Stage Left Theatre Blog
Most of of Rabbit takes place in a bar. And the characters are drinking. A lot. Shortly before we moved out of the rehearsal room and into Theater Wit, director Elly Green suggested that the actors try to run the show with real booze instead of water. Here is what she had to say about it:
Rehearsals and drinking: do the first before the second, as a general rule.
And when it comes to ‘drunk acting’, I’m pretty hard line about it. Don’t. Just don’t.
So when the characters in the play are consuming large amounts of alcohol, how do you help to take this into account in the playing of it? I have told the cast of Rabbit several times during our rehearsal process to trust Raine’s writing. The effects of alcohol consumption are absolutely in the text, both in terms of content and tone. It’s written beautifully to capture the giddiness, belligerence and emotional instability of increasing drunkenness. And I still hold to that. So when I suggested a ‘wet run’ it was more to give them an opportunity to ‘feel’ the play out this way, than for me as a director. However, discoveries were made, and now I’m certainly a convert.
One of the actors afterwards remarked on the ‘volatility’ that actual intoxication induced, and from the outside, I was amazed at how many brave and new decisions were made, and how much freedom the actors seemed to gain. Obviously, we are not talking about a line perfect run, but the messiness and unpredictability was useful. Emboldened with a couple glasses of wine (not to mention the tequila shots) they were playing their actions and the stakes with both intensity and abandon. And the result was dynamic, immediate and often upsetting. As an audience member, I’ve rarely felt so much ‘in the room’ with the characters with the sense that ‘anything might happen’.
I also enjoy crying with laughter. It’s a cheap form of therapy.
–Elly Green, director of Rabbit
Dennis William Grimes, who plays Richard in Rabbit, offers a perspective from inside of the “wet run”
It isn’t often that you find yourself writing about a specific rehearsal, but then again, one isn’t always trying to drink alcohol at pace with one’s character. When discussing our “wet-run” with people outside of our production I have met both curiosity and derision — couldn’t we just use our imaginations, isn’t it a little childish, dangerous even? Honestly though, I am compelled not to write about an experience of rehearsing a play while becoming inebriated, but rather about finding out what happens when things get messy and unpredictable. What happens when a group of people, who trust each other enough to try an experiment, fight through the giggles, drive through the slip ups, and find something productive in play.
It isn’t always easy to walk into a rehearsal with abandon. Habituation and safety often keep us from trying to follow an impulse or destroy what has come before, because we cling to ideas like “this isn’t right”, “what is the right thing to do?”, “I want to do what feels right for this character, moment, etc.” As people (and I make a gross sweeping generalization here) we like the feeling of safety that comes with certainty. As performing artists we are taught and witness the power of that knife’s edge of uncertainty, where expectations are set up and destroyed, leaving mystery and wonder in the wake. How we get there while executing the same actions and path every night is a wonder in its own right. So we throw things at the wall, play around and see what comes out on the other side.
A little before we moved out of the rehearsal hall and before we moved into tech, our director opened up to us an opportunity to drink as our characters do in the play, both as something fun to do in creating our company history, and as a way to see what things might come out of such an experiment. What came out of this experiment has still left me wondering. This was not a rehearsal where everyone was dropped in, we had plenty of times where the laughter of watching one or more of our partners lose it, ground the progress of the play to a halt, but there were powerful moments where impulses were followed and things touched more personally than they might have otherwise.
This is not advocacy for using chemicals to unlock one’s artistry, but if you can be on both sides — being in the event and attempting to see it for what it is — something telling about the messy and ugly emerges. Our cast is a group of very nice people. We are kind and, as Elly likes to point out, happily “round the edges”, because naturally being cruel, or ugly, or downright mean, is something that we are encouraged not to do in our society and art form. This run gave us a little license to go to the sharper places, the messier places of “I’m not going to be where you expect me to be”, and “I can’t and won’t react-the way you expect me to react,” because I am not thinking about it in those seconds beforehand. I’m making it up and mostly failing, but with smiles and laughter of all of the people around us. We became emphatic and uncaring, focused and distracted, listened with great intention and broken out of the play, but mostly lost in the fun of playing with each other. Most of what came out is unusable, but some of it was gold, that shifted our story and storytelling to a place at which it might not have arrived.
