Friday, December 9, 2011
I was born and raised in Norway. This August, I moved to Chicago to be an artistic intern at Goodman Theatre for the fall season. I was informed beforehand that I would be working on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I had an idea of the story—its plot, characters and message. What I did not know was the production’s deeply rooted tradition in American theater. It didn’t take me long to realize just how much this Christmas tale means to the Goodman’s audiences.
The holidays are a time of traditions. Year after year, we hang up the same Christmas decorations, eat the same food and listen to the same Christmas music. These actions are more than a routine or a habit. We do them because they are necessary steps towards finding our Christmas spirit. These steps worked last year, and the year before last year—why fix something if it isn’t broken?
Photo: Larry Yando (Ebenezer Scrooge) in A Christmas Carol. Photo by Eric Y. Exit.
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
With Christmas just a few weeks away, the sights, sounds, and spirits (both literal and theoretical) of the holiday have taken over the Goodman. A Christmas Carol is in full swing in the Albert Theatre, but the Dickensian classic isn’t the only holiday show up and running—on December 5, Congo Square Theatre Company opened their holiday show, an interpretation of the birth of Jesus, The Nativity, in the Owen. Adapted from Langston Hughes’ gospel musical, Black Nativity, The Nativity features not only gospel, but soul, blues and R & B music with extraordinary dance numbers by the cast and soloists Kathleen Purcell Turner (Mary) and Kevin Dirckson (Joseph), who execute the passion and emotion of Mary and Joseph through choreographed modern dance routines.
In the swift two-hour show, the angel Gabriel narrates the birth of Jesus Christ through the gospels of Luke and Matthew. The story begins as Mary is called on by the angel and told that she is the mother of the son of God, and follows her and her betrothed, Joseph, as they travel to Bethlehem and later Egypt. The set calls to mind the arid desert of Israel under Roman rule, and Congo Square mixes in aspects of traditional African culture into the story through tribal dance, costumes, and the use of a stool, a symbol of royalty power for the Ashanti people and other African cultures. Musical numbers like “God is Good” gracefully demonstrate these multicultural mixtures in the pretext of modern music.
The Nativity’s story may be over 2000 years old, but the production is young and fresh, enlivened with pop culture references and memorable and “soul”-ful performances. The Nativity runs through December 31; don’t miss it while it’s here!
Monday, December 5, 2011
Today we get a look inside the process of creating A Christmas Carol from one of its youngest cast members, Shanequa Beal.
This is my first time in A Christmas Carol and I love it! Actually, I just love the Goodman Theater! I was kind of nervous when I first walked in because I didn't know if I was going to get along with the adults and the rest of the young performers but they are all really nice. The adults help and comfort us when we really need it. I also really love working with the other young performers, surprisingly we all get along pretty well! I share a dressing room with Emma Gordon. In A Christmas Carol she plays Emily Cratchit and Want. Emma is an absolute sweetheart. We always have fun with each other. Emma is like a little sister that I always wanted.
A Christmas Carol was not a piece of cake. It required a lot of hours of work, memorizing and tons energy! At one point we worked a 50 hour week. Yes, I was really tired and missed school often but it was totally worth it. Honestly, my two favorite scenes are the Fezziwig scene and the last counting house scene. I feel the Fezziwig scene is when we let loose and enjoy ourselves the most. The last counting scene is so funny! Larry Yando is just awesome in general! I actually leave the dressing room early just so I can watch it!
It is an amazing experience to be in the show and I thank everyone, Steve Scott and the rest of the cast, for making me feel as comfortable as possible. If you haven't seen A Christmas Carol, I recommend you to come and see it. Just watch out for Jacob Marley :)
Shanequa Beal <3 :)
Photo: Emily Gordon (left) and Shanequa Beal (right) in rehearsal for A Christmas Carol. Photo by Eric Y. Exit.
Friday, December 2, 2011
We spent several weeks in the rehearsal hall with the cast of A Christmas Carol as they worked hard to put together this extravagant production—which features ghosts, flying, choreographed dancing, and many actors slipping in and out of multiple roles—documenting their process. Check out our video, plus additional A Christmas Carol–related goodies, on the Goodman’s YouTube page.
Photo: Ebenezer Scrooge (Larry Yando) and the Ghost of Christmas Present (Penelope Walker) in A Christmas Carol. Photo by Eric Y. Exit.
Friday, November 18, 2011
Meanwhile, as one show closes another one opens, and tonight marks the first preview performance of A Christmas Carol. We’ll have much more Carol coverage through the end of the year. For now, check out our interview with its director, Steve Scott, or experience behind-the-scenes videos of A Christmas Carols past on our website.
Go here for tickets to either show.
