‘Enough To Let The Light In’ Creates Terror Out of Love’s Shadows

Paloma Nozicka’s two-hander script, Enough to Let The Light In, grips you from the very beginning and doesn’t let go. Director Georgette Verdin builds a deliberate pulse underneath the work, aided by Stefanie M. Senior’s spooky’ sound design and Sotirios Livaditis’ set, full of delightful tricks that drive the action forward. 

Enough to Let The Light In  is one of the tightest and most satisfying new plays I’ve seen in a long time. The economy of language and onstage movement means every action matters, even where a guest hangs their coat becomes a point of dramatic tension. It’s very hard for a story to get ahead of me, and I noticed pretty much every suspicious thing or could-be suspicious line of dialogue. Georgette Verdin directs the piece with a swift and intentional hand, with incredible attention to the details. The actors are so compelling, I forgot what I’d seen, and was shocked all over again by the discovery that my suspicions were correct! Continue reading “‘Enough To Let The Light In’ Creates Terror Out of Love’s Shadows”

Ritual as Reclamation in ‘What To Send Up When It Goes Down’

When audience members enter What To Send Up When It Goes Down by Aleshea Harris, produced by Congo Square Theatre, we shuffle quietly into the lofted warehouse-style space. As we find our seats on either side of Lookingglass’ playing space, it feels a bit like the beginning of a wake, and in a way it is. A few cast members mill about the space, and one (Joey Stone at our performance) hands out black ribbons to wear in solidarity with Black people that have been victims to, or killed by police violence. 

At this performance, Chanel Bell announces we will be performing this ritual for Botham Jean. The performers invite the audience into a circle to begin the ritual to commemorate one of those felled by racist violence. A participant may choose not to take part in the ritual, but they just ask that you center Black voices in the space, and don’t disturb those who do choose to participate. Continue reading “Ritual as Reclamation in ‘What To Send Up When It Goes Down’”

Resigning as Renewal: Visions for Artistic Leaders of Color

In the wake of Ken-Matt Martin, Eric Ting, and my own resignation from Sideshow Theatre on July 20, 2022, I reflect on the path that led us here. I have not spoken to either of these leaders, and the thoughts and patterns represented are entirely my own unless directly quoted from other publications. This is a two-part essay. The first, “The Fixer: Artistic Directors of Color and Pandemic Leadership,” outlines the institutional and systemic barriers Artistic Directors who are people of color face in this time. This piece outlines the victories these leaders have had, and is an offering for how to create success for incoming Artistic Directors who come from under-represented communities.

This week, three Artistic Directors of color announced their intent to resign from their institutions. Ken-Matt Martin at Victory Gardens, Eric Ting at California Shakespeare Theatre, and myself at Sideshow Theatre Company. Each of us resigned for very different reasons. Inclusive, exciting work has been happening at all of these companies, and continues to happen under the tenure of leaders of color across the nation. It is essential to celebrate the successes these leaders had, discern what systemic obstacles to success are in place, and think of solutions that can provide ease to future leaders.

Not every resignation is or will be a point of pain. Sometimes they are necessary evolution for the artist and the company.

Continue reading “Resigning as Renewal: Visions for Artistic Leaders of Color”

The Fixer: Artistic Directors of Color and Pandemic Leadership

In the wake of Ken-Matt Martin, Eric Ting, and my own resignation from Sideshow Theatre on July 20th, 2022, I reflect on the path that led us here. I have not spoken to either of these leaders, and the thoughts and patterns represented are entirely my own unless directly quoted from other publications. This is a two-part essay, the first of which outlines the struggles Artistic Directors who are people of color face during pandemic leadership. The second, Resigning as Renewal: Visions for Artistic Leaders of Color outlines the victories leaders of color have had, and visions for how to create more opportunity for their success. 

We need to talk about the stress, institutional disposability, and institutional obligation put upon artists of color. Leaders of color create so much wealth and abundance in the face of chaos, but when are we asking too much? The combination of non-profit infrastructure and a pandemic has created a loss of agency, a “fixer” dynamic, and prevented many from manifesting the vision they intended. 