We all have the ability to play with this abandon without the booze and often do. That night, we became adults with childlike eyes again, giving ourselves permission to always play the carefree and seek out that which is messy and unknown. Choosing to be “wet” allowed us to all fall down, fail, find the surprise, the wonder, seeing the joy and pain it could bring to us to be ugly and let it all hang out.
–Dennis William Grimes, Richard in Rabbit
I was thrilled when I got a mid-winter phone call from Vance Smith, letting my know that my play, Agreed Upon Fictions, had been selected to be part of Stage Left’s 2012 LeapFest. Prior to its submission, the play had sat untouched for about a year—it was, at 109 pages, finished, but what to do with it?
The play’s director, Megan, asked me, at our first meeting, what elements would be most important to me as we prepared for the workshop. “It’s really pretty much finished,” I told her. “I anticipate rewording some things, cutting or adding a line or two, little things. But I’m happy with it. The most important thing to me will be to have actors who are extremely comfortable with the words. It’s very close to finished,” I reiterated. She let me think I was right.
My first inkling that I was wrong came over the course of our two-day audition process. Actors came in who had prepared—they knew what they were reading. As the hours passed, one scene in particular got worse and worse—not the performances, the pages. As I listened to them over and over, performed by people who had spent time trying to connect the emotional dots, it became quite clear that the connections weren’t there. I hadn’t built the road I thought I had, and it took me multiple hearings to recognize it. Returning home after auditions were over, I emailed Megan: Make no copies. Print nothing. I have to fix that scene.
Thus began the three-month process of questioning, wondering, listening, and trusting. Rehearsal revealed to me how much can be cut when one is blessed with focused, thoughtful actors and a dedicated director. Turns out you don’t need to say something twice for the audience to pick it up. You might not even need to say it once.
Megan is fiercely intelligent and very intuitive, and she has a sweet-faced way of letting you think your work is done, all the while plotting a way to get you to see that it’s not. Our working draft was 109 pages and the play now stands at 94. Here’s the thing: We added two scenes. Factoring in the roughly 6 new pages of writing, I cut 21 pages. The play is tighter, more intense and more gripping than I ever could have made it on my own. Stage Left loves writers, and they work to surround us with actors and staff who will serve the pages. I thought up a story, and I wrote it down. Megan, Katie, Laura, Ed, Lindsey, Malcolm, Howard, Kyle and I got together and made a play.
-Shayne Kennedy, author of Agreed Upon Fictions, which was part of LeapFest 9
Get an early glance at a script being developed though our Downstage Left Residency program and become an integral part of the process!
The Liar Paradox
by Kristin Idaszak
directed by Jason Fleece
Wednesday, December 19th @ 8pm
Theater Wit, 1229 W Belmont
On New Year’s Eve, a catastrophic car accident leaves Marissa’s twin sister in a coma and her best friend dead. In the wake of this personal tragedy, all three of the young women’s secrets start to come to light, calling into question their identities in a multitude of ways.
Founded in 1982, Stage Left Theatre celebrates it’s 30th birthday this year! But if we told you we were 23, you’d still believe it right?
Come join us for drinks, delicious food, laughs, cake, silent auction and a Stage-Left-style look at the last 30 years…in 30 minutes!!
Featuring the unique stylings of Will Clinger, Randall Colburn, Will Dunne, Dana Formby, Andrew Hinderaker, Barb Lhota, Susan Lieberman, Melissa Lindberg, Jake Lundquist, Mia McCullough, Jayme McGhan, Christian Murphy, David Rush, Scott Woldman, and other artists!
