What Have You Done to Help Black People Stay Alive Today? or, Why I’m Not at TCG

Last year I had the privilege of attending TCG and writing almost 3000 words that ruminated on the topic: What is a Theatre Review(er) Good for? 

I didn’t re-read it, because I’m busy, doing whatever the fuck I can to help Black people stay alive. I’m neurotic, immuno-compromised, and generally traumatized but my Black ass is out here keeping supply lines tight and sending bodies where they need to be.  The far more urgent question I have for you today is: What have you done to help Black people stay alive today? Continue reading “What Have You Done to Help Black People Stay Alive Today? or, Why I’m Not at TCG”

To All The Black People Killed Before Me

A Note from the Editor: Bear Bellinger’s voice in the community is critical to me. In a moment where I didn’t know if I had the strength to speak up, I read this essay, initially published on Medium. Bear has given us permission to re-publish it here, and I hope it gives you courage to use your voice, even when you’re scared, like it did for me. Thank you for the reminder that Black Lives, our lives, and what we do with them, matter. In an effort to prevent Bear from doing additional emotional labor, please refrain from reaching out directly to the artist. If you’d like to support, please consider giving directly. Venmo: @BearBellinger

I never expected to still be here.

Some mornings, I shoot up from bed confused, breathless, lost between the dream world I just escaped and the realization that I am still here. My body is whole, my mind is intact, my spirit…struggling.

You see, I occasionally have nightmares of being shot by the police, remixing past interactions with deadly consequences. I dream of KKK rallies and unprovoked bar fights. I dream of danger. I dream of our history. I dream of our present. And, those dreams inevitably end in my death.

You get it.

To be clear: I don’t want to die. But, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t expect to.

Growing up Black, in this country, I saw myself as having one of two choices recognizing the reality that growing up in the hood while navigating White America meant death was always one haunting step from catching me: I could stare death in the face and live each day with the knowledge that tomorrow was not promised or I could try to assimilate, mitigate as many of the obvious paths towards danger that I could find. Make myself one of the safe ones and plan for longevity.

I found myself in-between.

I never expected tomorrow to come and yet I worked to create a greater world where it could. I dedicated myself to a career actively fighting against the constant dehumanizing depiction of my people. I tried to reclaim my humanity, to project to the world, “I am Black. I am enough. I am still here!”

At the same time, while working for a collective future, I never plan for a personal one. I work hard, but I’ve never been interested in projecting my own trajectory. Why plan five years ahead when I may not be here tomorrow? I’m comfortable in my poverty. I have enough to survive. Advancement? Longevity? Retirement? These were words for White people who have the luxury of a future.

Buried beneath the anger, the sadness, the exhaustion, the pain, and the guilt that slammed into my chest every time one of you was murdered solely for being Black was the realization that I always expect one day for that coffin to be mine.

I wasn’t supposed to make it past twenty-five, jokes on me I’m still alive.

Recently, I told a friend, “I’ve always been poor. I’ll always be poor. I’m good,” and that Black man responded, “we gotta get you outta that.” He was right. We do. Not solely out of the generational cycle of poverty that has left me comfortable with scratching and clawing to survive, but out of the mentality that I have no tomorrow to prepare for.

Death may be the expectation but living is the goal. Part of living is working to ensure a better tomorrow. When we shun that aspiration, we lose the beauty of life. The greatest theft enacted on Black bodies by racism is of our ability to dream towards tomorrow. Your murders are a specific form of terrorism meant to deprive us of the basic human right to safety, to security, to that pursuit of happiness.

My promise, my prayer: To you who we have lost in this seemingly endless struggle towards equality–I will strive to live for a tomorrow. Today may be guaranteed but tomorrow is the goal. I will set my sights on a future. I will not let their fear take my hope away. I dream for you.

