It is a completely new year. Winter has finally arrived, and in this early part of January, we enter what I like to refer to as The Dark of Winter. Not only does that refer to the weather conditions with which we are confronted in the Midwest, but also the conditions of theatre activity. There aren’t too many shows on the chart this week because many companies are still dark (not producing) in the post-Holiday lull. Theatre seems to pause a bit for a couple of weeks. Everyone takes a moment to revel in the fact that their holiday shows made money that can fund the rest of the season, or they pause and assess how they’re going to survive the snowy months when audiences may or may not brave the trip out for entertainment once they’ve made it home from a twilight commute. Additionally, I see this as a “dark” time of year because one can often find the heavier offerings in a company’s season right about now.
Maggie is taking the week off. She has a project of her own this weekend. I am only reviewing one show, myself. Although things aren’t on the stage much right now, there are a lot of productions and projects that are in the beginning stages currently. One of which is the show that I’m directing next, out in the suburbs. It isn’t a show that we can review, because it doesn’t match our criteria (namely, it’s not easily accessible via the CTA), so I can mention here without any fear of a conflict of interest that I’ll be spending many of my nights over the next two months in production for BrightSide Theatre’s “Not Now, Darling”. Rehearsals start Sunday. I’m quite excited.
Another project to keep your eye on: Stage 773’s Artists Lab just started its year-long adventure in comedic collaboration. The first performances aren’t until February, but the writers, directors, and actors are now hard at work.
So, I’m still looking for one more reviewer to join our staff. Assuming that I find one, it is my goal that we’ll never have fewer than two reviews posted each week, and will hopefully have far more most weeks.
Oh! A bit of news I forgot: I’m no longer writing for Newcity Magazine. I’m focusing all my writing efforts here and in the realm of playwriting for the time being. There may come a point at which I do the freelance thing again, but for now I’ll not have to limit my thoughts to punchy 350-word-or-less snippets. I hope that will enable me to provide more indepth and thoughtful criticism. Do not misread this as a criticism toward the style of reviews at Newcity. The short and sweet, and easily consumable, reviews over there are a huge boon to the community of theatre-goers. We are just trying to provide a slightly different boon.
Alright… the previous chunk of stuff was pretty random in and of itself, but I’ll provide a little more… starting now:
It’s that time of year again! Time to make your reservations for Chicago Restaurant Week! I can’t attend this year. I’m saddened by this, as my wife and I have made this an annual tradition since we first met. So… go try a new place on my behalf and tell me all about it! I’ll live vicariously through you.
The chart to the right is as always a great place to see what is running this weekend in Chicago. It isn’t everything that is running, though. I should point out that we drop things off the chart as their runs come closer to their end, and newer shows open up. Why is that important? Well, because it is holiday season, and this specific weekend is a huge one for openings. Almost everything on the chart is brand spanking new. I’ll be reviewing three shows for Newcity this weekend, and one for this site. Maggie will be writing a review about a show I’ve already seen, which is a situation that always intrigues me. I always wonder if we’ll have liked and/or disliked the same things. I often read other people’s reviews and compare them to my own, but I seldom get the chance to evaluate the similarities and differences in my perceptions and those of my compatriots here. I’m excited!
So… A few things that aren’t entirely theatrically related, but that I feel I should mention prior to this weekend. The weather outside is supposedly going to be frightful on Friday and Saturday. First, be safe. Second, if you can take a train to see a show, do so. When it comes down to it, inclement weather can kill a storefront theatre company in one weekend’s time. I speak from personal experience as a producer, and as friend to many who have taken huge losses when audiences stay home by the fire. Seldom does the CTA stop running, so if you are in search of something to do, and you like the adventure of heading out into this year’s first snowfall, see a show. My own theatre company almost went out of business in the beginning of 2014 due to the Polar Vortex. We’d had our most profitable holiday season since we relocated to Chicago in 2010, and then lost it all, and then some, when the blizzard-like weather kept folks away from the theatre. It hurt. We managed to keep things going, but we were staggering along. From a critic’s perspective (and as just a theatre-goer’s, too), I really enjoy being in a warm theatre watching a show on snowy nights. There have been a lot of articles over the last couple of years about how Scandinavians avoid the winter blues, and much of that comes down to their society taking the time to make human connections during the long dark months. So… turn off the Netflix, avoid ordering in delivery, and go interact with live theatre. But… again… be safe. So, take the CTA. Get to the theatre in one piece, and back home in similar fashion.