Friday, November 16, 2012
7pm – 10pm
at the Jackson Junge Gallery
1389 North Milwaukee Avenue
Chicago, IL 60622
click here for map
Also, at this event, Stage Left will present The Hallie Flanagan Award to
||Alice O. Martin (PhD, JD) and Ted Jones
The Hallie Flanagan Award celebrates significant contributions to artwork that illuminates the social and political aspects of the human condition. Hallie Flanagan (1890-1969) was an American theatrical producer and director, playwright, and author. She is best known as director of the Federal Theatre Project, a part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the Depression. 2012 represents the inaugural presentation of what we conceive to be an annual award.
Leigh Barrett, Scott Bishop, Kate Black-Spence, Jason Fleece, Alex Fliess, Lynne Foster, Marguerite Hammersley, Lisa Herceg, Katie Horwitz, Latoya James, John Kohn III, Cory Krebsbach, Tara Malpass, Drew Martin, Mia McCullough, Brian Plocharcyzk, Jack Tippett, Elizabeth Walker, Greg Werstler, and Scott Woldman
Working on this play has been an incredible blessing, and an amazing journey. As an actor, I sometimes have trouble finding a way to latch on to a character, to get to know them, in order to present their life on stage. That has not been a problem while working on Impenetrable. One amazing aspect of the show is that each and every one of us can find ways to relate to each and every one of the characters, and that we have all faced the same issues that are presented in the play. For me, this was especially true of my own character, Pete. Pete is lovingly described as a doofy, self-deprecating, white guy photographer who has a plethora of self-confidence issues. I happen to be a doofy, self-deprecating, white guy photographer who has a plethora of self-confidence issues as well. From the first moment I read this script, I knew that I had to play Pete.
I was thrilled with the idea of having to present a character so close to myself on stage with a work as brilliantly written as Impenetrable. But another, seemingly more subtle, aspect of the show has helped me find a way to understand it even better. The script calls for multiple scenes where Pete is actively working as a photographer on stage. I started using my camera very early in the process, and quickly fell in love with any of the scenes where the photography took place, most notably the photoshoot. It was yet another hook for me to grab on to while grappling with the issues presented in the show. As you can imagine, throughout the rehearsal process, I have amassed an incredible amount of pictures. I do not know the exact number, but at the time of writing this, I have taken over 2000 pictures. Some are great gems, while most are utter rubbish.
This parallels my own photography style, and has in some way been very helpful in my growth as a person. I take, on average, about ten very shitty pictures for every ok one, and about ten ok ones for every good one, and so on and so on. It has definitely become a labor of love for me. The more used to this process I have become, the more comfortable I have gotten in my own life with the fact not everything is going to turn out perfect. You learn to accept when things are bad, and cherish the good that comes along when it does. I think that this is a huge lesson that each character in the show wrestles with, and at times they all find various levels of understanding and acceptance of its nature. Even now, I wish some of what I have written was more eloquent, and groundbreaking, but I know that it will serve its purpose, and that just writing it has helped me in some way.
-Kyle Johnson, Pete in Impenetrable
In April of last year, my partner and a good friend of mine had a conversation – more like a disagreement – regarding a recent news story about a woman who was taken home by a couple of cops and came out of her apartment screaming that she had been raped. None of the three of us knew anything more than what we read in the newspapers, and yet all of us had an opinion as to what had really gone down. One of us immediately took the woman’s side, the other the cops’ and I just flip-flopped.
This disagreement inspired me to write a play that explored the various perspectives of the same event much like the Japanese film Rashomon. My thesis is that our truth in every event is skewed by our perspective, our past and our own need to make ourselves attractive and likeable. Immediately after coming up with the inspiration for Warped, I thought of Stage Left. Not only was the play idea fitting for Stage Left because of the debatable subjects (What constitutes sexual assault? What is truth?), I knew several company members that I felt would be perfect for the characters.
