Thursday, March 31, 2011

With the Click of a Mouse

By Teresa Rende, Education and Community Engagement Assistant

As the internet continues to expand in new, innovative ways, we find ourselves faced with more opportunities for knowledge than time wasting. While I have enjoyed my fair share of hilarious videos involving cats, I am less drawn to internet time wasters as the ways we can learn on the web become more exciting. As a theater artist, I am always intrigued when another arts institution finds a way to connect me with their work via the tubes. And as educational and arts based resources available grows, I find myself with less time to Google “funny cat videos,” and instead a far greater knowledge of theater, visual art and music.

One of these amazing recent innovations is Google’s Art Project. Google Art Project allows you to virtually visit art museums around the globe. Seventeen partner museums are currently enrolled in the project, offering high quality images of the art online alongside the categorical information for each piece. Visitors can peruse collections by selecting the artwork, or by navigating through the museum using Google’s street view technology. You can even make your own collection to share with friends and family. Associated content and YouTube videos about the work or artist are offered as you explore online. While we cannot all visit the Netherlands or Germany on a regular basis to see these great works in person, Google Art Project brings us closer to that experience.

Right here in Chicago, our own Art Institute steps up to the plate with their “Impressionism App.” For only $3.99 you can put the Institute’s catalog of Impressionist work on your iPhone or Android device ($5.99 for your iPad). As they describe it on their website, “Based on the scholarly catalog The Age of French Impressionism by curators Douglas Druick and Gloria Groom, this searchable digital version offers detailed information and zoomable illustrations of over 100 works of art, artist biographies, panoramic views of the Impressionist galleries, and a history of Impressionism and Chicago.”

Apps and online museum viewing are only a couple ways in which arts organizations can reach the public. Increasingly, arts organizations have pages on Facebook, accounts on Twitter, photos on Flickr, or even blogs (like the one you’re reading right now). If you didn’t know, Goodman offers access to theater educational materials and behind-the-scenes videos online, while also communicating with patrons new and old via Twitter and Facebook.

Do you know of any amazing arts organizations online? Or have any great ideas for new and intriguing resources on the Goodman’s site?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor and Goodman Theatre—An Unusual Connection

By Jenny Seidelman, Campaign Manager

Like many people, I was sad to hear about the recent passing of Academy Award winner Elizabeth Taylor. Sultry, stunning, compassionate and outrageous, there will never be another like her.

Although she was a lady of the world—having lived in London, Los Angeles and Washington DC, among other places—Taylor had an unusual connection to Chicago and the Goodman Theatre.

Taylor’s third husband, Michael Todd was a theater and film producer and an impresario. In the 1950s, Todd purchased the shuttered Harris and Selwyn theaters at Dearborn and Randolph Street. In their heydays, the Harris and the Selwyn had featured live theater with stars such as Ethel Barrymore and Mae West.

Todd converted the theaters into movie houses. The Selwyn re-opened as the Cinestage in 1957 with the premiere of Todd’s film Around the World in 80 Days, and the Harris as the Michael Todd the day after Christmas, 1958.

With Todd’s unexpected death in 1958 and the decline of the Loop in the following decades, the theaters fell into serious disrepair.

When Goodman Theatre began to look for a new home in the late 1980’s, Elizabeth Taylor—who as Todd’s widow still owned the theaters—became a key player in securing the Selwyn and the Harris.

“Through an arrangement with the city, the buildings were donated so that it could become the new home of the Goodman Theatre,” said Roche Schulfer, the Goodman's executive director.

Chicago Now has a wonderful photo-retrospective chronicling Elizabeth Taylor’s connection to Chicago. Keep an eye out for pictures of the Selwyn and Harris in their pre-Goodman days!

And for more on Taylor’s connection to Chicago, check out these videos by CBS Channel 2.

Left: The Goodman Theatre today—the north end of the building features the original Selwyn and Harris theater facades; Photo by Jeff Goldberg

Friday, March 25, 2011

Coming Soon

By Lesley Gibson, Publications Coordinator

This weekend El Nogalar starts previews at the Goodman. There has been a lot of exciting buzz around this play—partially because it’s a brand new work from the brilliant Tanya Saracho; partially because it’s an adaptation of a classic Russian play (Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard) set in contemporary Mexico; and partially because it marks the beginning of a three-year producing partnership between the Goodman and Teatro Vista. Also, aside from all that, it seems like it’s going to be pretty awesome. I personally haven’t seen any rehearsals, but I have interviewed the cast and creative team and read the script several times. The play’s stage directions alone provide an intriguing glimpse of Saracho’s charm as a playwright: “Valeria’s been trying to make cabrito, she’s a little sweaty, wearing an apron. Trying not to be a hot mess.”