Photo: Andy Carey (Aunt Susan) in Ask Aunt Susan. Photo by Michael Brosilow.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
The Goodman’s 34th annual production of A Christmas Carol opens this Friday, November 18. This year marks the return of director Steve Scott to the holiday classic after an almost 20-year hiatus at the helm—he last directed the 1989 – 1992 productions. Shortly before rehearsals began, he talked to us about his plans for the production, the ghosts, and the process of tucking surprises into a holiday tradition.
Tickets to A Christmas Carol always sell out quickly—don't miss out!
Photo: Steve Scott in rehearsal for A Christmas Carol. Photo by Eric Y. Exit.
Friday, November 11, 2011
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?
A Christmas Carol starts performances next Friday, November 18.
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Each year, the Goodman’s literary department commissions four Chicago-based playwrights to create new works under the auspices of the Goodman Playwrights Unit. This year we are blessed to be working with Nambi E. Kelly, Elaine Romero, Philip Dawkins and Martín Zimmerman. Each month, the playwrights, Tanya Palmer, our director of new play development, and Neena Arndt, associate dramaturg, all meet to read, discuss and improve upon their projects. Ask Aunt Susan, our final partially produced play of New Stages Amplified, was written by Seth Bockley as part of last year’s Playwrights Unit and begins performances this Thursday in the Owen Theatre. Ask Aunt Susan pointedly looks at identity, anonymity and the nature of honesty in the internet age. The Goodman is thrilled to close the series with this sharp, witty new comedy.
Photo: Andy Carey (Aunt Susan) in rehearsal for Ask Aunt Susan. Photo by Michael Brosilow.
Friday, November 4, 2011
Meanwhile, downstairs in the Healy rehearsal room A Christmas Carol rehearsals are in full swing. The big loading in of the set into the Albert Theatre began today, and boxed set pieces and shrink-wrapped holiday adornments have been turning up backstage all week. Stay tuned…
Photo: Derek Gaspar and Sandra Delgado in Chicago Boys. Photo by Michael Brosilow.
Thursday, November 3, 2011
Regular blog readers may recall that after our summer show Chinglish closed, most of the cast headed to New York to take on Broadway. If you’ve been keeping up with the Chicago Tribune, The Economist, or The New York Times, you may have noticed last week our favorite comedy of miscommunication as finally opened on the Great White Way! If you’re in New York, check it out.
Of course, this isn’t the first time a Goodman show has made it to Broadway. The Internet Broadway Database lists more than 20 productions in Broadway history that started at the Goodman. Highlights include:
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
Chicago Boys, the second play in our New Stages Amplified series, explores the economic policies that shaped the 1973 Chilean coup d’état. Named after a group of young Chilean economists who trained largely under the renowned economist Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago or the affiliate Catholic University of Chile, Chicago Boys offers a glimpse into the revolutionary ideas that went on to form the foundations of Chilean economic policy under the regime of Augusto Pinochet.
Photo of Derek Gaspar and Brad Armacost by Michael Brosilow
Thursday, October 27, 2011
Meanwhile, tonight in New York our summer hit Chinglish officially opens on Broadway. Since the show transferred to New York, playwright David Henry Hwang has been keeping up with his blog—check it out for an update on our favorite bilingual comedy.
Photo: Alfredo Huereca and Derek Gaspar in rehearsal for Chicago Boys. Photo by Michael Brosilow.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
In Red, playwright John Logan paints Mark Rothko as the anti-cool, anti-pop, anti-name-brand-recognition man. As I watched the play and heard Rothko furiously exclaim the likes of Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol were “…trying to kill [him]!” I couldn’t help but wonder what he’d think of his own place in pop culture today. Not only did the thought of a soup can as art infuriate Logan’s Rothko, but he also believed that artists like Jackson Pollock suffered early deaths and artistic stagnation because of their popular success.
In Red, Rothko himself steps back from this direction by recanting his big commercial commission and keeping his work. While he saved the murals the dubious distinction of “over mantels” by pulling them from the Four Seasons before they arrived, he did not save himself from the eye of pop culture. Some might argue that his change of heart made him an even more iconic figure than if he had simply handed the paintings over.
Photo of Edward Gero by Liz Lauren.
Friday, October 21, 2011
Artist Encounters are one of our more under-the-radar audience engagement events, and they can be especially informative because their intimate nature—they typically include 50 – 100 audience members—allows attendees to talk directly to the artists, shaping the conversation as it moves along. Plus, they’re free to subscribers, students, and Goodman donors, and only $5 for everyone else. Be there.
Photo: (left to right) Steve Pickering, Charles Stransky, Dexter Zollicoffer, and Will Allan in Dartmoor Prison. Photo by Michael Brosilow.
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
With News Stages Amplified officially up and running—Dartmoor Prison had its first performance last Thursday and both Chicago Boys and Ask Aunt Susan are now in rehearsals—there’s a lot of talk about new work at the Goodman and, specifically, the theater’s role in developing it.
