Season 33

Stage Left Theatre Blog

Belarusian Dream Theater

Belarusian Dream Theater aims to increase awareness about contemporary Belarus through culture, storytelling, and theater. Led by Ensemble Free Theater Norway, the Belarusian Dream Theater consists of new works by international playwrights about Belarus to be presented simultaneously by partner – theaters in Europe, the United States, and Australia on 25 March 2014 – Belarusian Freedom Day.

Stage Left will premiere four short plays to represent Chicago in this international theater action supporting freedom of expression in Belarus. We hope you will join us!

“NO ONE GIVES A CLAP,” by Jake Rosenberg (directed by Amy Szerlong).

“ALENA’S BOY,” by Anna J. Rogers (directed by Amy Szerlong).

“UNDER PROTEST,” by David L. Williams (directed by Michael Manocchio).

“SEE HIM?,” by Jacon Juntunen (directed by Kate Leslie).

Running time: about one hour
@ Theater Wit, 1229 W Belmont
Tuesday, March 25th @ 7:30pm
Admission is FREE! 

The Comparables

Join us for a free reading of 

The Comparables
by Laura Schellhardt
directed by Devon DeMayo

Monday, November 11th @ 7:30pm
Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont 

featuring Lucy Carapetyan, Kimberly Logan and Mary Poole 

currently being work-shopped through one of our Downstage Left Residencies.

Three women vie for power in the cut-throat world of high-end real estate. Bette runs her own female-dominated agency. Monica is her loyal second-in-command. Iris is the savvy new hire. When Bette’s reputation falls under attack, the future of the agency is at stake. Who, if anyone, will survive the ordeal, and to what lengths will they go to ensure success?  A dark comedy that begs the question: for women in the competitive world — is there more than one way to do business?

Behind the Curtain

Our 2013 Benefit!

Before a play ever gets to the stage, actors, designers, directors, dramaturgs, and other artists put in hours of effort creating the look and feel of the show. Have you ever wanted to know how that work gets done? What the steps that lead to a full show look like? What a dramaturg is?

Or do you just want to have a good time with the people who do this work?

Then, come join us Behind the Curtain for drinks, delicious food, a silent auction, and a look at the research, designs, and other parts of the process that creates the shows we put on.

Featuring sneak previews of Stage Left Theatre’s upcoming shows: A Day in the Death of Joe Egg and Principal Principle.

Friday, November 15, 2013
7pm – 10pm
at the Jackson Junge Gallery 
1389 N. Milwaukee Ave.              

Buy Tickets


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Also at this event, Stage Left will present the 2nd annual Hallie Flanagan Award to 

Matthew Groch and Kevin Phillippi

Matt joined Stage Left’s board in 2006 , became Treasurer in 2008 and President in 2009 when he brought Kevin in as Treasurer.  What followed was a period of intense transition for Stage Left, including turnover of much of the ensemble, both the Managing and Artistic Directors, and a move from the company’s home of 15 years. Matt and Kevin were instrumental in navigating the transition to our current home as a resident at Theater Wit and in restructuring the company to meet new challenges in this situation.  Their considerable contributions were invaluable to the continued success of Stage Left.  


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. 



Behind the Curtain save the dateHelp us celebrate our 32nd season!

Please join Stage Left Theatre for a fun night of food, drinks, a silent auction, and great company!  Hope you can make it!

When: Friday, November 15, 2013
Where: Jackson Junge Gallery
1389 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Chicago, IL 60622
Time: 7:00 pm

RABBIT — The Wet Run

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


Sometimes It’s Nice to Be Wrong

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

A free reading of The Liar Paradox

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.

We’ve Got Issues: A 30th Birthday Benefit Bash

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.


Benefit committee:

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

Behind the Camera in IMPENETRABLE

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

Notes from the Downstage Left Residency — WARPED

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

Notes from the Downstage Left Residency–WITCHES VANISH

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.

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