Every year about this time, this happens. This is the week wherein we start to see holiday offerings. But, to my surprise, not all the shows starting here in early November are Christmas shows. There are actually two Thanksgiving-themed productions on the docket this week. I’d like to take a moment to look at those two pieces before we move on to my other main topic which you’ll find under the subhead below. First… Preview thoughts about Thanksgiving shows. The two shows that are on the chart are “Pilgrim’s Progress” at A Red Orchid Theatre, and “The Thanksgiving Circumcision” at MCL Chicago.
The first is not surprisingly a tale of family squabbles over the turkey, spiced with a bit of homages to great American playwrights of the last century. It’s supposedly tense and hilarious in the same way that a real family Thanksgiving can be. The show runs until December 13th, which is a good two weeks after Turkey Day. As you may know, Thanksgiving is one of the two most stressful holidays on the American calendar. Adult interaction with family is difficult and often painful. But, as you probably also know, comedy can be defined as other people’s pain. And this is one of those shows that explores that profundity.
Now, MCL Chicago’s Thanksgiving show is one that pokes fun at tradition. Traditions collide when a couple whose female member is Jewish has a baby 8 days before the feast and football holiday. So, there’s a bris on the schedule. The non-Jewish husband and his family aren’t quite okay with the upcoming proceedings. Hilarity ensues. Not unlike all the shows at MCL Chicago, the production is a musical comedy. As one of the show’s stars mentions in her online bio, it’s a show about “Jews, gentiles, and genitals.” That’s about all one has to say, really.
Informing the Critic
Okay, so… today’s topic grew out of a discussion that I had back in September at a retreat of Chicago directors hosted by DirectorsLabChicago. The event itself was exciting and will hopefully have been very useful to the team that runs the Lab. But, it was a discussion over lunch that inspired the following thoughts. Basically, it came up that I’m not only a director, but also a critic. And there was talk about balancing the two, how to be fair, and a bunch of other things. But more than anything, another director’s concern about critics struck me. He said that he wishes that reviewers would take their noses out of their notepads, stop writing, and just experience the shows in their entirety. He contends that the writing reviewer is a distracted reviewer and that doesn’t treat the critiqued work fairly. Now, there are critics in town who take copious notes during a performance, and I imagine part of that is habit, or a need for memory assists. There are others who don’t take any notes at all. I can’t say why any given reviewer does what they do. But, I can talk to why I sometimes take notes during a show. Normally I don’t. Once upon a time I took a notebook with me to every show, but I found that I normally walked away with a blank page with the play’s title at the top, rather than anything useful. However, upon occasion I want to get the wording exactly right, or want to look something up later, and that act of writing down a thought in the moment is the best way for me to make sure I don’t miss being able to write the best (meaning, highest quality) review that I can for that specific show.
So… I can’t change the long-term habits of some critics. But, I can tell you what makes my job easier. It comes down to helping me help you. I am essentially an expert in some things (I’m not the only one who thinks so!), but I’m not an expert in all things. No human being can be. If you want me to know everything about your play, tell me. And how do you do that? Put together a press kit. At every play I go to, I am given two things: a ticket and a press kit. Actually, a lot of smaller theatres don’t even give me a ticket. So, there I am walking into the theatre with the ubiquitous red folder (sometimes actually a black folder) with a program and a press release contained therein. Prior to the lights coming up, I flip through whatever is in the folder — partly to kill time, partly to inform myself. Sadly, what I normally find inside is an exact copy of the press release that I was e-mailed about a month earlier. Perhaps there is a set of captions for the photos that I may or may not use with my article. What’s missing is anything that tells me about the background of the play.
