The detail was perfect. They had all the back drops and props. It was amazing.

We also heard from the director Mr. Brown about the meaning of A Christmas Carol. He told us the writer, Mr. Dickens, was so brilliant because even though he wrote the story in 1860, it still is true today. Do you know that England was at war with Afghanistan back in 1860? And there were coal miners then, too. I learned A Christmas Carol is about the fact that there is bad in the world but there is also good. There is hope. Bad people can turn good.

Today was my favorite day ever. I can't wait until my next rehearsal because we get to dance!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Year Before I Was Selected

Posted by Megan Delaney, Fan and Belinda Cratchit in A Christmas Carol

It's early November, and rehearsals for the Goodman's annual production of A Christmas Carol are in full swing! Young performer Megan Delaney (left, with young performer supervisor Meg Grgurich) tells us about her journey onto the Albert stage.

Just one year ago I decided to audition for A Christmas Carol. After the audition I wrote a speech for school about my experience. The speech went like this:

“It was my first audition and a big one at that. I have always wanted to be in A Christmas Carol at the Goodman and so I begged and begged for my mom to let me audition. She finally said YES!

I was so excited and prepared very hard for my monologue and solo. I did a monologue from the book Chrysanthemum and sang the Christmas carol “Jolly Old St. Nicholas.” I thought the audition went well because one of the men said “Bravo! Bravo!” I found out later that the man who said this was the big director.

I was excited to hear they called me back for the part of Fan where I had to learn the Queen’s English in two days. It was so fun. There were three people at my callback including the director, assistant director and casting director. I had to act with a boy trying out for Young Ebenezer Scrooge. Afterward, the director asked me to change one part so I did. I felt really good about the audition because the people were all so nice and positive. The assistant director even hugged me before I left and the director told me “good job.”

In the end I didn’t get the part but I still was so excited and loved being a part of the audition. I told myself that next year my goal was to play Fan. Dreams come true with hard work. That is why I am here so I can grow as an actor. Thank you.”

Wow, dreams do come true because this year I did go back to audition again and I got the part! I am so excited to play Fan and Belinda in this year’s A Christmas Carol. I learned from this experience that this business requires a lot of auditions to get your dream part. Don’t give up. Believe and keep trying!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Sherpas, Space and the Social Scene

By Clayton Smith, Audience Development Coordinator

Sherpas, rejoice—3G cell phone coverage is now available on Mt. Everest! That’s right. Next time you scale the world’s tallest peak, make sure to bring your iPhone, because even though the air may be too thin to breathe, you’ll still be able to tweet. Mt. Everest FTW!

Can you believe it? Cell service at the top of Mt. Everest. And even that’s not so impressive when you consider the fact that last month someone checked into Foursquare from outer space. With all this in mind, I think it’s safe to say that social technology is officially everywhere.

Everywhere, that is, except The Melting Pot on Dearborn. Cozily ensconced in a trendy, subterranean setting, not even Sprint’s widely-touted 4G network can penetrate this wonderful fondue hot spot. I learned this the hard way at last week’s Scene subscriber preshow reception, when I tried to check into Foursquare from The Melting Pot’s chocolate fountain.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Goodman’s Scene subscription, it’s a subscription series package designed for young professionals that includes three Owen Theatre performances preceded by three swanky pre-performance receptions at local restaurants. The reception at The Melting Pot was the first of the season, where the cheese flowed like wine and the wine flowed like…well, like even more wine (much to the delight of the theater-loving subscribers).

A few weeks ago, I overheard (and by “overheard” I mean “awkwardly eavesdropped on”) an interesting conversation about the current state of the performing arts. The general gist of the discussion was that unless live theater as a whole comes around to working social technologies into its very fabric, the art form is doomed, destined to a dismal decline on some darkened shelf labeled “passé.” As the new audience development coordinator at the Goodman, one of my responsibilities is to work with our social media outlets to develop a strong social community network around our organization.