In July or August last year, shortly after Vance called me to let me know that I was chosen for the Stage Left residency (Yay!), I met with Jason Fleece, my director, for the first time. In the two weeks following, I expanded the 40 pages originally submitted into my first draft of the play. We met at a diner in Uptown and talked a lot about the characters, the news stories that were inspiration for Warped and the tribulations of living in iffy neighborhoods. All of it was helpful and pieces of our first conversation continue to emerge as I rewrite drafts of the play.
I find that the best collaborators ask the right questions, and that’s how the process has worked for me with Stage Left. Jason asked me to tell him what had motivated me to write this play, and why I wanted to tell this story. He also asked me the main crux of the story and who we were following. He listened carefully to my objectives and offered suggestions about how to continue to raise the stakes.
As I wrote the first and second draft of the play, both Jason and Zev, Stage Left’s Literary Manager, told me what they observed in each draft, always helpfully, and asked more and more specific questions. Each draft was in answer to those questions.
As I started to work with the cast in read-thrus and the initial public reading I had the opportunity to have the extremely talented actors Anita Chandwaney, Brian Plocharczyk, Zev Valancy (later James Scott), Lisa Cordileone, Lisa Herceg, Mark Pracht and Mouzam Makkar provide their voices and thoughts to these characters. I love collaborations…I thrive on them, so this kind of give and take is exactly what I needed. Warped is a play about so I find it ironic and exciting that the process has echoed the play in that respect.
The actors have been instrumental in helping me ground and refine these character’s voices. They also have made it easy to see when things are working just as I expected and when they flop miserably. Not because the actors have ever done a bad job – quite the contrary – but because they have so totally commit to what I have written. The actors have also helped me discover, along with Jason, Katie Horowitz (Assistant Director), and Alex Fliess (Dramaturg) the way to integrate both my initial idea of showing changing perspectives, truths and the way that memories and circumstances change as we change.
Once I had the first Stage Left public reading, Jason encouraged me to find ways to make the scenes with the Internal Affairs officers even more active and compelling. His questions and suggestions along with the feedback of many audience members led me to more dramatic and active choices with my leading character. They also helped me see how to better fold two stories into one.
In the last few weeks, we read my fourth draft of the script. Mark, one my actors, again asked an important question. I had chosen an ending that gave my lead a bit of an escape. It was a little less heart breaking. Because I get very attached to my characters and the actors who work on the characters make them even more real for me, I have a hard time as a writer letting them be destroyed at the end of the play. He asked me… “How do you want to leave the audience? How do you want them to feel? Do you want to let them off the hook?” For me, this was an excellent question. And one I hope I have answered in my latest draft for LeapFest. If not, I’m sure one of the Stage Left Theatre company members will propel me forward by asking just the right next question.
Barbara Lhota wrote WARPED, appearing in LeapFest 9
In early September, when Zev Valancy called to offer me the Stage Left fall residency, I’d written only two scenes of Witches Vanish. I had serious intentions of writing the rest, but I had no idea what the rest would be.
The next thing I knew, I had a director, Scott Bishop. A director of an as-yet unwritten play. And he was auditioning actors. For an as-yet unwritten play. And we were planning a weekend of rehearsals. So I started writing like crazy.
I live in Tennessee, so being resident playwright at a theater in Chicago may sound tricky, but so far it’s been perfect. My first trip to Stage Left was October 13, a rainy night when I met the three men whose voices I’d known from the phone—Zev, Scott, and Vance Smith—as well as my super-talented cast—Cat Dean, Ashlee Edgemon, Kimberly Logan, and Julie Starbird. We started with a table reading of the forty-something pages I had written. One of the scenes was brand new, and it sounded surprisingly awful. I rewrote it. Another scene didn’t quite work. I revised it. And I figured out how to reshape another. All in the course of three days. Three days of readings, discussions, and experiments. Three days of watching my characters become people, of trying to explain (i.e., figure out) my intentions, and of taking notes like crazy.
