Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Publicly Displayed Affection

By Teresa Rende, Education and Community Engagement Associate

This week is your last chance to see Sarah Ruhl’s Stage Kiss—a play which features every kind of kiss imaginable—before it closes on June 5. In a recent issue of OnStage, as well as on this very blog, Associate Producer Steve Scott broke down some of the silver screen’s most iconic kisses. From the first kiss ever filmed in 1896, to more recent kisses such as that between two lovers in 2005’s Brokeback Mountain, cinema kisses have caught our attention for years. Cinema kisses, though, are not the only artistic renderings of kissing that have entranced the masses! Before there was access to film, artists were sculpting, drawing, etching and painting kisses for ages! To honor these embraces, frozen in time and form, we bring you five iconic kisses in art history!

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec—The Kiss (1892)
Lautrec found himself consumed with the topic of brothel women for some time, and The Kiss is one of many canvases from this era. This particular embrace, painted in bold red colors and capturing a passionate female couple, shows the beginning of his curiosity with lesbianism. Later canvases reflected similar couples in bed, sometimes kissing, other times separate. Whether he was a champion of their lifestyle or a critic is debated by art historians, but there is no denying the moments he captured between these women in day, when the customers and spectators were away, show us a much different side of their life.

Auguste Rodin—The Kiss (1889)
Originally conceived as a single image among many in his The Gates of Hell relief, The Kiss is a reference to a story in Dante’s Inferno. Circle 2, Canto 5, describes the story of a thirteenth-century Italian woman who falls for her husband’s brother. Much like He and She in Stage Kiss, whose flames are ignited by the story they share on stage, this portion of Inferno describes Francesca and Paolo falling in love while reading the story of Lancelot and Guinevere. In the sculpture you can see Paolo clutching a copy of the book that spurred their love.

Gustav Klimt—The Kiss (1907)
The Kiss is one of, if not the most famous work by Gustav Klimt. Both the man and woman actively hold each other, indicating a rather intimate embrace. Klimt created this work just 10 years after helping found the Vienna Secession, a movement in Austrian art away from historical relevance and toward artistic freedom.

Marc Chagall—Birthday (1915)

No artist so loved his wife as Chagall did Bella. Her likeness appears in a number of his works, and Birthday depicts another day in their journey as lovers. After four years of working, studying art and missing Bella while in Paris, Chagall returned home to Russia. This painting, created soon after his return, depicts a birthday of Bella’s that the two were able to spend together. Many viewers note how the contorted body of the male appears to be “bending over backwards,” to kiss her, and liken it to a representation of Chagall doing anything for Bella, especially on her birthday.

Pablo Picasso—The Kiss (1969)
While Picasso painted many kisses in his career, The Kiss of 1969 stands out because its production year. In 1967 and 1968 Picasso completed his extremely joyful, funny and explorative “367 series,” consisting of 367 prints (etchings, dry points, and aquatints) completed in one year at the age of 87! Both the series and this oil painting display Picasso’s never ending joie de vivre; for it was at the age of 88 that Picasso painted this bold and emotional kiss. The painting later went on to sell at auction for $17.4 million dollars (in 2008), an amazing feat for a post-1960 Picasso work.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Presenting the Grand Tradition of Meta Theater

By Neena Arndt, Literary Associate

“Pat pat, and here’s a marvelous convenient place for our rehearsal,” declares Peter Quince in Act III of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. “This green plot shall be our stage, this hawthorn-brake our tiring house; and we will do it in action as we will do it before the duke.”

Quince plans to present Pyramus and Thisbe to the Duke, but his troupe of rude mechanicals proves less adept at acting than he might hope—they miss their cues and mispronounce words. There are other challenges for the group, too: making sure the characters don’t frighten the audience, finding a way to represent the moon on stage, and constructing a wall costume.

Writing some three centuries later, Anton Chekhov created a character who faces the same kinds of problems: although Konstantin in The Seagull is thrilled with the location of his performance (“An empty space. No scenery. Just the lake and the horizon.”) his leading actress Nina is dubious about his playwriting abilities (“It’s not easy you know, acting in your play. My character’s not real,” she says), and his crew run off for a swim just a few minutes before curtain time. Like Peter Quince and the rude mechanicals, Konstantin and Nina also face significant criticism from their audience. While Peter Quince’s audience tires of the characters (“I am weary of this moon. Would he would change.”), Konstantin’s onlookers ask serpent-tongued questions: “Is this one of those experimental things?” Neither audience waits until the end of the play to voice their opinions.