Continue reading “The Fixer: Artistic Directors of Color and Pandemic Leadership”

Victory Gardens Staff Statement of Solidarity Reportedly Removed by Board

The remaining nine members on staff at Victory Gardens Theater released a statement today in solidarity with the Resident Directors and Playwrights Ensemble that resigned early this morning. It reads in part:

“The board repeatedly ignores the advice and concerns of the arts professionals on staff. As staff members, we have been told to channel all communication through Artistic Director Ken-Matt Martin, and Acting Managing Director Roxanna Connor – but the board has repeatedly undermined and dismissed them. The board hired Ken-Matt and Roxanna to lead this organization yet they have never truly been allowed to do so.”

Since then, an anonymous source with knowledge of the situation has confirmed that the Victory Gardens board has gained access to the social media accounts for the company. The board has removed the post and blocked staff members from accessing the social media accounts. The marketing manager has also reportedly been removed from their staff google account, drive and email. Continue reading “Victory Gardens Staff Statement of Solidarity Reportedly Removed by Board”

Victory Gardens Theater Resident Artists Resign, Call for Board Resignation

The Resident Directors and Playwrights’ Ensemble of Victory Gardens Theater have resigned en masse as of today, July 6, 2022. Executive Director Roxanna Connor will resign effective end of July. Artistic Director Ken-Matt Martin has been placed “on leave” with no public explanation. The resident directors and Playwrights ensemble were not given notice of the resignation or the leave. They also were not informed that the Board of Victory Gardens has purchased a building near the theatre, and were aiming to move the administrative offices without consent of the leadership or staff.  You can read the full letter and see the signatories here.

If you’ve been an artist or a fan of the Chicago Theatre scene, that probably gave you déjà vu. On May 22, 2020, the Playwrights Ensemble resigned in protest of Erica Daniels’ appointment as Executive Artistic Director (formerly associated with Profiles Theatre and Second City). This protest peaked when Victory Gardens infamously boarded its doors and windows and failed to support Black lives during the George Floyd protests. Continue reading “Victory Gardens Theater Resident Artists Resign, Call for Board Resignation”

Drive-In To The End of The World: Preston Choi, Marti Lyons, and Regina Victor in Conversation

Preston Choi’s Drive-In To the End of the World will have a public showing presented by Sideshow Theatre Company in residence at Victory Gardens on March 25th. Directed by Sideshow Theatre Artistic Associate and Remy Bumppo Artistic Director Marti Lyons, the play is the culmination of a Sideshow Freshness Initiative that evolved into a customized residency for Choi. Dramaturg and Artistic Director of Sideshow Regina Victor interviews them on the process thus far, and the myths from history, and about ourselves, that drive the play.

Regina Victor: A digital residency is a new experience for all playwrights right now. A truly meta part of this residency is that actors, director and dramaturg will be realizing your play, but you will be in rehearsal digitally. A main theme in Drive-in is the impact on connectivity over great distances, whether they’re mental, spiritual or physical. What do you hope to learn from digitally engaging in the physical space with your collaborators? 

Preston Choi: I think it’s an interesting test of the play, what does your script offer up without your physical presence, where does the language inherently help guide the room into how it might want to be played without you whispering into the director’s or dramaturg’s ear to steer on your behalf. Obviously there are different kinds of development where one can be in active conversation throughout the process, which have been very productive and enjoyable, but I am also interested in forcing myself to tinker with the text exclusively, almost like configuring a rube goldberg machine and setting it off, and not being able to stop it even if it goes off course, but seeing it through to the end to see just how off the rails it gets, or if it makes its way back on course, or if it goes into a unexpected but exciting direction. Being a digital presence makes that a far more achievable and practical method of testing, or rather observing, at least for how my life is functioning at the moment.

RV: Marti, can you tell us what it was like to evolve from a facilitator for the play into its director? What it was like to build this play with Preston through this digital process, inside of this non-traditional structure?  

Marti Lyons: It was super exciting to be part of a playwright-led exploration and to get to work with Regina as dramaturg, and Preston as playwright. Regina and Sideshow, y’alls way of finding out how to support the project and the process in a way that doesn’t necessarily fit a formula. So figuring out what does this play, this playwright really need, and letting that dictate the steps instead of some predictable metric. I was also super excited to be asked to direct because I think Preston’s play is amazing and I really dig Preston’s voice as a writer. So to move from one role to another I felt really informed about the initial work on the process, and also excited to be engaged in a more direct way. The digital process affords us a lot of opportunity for continued development over a longer period of time, and I really appreciate that. Certainly there are also challenges within that structure but I think it’s really helpful for long term collaborations, and that is something that is not always possible otherwise so I’m grateful for that.

