REVIEW: Holiday Tradition Meets Zoom Theatre with ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ at American Blues

I, like so many others around the world, am still coming to terms with the fact that I won’t see my family this holiday season. I won’t go home for the holidays, I won’t have anyone in my own home, and all those family traditions will have to be reimagined, if practiced at all. American Blues Theatre is reimagining some traditions of their own, adapting the second longest-running holiday play in Chicago for Zoom. It’s A Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! is a retelling of Frank Capra’s classic film about one man’s integral role in his community. This cheerful (and unapologetically digital) adaptation invites the audience to revel in the strangeness and find something to celebrate from their own little square.

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REVIEW: A Fascinating, Intimate Video Chat in ‘What is Left, Burns’ at Steppenwolf Theatre

What is Left, Burns is the story of a video call between two men — college professor Keith (K. Todd Freeman) and his former student and lover Ronnie (Jon Michael Hill), who are holding their first conversation in fifteen years, with all the complicated emotions that entails. At only twenty minutes long, What is Left, Burns is a short, sweet, poetic, and heartfelt meditation on the thorny business of negotiating intimacy at a distance. Despite seemingly not being set during a pandemic, its setting echoes the situation we currently find ourselves in — when nearly all close communication must be digitally mediated, all profound emotions filtered through a screen.

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How the Pandemic is Impacting Theatre Parents Nationwide

ABOVE: Costume designer Valérie Thérèse Bart with her infant during a Zoom meeting. Says Bart, “This was in August back before baby had mastered crawling and pulling himself up to stand. He could sit still for longer periods then.” Photo Credit: Rick N. Ho

A Homecoming Turned Convalescence 

When Chamblee Ferguson caught COVID-19, he’d been performing eight shows a week in the national tour of Broadway’s “Come from Away.” Playing to packed houses in dozens of cities amounted to infinite vectors of exposure. On March 12th the tour was playing his hometown of Dallas and his long time company, the Dallas Theatre Center, was hosting a celebratory reception when news broke of the citywide shutdown. Four days later he was symptomatic.

“I woke up on the 16th feeling, I’m sick, thinking, I hope this isn’t—but, it turned out to be, yeah.” Ferguson’s wife, actor Lynn Blackburn (who happens to be my stepsister), her mother, and their 6 year-old were ill for two weeks with respiratory symptoms Ferguson describes as “comparatively moderate.” Eight months later the couple find themselves unemployed while parenting their first grader full time, one of countless theater families whose lives have been upended by this crisis.

Parenting in theater was challenging before the pandemic. Now, embattled families must endure school closures, a collapsing daycare industry and skyrocketing positivity rates. As our industry reels from a tidal wave of layoffs, furloughs and canceled shows (virtual work notwithstanding), theater parents have the additional stressor of keeping their children healthy, learning, and fed at moment so many have lost, or will soon be losing, their health coverage and a quarter of American families struggle with food insecurity.

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REVIEW: ‘The Spin’ at Interrobang Theatre Project is a Tense, Hilarious Nightmare

The Spin is the story of an hour-long Zoom meeting between four publicists at the same firm, as they scramble to prepare for a TV interview involving one of their clients, the assistant to a local Mayor who had dealings with a recently scandalized – and promptly canceled – politician. Their mission? To spin the media narrative in the Mayor’s favor, to discredit the journalists with evidence against him, and to hide the fact that not only was the disgraced politician in question a former client of theirs, but a close personal friend to Deirdre — the head of the firm, and our protagonist.

Zoom theatre (as we’ve covered at length) is enormously difficult to do effectively, and The Spin is the best execution of it I have seen so far this year. Zoom’s most perilous flaws as a medium for storytelling are the same flaws that make it so frustrating in real life: the lags, the glitches, and the feeling of isolation. In my opinion, the best Zoom theatre takes these flaws and thrusts them into the spotlight, using them as fuel for the story’s conflict rather than ignoring them. The Spin does this in spades, and in doing so it manages to tell a searingly relevant, disturbingly hilarious, and incredibly tense story that manages to transcend both its medium and its subject matter.

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REVIEW: ‘A War of the Worlds’ at Theatre in the Dark is Both Cosmic and Intimate

A War of the Worlds adapts H.G. Wells’ classic tale of extraterrestrial invasion for the present day with a production designed for this new era of digital performance, inspired by the legendary 1938 Orson Welles broadcast. Theatre in the Dark’s hallmark style expertly translates a thrilling new piece originally planned for in-person performance to a purely audio medium. Rather than sitting in a darkened space with other theatergoers, audiences are invited to curate their own “dark and cozy” environment, pick up a drink, and listen in.