Theater artists who present A Midsummer Night’s Dream or The Seagull sympathize with Quince and Konstantin, because putting up a play is tricky business, whether you’re a tradesman moonlighting as an actor-manager, a wannabe intellectual, or a group of savvy professional artists. And when—as in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Seagull—you’re putting up not only a play, but a play-within-a-play, the process may prove doubly complex. And now, adding to the long list of plays that contain plays, Sarah Ruhl’s new comedy, Stage Kiss, playing through June 5 in the Albert Theatre, gives Goodman audiences an off-kilter and self-deprecating glimpse of what we theater folks do. In Stage Kiss, we watch as a director, Adrian Schwalbach (played with bumbling guilelessness by Ross Lehman) puts up a play, from auditions to opening night. Actors He (affably portrayed by Mark Montgomery) and She (the blithely profound Jenny Bacon) are cast in Adrian’s play, and struggle to create great—or at least OK—performances in the humorously mediocre play-within-the-play.

To see the hijinks, hilarity and hiccups that characterize Adrian’s process, you’ll have to book tickets at the Goodman. If you do take in the show, please keep your comments to yourselves until after the performance. And when the characters declare the conclusion of the play—and they make it clear several times by stating “the end”—please “give us your hands, if we be friends.” Because applause, just like the play-within-the-play, is a theatrical convention that never goes out of style.

Top: Nina (Heather Wood) performs in the play-within-the-play in this season's Robert Falls-directed production of The Seagull. Photo by Liz Lauren. Bottom: Stage Kiss's play-within-a-play: He (Mark Montgomery) and She (Jenny Bacon) as Johnny Lowell and Ada Wilcox. Photo by Liz Lauren.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

In Rehearsal with David Henry Hwang

Last week, David Henry Hwang’s newest play, Chinglish—which will receive its world premiere in the Albert Theatre next month—began rehearsals. All professional theater productions are ambitious, time-consuming projects, as each show requires many months of planning, writing (or rewriting), rehearsing and tweaking before it ever goes live in front of an audience. But the development of Chinglish has been a particularly complex process: the bi-lingual comedy is written and performed in English and Mandarin, a consideration that has introduced a whole new set of challenges to its development, from the tricky casting process of locating bi-lingual actors, to strategizing a way to incorporate projected surtitles of the Mandarin dialogue into the set design.

Throughout the rehearsal process the playwright will be chronicling his experience in the rehearsal room during the final few weeks of the play's development for both YouOffendMeYouOffendMyFamily and BroadwaysBestShows, and we’ll be linking to his posts as he writes them. So check back often for up-to-the-minute updates on this exciting new work!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Designed for a Kiss

By Allie Wigley, Marketing Intern

When confronted with the task of designing costumes for
Stage Kiss, Linda Roethke found herself in the curious position of dreaming up clothes for not one play, but three—Stage Kiss, a play about life in the theater, features two plays within the play, the first of which is a 1930s melodrama, and the second, a grungy piece set in the present. The Goodman’s Allie Wigley caught up with the designer to talk inspiration, research and tackling a large scale project that seamlessly dips in and out of period costumes.

Allie Wigley: How did you initially get involved with this production?

Linda Roethke
: Jessica Thebus and I have collaborated on Sarah Ruhl's The Clean House (Goodman), Dead Man’s Cell Phone (Steppenwolf) and recently, Orlando at Court Theatre; she invited me to design the costumes for this production.

AW: How did you approach the design for Stage Kiss?

LR: That’s such a good question. I always begin the design process with research, and what guides this process is sometimes practical questions, but most often questions about the world of the play and the characters that leads to a strong point of view about the themes of the play. One of the questions I explored for Stage Kiss was, how might an actor dress themselves for an audition for a style piece? How does a deepening sense of character through the rehearsal process alter the way they might see themselves on and off stage? It’s a pretty broad and subjective field of inquiry.

AW: How did the costumes evolve through the design process?

LR: One of the important steps was actually hearing the play read in staged-reading form by the cast in an early draft last year. Jessica had cast the production and having everyone in the room—the actors that would originate the roles, Sarah Ruhl, and the director—was very helpful.