By way of illustration, I want to use a recent play as an example: “The Terrible” at The Den Theatre, presented by The New Colony. I reviewed the play for Newcity Magazine. At least four other critics wrote reviews of the show, according to the aggregation link on Theatre In Chicago. Now, granted, there may have been more writers who covered their opening. After all, my own review isn’t on that list (there’s some sort of nebulous history there about theatreinchicago.com only linking to Newcity’s reviews periodically… not going into that right now). Anyway… here’s the point: This is a play that does two things at the most basic level. If we don’t look at any of the review-able aspects of the play, and only focus on what it is about, we find that it is a play that represents a modernized version of Virginia Woolf’s suicide by drowning, and her potential after-life in a “No Exit”-esque realm of Hell/Purgatory. That’s it. Here’s the thing: of those four other reviews, including one by the biggest name in reviewing here in the town, all four made mention of the similarities between Jean-Paul Sartre’s masterwork about Hell being other people. Good. They all proved that they have a basic understanding of the western theatre canon. However, each and every one of them neglected to mention that the main character’s suicide matches that of the English poet, from the stones in the pockets, the drowning, the final poem, and the letter. It wasn’t even thinly veiled. So, half of the concept of the show wasn’t even caught by the reviewers. I could complain about how this is really a comment on the sad state of their education in the humanities (especially the one who is one of Woolf’s countrymen), but when it comes down to it, I only caught it myself because a good friend of mine was in an opera a few years ago about Woolf and her death (I reviewed that one, too).
So, what would have made this egregious omission a non-issue? If we had been given something in the press kit that gave a little info on Woolf’s life and death. Perhaps some info on “No Exit” would have been useful too. The last time I read that play was back in undergrad about 20 years ago. And then, maybe a statement of the playwright’s mission and the director’s concept. How about a copy of the script? Any of these things would have made my job easier, and clearly would have helped the others as well.
Now, I don’t intend to pick on the press agent that hosted that evening. He is not unlike most of the folks who are doing that same job here in town. What I do want to do is call out two folks who go a step or two beyond the rest when it comes to providing the materials that guarantee that I do not write about their clients in an ignorant haze. First, John Olson who is both a freelance publicist and also in charge of the publicity at the Raven Theatre. John puts together the best press kit in town. There’s normally a thick packet of informative documents which include supporting materials and reference articles which can make my writing more fully articulate about the issues within whatever work I’m seeing that evening. My second round of kudos goes to James Juliano and his staff at Shout! (although I’m excited about them, the exclamation point is theirs, not mine). When I want to quote a line exactly, and I don’t want to get it wrong, I can call him up and get a copy of the script, or at least the segment I need. That means that I’m able to watch the play without the interruption of writing down the quote while in the theatre. And that, I think, goes a long way to addressing directly the concerns of that director at the retreat.
Basically, if you as a theatre artist want me to be more fully immersed in your show, eliminate my reasons for having to look down and away. Educate your audience, especially those members of the audience who will be trying to explain your show to others. We aren’t in this business to crap on your work. We are trying to champion theatre to our readers. We want to send people to see good shows, and we can better inform them when we are better informed.
Just some thoughts.
“I would do anything. I would go anywhere.” Sing it Smokey!
As of the moment I’m writing this, there are 26 days left in November.
I consider this birthday my “Meaning of Life” birthday, since I’ll be turning 42.
After a number of months off for an extended summer vacation, Theatre By Numbers is back to publishing weekly previews and reviews of shows in Chicago. And we’re still doing it all by the random roll of dice. We’re a staffer lighter than we were back in the Spring, and that means that we’re actually actively looking for one more review to join our ranks. It takes a special kind of person to trust their theatrical experiences to a 20-sided, numbered ball. And yet, it’s something we encourage you all to try! It’s a blast. Therefore, you’ll see this week’s dice chart to your right. It has a wide variety of shows this week. And, surprisingly fewer Halloween-themed shows than I would expect this time of year. I’ve already rolled the dice this morning and I’ll be seeing The Raven Theatre’s “The Play About My Dad” over the weekend. I’m also reviewing a show for Newcity Magazine this week. And, not unlike in the past, the links to those reviews will also be here for your enjoyment.
I’ve truly missed being able to write long for reviews of the shows I’ve been seeing. When I write for Newcity, I am limited to 350 words. Here, there is technically no limit to what I can write. Although, common sense says that nobody wants to read a 20-page term paper about a single performance. That’s even true about your professor who gave you that assignment. So… Obviously, I keep my writing here to a manageable level, but I am excited to get back to writing more in depth criticism on the works that grace the Chicago stage. Also, in the meantime, you may notice that over the next week or so, I’ll be going back and creating links for all the Newcity Stage reviews I’ve done over the summer, so that they have Dice Ratings and Ten-Word Summaries. Largely that is so I can be ready for December. After all, we’re rapidly approaching that time of year when we all announce our Top 5 or Top 10 shows.