If popular studies are to be believed then an amazingly high percentage of our friends at The Melting Pot were in the right age bracket so as to be incredibly tech-savvy individuals. After The Melting Pot dinner and drinks soiree, they continued the evening at our production of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull, a three-hour nineteenth-century Russian classic that—in this production—barely utilizes props, much less any sort of social media technology. The evening began in an underground space and transferred into an intimate 350-seat theater, and over the course of the evening, not a single one of the 100 cell phones, 97 Facebook accounts, 72 Twitter feeds, and 38 Foursquare accounts were accessible. More importantly, not a single person seemed to care.

Social technology is terribly exciting to me (I get downright giddy at the knowledge that I could check in at the North Pole). But even so, last week’s Scene reception was a great reminder that no matter how far we go with social media, nothing will replace the vivacity of socializing in person, making new connections over cheese fondue or experiencing a full-blooded live-action drama up close and personal.

Besides, you can always tweet about it later.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Seagull Takes Flight

After 10 preview performances, The Seagull officially opened last night. So far, audience reaction to Robert Falls’ powerful new production of the artistically-demanding classic has been overwhelmingly positive. How can it not be? Chekhov’s unforgivingly honest characters are brought to life by a stellar cast of some of Chicago’s best actors, whose complete embodiment of the varying shades of humanity pervade the intimate Owen Theatre, in a chaotic and engrossing theatrical experience—one that has already raised eyebrows at the Chicago Sun-Times, Time Out Chicago and the Chicago Tribune.

Have you seen The Seagull? Did you have a favorite scene? Tell us about your experience.

Monday, September 20, 2010

What I bet you didn't know about Mary Zimmerman

Posted by Lauren Molina, Cunegonde in Candide

Mary Zimmerman is amazing for many reasons. She is a certified, lauded genius. Her imagery onstage is creative and breathtaking. She is articulate, and knows more about theatre, history and art than anyone I know. When she speaks, a room goes hush, and all eyes and ears are like laser beams on her every word.

What the world doesn’t know, is that Mary Zimmerman loves to watch “The Jersey Shore”, saying in rehearsal “it’s just so sad, because Sammy really loves him” and referencing the “shirt before the shirt”. When she spoke about genuinely caring about the characters, my mouth was agape. It was both shocking and brilliant.

Mary also loves “Project Runway”. She is an incredible cook, and bakes the most delicious peach and blueberry pies. She giggles in an adorable high pitched tone. She always has her old shepherd mixed dog, Beary, by her side. He even follows her up onstage during tech. She is sweet, generous, goofy and is tickled by cheesiness.

Last day before tech, Geoff Packard and I were working on the final reunion moment with Mary. It is a very tender and sad scene. For the first time, Candide is expressing to her and to himself that his consistent optimistic philosophy is not realistic, and his ideal of Cunegonde and the world is basically shattered.

This led to an intense discussion of the delivery of the lines and the moral/message of the entire play. I mentioned to Mary that I missed a big speech of Candide’s about optimism that had been cut a few days before.

She replied modestly, saying something to the effect of “I won’t deny that it was well written, but at this stage you have to keep cutting with a vengeance. You need to trim the bush until it's almost dead, before it can bloom.” This was quickly one of my favorite Mary Zimmerman quotes.

Another favorite quote of mine was from the first day of rehearsal when discussing the period of the play. She said she didn’t want to restrict it to one period exactly, but it’s “period-lite or period flavored.” Hilarious.

In a nutshell, I love Mary Zimmerman and I will travel anywhere to work under her direction again.

See my pictures from rehearsals!

Friday, September 10, 2010

From “We’re Not Gonna Take It” to “Glitter and Be Gay”

Posted by Lauren Molina, Cunegonde in Candide

For the last 2 years, I have been performing in the hilarious 80s rock musical ROCK OF AGES on Broadway and Off-Broadway playing a hippie activist named Regina.

It was a highly comedic role, and my big solo moments were belting out such tunes as “We’re Not Gonna Take It” by Twisted Sister, “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” by Pat Benetar, “We Built This City” by Jefferson Starship, and “The Final Countdown” by Europe. It was so much fun, and the rambunctious enthusiastic audiences would sing along and often get drunk during the show.