This word—developing—is bandied about quite a bit in reference to new plays, perhaps because it’s so inclusive. After all, the Goodman’s role as an institution in premiering new work is vast and varied. The ultimate goal, of course, is to produce the play by assembling actors, a director, designers, and other artists to present the piece to an audience. It’s a simple process in theory, but it takes a lot of time and effort; it requires adequate financing and material resources, an audience, and a level of trust between the artists and the institution to ensure the play can evolve and grow.
Photo: Cedric Young in Dartmoor Prison. Photo by Michael Brosilow.
Monday, October 17, 2011
If you’ve ever come to the Goodman's North Dearborn Street home, you may have noticed a group of glittering stars that line the sidewalk directly under the marquee. On Thursday, October 13, we added to that group when Goodman Theatre Women's Board received their very own star on the Walkway of Stars in recognition of the collective $2.5 million they raised for the Endowing Excellence Campaign.
The Walkway of Stars features an eclectic group of names—individuals and organizations without whom we wouldn’t be the theater we are today. Check out who else is featured on the walkway:
Thursday, October 13, 2011
“Freedom? We’re in prison, man. There isn’t any damn freedom for us. We are just the mules that pulls freedom’s plow.”
-Governor, Dartmoor Prison
As any presidential election approaches, the concept of “freedom” is bandied about between candidates, journalists, pundits and voters. Indeed, America has always prided itself on its own brand of liberty, however complicated and challenging that idea may be. Carlyle Brown’s new play, Dartmoor Prison, which kicks off the Goodman’s New Stages Amplified tonight, takes pause to question notions of freedom in America’s history. The play explores American identity and patriotism, as history has defined the two notions, and questions how democracy operates today.
(Photo: Playwright Carlyle Brown. Photo by Michael Brosilow.)
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
The Goodman and season opener Red met by way of Hollywood Monday night, as the theater was swarmed by Collaboraction paparazzi (left) for the first 2011/2012 CONTEXT event, The Price of Fame. Attendees were greeted by flashing bulbs and jarring questions that delved into their personal lives—upcoming projects, and of course, who they were wearing. Rumors abounded as whispers that Brad Pitt’s mistress was attending, though nobody seemed to sight her, and that Steven Spielberg was picking up everybody’s next script.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
This Thursday our much-anticipated New Stages Amplified series begins with Carlyle Brown’s Dartmoor Prison. For more information on the series check out this post from back in July. Dartmoor Prison will only be staged for 12 performances, and tickets are all only $10 or $20 each, so don’t miss your chance to see this riveting new work while it’s here!
In Dartmoor Prison, playwright Carlyle Brown explores two concrete ideas: the will of man and the ultimate goal of survival. The play is very much a tale of war—it's set in Devon, England, during the War of 1812 inside an ominous reformatory known as Dartmoor Prison. But what begins as a story of willpower and endurance transforms into an entirely different tale within itself.
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
On July 24th, 2011, the morning after singer Amy Winehouse died, I and my colleagues were having a discussion about young artists and their propensity to fall into drugs, alcohol abuse, depression and addiction. I had just read Red the day before, and I remembered a scene in which Rothko’s conversation with Ken turns toward the death of artist Jackson Pollock. The two discuss a crucial element of Pollock’s personality, and point to the fact that, while Pollock died in a car accident, his extreme fame and alcoholic history may have been a contributing factor to his demise. With that scene fresh in my mind, the conversation that morning led us to think about the many famous musicians, actors, artists, and comedians we loose rather young, and to ask, “Is there a price to fame?”
Monday, October 3, 2011
Following the endowment excitement, this past Tuesday we officially kicked off the 2011/2012 Season in style with a day of festivities, absurdities, parties and plays. During the day we sent a brigade of red men out onto the streets to spread the word as we got our hands wet with paint at the theater. And in the evening, we hosted our season opening benefit—wherein more than 400 guests enjoyed cocktails and fine dining in the gorgeously appointed Modern Wing at the Art Institute Chicago (left). Honorees at the night’s event included Chairman Patricia Cox; Red playwright John Logan; Madeleine Grynsztejn, Pritzker Director, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; and James Rondeau, Chair and Frances & Thomas Dittmer Curator of Contemporary Art, Art Institute of Chicago. And of course, following the benefit was the opening-night performance of Red, directed by Artistic Director Robert Falls. Explore our Red video library for a behind-the-scenes look at this amazing play, and if you haven’t bought your tickets yet do so now. Seriously; we just added a week of shows so now’s your chance.
Photo by Liz Lauren.
Thursday, September 29, 2011
While our crimson friends were bringing merriment and candy to Chicagoans, back at the theater we were busy covering a couple canvases with the hand-prints of friends, fans, and local celebrities, including the cast of Red, Patrick Andrews and Edward Gero (below).
If you haven’t snatched your tickets yet to see Red do so now—we’ve just extended the run through October 30!