A lot has happened over the past few months. Venerable theatres have announced their ends, other have delayed projects due to building permit issues, and still more have sprouted up out of the pavement. Even more is going to happen soon. Part of the changes we’ve made around here is that there will be periodic feature articles that cover theatrical news. We won’t limit ourselves to reviews any more. Although, that will remain our bread and butter, as it were.
Small Favor by Jim Butcher
28 fewer cans of Play Doh than were handed out by Director James Gunn on the set of “Guardians of the Galaxy”.
I have a pair of Alpaca wool (Is it wool if it comes from an Alpaca? I don’t know. Just go with it, okay?) socks that my parents gave to me as a gift. I’ve never worn them. Not because I don’t like them, but because my cats like them too much. The socks have to hang dry. Every time I hang them on our drying rack, one or both of the socks go missing and eventually end up dirty from being hidden under the couch, or dragged behind a radiator, or the like. Then I wash the socks again, hang them up and repeat the process over and over. I’d really like to wear them someday.
Today’s bit of random trivia from Uselessfacts.net: “The average person laughs 10 times per day” – I’m assuming that means actual laughs as opposed to the myriad times the average internet user claims to Laugh Out Loud at things. Just a hunch.
17,425,170 is the number of digits in the largest known prime number. The number itself is 257,885,161-1
We’ve got a chart on here this week that is filled with solid war-horse type shows. Big companies and small companies alike are tackling works with storied histories or established successful runs. That means that you can bet that you have a 50-50 chance at minimum of rolling a show that is safely going to meet a minimum level of good quality. That’s something. Right? Let’s look more closely:
As a big house, the Lyric is obviously normally known for its operas. After all, it is an opera company. However, its current offering is “Carousel”. That’s the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical based on the play “Liliom” by Ferenc Molnar. It was an instant classic when it first hit the stage, and it continues to be, even though its approach to an abusive relationship seems rather dated in this day and age. And yet, I’m sure it still resonates, or it wouldn’t be staged as often as it still is. Billy Budd will probably hit women and polish stars into the distant future. Some of the songs from this musical will be forever stuck in my head. And that, I presume is the reason for the show’s staying power.
Color Box Theatre is presenting “The Glass Menagerie”. Fearless Theatre is putting forth “Spring Awakening” in non-musical form. And, Definition Theatre Company is doing “A Doll’s House”. I reviewed Definition Theatre Company’s “Genesis” back in September, and given the production quality of that show, I would encourage you to consider seeing their take on Ibsen. It’s a multi-racial cast, and the show is sure to be more deeply layered than a traditional production of the Norwegian play. Were I not doing the random thing, I would personally skip “The Glass Menagerie”. When it comes down to it, I love Tennessee Williams, but this is the one play of his that I never need to see again. As for “Spring Awakening”? I don’t know much about the theatre company, nor their particular take on the Frank Wedekind tale of youthful indiscretions. I’m a lukewarm fan of the musical version. This adaptation of the German original is not the musical, but I have no idea if it will stand on its own merits. Let’s call it a risk-reward selection for this week.
So… I’m in tech rehearsals this weekend for “The Bloodhound Law” at City Lit. And my current show (“Master Works: The Intuit Plays“) closes on Saturday night. All that means is that I can only see a show Sunday night. Maggie will be on the scene this weekend, though. She’s reviewing Shattered Globe’s opening on Sunday afternoon. For myself, I’ve not yet heard back from the show that I rolled on the chart. That may mean I am not seeing anything. Cross your fingers for me.
Onward to the randomness:
So… it wasn’t on our chart this past weekend, because we took the week off and that means that there was no chart. But… I went to see “Jesus Christ Superstar” this past Sunday night at Theo Ubique. It was really cool to see how it was staged in their tiny space. The whole show was a great experience, despite the fact that I believe that the guy playing Simon was the only true tenor in the show. So many of the melodies were taken down an octave or altered to fit the range of the plethora of lyric baritones in the production. Annas and Judas were especially frustrating to listen to, as they weren’t anywhere close to singing the parts as written. As one who works in musical theatre/opera I know that guys are at a premium in the field, especially tenors. Yet, it was an otherwise brilliant show. Though this isn’t technically a review, let’s say I recommend it. (d12 = “Heckuva Good Show”, for those keeping score at home). The show just extended and will now be running through May 17th. Get more info at Theatre In Chicago.