It was an amazing turn when I found out I booked CANDIDE, and to play opposite Geoff Packard, a castmate from ROCK OF AGES! At my last performance, before leaving for Chicago, Geoff went on for the lead role of Drew. It was a great way to share our last experience of ROCK together.

As one might imagine, it was a huge vocal gearshift from 80s rock belting to legit lyrical soprano singing. I knew I must take time to warm-up thoroughly before each rehearsal, steam my vocal chords, drink throat coat tea, and take caution when talking late night.

Cunegunde’s big number, “Glitter and Be Gay” is a beast of an aria for a coloratura soprano. It is tremendously challenging. The song sits in a very high tessitura, gsoaring to a high Eb, with fast articulations in each “Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha”, and utilizes tricky counterpoint between vocal line and the musical accompaniment. It is not a song that one can roll out of bed and sing, even for opera singers.

Mary Zimmerman’s staging of “Glitter and Be Gay” is brilliant, in that it is not just a ‘stand and sing’ number. I don’t want to give too much away, but I enter on a lift, in a very unexpected way! I begin the song, and proceed to get dressed in period costumes; corset, bloomers, petticoat, dress, jewels. The activity actually helps sing each phrase, and relaxes me somehow, distracting me from the difficulty of the song. I’m not just thinking about my singing because I have tasks to complete.

Doug Peck has been very supportive in making this song my own. He even encouraged me to sing a high F, instead of one of the high runs that only pops up to a high Eb. 

During the rehearsal process in general, Mary has given me various notes in getting rid of my habits that I’ve formed from ROCK OF AGES such as “don’t always play the for the joke” or “not every line has to be funny”. When you play the truth, the comedy will come naturally without forcing it or planning it. The comedy in “Glitter and Be Gay” is found in the fact that Cunegunde is finding the silver lining, the optimism in the sad life she’s being forced to live as a mistress in a “gilded cage”.

Cunegunde is not mere ingénue. She is a more complex character than one might expect. She is one of the few characters in the show that changes from start of the play to middle and then again at the end of the play. She begins as an pretty, optimistic, young, naïve, girl, then suffers the brutality of rape, abuse, and violence by Bulgar soldiers, then she is forced into being a mistress to a Banker, Inquisitor, Lord Governor, thus losing her optimism. Finally, she is sold into slavery, where she does laundry and has lost all her beauty and hope. When she is reunited with Candide in the end, she knows she is not what he imagined she would be, but clings to him as her savior. It is tragic and sad, but at least they have found each other.

Mary reminded me that in discovering the character, “when you feel lost, always ground one foot in truth”.

Check out me and the cast singing the National Anthem at the Cubs game.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Why Candide?

Posted by Artistic Director Robert Falls

A number of years ago, Mary Zimmerman came to me with an idea just beginning to take shape in her mind: a new production of the classic Leonard Bernstein musical Candide. She had been introduced to the piece by several of her friends and had already spent some time studying the various versions of the show that had been produced since its Broadway premiere in 1956. She responded immediately to Bernstein’s score, widely considered to be his best creation for the musical stage; but she felt that the adaptations of Voltaire’s novel, each admirable in its way, somehow missed the singularly pointed satiric humor of the original. She proposed the creation of a new book for the piece, one which included many of the strengths of the previous adaptations while remaining truer to the unique spirit of Voltaire’s text. After a series of meetings with the various representatives of these artists, Mary received permission to create her own version of Candide.