Aaron’s Top 10 Nostalgic Recorded Performances of All Time

Theatre isn’t dead! And it never will be, as long as I have anything to say about it! It is safe to say, however, that theatre is taking a nap right now, as a result of a little worldwide pandemic you might have heard of. I won’t lie, I miss going to the theatre a great deal — in many ways it’s the last distraction-free form of entertainment there is. The thrill of being in a dark room, forced to turn off your phone and focus completely on a gripping story which unfolds right before your eyes. . . well, there’s nothing quite like it.

Luckily for us, however, there’s never been a better era for being stuck inside with nowhere to go. There is a digital entertainment empire at our fingertips, and I have caught up on many of my favorite old movies and TV shows in the past two months. In fact, there’s so much to stream we even built you a guide of what’s going on online in Chicago. Recently, I’ve found myself craving entertainment that mimics the breathlessness of the theatre-going experience. And so, in the same way I’m returning to movies that have given me a sense of nostalgia in the past, I find myself doing the same with the great recorded theatre performances of my life.

And so! As a fun diversion in these troubled times, here is my official Top 10 nostalgia-inducing recorded performances of all time. I’ve been drawing solace from these old bits of theatre, and I hope you will too. We’ll be dropping one item on the list every other day until we get to #1.

#10 — SPIES ARE FOREVER

Spies Are Forever is a musical written and produced by the three-person sketch comedy group, Tin Can Brothers. It takes place in 1960-something and is a parody of the spy movie genre, following the adventures of American Secret Service agent Curt Mega, as he attempts to foil an evil Nazi plot to take over the world.

I have very mixed feelings about this musical, but I still find it bizarrely comforting to watch. It’s a deconstruction of the spy genre’s view of masculinity and gender roles — but there are moments when it seems strangely unaware of what it’s trying to say. For instance, Curt is very much set up as a recovering alcoholic running from his past, but then (mild spoiler) his entire ragtag spy team has a whole song in Act Two where they get hammered right before a dangerous mission with zero consequences. Philosophically, you kind of have to go into Spies Are Forever with the understanding that, while its ideas are revolutionary, the execution of most of them feels a little half-baked.

The quality of the songs ranges from decent to positively iconic, with the rip-roaring opening number being my favorite. The characters are simultaneously over-the-top, lovable, and relatable. I adore the minimalist approach to the staging (a stark contrast to the expensive, flashy bombast of real spy movies), and while there are some pacing problems, the material is so ambitious that I can’t help but cut Spies some slack. Without spoilers, I’ll say that there’s a delightfully gay twist in Act Two that made my shriveled heart grow three sizes on my first watch.

At its core, this musical is about a man caught between the future and the past. Curt desperately needs society’s views to progress in order to self-actualize, but he takes so much comfort in the nostalgic trappings of the spy genre that he himself becomes trapped. It’s a fascinating take on the dangers of nostalgia, and I find it very relevant. I’ll refrain from getting political with this, but I will ask: why do you think that, in the midst of worldwide panic, we take so much comfort in the entertainment of our past?

PRICE TAG: $0! It’s available for free on YouTube

#9 —  CRAZY FOR YOU

In case you’re unaware, Crazy For You is something of a remake. Basically, in the early 90’s, somebody took a look at an old Gershwin musical from the 30’s, said “Let’s update this so it has the pacing of a modern musical comedy while still imitating the Golden Age style, shove even more Gershwin songs into it, and make it as commercially viable as possible!” As a result, this show is the blandest comedy to ever hit the Broadway stage, and I absolutely love it. The original Broadway production starred Harry Groener (who I know from playing the evil Mayor Wilkins on Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Jodi Benson, better known as the Little Mermaid in The Little Mermaid.

The version I’ve linked above, however, seems to have been filmed several years later at the Paper Mills Playhouse in New Jersey. I love its faded, VHS-like quality; I love the tacky sets and slick, energetic tap dancing. I don’t so much love the plot; I think it’s a tad basic and misogynist. However, this show has never tried to be anything more than a fun, dumb whale of a time, and I can respect that. The actors are all delightful and have electric chemistry and comedic timing.