We’re going up to 70 degrees today. Why the hell are my radiators going full blast?! C’mon! Ah, life in a building with only one thermostat…
Today is the 150th anniversary of the surrender of the Confederate States of America to the United States of America at Appomattox .
“Black and orange stray cat sittin’ on a fence
Ain’t got enough dough to pay the rent
I’m flat broke but I don’t care
I strut right by with my tail in the air”
Trivia time! Thanks to the folks at The Random Trivia Generator: “Richard Cadbury invented the heart-shaped Valentine’s Day candy box”. — I know it’s a long time since February 14th, but I still have half a bag of candy hearts in my cabinet right now. Snack time!
I have found that being in rehearsal for one show while producing another and reviewing for two media outlets leave no time for breathing. So… I’m belated in putting up a few links to the reviews I’ve written over at Newcity Stage. I’ll get those up tonight. Sorry about that. However, the cool thing is that I’m rarin’ to write this preview about the goodness that is coming up this weekend. And another bit of big news…
Happy Birthday to us! Theatre By Numbers has just crossed the one-year mark (at least in its Chicago iteration). Thanks to all of you who read our reviews, and to the theatres who allow us to help spread our love for what they do. We’re lucky as all get-out that we get to review theatre in the best theatre town around.
Now for your regularly scheduled preview thoughts: A couple of shows that I’m excited about are on the chart this week. “La Bête” is at Trap Door this weekend. It’s a play in the Moliere style, but modern. Rhyme schemes surround the plot schemes. I’m jazzed about this one, actually. It’s right up my alley. Not unlike the door to get into Trap Door (which is right up an alley… in case you didn’t get that).
Additionally, I’m excited to see what Stage 773 pulls off with “All In The Timing”. It’s the classic David Ives one-act collection. Yeah, for some reason I’m excited to see a set of plays that every theatre kid has done in college. Are these scripts over-produced? Yes. Are they done to death by people who have very little to no experience in theatre? Yes. But, that’s why I’m excited to see them this time around. Good theatre people doing good work on shows that had to have been good at some point. Shakespeare is elevated when put in the hands of people who know what they are doing. I assume the same is true for Ives.
I’m been getting Physical Therapy on my right knee for the last few weeks. It’s getting better– taking a long time, mind you– but getting better.
I like meetings. I know that most people don’t. But I much prefer talking to people face to face and working things out quickly than to shoot messages back and forth in a sluggish exchange that almost never gets anything done.
“Just like Ronnie sang
Just like Ronnie sang
Be my little baby
Baby, my darlin’, uh, uh, oh, oh, oh”
Looking at this week’s chart, you’ll notice that it’s a complete overhaul from the last one that appeared in this space. That’s partly because I forgot to post the chart last week and a two-week lapse will have major effects on the chart. But, it’s also because February is apparently a massive time for openings. No other month has resulted in a nearly weekly overhaul of the entire chart. Not even October, which is the semi-official start to the theatre year for most companies. I’m excited by that. Things are about to cool down again. I’m about to be in rehearsal for one show and production for another. That means I’ll only be reviewing one show per week. The ladies have their own projects as well. It’s going to be an interesting spring. I’m enjoying this last bit of the winter and its glorious rush of theatre until then.
Jackie, Maggie, and I will each take on one show this week. So, that’ll be a good sampling of Chicago theatre at a glance. At least, I think so.
A trio of specifically exciting things in the theatre world this week:
1) The Chicago Fringe Festival Lottery is this upcoming Saturday. The lottery is held to determine which shows will be getting in to the festival which runs in early September up in the Jefferson Park neighborhood. I went to the first Chicago Fringe back in 2010 when I first arrived in Chicago. It was small and disappointing. I attended last year’s Fringe, and it has blossomed over a short time into a fun, quirky, and unique festival. I like it. I’m going to hang out with the people who are watching to see if their ping pong ball is selected on Saturday. You should come and join me. If you can’t make it, they’re Live Streaming the event. But, I won’t be able to have a beer with you that way.
2) Not specifically theatre related, really just this column related … My wife got me a new 20-sided die. It’s green and the size of my fist. It is what I’ll be using to roll this week’s shows.