By that time, Mary was hard at work on other projects, chief among them a series of three highly successful productions for the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Her work in this sphere only added to her enthusiasm for a reworked Candide and last fall, prior to her rehearsals for the third of her Met commitments, she began actively working with musical director Doug Peck (a longtime aficionado of the show) on this long-awaited project. As I write this, Mary is downstairs in the rehearsal room fashioning this new production with the singular insight and imagination that has infused such disparate pieces as The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, The Odyssey and Pericles. Like those works, Candide is essentially the story of a journey: a young man, cast out by the family who adopted him as a child, travels the world to experience a variety of calamities, each of which tests the contention of his mentor, the venerable Dr. Pangloss, that all things happen for the best in this “best of all possible worlds.” Although the wanderings of Candide, Cunegonde and the others that populate Voltaire’s story are described with sly humor, the basic questions that lie beneath these absurdly comic sequences are very serious ones indeed: How can we deal with the disasters that befall us without surrendering to crippling despair, or worse, complete paralysis? Can we maintain a sense of optimism in a world that often seems randomly cruel? How is survival itself possible in an environment that often gleefully refutes Pangloss’s hopeful axiom?

Such heady themes are rarely explored in Broadway musicals—but the deft humor of Voltaire’s original, the enduring relevance of his themes, and Bernstein’s brilliantly multifaceted score have made Candide a phenomenon of the American theater, with such diverse writers as Lillian Hellman and Stephen Sondheim lending their distinctive visions to half a dozen versions of the show. I am thrilled that Mary is now bringing her unique artistry to this funny, insightful, and richly theatrical work, and I’m happier still that Candide will launch a season during which we celebrate a decade of work in our Dearborn Street home. Throughout this season, our Onstage magazine will feature a series of articles allowing you to reflect with us on some of the glories of the past ten years here, successes made possible in large part by our state-of-the art facility.

Here’s to a remarkable past decade at the Goodman Theatre—and to the many, many achievements to come.

Robert Falls
Artistic Director, Goodman Theatre

We hope you are as excited as we are about Candide! Please share your questions and comments with us below.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

First Day of Rehearsal

Posted by Lauren Molina, Cunegonde in Candide

My first day at Goodman Theatre.
I couldn’t be more excited to step into the rehearsal space of the Goodman Theatre and begin my journey as Cunegonde. From the first time I heard Bernstein’s luscious score to CANDIDE as a child, I wanted to be a part of the show. Cunegonde is a dream role in and of itself, singing the most glorious music ever written. But to add the fact that Mary Zimmerman is directing and rewriting the book, Doug Peck is musical directing, and that we are in one of the most creatively conducive environments for smart, edgy theatre, here at the Goodman, I am truly feeling spoiled as an actor.

The first day we had a meet and greet with the incredibly talented cast, creatives, and many of the staff who work at the Goodman, from marketing to box office to education. I immediately felt a sense of strong community within this world.

Mary Zimmerman gave me a big hug upon arrival. Her warmth and quirky laugh is infectious. She always works with her old dog, Beary, by her side. I was pleased to see an animal in the rehearsal space. It provides a sense of calm and grounded-ness somehow. She said that when she worked at the MET the opera singers didn’t mind the dog around.

Mary gave a speech about her rehearsal process, in that she writes pages of the script as she goes, handing new pages to the actors each day. This makes each day exciting, but also can be overwhelming and stressful. After you read your scene through once or twice, Mary stages it. So, with script in hand you are forced to make strong and immediate character choices, sometimes falling on your face.

Mary recollected Racine’s quote, “I’ve just finished a new play, and all I have left to do is write the dialogue.” She feels this way about her process.

We were told to read the Voltaire novel CANDIDE as our only preparation. I also worked on the songs with my voice teacher, Candace Goetz, and two coaching sessions with Doug Peck, prior to our first rehearsal in Chicago.

I have seen and heard so many different versions of Cunegonde, from very operatic sounding, where even though they’re singing in English, you can’t understand the words, to the Lincoln Center Lonny Price production with the perky, pinging Kristin Chenoweth being…well, Kristin Chenoweth.

Because of the inconsistencies in character from varying previous productions, I didn’t have a strong identity or perception of who Cunegonde was as a person. I knew I had to use this rehearsal process to make some real, honest discoveries. This is difficult because my impulse is to always go for a joke, when I know that playing the truth is a better choice.

