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.