This week, in preparation for the first preview on Saturday, the cast and crew have been powering through tech rehearsals—long, slow-moving days in the theater in which the playwright, director, cast and creative team tweak the technical aspects of the production so that every cue goes off just right in performance. For a sneak-peek at this exciting new work, hop over to our El Nogalar page and explore the play from behind the scenes.

Above: Photo of Carlo Lorenzo Garcia and Bert Matias by Eric Y. Exit.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Clafouti for Americans

By Clayton Smith, Audience Development Coordinator

If you’ve seen God of Carnage, it’s safe to say you now have a rather in-depth (and possibly nausea-inducing) understanding of clafouti (above); what it is, how it’s made, whether or not it should be refrigerated, and so on.

Clafouti sounds like a delicious dessert, especially with Veronica’s gingerbread twist. According to Neena Arndt, the Goodman’s literary associate (and dramaturg for God of Carnage), clafouti is a traditional French dessert of the peasants. Think of it as the ratatouille of the pastry world, or, to get more to the point, the French version of American pie. It’s cheap and, I believe, fairly simple to make, which means it’s anything but a treat reserved for society’s upper crust.

God of Carnage was originally written by Yasmina Reza in French and set in Paris; when it was staged on London’s West End, Reza and her long-time translator Christopher Hampton collaborated on an English translation. And when God of Carnage finally made its Broadway debut in 2009, Reza and Hampton tweaked the script again to create a more Americanized translation. The choice of clafouti in the original French text insinuates some remarkable things about these characters. In God of Carnage, Veronica’s clafouti recipe comes from Michael’s mother. Because clafouti is a classic peasant dish, the idea Yasmina Reza is probably trying to convey is that Michael comes from a lower class, which certainly explains his eventual proclamation that he is “a [expletive] Neanderthal.” The use of this dish also gives us some insight into his wife, Veronica. She has taken the original, simple pear-only recipe and enhanced it by mixing apples and pears and giving it a gingerbread base, much the same way that she’s taken Michael, a simple man, and enhanced him by making him act like a sophisticated, liberal socialite.

Above: Veronica (Mary Beth Fisher) and Michael (Keith Kupferer) chowing on clafouti.

In this translated version, though, the presence of clafouti means something else entirely for Michael and Veronica. Based on its name and the fact that it’s not a particularly widely known dish in America, Americans are likely to view clafouti as an exotic, decadent French dessert. To American audiences, it gives the characters an air of sophistication and affluence without the subtext of Michael’s simple beginnings and Veronica’s desperate need to put a varnish on them. A more obvious American equivalent, I think, would have been a pie. Perhaps if Reza were an American writer (or Hampton, who is British, were an American translator) Veronica could have served Michael’s mother’s old fashioned apple pie, updated with pear slices, a thick gingerbread crust, and maybe a cinnamon-vanilla drizzle glaze, and the point would have been made in a more direct manner.

The translation of a work from one language to another is a tricky process. What strange script or story translations have you seen on the stage that have made you tilt your head and say, “Hmm?”

Clafouti mage by [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
God of Carnage production image by Eric Y. Exit

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Comedy and Carnage

By Liz Dengel, Literary Intern

God of Carnage struck me very differently onstage than it did on paper. When I first read the play, alone at my desk one winter evening, I wasn’t laughing. Instead, I was more than a little disturbed by the characters’ deep unhappiness, their vicious behavior and their ruthless philosophy. But at Monday’s opening night performance, my date and I laughed heartily—along with the rest of the audience. All that pain, anxiety and rage somehow fuels an uproarious evening at Goodman Theatre.

I’ve read that playwright Yasmina Reza has mixed feelings about the laughter that her plays elicit from English-speaking audiences. She told an interviewer from the Guardian, “The way people laugh changes the way you see a play. A very profound play may seem very light. My plays have always been described as comedy but I think they're tragedy. They are funny tragedy, but they are tragedy. Maybe it's a new genre."

When it comes to assigning God of Carnage a genre, the Chicago reviews don’t present a consensus either. The labels they assign run the gamut from “as commercial a comedy as you can imagine” to a “little drama” to a “comedy of ill manners.” One reviewer noted, “Rick Snyder’s crisp direction keeps the audience from wondering what’s so funny about such profound sadness until long after the curtain falls.”

How do we respond to work that doesn’t adhere to a familiar category? And why is this painful text such a comic success?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Beginning of a Beautiful Producing Partnership

By Jeffrey Fauver, Publicity Manager

Yesterday I saw a run-through of Tanya Saracho’s El Nogalar in the Goodman’s Polk Rehearsal Room—the company’s last run-through before they move into the Owen with the set next week. No “spoiler alerts” here; all I’ll say is that it continues to amaze me what a group of actors and a director are capable of in just two weeks of rehearsal. Especially with a new play! Tanya has been so active in the process writing, rewriting, dewriting (or is it unwriting?) and keeping all of her friends, family and fans up-to-date on the whole process on Facebook and Twitter. I can only imagine the amount of work the company is putting in outside of rehearsal just to keep up.