At the age of 16, I played an ensemble cowboy in a production of Crazy For You at a summer stock theatre in southern Maine, as part of the strangest internship I’ve ever had. I got paid almost nothing, and shared a tiny dressing room with professional New York actors in their 20’s, a practice which seems inappropriate in retrospect. But regardless, it still stands out as one of my fondest teenage memories — it was all the breathless excitement of a high school show, but with a veneer of respectability slapped on top that no high school could ever replicate. To this day it’s the only tap-heavy show I’ve ever done, and there is a reason for that: I distinctly remember that I was always put in the back of any dancing formation onstage.

I carpooled to rehearsals with a high school friend with whom I remain close to this day. And so watching this old production instantly takes me back to the early days of that friendship, of driving up Route 1 on hot summer nights after an exhausting show and talking about life, the universe, and everything. I am not so foolish as to be particularly nostalgic about my nostalgia: that theatre was a chaotic and awful place to work, even if it had a rustic Maine charm about it. But still, it is nice to be swept into the past sometimes — even the complicated and tangled-up past that is my teenage years.

PRICE TAG: $6.99 if you wanna be a goody two-shoes and buy the DVD. But seriously, it’s $0 on YouTube. Don’t bother.

Check back in on Friday for #8 on the list! I won’t spoil it for you, but I think it’ll be a wicked good time.

Two-Month-Old Letter Reveals Artists Called for Transparent Leadership Search at Victory Gardens Theater in March

Below is the unedited text of a letter sent by over sixty artists who had previously worked at or are currently affiliated with Victory Gardens’ Theater. This letter was sent on March 2nd, 2020. Erica Daniels was appointed on May 5th, 2020.  Several of the signatories of the original letter have permitted us to publish their names. 

“To The Board of Directors and Executive Leadership at Victory Gardens Theater,

We are writing as artists and artistic affiliates who have had the pleasure of working at and with Victory Gardens Theater at one point or another in its forty-six year history, witnessing first-hand its great strides as a leader and cultural change-agent in our field. Continue reading “Two-Month-Old Letter Reveals Artists Called for Transparent Leadership Search at Victory Gardens Theater in March”

Mass Resignation: A Letter from the Victory Gardens Playwrights Ensemble

On Friday May, 22nd, 2020, the Playwrights Ensemble of Victory Gardens resigned en masse via a public letter on Medium. See the full letter below.

Victory Gardens Theater Playwrights Ensemble:

Luis Alfaro, Marcus Gardley, Ike Holter, Samuel D. Hunter, Naomi Iizuka, Tanya Saracho, Laura Schellhardt

________________________________________________________________

We, as an ensemble of resident artists at this venerable institution, are deeply
disturbed by the notion that our creative home aspires to be a truth-telling temple on its stage, but not in its administration.

This is unacceptable.

The Board of Directors, who are of service to our community, took it upon themselves to eliminate communication with the ensemble, artistic staff, stakeholders and artists who have labored for a decade to build up this theater and its new audience.

For over five months, and after receiving a letter signed by over 60 of its biggest supporters asking for accountability, the board sat on a plan to reorganize the institution.

It ignored the limitless possibility of what the field might have presented in terms of viable local and national leadership.
Continue reading “Mass Resignation: A Letter from the Victory Gardens Playwrights Ensemble”

Columbia College Student Questions A Professor’s Potentially Offensive Language, Columbia Professors Villify Student in the Press

There are two types of education for the undergraduate theatre professional of color in America.

Option 1: An invigorating education where teachers can help you place your lived experiences in an academic canon and define your place in the world. This empowering approach allows you to fully step into yourself as an artist.

Option 2: An oppressive education that requires you to become an EDI expert before the age of 22, sharpen your ability to articulate yourself, and learn to facilitate your own safety and growth. This creates a very fierce, visionary, albeit traumatized artist. 