I then did more specific research in terms of the contemporary clothing for the actors, and ended up layering in vintage pieces for the characters such as [the director] Adrian and She [the leading lady] which is a nod to the past but also features styles that are popular now. For the scenes of the 1930s play within the play, I thought about what that caché of glamour was in the ’30s and how we look back at it through a contemporary lens. So I had to pull out my favorite 1930s films, and films set in the 1930s, and watch them again—such a tough job being a designer. Working with Jessica, I filtered through the piles of research until I felt the need to draw. I also had conversations with my team about how the second play within the play morphs the clothing.

AW: Did you build most of the costumes or did you find a lot of the pieces?

LR:I met with the Goodman’s costume shop manager, Heidi McMath, to talk through the designs. It was so important to all of us that the character She experiences her world changing, turning into the glamorous romantic world of the past in a fairly seamless and, yes, slightly ridiculous way. A big part of this was that the tailoring of the men's costumes in the ’30s play; that their clothes be impeccably tailored. I designed the tailoring for the men in midnight blue, a heightened blue, which is very 1930s, but rarely done anymore. The Goodman staff did all the tailoring for me, built all the tuxedos, the smoking jacket, the dressing gown. Sarah had also described a green dress [shown above] in the script, and it had to be built, so I looked at green deco glass. And we ended up building altogether three green dresses for the story telling and Millicent and Millie’s costumes as well.

AW: How do the costumes reflect the experience of the characters?

LR: It’s all a progression; all the relationships are mirrored in the costumes. For example, look at the costumes of He, the leading man. He as an actor, played by Mark L. Montgomery, goes from the actor in casual, modern black and white [right], to elegant blacks and whites: suits and ’30s formal wear [above]. It’s all a progression. He starts early on in casual wear and becomes more elaborate as She falls in love with him.

Then there is She. In the beginning you really don’t know much about her. She has a nice bag and nice shoes. Basic, plain clothes. After that she becomes Ada Wilcox through her costume. Here’s a middle-age woman with a 16-year-old kid and she’s back in a romance where she’s glamorous and he’s gorgeous. It was important that the costumes for that part be sparkly and elegant and slightly comedic. It’s heightened; it’s as if she’s looking through rose-colored glasses. After that She, the actress, becomes Ada Wilcox, the character she plays, through her costumes.

AW: It looks like there is a lot of black and white in your sketches. Were there any other specific materials, patterns or colors you wanted to repeat throughout?

LR: I’m using the stripes, the black and white, the elegant pinstripe idea and the classic hat. I have nods to those material elements throughout the play, outside of the 1930s part. Quite a few stripes, because it’s “in” now in fashion and fits in the plays within the play. There is a lot of mixing of contemporary clothing and vintage clothing, which is very popular in New York right now. I think the black is used a lot because it’s worn by a lot of theater people. Black was also extensively used in the ’30s in black deco lacquered wood. It’s black and white with a very deco pallet to go with the green dress. I used a lot of silks; all the costumes for the ’30s play are made up of silks, black satin, silk chiffon, and beautiful midnight blue wools.

AW: You mentioned that the costumes progress with the characters. How is that complicated by the plays within the play?

LR: I think the costumes will help clarify what is going on. It can be a little confusing when you read the script because multiple actors play multiple roles. When audiences experience it, I hope the costumes help keep things clear. You’ll have to let me know!

Design renderings by Linda Roethke.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Mayor Richard M. Daley —A Lasting Legacy at Goodman Theatre

By Jenny Seidelman, Campaign Manager

On Monday Richard M. Daley ended his 22 year reign as Mayor of Chicago—to date he is the longest serving mayor of our fair city.

His advocacy and enthusiasm for the arts has been significant, and it has lead to such incredible feats, such as the revitalization of the North Loop Theater District, the creation of Millennium Park and—most significantly to Goodman Theatre—the building of our beautiful home on Dearborn Street.

Mayor Daley not only played a key role in securing funding for the new Goodman Theatre, he helped to arrange the donation of the Selwyn and Harris Theaters and he participated in several high-profile events surrounding our building campaign.

At the November 23rd re-dedication ceremony of the new Goodman Theatre, we were very pleased to recognize and thank Mayor Daley and his wife Maggie for the significant contribution they have made to the life of our organization.

An acclaimed cast of actors honored Mayor and Mrs. Daley (and even Ebenezer Scrooge came by for a visit!). Check out this video from the event.

And a more permanent recognition now exists at the Goodman—at the November 23rd event, we dedicated two seats in our Albert Theatre, B-13 and B-14, which bear plaques with Mayor and Mrs. Daley’s names.