Friday, September 23, 2011
John Logan’s Tony-winning play Red—a fictional account of two years in the life of Mark Rothko—is currently on stage in the Albert Theatre. If you haven’t purchased tickets do so now; not on will you experience awesome dramatic tension between two stellar actors, but you’ll also get to see live painting! And more. Meanwhile, today our education intern Liz Rice explores one of the mysteries behind the enigmatic artist and the paintings he labors over in Red.
Mark Rothko was a famously meticulous artist, consumed not only with creating perfection within his paintings but also with creating a perfect environment for his painting to exist within. To him, the environment his work was displayed in was equally as important as the paintings themselves—it provided context for how a work should be experienced by the viewer. In Red, John Logan’s Rothko extols:
"[The Seagram murals are] not alone. They’re a series, they’ll always have each other for companionship and protection…and most important they’re going into a place created just for them. A place of reflection and safety…Their power will transcend the setting, working together, moving in rhythm, whispering to each other, they will still create a place…"
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
While Red primarily explores the life and work of Mark Rothko, it also briefly mentions two of Rothko's celebrated contemporaries—Mies van der Rohe and Jackson Pollock, two artists whose work is featured prominently throughout Chicago. Today, we take a tour through the city to find local relics of these artistic luminaries.
Red, John Logan’s Tony-winning play which is currently playing in the Albert Theatre, explores the work of three major twentieth-century artists: Mies van der Rohe, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, all pioneers in their fields. In a city with a cultural heritage as rich as Chicago’s, it is no surprise that these artists are well-represented locally.
Thursday, September 15, 2011
Red starts previews Saturday, September 17. Buy tickets here, or call the box office at 312.443.3800.
Photo by Liz Lauren.
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
This week marks the final week of rehearsal for Red—John Logan’s account of two years in the life of artist Mark Rothko—which starts performances this Saturday, September 17. These last few weeks we’ve explored all manner of things Red—from the artists who influenced Rothko, to the restaurant at the heart of the play's plot—but today we’ll take a closer look at the artist himself, and examine how he went from being Marcus Rothkowitz, Russian intellectual, to Mark Rothko, the tormented Abstract Expressionist at the heart of an artistic movement.
Marcus Rothkowitz, born, September 1903.
Marcus, born in Dvinsk, Russia, migrated to the United States along with his family in 1913. Growing up in Portland, Oregon, the young boy was an intellectual to the utmost degree with a fervent passion for social, economic and political movements, much like his father. Based on his distinguished academic performance as a youth, Rothkowitz was accepted to Yale University in 1921 and seemingly had set up a life for himself of promise and fortune.
Mark Rothko, dead, February 1970.
Mark committed suicide on the kitchen floor of his home in New York City. He drank and smoked heavily, he lived through two tumultuous marriages, dealt with bouts of depression and he reviled modernism and all social aspects of the current and future culture. In a sense, Mark Rothko was just, red.
Somewhere along the way, Marcus Rothkowitz transformed into Mark Rothko.
Friday, September 9, 2011
Red, which opens the Albert season next Saturday, September 17, chronicles a two-year period in the life of artist Mark Rothko, as he labors on a series of murals commissioned for the opulent Four Seasons restaurant in the newly built Seagram Building. Today, Education and Community Engagement Associate Teresa Rende explores the elaborate design concept of this restaurant, and what led the planners to Mark Rothko.
In 1954 the Seagram Building was commissioned for the corporate headquarters of Seagram distillers. It was the perfect time for such a building, towering in its opulence, to make its way on to Park Avenue in Midtown Manhattan. The 1950s brought the corporate American lifestyle into the spotlight, laden with money to spend and affluence to flaunt, and buildings like the Seagram offered physical manifestations of economic prowess. Phyllis Lamber, the daughter of the Seagram’s director, Samuel Bronfman, became the director of planning after seeing her father’s initial architectural direction. Lambert, an architect herself, knew precisely where to turn for cutting-edge elegance. She commissioned Mies van der Rohe, a high-profile, modern architect and recent immigrant to the United States, to design the building with Philip Johnson. Van der Rohe’s pioneering style, paired with extremely fine construction materials, made the Seagram Building not only a marvel on opening day but also an icon of modern American architecture.
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Creation never happens in a vacuum—all artists are influenced by both their life experiences and their artistic predecessors and peers. Mark Rothko, an Abstract Expressionist painter and the central character in Red, maintained acute awareness of those who had wielded paintbrushes in generations past, and often pondered how history would remember him. In Red, playwright John Logan explores Rothko’s view of his forebears and his difficulty in passing the brush to younger artists. In order to understand the play, it’s helpful to have a sense of the artistic innovation that took place a generation before Rothko and his peers took the art world by storm. You could read an art history textbook, or you could read up on two of the early twentieth century’s most intrepid artists in limerick form:
There once was an artist from Spain
Who, in painting, used only one plane—
Female forms from all angles,
Flat, sharp-edged, and tangled—
And the century was off with a bang.
Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907, Pablo Picasso
Thursday, August 25, 2011
Edward Gero as Mark Rothko (photo by Liz Lauren).
Patrick Andrews as Ken (photo by Liz Lauren).
Thursday, August 18, 2011
Meanwhile our Mark Rothko, actor Edward Gero, has updated his Red blog, this time with a video of a private visit to the Rothko Room at the Phillips Collection, plus excerpts of letters between the museum’s founder, Duncan Phillips, and Rothko himself. Edward just keeps uncovering fascinating stuff about the artist at the heart of this play; check back regularly for more updates on his journey through the rehearsal process.
Tickets to Red are on sale now; visit our website or call 312.443.3800 for more information.
Friday, August 12, 2011
The Goodman’s General Theatre Studies (GTS) program is a lot like Christmas, your birthday, or any other much anticipated annual celebration—it comes but once a year. As the second to last week of June approaches I get nervous and excited; before I can blink the Goodman lobby is filled with 80 Chicago-area teenagers, bustling with energy, ideas and opinions. The moment I do blink, it is already the first week of August and they are gone. The hallways seem quiet, almost eerily so. I peek into the Healy Rehearsal room only to find the student-written autobiographies off the walls, the cubbies empty of iPods and backpacks, and the garbage cans distinctly lacking the teen treats I have been accustomed to seeing over six weeks. How did it all pass so quickly?
Thursday, August 11, 2011
There are a thousand things we could say about the play's central character, Mark Rothko, and over the next few months we’ll be saying a lot of them—around town at various events (more on that to come), on our website, in OnStage, and on this very blog. So where do we begin? With actor Edward Gero (below), who will be playing the role of the legendary artist in our production of Red.
Friday, July 29, 2011
We’ll have lots of Red-related content on the blog in the weeks to come, but for now, let’s start at the beginning: John Logan’s source of inspiration for this ferocious beast of a play, an exhibition featuring Mark Rothko’s Seagram Murals that the playwright stumbled on during a visit to London’s Tate Modern Museum several years ago. (For those of you unfamiliar with Red, the play is a fictional account of two years in Rothko's life during which he labored on those very paintings.) Though the Tate's exhibition closed in early 2009, the museum’s website still houses extensive information on Rothko and the exhibition; you can even go on a video tour (fourth clip from the top) of the Rothko rooms with the show’s curator, Achim Borchardt-Hume, for a look at the actual work that inspired this play.
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Chinglish is wrapping up this week, and with its final performance this Sunday night, our 2010/2011 season comes to a close. (Above: Chinglish's Johnny Wu and Jennifer Lim, waving goodbye to us. Best of luck, guys! We'll miss you. Photo by Eric Y. Exit.) In a few short weeks Red will start rehearsals in the Healy before taking over the Albert with its ferocious splatterings of red paint and roaring Rothkoisms, followed New Stages Amplified in the Owen, and, soon after that, A Christmas Carol.
Friday, July 22, 2011
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
I sit at my half hour call in my dressing room awaiting the beginning of another eight-show week—our second to last one. The last time I wrote an entry, we hadn't even left the rehearsal room to see the stage. Since then, we've conquered a tech week where Leigh and our brilliant designers led us through two turntables, projections, sight-lines, and demanding quick changes. A preview week where David expertly trimmed the fat from the script; we would rehearse the changes during the day and perform a tighter show each night. Then a glorious opening night, complete with a decadent reception at Petterino's. Then the Broadway announcement for the fall. Then the extension announcement for the final week of July here at the Goodman. And now, with wild laughter and mid-scene outbursts of applause blaring out of my dressing room speaker, I smile for what sheer delight it is to give this story away to a full house every night.
Friday, July 15, 2011
[ Above: Dazzling show art; get excited!]
Meanwhile, our current production, Chinglish, is still going strong in the Albert and has been extended through July 31, which is good news for anyone who still hasn’t seen the show yet, as it’s been selling out on a nightly basis. After it closes here it’s headed to Broadway, so unless you’ll be spending your autumn in New York I’d advise you to see it now, in all of its original glory.
For now though, check out this week’s links!
Jules Feiffer brings back his tiny dancer. (The New York Times)
Stumbling on art in the streets of Prague. (The New York Times)
Upstaging the stage in Shakespearean remounts. (The New York Times)
Testing high-tech theater seats in London. (The Guardian)
Brahms and Smetana, in the heart of Texas. (Los Angeles Times)
Barbie goes to the museum. (Los Angeles Times)
And the Mona Lisa finally speaks up—in Mandarin. (Los Angeles Times)
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
As Chinglish audiences stream out of the Albert after each performance, one of the most talked-about topics inevitably is the arresting music that pumps into the theater propelling each of the play's transitions. Devised by Sound Designer Darron L. West, Chinglish’s soundtrack of contemporary Chinese music plays double duty in the sleek production, creating a riveting theatrical experience while accurately evoking the play’s setting—present-day Guiyang, a provincial capital of 4 million people in southwestern China.