RV: And Preston, how has the play grown during this residency? Or, What is a discovery about the piece that really excited you?

PC: I think the play has grown, and in a large way my understanding of it and how much I still have yet to understand with every new bit we gain, the breadth of what it’s touching on is never fully in grasp, but in a fun way. From icon/brand commercialism, late stage capitalism, social media personalities, and expanding the list of cryptids and mythologies, so much has come into the mix since it’s initial inception. The play itself feels like a tip of an iceberg above the water, and everything that informs it, all of the conversations over google meet and zoom, and verbatim notes written in notebooks, have just grown, in a way that is wholly invisible to anyone outside the process, and I hope to get more and more of it above water over time. It’s definitely gotten more grounded, to support some of the fantastical leaps, and playing more with genre, and when genre falls apart or decays into another genre.

RV: Marti, what excites you the most about the play, and Preston’s work? 

ML: I think Preston’s work has an element of danger but is also very funny, and lives in that sweet spot where comedy and horror overlap, which is in tension building into moments that are funny or gasp-worthy, or scream-worthy. That is really thrilling to be a part of, and also really joyful and invigorating to develop.

RV: So Preston, If you had advice for artistic directors trying to create Playwright centered development what would you tell them?

PC: I think there’s a balance between flexibility and rigidity, finding the blend of both that works for the playwright and the team/organization. The adaptability to adjust with whoever is being collaborated with. Having it be not so formless where things feel intangible and nothing nailed down but also not so controlled where things feel like one is being processed on a factory line. I also think reaching out to check on the play and the playwright when things are going great and when things feel like pulling teeth, that consistency of taking a moment to catch up and connect can be really reassuring, especially when it’s over an extended amount of time.

RV: From my perspective, one of the play’s engines is mythology and the ways we contextualize and create our fears. So I have to ask: what is your favorite scary legend or story, in any medium?

PC: I think one urban legend that I find fascinating, that originates from Korea, is “fan death”. If you sleep in an enclosed room, windows shut, doors closed, having an electric fan on could kill you in your sleep, suffocating you. Very human versus technology, but in such a mundane way, not falling from the ceiling and slicing your head off, or one close to your face blowing a fuse, catching fire and burning you, it’s just sitting there slowly depriving you of breath. I’m a big fan of fans, especially when trying to fall asleep, so I’m very grateful to not yet be a victim to this myth.

ML: Certainly one of my favorite scary stories is the girl with the ribbon around her neck, where when the ribbon is removed her head falls off.. Ugh such a good one.

RV: Finally Marti, why should folks come see this reading?

ML: Folks should come see this reading because Sideshow is on the cutting edge of whatever is next for this industry. I think Sideshow is a company of innovation, and vision. Preston’s work is exhilarating, playful, captivating and off-kilter, and requires heightened tone and style, and all the juicy things that as an artist you want to sink your teeth into, and as an audience member you get to lean in and enjoy. I just think Sideshow makes the kind of storefront that you can’t wait to see what y’all are gonna do next. Preston’s work certainly fits that M.O. You will be on the edge of your seat with laughter, it thrills. 

 

King James Scores Big Like Lebron at Steppenwolf Theatre

 

Rajiv Joseph’s King James directed by Kenny Leon opened last night at Steppenwolf Theatre to a rocking auditorium. It’s my first time attending an opening under the new artistic directors Audrey Francis and Glenn Davis. It’s only my second time attending an opening of this scale for a production I haven’t worked on since the pandemic took root. I mention this because the theater had an air of a championship game, some dressed in their best jerseys, others their best faux furs. The audience came for an event, and King James delivered. 

The play’s title is inspired by LeBron James, arguably the greatest basketball player of all time, who just set a career record of 30,000 career points on March 13th, during opening night of this production. (!!!!) 