Mary continued her speech to make the following points:
  • CANDIDE has not typically been a critical success, yet it is a machine of delight.
  • The Voltaire novel is a difficult, episodic original text. Mary feels that CANDIDE has been done in ways that are too cartoonish/broad in a way, given the sophistication of the music and lyrics.
  • This inconsistency therefore propagates that we shouldn’t take the novel seriously, because of certain tonal things about the novel.
  • It is a hypocrisy in CANDIDE, in the end, when Candide finally says “life sucks,” “man cannot exist in harmony” then breaking into the most beautiful harmony of “Make Our Garden Grow.”
  • It is important to recognize that this novel, though written in the 1700s is strikingly contemporary. The American optimism gives an excuse for nothing to change. It is always contemporary to satirize power and corruption in politics and the clergy.
  • The text at its core is difficult. It is not joking about rape, but joking about people who in the face of anything insist on keeping their same point of view. What’s funny is not the tragedy, but the held optimism while tragedy constantly falls on these people.

We learned a dance to “Easily Assimilated” and then sang. I love how every voice in this production is unique and when we sing as an ensemble everyone’s voice is distinguishable.

I’m feeling like this show is going to be really awesome.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

When the Magic Happens

Posted by Christina Nieves (Novice in The Sins of Sor Juana)
I am playing the Novice in The Sins of Sor Juana. I love this play because Juana's journey reminds me that the road of an artist is sometimes tedious and lonely, but it is also joyful and necessary.

We have spent the last three weeks exploring this beautiful play, and tech is almost here. Tech is the most exciting time of the process for me because it’s when the magic happens.

My favorite moments are sitting in the dark theater watching the actors discover the space, watching the set come together and the lights focus, watching the paint dry—watching it all come together. I am always humbled by this collaboration.

Tech is especially exciting this time because I can’t wait to put on my nun costume. Sister Act is one of my favorite movies of all time, and I won't be able to resist the urge to break out in song: Ain’t no mountain high enough, ain’t no river wide enough...

Whoopi Goldberg, I'm comin for ya!

See you in the theater,

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Why The Sins of Sor Juana?

Posted by Artistic Director Robert Falls

Although she is relatively unknown to non-Spanish-speaking readers, Juana Inés de la Cruz is one of the most compelling figures in all of Spanish literature, and one of the most revered authors in the development of Mexican culture. A self-taught Latin scholar, and a talented writer and musician, Juana was sent at a young age from the small village of San Miguel Nepantla to Mexico City, where her intellectual prowess (and her reputed beauty) attracted the patronage of the wife of the viceroy Antonio Sebastián de Toledo.

Although Juana thrived at the palace, the conventions of her time forced her to enter a religious order to further pursue her intellectual interests. She took the name Sor Juana and spent an uncomfortable time with the ascetic Carmelites, then joined the more welcoming Hieronymites, with whom she flourished. Sor Juana wrote poetry and treatises which eloquently defended the study of science and the education of women. Though these compositions are now considered to be among the most important in the Golden Age of Spanish literature, her work offended the church hierarchy. Abandoned by her powerful mentors, she ultimately withdrew from her literary pursuits, sequestered herself in an isolated room in the convent and took to writing religious vows in her own blood, signing them “Juana, the worst of all.” At the age of 46, she perished in a cholera epidemic, her work largely ignored by her contemporaries.

The story of this remarkable woman has spawned an equally remarkable play, Karen Zacarías’ The Sins of Sor Juana. Far from a standard docudrama, Zacarías has reimagined the life and work of Sor Juana in a soaring dramatic celebration, filled with the passion, wit, romance and rigorous intellect that has made Sor Juana a true legend. Guiding this production will be Resident Artistic Associate Henry Godinez, a longtime champion of this play, who memorably directed the Goodman world premiere of Zacarías’ Mariela in the Desert. Henry has chosen The Sins of Sor Juana to be the centerpiece of our 5th Latino Theatre Festival, which commemorates the bicentennial of Mexican Independence and the centennial of the Mexican Revolution with a series of readings, presentations by local Latino theater companies and special events at Millennium Park as well as at the Goodman. This festival will feature another landmark event: the U.S. premiere of Cuba’s celebrated Teatro Buendía, which has received praise around the world for its disciplined, highly physical theatrical style.