Photo: Goodman Executive Director Roche Schulfer, trustee and Campaign for the New Goodman Theatre Leader Peter C.B. Bynoe and Mayor Richard M. Daley at the public announcement of the New Goodman Theatre building project.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Matthew Morrison Danced His Way into My Heart or, How Erin Gaynor Got Her Theatrical Groove Back

By Erin Gaynor, Development Intern

I think every person in theater had a moment in their life where they knew that they need to be involved in the arts in some capacity. For Matthew Morrison, the headliner of Goodman Theatre’s annual Gala this Saturday, May 21, his moment was when he attended a theater camp at a young age. Years later, during his sophomore year of high school, he made the choice to continue pursuing singing over a promising career in soccer. Morrison reflected in an interview with Parade, saying,"I think I chose the right one but it was probably one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make."

Making the decision to pursue art versus possibly a more “reliable” career in another field is never easy. Some parents are incredibly supportive, some think it’s a quick way into debt (note: if your parents are in this field, tell them to read this article featured in USA Today). But for me, I can’t pull myself away from theater because of Matthew Morrison.

I have only seen one Broadway show my entire life—Hairspray. I saw it the summer of my sophomore year of high school. Prior to seeing Hairspray, I had performed in a few theatrical productions, primarily because my sister and brother had. Theater was a fun after-school activity, nothing more. Then came Matthew Morrison’s Link Larkin. I was infatuated with the character thanks to the John Waters film, but Morrison’s performance was stellar. I was enjoying the musical a lot, and then, the song, “You Can’t Stop the Beat” began. Matthew Morrison worked it. And I don’t mean he danced really well—he worked it. He hit each move with such exuberance that I lost my mild passion for theater and gained a full-fledged love affair. How can one person pumping their arms and moving their legs have such an effect on a high school girl? The phrase “the magic of theater” is over-used, but there was something special about his performance and it remains a pivotal moment in my life. I tried to ignore theater’s grip on me when I went into college. I thought I’d chose the “sensible” profession of teaching history. But by the end of my freshman year, I was a theater studies major.

And to make an even fuller circle, the Goodman’s Gala is a major fundraiser for our Education and Community Engagement programs. In programs like the Student Subscription Series and Cindy Bandle Young Critics, high school students come to Goodman Theatre to see our productions for free and get involved on a deeper level, from post-show discussions to writing professional theatrical reviews. I’d like to think these students have had similar moments of revelation to mine or Matthew’s. No one goes into the arts for the money, and any sort of fame is a complete gamble. You get involved with the arts because they pull you in and simply won’t let go.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Rapid Rise of Sarah Ruhl

By Neena Arndt, Literary Associate
Playwright Sarah Ruhl’s newest work, Stage Kiss, opened at the Goodman last night. Here, the Goodman’s Literary Associate, Neena Arndt, chronicles this young writer’s ascent from an unknown to a Pulitzer Prize nominee.

When Sarah Ruhl was a sophomore at Brown University, she signed up for a course taught by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel. Though she was then an aspiring poet, Ruhl dove headfirst into the class, impressing Vogel with her one-of-a-kind voice—soulful, witty and savagely funny—and eventually altering her aspirations to include writing for the theater. Ruhl went on to study intensively with Vogel, earning an MFA in playwriting from Brown in 2001. Since then the young writer has seen her plays produced nationally and internationally, and has earned accolades including a Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, a Helen Merrill Award and in 2006 a MacArthur Fellowship; she has twice been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. A native of Wilmette, Illinois, Ruhl returns to the Goodman for her third production with Stage Kiss. The Clean House was a highlight of the 2005/2006 Season, and was followed two seasons later by the epic Passion Play. Her other plays include In the Next Room or the vibrator play; Dead Man’s Cell Phone; Demeter in the City; Eurydice; Orlando and Melancholy Play.

It is no accident that three of the above titles include the word “play.” Ruhl’s plays are conscious of being plays. There is no pretense that the worlds she creates are real in any literal sense—rather, they use fantasy and metaphor to plumb very real emotional depths. “I try to interpret how people subjectively experience life,” she has said. “Everyone has a great, horrible opera inside him. I feel that my plays, in a way, are very old-fashioned. They’re pre-Freudian in the sense that the Greeks and Shakespeare worked with similar assumptions.” In her plays, blizzards can happen indoors. People can turn into almonds; rocks can talk. And, in the case of Stage Kiss, it can become increasingly unclear whether real life is any more real than what happens onstage.