3) One show on this week’s chart merits special attention: “Faust (Save Me or I’ll Die)” is something intriguing to me on a couple of levels. First, the director has been pushing publicity pretty hard for quite some time. And so I’ve been aware that this was happening for a while, but it was never showing up on the chart. It’s there now. So, what makes this show interesting in and of itself? I’ll start by saying that it is not the subject matter. The world does not need another rendition of “Faust”. At least, not for its own sake. There was a time when I was seriously into building puppets, and I wanted to conquer Faust as a major work. But, why do what everyone else has done before? Well, here’s the thing… this is actually a company created piece, so it may be something unlike what has been done before. It might not be, but there’s only one way to find out… by seeing it. What intrigues me most is actually what The Runaways Lab Theatre is doing for their venue. They are constantly moving it from place to place. The first press release I received declared that the play will never be performed in the same location twice, and that the venues are all secret. Now, I don’t know about you, but the thought of a secret venue is perplexing to me. I like to know where I’ll be viewing my theatre. And over the years as a producer, I’ve come to realize that venue is often associated more closely with a show than the producing company is, at least in the eyes of the audience (I’ve had people tell me that “A Klingon Christmas Carol” was not done by my company but by the Greenhouse, the Raven, and even The Annoyance — where it was never even produced). So, mostly I’m intrigued by the approach to staging and location that this show will be using. Obviously, I can’t control whether it will appear on the dice, but it’s something I’m keeping an eye on.
Now for for randomness:
Every time I sit down to write this preview article, I go blank. I save up thoughts all week long to post, and then when I put myself in front of the keyboard I forget every single thing I intended to say. So, in the spirit of an exercise that I had to do in Grad School, I’ve just started writing whatever came to mind. It’s a stream of consciousness thing, but not just that. Whenever I hit a wall and cannot think of anything else to say, I am supposed to write “pavo salchicha”. That’s two Spanish words that don’t quite mean “Turkey Sausage” (a better translation would be “salchicha de pavo”). Anyway… I had a professor who would make us write that two word combo whenever we couldn’t think of anything. There were times during that exercise that some of us would just have that word set over and over again in a long list of turkey sausage. Others who lost momentum less frequently would have something that seemed like a Madlibs with a very single-minded culinary flavor. All right! I’m ready to write the other stuff. Here we go!
My Quarterstaff class started this past weekend.
Two long and one short.
I’m trying to figure out which would be the best place to go camping: Tennesee, Arkansas, or Indiana. Seriously.
It’s less than a month until the first day of Spring!
I actually wrote the first bullet point on this list before the main content of the article. Could you tell?
Trivia Time! Thanks to Trivia Quiz Generator: “Brisbane is the capital of Queensland in Australia.” – I don’t really have a sassy comment to make about that. I didn’t know this bit of info. I normally pride myself on having a good grasp on geography; far better than most people. And yet, what I’ve come to realize recently is that the geography that I know really well is the world as it was just after the fall of the Soviet Union. There have been further changes in the world that I’m not so hot on. My daughter recently (last year) took AP World Geography, and it made me aware of how much I’d either forgotten, or had not been privy to in the last 20 years or so.
Hello! You may have noticed that there wasn’t a chart or preview last week. Sorry about that. There was actually a chart, and one show was rolled on it. Jackie reviewed it. But, I neglected to post a preview article. I don’t know if it is a sign of getting older, or just that there was so much going on, but I thought I’d written the article, and went along as if I had. But, clearly, I hadn’t. This is the first time that has happened, but I’m sort of surprised that I’ve not experienced this before. You see, I often compose things in my head while doing other things and then I get to typing them down a little later. I’ve also already revised my writing ahead of time that way. So, having given last week’s column a good deal of thought ahead of time, I didn’t even think about the fact that I’d not yet committed it to a post. Whoops! My apologies.
Anyway… this week we have a dandy chart. And with luck will have 5 total reviews for you: one by Maggie, one by Jackie, and three links to the ones I’m writing for Newcity. In the not too distant future you’ll see my number of Newcity reviews cutting back for a while. That’s because I’m about to start rehearsals for “The Bloodhound Law” at CityLit. That will be taking my time from March 1 – May 24. That means that my total number of shows will be decreasing drastically each week. I’m okay with that. I’ve been on a breakneck pace over the last month and a half.