The Sins of Sor Juana and the Latino Theatre Festival provide a multifaceted ending to a Goodman season that is notable, I think, for its range and variety—from the delights of Animal Crackers to the searing insights of Eugene O’Neill and Samuel Beckett, and featuring distinguished new plays by Dael Orlandersmith, Brett C. Leonard and Rebecca Gilman. As with all of our work at Goodman Theatre, I hope that you have found productions that have challenged you, provoked you and entertained you. As always, we thank you for your support and patronage—and we look forward to seeing you next season.

Robert Falls
Artistic Director

We hope you are as excited as we are about The Sins of Sor Juana! Please share your questions and comments with us, below.

Friday, April 30, 2010

An Equation for a Great Show

Posted by Austin Savage, Observer for the Society of Directors & Choreographers for The Good Negro

Hello Goodman blog followers! The Good Negro has just completed its tech week and we are ready to start fine-tuning the show for our May 10th opening. Since the beginning of my participation in the show, I have observed a few interesting things that feel compelled to share with you:

1. Ever since the first day of rehearsal, director Chuck Smith has yet to remove what he calls his “working cap.” This ever-present cap has become integral to my image of Chuck. The equation is essentially: Thoughtful Director + Hat = Chuck Smith.

2. Tracey Scott Wilson is SUPER-photogenic. Her headshot on page 8 of the Goodman’s OnStage magazine is pretty cool. She writes even better than she photographs.

3. I find that I am able to identify with the vices of my heroes much more easily than I identify with their virtues. Their vices give me confidence that my virtues are as attainable to me as their virtues were to them. That gives me hope for not only for myself, but for humanity on a larger scale.

4. This cast can act. As my friend Russo would say, “They got some chops.”

5. The biggest difference between my previous theatrical experiences and this one is the amount of care that has been involved in this production. Every person I have encountered in this production cares. This is the first project in my burgeoning career in which the amount of sincerity and genuine passion for the piece is apparent in every aspect of the show, from the soles of the shoes to the powerful performances on stage. I hope you can all make it out to the show.

Hoping to one day see the top of Chuck’s head in person,
Austin Savage

Monday, April 26, 2010

“Partna” or “Partner”

Posted by Terrence Mosley (Assistant Director of The Good Negro)

Intimacy among men has always been a hot-button issue. Most don’t usually want to admit that we need each other. Most of us don’t want to admit that we need help—period.

“I don’t need directions…I know exactly where I’m going”…Right.

I’ve been thinking about this issue during The Good Negro rehearsal process. We were sitting around the table working on a scene that dealt with the deep relationship between two male characters, when our director Chuck Smith stopped the actors and proclaimed, “When I was growing up, I had Partna! He was the guy that had my back no matter what.”

I retorted, “Nowadays, people have partners.” The table laughed at my wit (at least that’s how I remember it), but Chuck’s comment got me thinking.

It seems that that the bond between men was more evident—and maybe even stronger—50 years ago. What has changed in the span of 50 years to make intimacy between men considered negative? I'm not saying that men ran around hugging each other. Maybe men did not put their feelings on display or express them publicly all the time, but when you look at the photographs of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ralph Abernathy, you could see true intimacy and trust between them. These men had a deep rapport…they were “partnas,” as Chuck Smith would say. They held each other up. They weren’t afraid to touch, to pray, to celebrate, to cry, to be with each other and to show the full extent of their friendship in public.

Now, men are forced to hide their intimacy in order to keep social order, sometimes even in their own lives. As more GBLT Americans come to the forefront and become part of the fabric of our everyday lives, straight men seem to be becoming more fearful of expressing intimacy—physical or otherwise.

I ask: “So what if two male friends hug? Does their hug mean anything other than that these two men have a strong bond? Does it mean that they are more than friends? And if they are more than friends, why does it matter if they’re partnas or partners?

I think The Good Negro does an excellent job of showing intimate moments between men…something we all need to become more comfortable with.