The Beginning: April 2 – 6, 2014 (Preview & Chart)

This week's random theatre determinator.  Grab a die and play along!
This week’s random theatre chart. Grab a die and play along! (click for bigger version).

Certain weeks are busier than others, and this is one of those weeks when the Chicago theatre scene is bustling.  If you look at the chart over to the right, you’ll notice that very few of the plays that were listed on it last week are still on there.  That’s because all sorts of shows are opening this week.  That raises an issue which is often asked of me: How do I make my charts?  Really, that question is asking how do I decide which plays go on the chart and which don’t.  After all, there are far more than 20 shows open at any given moment in Chicago.

Well, here’s how it goes.  First thing to go on each week’s chart are the shows that have openings on the weekend in question.  That doesn’t normally fill-out the entire 20 slots.  Although it can come close, as it did this week.  The remaining slots are filled with remnants from the prior week’s chart.  But, how do I decide which shows get to stay?  Well, reviewing is a thing of diminishing returns.

Here’s that I mean: as a producer, I normally want reviews to come early in the run so it helps start to stir word-of-mouth publicity.  At the same time, if my run is a long one, a mid-run review often helps nudge people toward my show when they otherwise may have forgotten about it.  So, that’s from the producer’s perspective.  There’s also the audience to consider.  Very little confounds me than reading a review of a show that gets published after the show is closed.  It’s nice that the show was good, but now that it’s done, I can’t share in the viewing pleasure.  Since the idea of reviewing is partly to help inform the viewer about what is available and worthwhile, the effort is wasted if it gives information after the fact.

So, for me, it’s a matter of timing.  I won’t review any show that my review can’t be useful to either a producer or an audience member (what benefits them is not necessarily the same thing all the time).  Basically, if a show has fewer than 2 weeks left in the run, it doesn’t go on the chart.  Three weeks left in the run is a good bet to be included.  But, on weeks where there are a lot of shows opening, it may be that only a few longer-run shows make the chart.  On the chart above, only one show is closing as early as April 13 (The Most Ado).  Everything else is closing much later.  The latest closing date is November 22 (Bible Bingo).  Most shows are going to be running about 5-6 weeks, especially if they are Jeffs Eligible, as that  distinction carries with it a minimum number of performances to qualify.  In a way, this does favor more established theatres.  Newer groups with shorter runs may not make the chart if they are only running for a couple of weeks.  But, so long as they are running for a minimum of 3 weeks, they’ll appear on the chart at least once.  Then it’s up to the dice.

TUTA's "The Jewels" -- Pictured:  Carolyn Molloy (Left) and Layne Manzer (Right). -- Photo by Anthony La Penna.
TUTA’s “The Jewels” — Pictured: Carolyn Molloy (Left) and Layne Manzer (Right). — Photo by Anthony La Penna.

One of the shows I get to review this week is by a group that I really admire, but have yet to see their work: TUTA.  I rolled a 7 on the chart, and so I’m seeing The Jewels on Thursday night.  Artistic Director Jacqueline Stone and I worked for the same company years ago, although not at the same time, and she was one of the first people that a mutual friend put me in touch with when I first came to Chicago.  And so I’ve kept tabs on what her company is up to, and I have to say that I’m really excited to be able to see one of their shows in person.  They have a great reputation and a very collaborative way of working.  This past summer I was part of the Directors Lab Chicago, where Ms. Stone was a guest speaker, and I got to hear more about their company’s process, and it will be cool to see how it results in a finished product.

The other plays that I’m reviewing this week:  Our Class at Remy Bumppo (Die Roll: 15) and A Place in the Woods by Fine Print Theatre Company at The Alley Stage (Die Roll: 9).

If people keep sending me questions about the process of writing this column, I’ll probably put together a FAQ page.  For now, I’ll just answer them within the preview articles each week.  Another thing that will be added to the site this week: Weekly wrap-up podcasts.  Often there are thoughts about the shows that I see that don’t make it into the regular reviews.  Those thoughts will be there.  Also, a bit of discussion with the people who attend with me.  Reviewers are often given two tickets to see shows, and I like to hear what thoughts my theatre buddies have.  I think you will like it, too.

Time for some randomness:

  • I recently discovered that it is possible to listen to ESPN 1000 all the way to Lafayette, IN.
  • In the realm of British candies, the Jelly Baby is far superior to the Wine Gum.  Just trust me on this.  I’d not tried either candy prior to the last 6 months.  I learned that a Jelly Baby is a wonderful cross between a gummy, a jelly bean, a gumdrop, and is covered in powdered sugar.  I more recently learned that a Wine Gum contains no wine, has the texture of long gone stale Gummi Bears, and tastes like generic Jello flavors.  Yup.  Oh, and the reason for trying these?  The Jelly Babies ought to be obvious: Doctor Who’s 50th Anniversary.  The Wine Gums?  My wife is taking an online food science course that required them for an experiment.  Now, I order Jelly Babies by the Kilo (truly).  I made the mistake of doing the same with our first ever batch of Wine Gums.  Life span of 2.2 pounds of Jelly Babies in my house?  About 4 days.  Life span of 2.2 pounds of Wine Gums?  Can’t tell you yet, but we’ve passed the 3-week mark.
  • My daughter’s English class just started a 6-week unit on Romeo and Juliet.  I learned everything I needed to know about R&J in 2 minutes and 17 seconds.
  • Captain Kirk, Scotty, Miss Piggy, Kermit the Frog, and an X-wing Pilot.
  • Today’s trivia from Hooked On Facts: “A person swallows approximately 295 times while eating dinner.” — Unless of course that person is dining on Wine Gums, at which point they are probably trying really hard not to swallow about 295 times… just sayin’.
  • For any of my readers who were with me back in the good old days of the “League of Extraordinary Fringers” in MN (2004), I thought I’d see what the first-ever bit of randomness was that I included in my column.  Seems it was about kittens.
  • I like scotch.  I also like butterscotch.  These two things are not related.
  • This seems like a good way to end today:  A poem about dice.