The best day was the third—a Saturday morning that seemed to start just hours after we’d last met, so how much could change? We had two extra actors that morning, Ronan and Amanda, and it was fun to watch them pick up random pieces of the script and dive right in, and even more fun to listen to the original witches answer their questions. Then we started staging scenes, and what I’d feared might be impossible somehow suddenly looked easy. Witches Vanish had seemed technically daunting on the page, but it became surprisingly simple on the stage: Four L-shaped blocks became the witches’ cauldron; two L-shaped blocks became a puppet stage; and Julie became an entire crowd—a creepy human puppet with Cat’s head bouncing on her shoulder like a bobble-head doll.
Since then I’ve written another scene and have another hatching. The first was inspired by something Scott said, and the second by Ashlee. I’m grateful for the ideas of the entire team, but I’ve noticed something even more important: There’s a kind of freedom in working with this group. They’re so supportive that I feel like I can try anything—that, in fact, I have to try new things.
And so … last weekend I wrote something horrible—horrible in terms of subject matter and style and language. It may work, or it may not. I haven’t heard it yet, and I have mixed feelings about it. What I know for sure is that prior to meeting Scott and company, I would never have written this scene. So I’m already becoming a different playwright. Which is kind of exciting.
-Claudia Barnett, playwright of the Witches Vanish, which is currently being developed in residency at Stage Left.
The process of choosing and rehearsing Farragut North has crystallized for me the importance of the ensemble in the world of theatre. Without the Stage Left ensemble this amazing play and mind-blowing character would have slipped right by me. The process of selecting this script for our season was truly a group effort and result of many hours of discussion, disagreement, conjecture, and compromise. From the very first reading, I knew this was a role I needed to play. Stephen is a role that young actors dream of playing. In hours of discussion over the messages and themes in the play, the core of each of the characters, and the story that we would want to tell with a full production, we all realized there were deeper challenges in telling this story than the slick language of the piece could solve on it’s own. We discovered that Stephen and Molly have to be likable, both as individuals and as a new found pseudo couple. It was that discovery that launched this process for me as an actor, and ultimately guided me through what was important in Stephen’s journey.
As we went forward in pre-production and crew and cast found their places, I was incredibly excited to find myself charged with this beast of a role, but more so to be working with so many faces from my Stage Left family. Having worked with Vance on the Leapfest version of Mother Bear, I felt comfortable that we spoke a similar theatrical language, and that I could interpret his Vance-isms. Top notch ensemble designers Adam Smith and Elizabeth Flauto added to the sense of confidence that I was feeling heading into rehearsals. I have never heard or seen work from them that didn’t impress me. Then rehearsals started and it hit me. The Actor’s enemy- FEAR – PANIC – DOUBT! How was I going to get through this and try to tell this story (well). As I started to fall into an unproductive loop of self -reproach, the day came when we were going to get the Molly/Stephen scenes on their feet, and after a few plodding stops and starts in the rehearsal room we were given the green light to run the scenes. A strange thing happened. Melanie Derleth and I started to have fun. We had developed a working chemistry during our stints as ensemble members, and in Season 29′s An Enemy of the People, so strong that moving from giddy flirtation to twisted admonishment was effortless… and fun. Actor’s just meeting each other a few days before hand may have been slightly more uncomfortable and self conscious in changing gears as quickly as we had to in this process. We had to trust in each other completely as we navigated from half naked bedroom scenes to violent emotional outbursts. Our scenes always feel effortless because of the rapport we have developed as company members.
In the final stages of dress rehearsals and previews the rest of the ensemble became invaluable offering their insight and counterpoint as well as reassurance and emotional support to those of us immersed in the process. It was a group effort at the beginning, and as we opened it was once again a collective group effort, everyone working towards the same goal, telling this story and making it crackle. The chemistry of the ensemble combined with the talents and teamwork of our guest artists have made this show something unique. Farragut North will no doubt hold a special place in my heart and mind for years to come, not just because of the acting challenge it presents, but more importantly because of the sense of solidarity and passion present in the entire cast, crew and Stage Left as a whole. The amazing feeling, of a team of people converging on a common goal, using a common vocabulary, and having faith that someone has your back and everything will some how balance out, is what it means to me to be a member of an artistic ensemble.