I would like to talk about a show that we are not reviewing, but is of note in my opinion. First a bit of set-up… This past weekend Jackie and I attended the ITA Statewide Auditions. You know, of course that in addition to writing for this site, we also run Commedia Beauregard — Oddly enough why you’ll never see a review of a CommBeau show on this site (conflict of interest and whatnot). So… at cattle call auditions like the Statewides, I keep a running tally of how many times certain monologues have been recited. For the women this year, there was a monologue from “A My Name is Alice” and another from “Assassins” which were overdone. For men, the most popular choice was from the play “Red”, which is currently being presented over at Redtwist Theatre. Despite the fact that I saw that monologue too many times over the duration of two days, I was actually not turned off by the piece. Instead, I started to think, “Hey! I want to see that show.” Normally, I eventually dread seeing the works from which the monologues du jour come. But in this instance, my interest was piqued. I wish I could see “Red” this week. One of my friends had comps to it last week, which I had to turn down due to a Restaurant Week reservation. Drat!
Speaking of restaurant week. Tonight is the end of that annual Chicago event. I’ll be taking my dinner at Boka prior to seeing “First Date” at the Royal George. I’m excited that I get to review this play, as one of the actresses in it was in a play that I directed back in 1997 in Sioux City, Iowa. It’ll be great to see how far she’s come since then.
And now… Random things:
I have four posters to frame before I can call my dining room finished.
Silicone molding is so cool!
“How peaceful the world would be if we loved each other as a father loves his children” – A maxim from a cross stitched piece on my office wall.
Roses and chocolates.
Crayons. Two packs.
A random fact. A bit of trivia, which comes from hookedonfacts.com: “A Dragonfly can travel up to 60 mph.” — Dragonflies scare me a little.
I’m about to start taking my second SAFD class. This time I’m doing Quarterstaff. I’m excited. What can I say? When I watch Robin Hood things, ever since I was a kid, his bow work was something I took for granted. The part that I was always wanting to role play was the quarterstaff fight over the water against Little John. Yup. Dreams start to come true this next weekend.
I’ll be seeing four shows this weekend, and Jackie will take in another. That’s five shows total. What’s amazing about that is how last year, when we got started in February, we were lucky to review one or two shows a week. After this year, I will have personally seen more shows than I saw by the end of March 2014. It’s exciting to have a docket full of shows to review, and even more so to see what sort of stuff is out there in Chicago this year. What a wonderful theatre town.
I’m looking forward to a lot of things this week, and really for all of the upcoming month. I’ve recently started taking stage fighting lessons, and used to do a lot of physical acting projects, so a few things that are close to my heart are rapidly approaching. Also, the biggest cattle call audition of the year is coming up next weekend. The Illinois Theatre Association does us all a huge favor and gets together a few hundred actors in one place at one time giving the producers of Chicagoland a chance to see a lot of talent over a two-day span. February is wonderful.
So… What is on my radar? Well… This weekend is First Folio‘s “Laughter on the 23rd Floor”. Sid Caesar died this year. He was a massive influence on the television medium, and therefore on American comedy. His writing room was full of the best of the best, including names like Neil Simon and Mel Brooks. This is Simon’s play about what went on in that room. It is something that I’ve wanted to see for a long, long time. And First Folio does consistently good work, so it’s my fave for the early part of the month.
Mid-February has a circus opening up. I’m a huge fan of physical acting and circus skills. So, I’m looking forward to February 14th. That’s right, on Valentine’s Day The Actors Gymnasium will be hosting their circus “Circuscope” in Evanston.
There’s a bunch more to come, but we’ll look at all that in future installments of this column.
Stop! Hey, what’s that sound?
The statue of liberty.
Today’s trivia comes from Random Fact Generator: “Ancient Romans at one time used human urine as an ingredient in their toothpaste.” — I can tell you that I’m glad I was not alive in Ancient Rome. Although, this past week I did make a beet and chicken soup from an Ancient Roman cookbook. It was almost half wine, and used honey as a sweetener. Not too bad, although, pretty sweet for a main dish. Still, no accounting for the taste of the Romans. Urine? Teeth? Yuck.
I’ve been listening to an audiobook of Mark Twain’s “Roughing It”. I’m about 2/3 of the way through.
There are adult actors on Chicago stages tonight who weren’t born yet when “The Simpsons” first hit the airwaves. Why do I mention that factoid? Read on.