West, who was called on to help create the sound for the play by Playwright David Henry Hwang and Director Leigh Silverman after working with them on Hwang’s 2007 comedy, Yellow Face, started his career as a resident sound designer at Actors Theatre of Louisville, and has since spent almost 20 years as a freelance sound designer working regularly at theaters in New York and around the country. Shortly after Chinglish opened, he talked to me about the current state of Chinese pop music, Celine Dion, and the process that went into conceiving the soundtrack for this world-premiere production.
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Now that the rehearsal and preview period is over, the playwright, director, consultants, and designers have all left town, leaving only the cast and crew to run the show on a nightly basis. You can read all about the last hurrah of the full creative team—and other opening night shenanigans—in playwright David Henry Hwang’s final blog post of his series over at You Offend Me You Offend My Family.
Meanwhile, Chicago’s unofficial David Henry Hwang Festival (or Summer of Hwang, which ever you prefer) continues down the street at Silk Road Theatre Project, where another Hwang comedy, Yellow Face (directed by the Goodman’s Associate Producer, Steve Scott) will be showing through July 31. Check out Silk Road’s website for behind-the-scenes videos, and buy tickets for both shows on the Goodman’s website.
Top: Chinglish cast members Stephen Pucci and Larry Zhang on opening night. Right: Chinglish cast members Angela Lin and Christine Line on opening night. Photos by Eric Y. Exit.
Friday, July 1, 2011
Meanwhile, here are this week's links!
Can the Mormons take on the Mormons? (Fox 13 Now)
Everyone talks about the separation between church and state, but what about church and theater? (OC Weekly)
The '60s through the eyes of Linda McCartney (London Evening Standard)
In present day London, a principal dancer with a background in drag racing dazzles at the Royal Ballet. (The Telegraph)
An iconic recording studio looks for the next great anthem. (Los Angeles Times)
The shifting standards of lewdness over time, as demonstrated in a painting. (The Guardian)
In New York, Central Park falls silent this summer (as much as it can). (The New York Times)
The New York Times notices that Broadway is starting to look like a boy's town. (The New York Times)
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Last night Chinglish opened, finally and officially, with much fanfare and even a few covert celebrity sightings at the theater. Before the show, the cast and crew feasted on a 35-pound roasted pig, and over the weekend, participated in a ritualistic parade for good luck around the theater and backstage. You can read all about it in playwright David Henry Hwang’s blogs at You Offend Me You Offend My Family and Broadway’s Best Shows.
Meanwhile, if you haven’t yet, buy tickets to this show. Seriously. It’s amazing. Also, get this: Chinglish is now officially Broadway-bound! Recognize.
Photo: Johnny Wu, Angela Lin, Christine Lin, James Waterston, and Jennifer Lim in Chinglish. Photo by Eric Y. Exit.
Monday, June 27, 2011
Chinglish officially opens tonight in the Albert. If you haven’t secured your tickets yet, buy them soon! This is not a show to be missed. Meanwhile, today’s post, from Chinglish Cultural Advisor Joanna C. Lee, concludes our series on the extensive research that went into the development of this new play with a look at the extraordinary attention to detail displayed on stage.
The wealth of Chinese visual details piled on the set of Chinglish did not go unnoticed at last week’s post-show talk back discussions. Several audience members—including one woman from Guiyang, the town where the play is set—have commented on everything from the accuracy of the restaurant settings to the quality of the hotel and apartment furnishings.
Shopping for Chinglish props has logged hundreds of thousands of air miles, from Guizhou Province to Chicago’s Chinatown, with many auspicious detours along the way. Every corner of every setting is based on recreating the extensive location photography taken by director Leigh Silverman during our trip to China last year.
Rather than trying to give a wide-ranging overview, let’s just look at one typical corner: the living room cabinet of Cai Guoliang, Minister of Culture for Guiyang City, an old-school Communist Party official who happens to be well-versed in the Chinese traditional arts. Here’s a brief look inside the Minister’s cabinet (a piece of lacquered bamboo purchased from a Chicago importer, shown below) with a brief note about the source of the contents.
1. Black lacquer mini-screen featuring photographs of four contemporary Chinese opera stars (a gift item from the Beijing-based China Northern Kunqu Opera Theater).
2. Collectable Yixing teapots, made from red clay (purchased in Chicago’s Chinatown).
3. Chinese dolls representing the traditional attire of ethnic minorities in Guizhou Province (sourced and flown into Chicago from Guiyang by the Western China Cultural Ecology Research Workshop; shown above).