-Brian Plocharczyk, Stage Left ensemble actor
Once again, Stage Left Theatre, those purveyors of thought-provoking theatrical entertainments, present a gala evening of revelry positively unparalleled in recent history!
Open bar, appetizers, carnival games, magic, fortune tellers, belly dancers and more!
Exciting items in our silent auction include:
-A catered private sailing party for up to 6 people.
-a Joffrey Ballet Gift package w/ 4 tickets to The Nutcracker.
-6 tickets to Cubs versus Brewers
-custom made hats
-private lessons in archery, karate, ballet & horseback riding.
One night only! The evening of Friday, August 26th, 2011 from 7:30-11pm
at the stunning and beautiful
Palette and Chisel Academy of Fine Art
1012 N Dearborn Avenue
Chicago, IL (map here)
$60 in advance and $65 at the door.
Click below to purchase online now!
Ensemble Member Cat Dean dwarfs the guests at
The Blue Cat Tribe performs
Michi Trota at last years
From Andrew Hinderaker, writer of Kingsville:
I’m currently in graduate school at the University of Texas at Austin. On Tuesday morning, as I was walking out the door to catch my bus to class, I received the following text:
armed subject reported last seen at PERRY CASTENEDA LIBRARY on 09282010. details to follow.
I put my phone back in my pocket and continued out the door. I had subconsciously glossed right over the word, “armed,” and assumed the message was your run of the mill, suspicious person alert.
And then I received another text.
armed subject reported last seen at PERRY CASTENEDA LIBRARY SHELTER IN PLACE STAY WHERE YOU ARE
Suddenly, the reality of the situation struck me. There was quite possibly a school shooter on campus.
My phone buzzed again — this time a call from my friend and classmate, Daria. She was on her way to class when she’d received the same texts and wondered if she should keep going to campus. I suggested she come over to my house until we figured out what the hell was going on.
So the two of us sat in my dining room, listening and watching in disbelief as the news reports rolled in: an armed student, dressed in black, and wearing a ski mask, had walked down one of the main streets of campus, randomly firing an AK-47. He’d opened the door to the Catholic center, fired additional bullets, then entered the Casteneda Library and ended his own life with a bullet to his head. Miraculously, no other students were injured, though the police were still tracking reports of a possible second shooter. We continued to watch the surreal images of a SWAT tank and helicopter circling the campus we’d just begun to call home.
After a little while, my roommate, Gabriel, emerged from his room. Apparently he’d woken up, heard the sound of our voices and known immediately that something was wrong. As Gabriel sat down at the table and joined us, Daria’s IM alert went off with a message from our classmate, Noah. He’d reached campus right before the alerts went out and was in the basement of theater building, on lockdown until the police could sweep the campus to eliminate the possibility of a second shooter. Noah himself was in a room with a few of our classmates and they were keeping each other’s spirits up, making the best of a tragic and frightening situation. And that’s how the morning went, with all of us together, grateful that the news kept confirming no additional casualties, and grateful that we were not spending this time alone.
Later that day, after the police had given the all clear, I decided to go to campus. UT had cancelled classes, but I needed to know what the climate was like.
It was a ghost town. This is a school with 50,000 students and no one was out. The streets were empty — the parking lots, normally packed with cars, were desolate. And the theater building, which bustles at all hours of the day, was dark and quiet.
It was the most alone I’d felt since moving to Texas.
And to think, just a few hours earlier, I’d experienced such a profound moment of community and connection. And both were a result of a shooting on campus.
Kingsville explores the phenomenon of rampage school shootings, and at some point in the play, all of the characters experience abandonment and isolation. All of them feel deeply alone. Yet all of them also experience a profound moment of human connection, a realization that they are worthy of someone else’s consideration and compassion. This is the hope of the play, the simple belief that we can save each other’s lives, and that what we need most in the wake of tragedy is each other.
This week’s tragedy in Austin has, for me, only reaffirmed these beliefs.