Above: Charin Alvarez and Sandra Delgado in rehearsal for El Nogalar. Below: Henry Godinez and Sona Tatoyan in Jose Rivéra's Massacre (Sing to Your Children), a co-production between the Goodman and Teatro Vista.

What a way to kick off the Goodman’s new three-year producing partnership with Teatro Vista!

El Nogalar marks the fourth joint production between the Goodman and Teatro Vista (TV). The relationship began in 1995 at the old Goodman when co-founding member of TV Henry Godinez—prior to his appointment as resident artistic associate at the Goodman—proposed a co-production between the companies: Cloud Tectonics by José Rivera. Sixteen years, three productions and five biennial Latino Theatre Festivals later, both companies have decided to take the plunge and commit to a three-year collaboration dedicated to new work by Latino writers. The first? Tanya Saracho. The second and third? Who knows.

A commitment to new work is not an easy one to make, let alone a three-year co-commitment between two companies to as-yet-to-be-determined playwrights and plays. It’s risky. But it’s a risk Chicago audiences insist we make. And I for one couldn’t be more excited.

Performances of El Nogalar begin Saturday, March 26.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Monday Night at the Theatre

God of Carnage officially opens tonight, following nine exciting preview performances. If you haven’t yet had a chance, hop over to our God of Carnage show page and explore our behind-the-scenes videos, images, and in-depth articles.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Scene and Heard

Happy Friday! If you're not too busy taking in a performance of God of Carnage (or blow-drying art books) this weekend, spend some time exploring the world's wide web of theater links:

The Goodman’s god of Carnage: director Rick Snyder sits down with the Sun-Times’ Hedy Weiss.

Chinglish Playwright David Henry Hwang on success, failure, inspiration and snowball-wielding child theater fans.

Our friends, the Belarus Free Theatre, return to the states (once they’re done being Harold Pinter in Hong Kong) for a five-week engagement in New York.

Now that he’s given up tweeting, Mayor-elect Emanuel looks to the future of the arts in Chicago. solves an age-old theater mystery.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Leading a Lively Post-Show Discussion

By Teresa Rende, Education and Community Engagement Assistant

I’ve led and attended a number of post-show discussions in my life, but none have been as intriguing as those for Mary. While I always appreciate the questions and comments our audience has for our artists and staff at post-show discussions, Mary has created a dialogue among audience members like none I've ever seen before. Folks raised their hand to share a thought or question a choice made in the play, and suddenly their fellow audience members would raise a hand—not to ask the next question, but to respond to the one previously offered, which was fantastic for me, because as a moderator my job is to facilitate an interesting and important conversation among engaged audience members.

Mary, however, can be jarring in a way that discussion does not necessarily resolve. Last week, I moderated a discussion in which three audience members had an issue with the ending that led to a debate that was simultaneously intellectual, social and emotional. The argument was that the character Mary may be misinterpreted by some viewers as speaking for all black, Christian women, simply because she is a black woman on a stage. As a room, we agreed that everyone is entitled to their own opinion even if we don’t like it (including the character Mary) and that Mary didn’t serve as a symbol for all black, Christian women. But in a climate where minorities in the media are constantly viewed as representing their people, the question arose, “Is showcasing such a character a risk?” The people who stayed to discuss knew Mary was simply one character; but might someone walk out of the theater with an altered view of the black church, black women, Christians or theology majors? The discussion grew heated as people questioned what it meant simply to have Mary on the stage.

Playwright Thomas Bradshaw mentioned during another post-show discussion earlier in the run that we don’t live life in ideals and singularities. An audience member at that post-show felt that putting all of the various “big issues” Mary touches upon in one play trivialized them. Thomas explained that in the real world, we don’t have the option of tackling one issue at a time. One play about gay rights and one play about racism in the post-civil-rights-era might be easier to digest, but the idea that, “today I am a female, tomorrow I am a lesbian, and Wednesday I am black,” isn’t an option. We live our labels, whatever they may be, simultaneously. And Mary, as a post-slavery-era slave, also wore her hat as an anti-gay activist and a devout Christian scholar.

I led the final post show for Mary last Friday, and an audience member asked me to list one thing I’d take away from the experience of having Mary on stage and moderating discussions. I told her that Mary has helped me appreciate art for what it is. Art is frequently loaded with an agenda, and while Mary brings up a number of important social topics, it doesn’t force a perspective of “right” or “wrong.” Instead, it questions our biases and forces us to face the fact that good people sometimes have opinions that we simply don’t agree with. “Dissent is not necessarily malicious,” as one very astute audience member put it. To understand Mary, I had to step away from the politics inherent in controversial topics, and instead let the story wash over me for 90 minutes. It has been such a gift to appreciate a work of art in this way, and share these amazing discussions with our audiences.