4. Books worthy of a cultured official (above). The shelves now contain complete volumes of Confucius’s Analects, Laozi’s Book of Tao, works by Mencius and Mozi, a Song Dynasty treatise entitled On Being an Official, literary studies of Tang- and Song-Dynasty poetry, illustrated books on traditional porcelains and ancient coins and urns, and the two-volume Seventy-Year History of the Chinese Communist Revolution (all purchased at a bookstore in Chicago’s Chinatown).
5. Behind the doors is a selection of Chinese and Western liquor, including (empty) bottles of Johnny Walker Red Label, lychee liqueur and Shaoxing wine, a traditional beverage fermented from rice.
Friday, June 24, 2011
Ballet and beer, together at last. (The New York Times)
A Renaissance gem uncovered in Britain. (The Guardian)
Speaking of Britain, their largest theater has a plan to reduce fidgeting during performances. (The Stage)
And Her Majesty's composer wants to drop an f-bomb on ill-mannered concert goers. (The Telegraph)
In DC, Trey McIntyre is bringing sexy back to ballet. (The Washington Post)
Sky divers + an indoor wind tunnel = indoor skydiving ballet in Prague. (The Telegraph)
Is your facebook update or tweet a form of art? (ARTnews)
Old potter, new potter, famous potter, be-speckled potter, Pottermore. (The Washington Post)
Photo of Jennifer Lim and James Waterston by Eric Y. Exit.
Thursday, June 23, 2011
Today we’re shifting our focus from the intricacies of Chinese business and political customs to local administrative news—specifically, Mayor Emanuel’s appointment of Michelle T. Boone to an exciting new position in the arts. Meanwhile, for your daily fix of all things Chinglish, check out our video library for rehearsal and production videos; explore Chinglish Cultural Advisor Ken Smith’s series on the extensive research process that went into the development of this extraordinary new work; and read playwright David Henry Hwang’s journals at You Offend Me You Offend My Family and Broadway’s Best Shows. Chinglish is showing now through July 24 in the Albert; go here for tickets.
The Chicago arts and culture scene has witnessed dramatic changes in the past year, from a push to privatize the city’s largest free music festivals to the merger of the Department of Cultural Affairs and the Mayor’s Office of Special Events. In his last months in office, Mayor Richard M. Daley led a major restructuring of the city’s cultural initiatives in an attempt to close a $655 million budget gap. Successor Rahm Emanuel has made his opinion on the importance of the arts and culture to the city’s economic climate clear with his recent appointment of arts crusader Michelle T. Boone to the position of commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE).
Above: Goodman Resident Director Chuck Smith, Michelle T. Boone, and Goodman Resident Artistic Associate Henry Godinez. Photo by Abby McKenna.
The appointment hints at the beginnings of a new plan to assess the city’s cultural resources and collaborate with artists and neighborhood groups to determine its collective needs and priorities. This information will be used to create new strategies for artistic and cultural growth in the city and foster economic growth. So who is this new civic leader? Boone began her career in the arts as director of Gallery 37, a community job training program for artistically inclined city youth. She went on to serve as senior program officer for culture at The Joyce Foundation, overseeing the distribution of nearly $2 million in grants to community arts organizations across the Midwest. Boone also serves on the boards of Arts Alliance Illinois, Grantmakers in the Arts, and other local arts organizations.
While working at The Joyce Foundation and Gallery 37, Boone developed “a strong sense of how the Department of Cultural Affairs could be a conduit between community arts organizations and the city’s neighborhoods.” In a recent address before the City Council Committee on Cultural Affairs, Special Events, and Recreation, Boone emphasized the importance of the department “as a resource to elevate community-based, neighborhood arts organizations,” and as a link between artists and neighborhood groups and resources beyond just the DCASE.
Today Chinglish Cultural Advisor Ken Smith continues his series on the extensive research process that went into the development of this awesome new play. You can read about his role in this process here, and get a recap of one of his research trips to Guiyang here. Meanwhile, for a preview of this fascinating new play in action, check out our video library for production and rehearsal films. Or, better yet, come see the show in all its glory! It is showing now through July 24.
How authentic is Chinglish? We’re under threat of death not to spoil any surprises. Also, in the interest of a leaner, tighter script, much of the play’s cultural “authenticity”—like having a clueless American businessman not knowing that he should fight over the check—has wound up on the proverbial cutting room floor. But we can say that by the time previews started last weekend, each of the cast members were carrying actual business cards with their character names in Chinese (below).
This may be just a small example, but it shows the level of detail the Goodman’s props department has put into recreating a little slice of China. It’s also a touch that should resonate for anyone who’s ever done business across the Pacific, where status-conscious Asians always need a name card to figure out exactly who they’re dealing with.