A student at Columbia College recently got a steaming portion of number two when her white professor Paul Amandes decided to use the phrase “magical negro” to explain a character death in his student’s work. Look left, look right. You guessed it, not a Black person in sight. The only person who could even challenge the professor was the student of color whose work he was also critiquing: Estefania Unzueta. When she brought up that the language was inappropriate in class on May 4th, Unzeuta describes his response:. Continue reading “Columbia College Student Questions A Professor’s Potentially Offensive Language, Columbia Professors Villify Student in the Press”

Where is the Vision? A Future Without Artistic Directors

In the future, art is not created it is produced.

In the future, there are no questions, only answers.

In the future, diversity is a statistic and not an ethic.

In the future, budgeting decisions rule out artistic ones.

In the future, our audiences remain predominantly white, and privileged.

In the future, theatre is solely a product for entertainment.

In the future, every Story You See will be the Story You Just Saw Only Better and More Diverse.

In the future, judgement replaces empathy.

In the future, artistic vision is a business plan.

This future is not so distant.

“We are at the precipice. Everything in our society could change tomorrow, simply because it cannot sustain its way of being any longer. How are we envisioning that future, in the arts and beyond? At Rescripted we are envisioning an empathetic future, driven by advocacy and dialogue, rather than this present cycle of trauma and fear.”Regina Victor, Letter From the Editor: Artistic Visions for 2020. December 31, 2019.

We are experiencing a vital shift in the landscape of American Theatre that requires our attention. We cannot afford to look away for another moment. Do you know who determines your future?  Continue reading “Where is the Vision? A Future Without Artistic Directors”

‘The Chicago Artists Relief Fund’ Raises $75000, Doubles Fundraising Goal

 

The Chicago Artists Relief Fund was founded in response to the devastating impact of the quarantine on the performing arts community. Recent surveys have indicated 95% of artists have lost income due to the pandemic.

We didn’t need a poll to know that thousands of our peers, friends and collaborators lost their jobs and income overnight. The service industry jobs, the teaching artist jobs, and the wide variety of survival gigs artists rely on simply evaporated. The need is immediate and urgent. The founders of the Chicago Artists Relief Fund rose to the occasion.

Since March 15th The Fund has raised over $75,000 and distributed emergency grants to over 315 artists in need across a variety of disciplines. Today (May 4, 2020), they are announcing an updated goal of $150,000.

I caught up with two of the founders, Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel (Jeff Award Winner, one of my favorite Chicago actors and fellow theater mama) and Elle Riley-Condit (Co-Artistic Director of The Syndicate). Continue reading “‘The Chicago Artists Relief Fund’ Raises $75000, Doubles Fundraising Goal”

Institutions Do Not Define Our Artistic Practice

Institutions do not define our art.

Like many of us, I am an artist who has defined my artistic career by the institutions that granted me entry. This quarantine is causing them to suffer, which is causing my colleagues and mentors and teachers to suffer. In this moment of tremendous uncertainty, where the future of these institutions is unstable, it feels like our future is too. Continue reading “Institutions Do Not Define Our Artistic Practice”

Rescripted’s Guide to Streaming Theatre From Home

There are a lot of things that we currently miss about the outside world — writing in cute coffee shops, hanging with coworkers, the lakefront — but perhaps the most gutting thing for us artsy folk is the fact that all theatre in the world has pretty much ground to a screeching halt. We still have movies and TV, of course, but there’s nothing else quite like the breathless thrill of a hard-hitting story that is happening in the same room as you.

Luckily, however, there are plenty of theatres across our nation who have managed to make their art available despite shuttering their doors, and so we are happy to provide this handy list of streaming theatre productions. NOTE: We’re going to limit this list to streaming theatre that is either newly available because of the pandemic, or was recently made free because of the pandemic. We will also make regular updates.

Continue reading “Rescripted’s Guide to Streaming Theatre From Home”