As I sat in the lobby (read: small cramped space just outside the theater) at A Red Orchid Theatre this past Monday night, I was able to take in the conversations of a number of the other reviewers in town. I was somewhat appalled. When it comes down to it, there seems to be a generational divide amongst the reviewers in town. Within the pop culture of our society, we might come to believe that the baby boomers and the millennials are in some sort of battle that consists mostly of arguments about work-ethic v. opportunity. That’s not what I’m talking about here. What I am talking about still focuses on the baby boomers, however. As a 40 year-old member of the generation in between (Gen X), I can clearly state that the elder members of the brigade of critics present that night do not have our interests in mind when they are reviewing plays. I heard discussion of the importance of “West Side Story” and “Camelot”. I heard how not a one of them was familiar with “The Simpsons”, which is the topic of another show that was opening that same weekend. I heard them essentially call for more theatre that isn’t new. According to what I heard in that lobby, those of us creating truly new work should probably pack up and go home. It was a little bit frightening, in truth.
Just for a moment, let us consider the comments that I took in during that 20 minutes in a room with 5 other critics. I was the only one who had ever watched an episode of “The Simpsons”. Now, the other reviewers in question are about the same age as my parents (perhaps a couple of years younger). Since the show has been on the air since 1989 (that’s not counting the original appearances on the “Tracey Ullman Show” back in 1987), it has been a major part of popular culture since three weeks after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Perhaps cartoons aren’t these people’s thing, I’ll grant you that. However, over the last 25+ years, you’d think that they might have chosen to turn on the program to see what the hubbub was about! Now, I’m not an avid viewer of “The Simpsons”, but I know enough about them and their place in Americana to know that my generation and the one follow it were both affected by it. In order to better know the people who we are trying to get into the theaters, we should consider knowing what it is that interests them.
Long-established theatre companies are constantly struggling to bring in new (read: younger) audiences. Younger theatre companies tend to bring in the friends and family of those in their productions. The problem with having a set of influential reviewers who yearn for the return of musicals from 1957 & 1960 (“West Side Story” and “Camelot”, respectively), is that they are perpetuating the problems that audience development people are fighting on a daily basis.
It isn’t just a sense of being out of touch with the younger generations that came across. One gentleman (I use the term loosely, the guy was a pompous ass) spoke at length about how he assigned the plays that he assumed would be bad to his younger colleagues. What bothers me is not that he assigns shows that he’d rather not review to others. I think we’re all happier when we’re seeing shows that we enjoy. Right? But, the fact of the matter is that he won’t expand his own horizons. If he doesn’t do that, if none of them push past their boundaries which seem to be defined by a time long gone by, then they aren’t effective critics of the art of theatre. Instead they have shifted to looking at it as entertainment only. And when people do that, they tend to latch on to only what makes them comfortable. Art shouldn’t make us comfortable. It should make us think, experience, react, and be moved to action. Artists who are pushing the boundaries, or even those just tentatively exploring them, shouldn’t be relegated to a level below what the old guard wants to promote.
I guess, in a way, this little rant of mine is nothing more than a justification for why we do the randomness thing here. But, it is also a call to all of those of us who are older than the majority of the actors in this community to become aware of what their world is like. To review their art, one must also know them and their audience. Also, I would call upon other critics to know a little more about their own world. To ignore 25+ years of entertainment history, while writing about part of the entertainment industry, is just ridiculous. It is reactionary. It is sad.
Onto the chart (finally!). A few long-running shows are still on here. It’s hard to believe that “Lookingglass Alice” hasn’t been rolled yet, honestly. That thing has been lurking on the chart for weeks. That happened last year for a number of months to “Bible Bingo”, which did eventually show up on the dice. Perhaps this will be the week for the Lookingglass show. Perhaps not. Such is the fun of rolling the bones!
Maggie will be seeing one show this week. Jackie isn’t reviewing this week. And I will be doing 3 shows on behalf of Newcity Magazine again. The number of shows that I’m reviewing for them has taken a toll on the number I can do here for my own site, but I will be cutting back over the next few months, as my own projects will keep me away from freelancing much. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the links that I provide to my other reviews.
Now for something completely random:
I discovered that a rearview camera is worthless when confronted with wet pavement on a sunny day. The glare makes the view nothing more than a bright fireball of blindness. The rental car that I had while I was up in MN this past weekend was equipped with a camera because its rear window was tiny and divided by a bar going horizontally across its midpoint (who designed that?!). Generally, I would never buy a Hyundai Veloster. And not just because of the stupid name.