The prop cards were modeled on actual name cards from government officials and western businessmen we met in Guizhou, and most of the Chinese cast members had some input in making their own cards. Some actors playing multiple characters in Chinglish also carry multiple cards. (One cast member even wondered half-seriously if his card would impress women.) We didn’t expect, though, that such a tiny production detail would illustrate the complexities of translation in the play. Or that it would end up modifying the script itself.
Having written Chinglish in, well, English, David Henry Hwang used Romanized names for his characters. Only when we began designing the business cards did we realize that Vice Minister Xu Yan’s given name could mean either “dazzlingly beautiful” (艳) or “swallow” (燕), as in the bird, depending on the Chinese character and tonal pronunciation of “Yan.” But combined with the family name Xu, it could mean “fulfill a verbal promise” (许言). Prosecutor Li had the opposite problem, since she had only a family name—and a business card with only a single character (李).
For the record—at least for now—actress Jennifer Lim now plays “Fulfill a Verbal Promise,” Prosecutor Li’s given name is now “Danfei” (丹扉), the actual Chinese name of actress Angela Lin, and Larry Zhang—in a walk-on role as a driver—has no lines but still carries a business card (above) with his real Chinese name, “Zhang Lei” (张磊).
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
On Saturday night Chinglish had the first of its nine previews that precede the official opening next Monday night. You can read all about the preview process from playwright David Henry Hwang himself in his Chinglish journals at You Offend Me You Offend My Family, and Broadway’s Best Shows. For now, Chinglish Cultural Advisor Ken Smith is back with part two in his series on the extensive research that went into the development of this play.
Chinglish had already gone through a couple of drafts when my wife Joanna and I started getting the emails. Playwright David Henry Hwang initially told us that, in order to feel the frustrations of the play’s central character, director Leigh Silverman actually wanted to land in provincial China after a 20-hour flight, and sit in business meetings without being able to understand a single word. David, for his part, wanted to see if his recollections of our trip in 2005 that initially inspired the play were still relevant in 2010, since five years in China is like two decades in the rest of the world.
Once the play’s producers decided to join us, the journey took on much greater focus—as well as a bigger hotel bill. We started in Shanghai in July 2010, coinciding with the World Expo—a glimpse of China at its most developed—before traveling across the country to Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou, China’s poorest province and a latecomer to its booming economy.
[Above: Guiyang, the setting of Chinglish, is an economically poor city of about four million people now in the midst of an aggressive construction boom, with all the urban disruption that goes with it. Here's Guiyang on a good day, surrounded by the mountains in the background. Photo by John A. Wells.]
[Above: And this is Guiyang on a bad day, with the air quality of a construction zone.]
[Left: The Guiyang Grand Theatre, the center of conflict in Chinglish, is a mark of the city's newfound prosperity.]
Why Guiyang? It’s a long story, but for now let’s say that the ambitions of Guizhou (a province rather comparable to West Virginia) far outstrip its local talent. Back in 2002, Joanna and I found ourselves—without formal anthropological training or record company experience—co-music directors of a series of recordings devoted to Chinese minority music. Lee Wai Kit, the Hong Kong publisher and businessman who brought us into the project—without any real museum experience—soon found himself running an eco-museum that has since won international awards for cultural preservation. Our Guizhou guanxi was good.
Following the theme of the play, our Chinglish tour had two objectives: meet with American businessmen in China, and interact with local officials. The first was easy; Guiyang may be a city of four million people but socially it’s still a small town, especially where the American expat network is concerned. Just head to the local coffee shop, where businessman Chris DeLong (from Indiana) found opportunities in a land where even Starbucks hasn’t ventured.
Meeting officials was a bit more strategic. Unlike Shanghai or Beijing, where locals are rather jaded by westerners, Guiyang still takes an innocent delight in getting noticed by people from abroad. They’ve heard much about Shanghai’s recent love affair with Broadway, but have little experience with it themselves.
[Right: Officials, media and cultural workers in Guiyang come out to hear playwright David Henry Hwang compare Broadway to non-profit theater in his talk, "The Artist in the Age of Commerce."]
Being affiliated with prominent cultural organizations, we were able through Wai Kit to set up a public talk with “distinguished Broadway playwright David Henry Hwang”—who, not incidentally, had put Guizhou on the theatrical map in his previous play Yellow Face. Because of good relations with the media, we traveled around town with an “embedded press corps” of 20 writers and photographers shadowing our every move. Soon the officials came out to meet us.
After our trip, the rewrites were fast and furious. Not that Chinglish changed so much in it storyline or its dramatic sweep, but subsequent drafts were filled with finely etched details. David’s characters seemed more firmly rooted in the Guizhou soil, and if Leigh didn’t know before what it was like to sit in chaotic business meetings in China, she certainly does now.
[Left: The Chinglish team meets for lunch with local artists, shadowed by the local press corps (standing). ]
[Top photo of Guiyang by John A. Wells. All other photos courtesy of the Western China Cultural Ecology Research Workshop.]