While Ruhl’s style is stunningly theatrical—the arresting images she conjures offer endless creative possibilities to directors and designers—she has also achieved her teenage aspiration of becoming a poet. Her language is clean and potent, each word precisely chosen. Characters confess their innermost thoughts and feelings, speaking often of their dreams. In Stage Kiss, two characters speak in unison, confessing to the audience that they each have dreamed about the other for years: “I dream that I steal your quilt, your childhood quilt. And it’s a terrible act of betrayal.” Rather than providing subtle clues about a character’s psyche, Ruhl lays bare the impossibly complex yet instantly recognizable inner workings of her characters’ minds.

Although the situations she explores are often tragic, Ruhl traverses heartbreak and pain with sly humor and carefully measured levity. Life, in a Sarah Ruhl play, is simultaneously sublime and awful, uproariously funny and gut-wrenchingly sad. It is, perhaps, this precise balance between tragedy and comedy that has made Ruhl a favorite with audiences worldwide—and that promises to make Stage Kiss a rollicking and thought-provoking experience for audiences here in Chicago.

Photo: Sarah Ruhl (left) and Stage Kiss director Jessica Thebus.Photo by Liz Lauren.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Casting, Chemistry, and Us

By Erin Gaynor, Development Intern

It’s pretty typical when you start to make some motions toward being employed, that you meet with the entire team you’re going to work with. It’s to make sure you’ll work well together because at the end of the day, you don’t want to work alongside someone who is inconsolably awkward or poorly mannered (or insert your own coworker horror story here). I always assumed the same for casting, but on a much more melodramatic level.

“Sparks are flying through the air! We have found our leading couple!” That is what I imagined Adam Belcoure, the Goodman’s casting director, would say when the romantic leads in Stage Kiss, Jenny Bacon and Mark Montgomery, met in the audition room. Turns out, they had barely spoken prior to the Chicago magazine photo shoot for Stage Kiss they did shortly before rehearsals began.

Jenny and Mark are clearly comfortable with one another and feel at ease. Any sort of awkwardness feels like playful innocence. So how does Mr. Belcoure do it? How can you predict chemistry between two individuals before they’ve ever met?

“I can’t claim I have a gift,” Adam modestly tells me, saying that when they are looking for actors with chemistry, they search for someone with “presence, something that’s exciting to watch.” For Stage Kiss, Adam said they knew the leads needed to be “steamy” and “have some sizzle; they needed to have romantic chemistry and sexuality.” But, bear in mind, “we don’t pair people up.” When asked why not, Adam conveyed that people communicate sensuality and when casting two of these people, “we hope they have it together.”

The truth is, us as audience members dictate casting far more than we realize. “Audiences want to see certain people together,” said Adam. “We want to see attractiveness, but the criteria for sexiness on stage and on film are different.” The actor John O. Roberts has joked that when cast for stage, he’s the sexy lead, but when cast for film, he’s “the robber or the homeless man.” We, as audiences, demand strong jaw lines and flawless features of individuals like George Clooney and Brad Pitt (which is probably why so many female actresses resort to plastic surgery as they age). But for the stage, Adam tells me actors’ sexiness “lives in [their] body and voice versus looks.”

As a former actor, Adam has an insider’s perspective.“Loving actors and what they do keeps me interested, and as a casting director, I get to see performances that no one else gets to see.” By keeping a comfortable atmosphere and a friendly demeanor, Adam creates an audition room that can lead to the easy, sensual performances necessary for Stage Kiss.

Photos: Mark L. Montgomery and Jenny Bacon in Stage Kiss. Photos by Liz Lauren.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Scene and Heard

While we perfect our pucker for the next few weeks of frequent kissing, check out these artsy links from the interweb:

The process of writing and rewriting a play before it ever hits the stage can be long and arduous. What about rewriting a play that itself is rewritten from a film?

Once you get tickets, you’re set to see a show, right? Not always, as some unfortunate fans in New York discovered last week.

Edward Albee on Elizabeth Taylor, crafting dialogue and a surprising source of inspiration.

One-time Spider Man: Turn Off the Dark director Julie Taymor reflects on success and failure.

A new “radical” theater festival sprouts in Northern England.

The New York Times
goes inside Norman Mailer's "nautical adventureland."

The Tony, Drama League and Outer Critics Circle award nominations have been announced!

Above: Jenny Bacon and Mark L. Montgomery in Stage Kiss. Photo by Liz Lauren.