As you step into the Downstairs theater, DJ and actress Khloe Janel is setting the vibe, spinning records in the box seats. The audience is rocking to 2000s hits preshow, singing Usher’s “Yeah!” to each other and waving at friends, invoking the spirit of attending a game more than a play. As the DJ winds down her set, the entirety of Marvin Gaye’s National Anthem washes over the audience (sound by Rob Milburn & Michael Bodeen). Lights come up on Matt (Chris Perfetti, Abbott Elementary) alone in a wine bar, Le Cafe Du Vin. He is sitting on the counter, crumbling a piece of paper into a ball. He makes an aspirational shot at the trash can and misses. Shoot, miss, shoot, miss. Finally he brings the trash can on the counter to make the shot – as Shawn (Glenn Davis) enters.  Continue reading “King James Scores Big Like Lebron at Steppenwolf Theatre”

Queen of the Night: Ken-Matt Martin and Terry Guest in Conversation

The following is an exclusive interview and conversation recorded during the run of Queen of the Night at Victory Gardens. Director Ken-Matt Martin (artistic director, VG) is interviewed by Terry Guest, a multidisciplinary artist who acts in this production of Queen of the Night alongside co-star André Teamer.  Martin and Guest reflect on their artistic collaboration on this unique black queer family narrative, written by travis tate. Other behind the scenes insights include Martin’s directing process, his experience with and vision for Victory Gardens, and of course – Beyoncé.

Queen of the Night runs at Victory Gardens  through Sunday, March 13th. 

Terry Guest: Where do you call home?

Ken-Matt Martin: I think I call home wherever I’m with people I love these days… Because I’ve kind of lived in a way where work took me all over the place. Little Rock, Arkansas is where I’m from, born and raised, very proud to be from there. But I think I call home wherever I am with people I love. That’s my answer.

TG: So how does Little rock affect the art that you’re making today?

KMM: Little Rock affects every single thing that I do. Continue reading “Queen of the Night: Ken-Matt Martin and Terry Guest in Conversation”

Visions for 2022: A Letter From the Editor

Pictured: Editor Regina Victor (they/pharaoh), photo by Gracie Meier.

It feels strange to share my Visions for 2022 in a moment of staggering global and industrial insecurity. I stand in solidarity with those whose hearts are dedicated to the theatre—to the art of conscious gathering. We are on the verge of another ending. Or perhaps, a beginning. We simply have yet to decide.  

I believe strongly that every person reading this has the power to transform this moment from an ending, into a beginning. The creativity I have already witnessed from artists, to healthcare professionals, to teachers is what gives me the audacity and the strength to write about how we can dream bigger and better, together.

 

Trust

I don’t have all the answers, but in all this inconstancy I have re-learned to rely on my mind. We spent an entire four year term being gaslit, no matter what side of the mayhem on which you found yourself. Schools of thought separated us from our friends and family before we even knew a global pandemic would further widen the distance between us.  

It does not matter what I am teaching. My pedagogy will always revolve around critical thought. It is the idea from which Rescripted grew, and it is where creation begins. Whenever I edit my essays, I can hear my professors saying “scratch out ‘I think’, it’s your paper, it’s all what you think.”

We are unused to speaking as though our opinions hold weight to anyone but ourselves. You can’t create a world onstage if you do not trust that you know how to transport your audience in the way only you can

Trust yourselves. Practice your intuition with regular gut checks. Here’s a very basic tool I used when first starting out in leadership – and sometimes still rely on – easy enough anyone can do it. Hold up both hands, assign an option to each, have a friend pick. Are you excited? That’s you’re gut pick. Disappointed? Do the alternate option instead. Repeat until you realize you already know the answer.

Trust each other. Trust can be inspired as much as it can be earned. Trust that you are putting out into the universe what is expected to come to you. Trust that the colleagues you choose to collaborate with will treat you with respect, and prioritize safety in the workplace. This is not saying to turn the other cheek. This is an exercise to help you notice, and then remove yourself from anything and everyone who betrays that trust. Trust is different from vulnerability, in that you are assuming your power and creating space for someone else to share their own with the goal of creating meaningful, consensual connection. Vulnerability on the other hand requires a sacrifice, an imbalance of power that is appropriate in some situations but not in an industry where abuse is so common.  

Mistreatment is so common in our industry, I found I actually needed to re-train myself to be surprised by dehumanization. I trust, and anything that betrays that trust becomes a non-issue, and a non-entity in my life. Trust that is given freely can be removed just as freely, and hopefully at little to no cost to self. Therefore giving your trust quickly is actually self protection and not vulnerability. Vulnerability means exposing your weaknesses and hoping the gesture is reciprocated. Trust, on the other hand, is not a weakness. Betrayal, deceit, and disrespect are the weaknesses. If your experience of applying this mindset is similar to mine, you’ll see those big shiny red flags waving and get out of dodge to the places you’re meant to be thriving.
Continue reading “Visions for 2022: A Letter From the Editor”