Set in and around modern-day Chicago, A War of the Worlds documents a battle for the planet between Earth forces and an invading Martian army. The script begins in retrospective, as The Professor (Ming Hudson) combs through artifacts left behind by a married couple separated while trying to flee the area. Science journalist H.G. Wells (Mack Gordon) and photographer Isabel Wells (Elizabeth McCoy) each capture world-ending events, described in gripping detail to the audience listening from home. This live virtual audio drama, co-authored by Corey Bradberry and Mack Gordon (and directed by Bradberry), skillfully adapts the novel with captivating language that matches the production’s renowned predecessors.

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REVOLUTION GLOSSARY: Clarifying ‘Microaggression’

Rescripted’s Revolution Glossary is our new series where we dive deeper into words which are part of the conversations about justice happening around all of us. The goal of this series is to provide a resource for people who want to expand their vocabulary around social justice topics, or people who want extra context and perspective on their word choices. Our hope is that this series can spark some important discussions, and help people jump into those discussions with enthusiasm.

Microaggression is a term that we hear and use a lot. It was even referenced previously in our Revolution Glossary: Unpacking Allyship. The word itself seems so self-explanatory. Despite its wide-usage and seemingly obvious definition, this term is often misused to a damaging degree. Psychologist Derald W. Sue, author of Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation, defines a microaggression as an act that communicates “The everyday slights, indignities, put downs and insults that people of color, women, LGBT populations or those who are marginalized experiences in their day-to-day interactions with people.” The piece of this definition that often goes unacknowledged, and where the most damaging misinterpretation occurs, is the relationship between who is acting out the microaggression and who is forced to receive it?

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REVOLUTION GLOSSARY: What is Diversity?

Rescripted’s Revolution Glossary is our new series where we dive deeper into words which are part of the conversations about justice happening around all of us. The goal of this series is to provide a resource for people who want to expand their vocabulary around social justice topics, or people who want extra context and perspective on their word choices. Our hope is that this series can spark some important discussions, and help people jump into those discussions with enthusiasm.

Earlier this year, a group of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color theatremakers drafted a public letter to the White American Theatre establishment about the harm they have suffered working in institutions that have failed to address the racism internal to their practices. In this letter, the theatremakers sought to share ways theatre in all its forms can become more equitable and safe for all artists involved. In the letter, the drafters make use of the EDI terminology. EDI stands for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion; it is a framework that has emerged in the last years to rectify the lack of representation in the workplace. Today, I’m going to focus on just the “D” of EDI: Diversity. The term “diversity” has been making its way across many of our news feeds in the past few months, where its overuse might make it seem more like a vapid buzzword than a useful concept. However, diversity and those calling for its intentional implementation in the workplace aren’t kicking up dust because they’re bored. The desire for diversity is the desire to have the workplace be more reflective of real world demographics.

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WHAT WE DO Interview Series: Terry Guest

WHAT WE DO is a visual interview series where we briefly talk to Chicago theatre artists about their art — what they do, why they do it, and what their creative process is like, even as it shifts in the midst of a pandemic. We’ve given each artist 8 written questions, as well as 3 prompts for photographs that capture their current headspace. 

Today we’re hearing from Terry Guest, Chicago-based actor, playwright, and teaching artist. His works have been featured at Story Theatre, Chicago Children’s Theatre, Goodman Theatre, Random Acts Chicago, and others.

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Ike Holter’s “Put Your House In Order” to be Adapted for The Roustabouts Audio-Thriller

It’s spooky season and Chicago playwright Ike Holter is delivering some delicious horror content via The Roustabouts for your pleasure this Halloween. The Roustabouts have announced the upcoming release of their first Audio-Thriller available for streaming and download. On October 28th, at 8pm, the creative arts ensemble will drop the world-premiere production of Put Your House In Order by Ike Holter to be available from just before Halloween until right before election day, closing at 11:59pm Central on Monday November 2nd. The play will stream for free, and suggested donation is $10 at www.PYHIO.com Continue reading “Ike Holter’s “Put Your House In Order” to be Adapted for The Roustabouts Audio-Thriller”

WHAT WE DO Interview Series: Brett Neveu

WHAT WE DO is a visual interview series where we briefly talk to Chicago theatre artists about their art — what they do, why they do it, and what their creative process is like, even as it shifts in the midst of a pandemic. We’ve given each artist 8 written questions, as well as 3 prompts for photographs that capture their current headspace. 

Today we hear from Brett Neveu: playwright, professor at Northwestern University, and ensemble member at Red Orchid Theatre.

SELF-CAPTURE: A selfie, self timer portrait, a baby photo, or just a really awesome picture of yourself that you love.

Pre-pandemic, how would you have described your job, in a sentence? How is it different now?
I’m a writer & an educator who educates about writing. Via the previous description of my job, it really hasn’t changed much. Still writing, still educating, but what’s changed is how both are presented. My classes at Northwestern (where I’ve taught since 2012) are remote and all of my theatre/film/TV is either on pause or wiped away entirely. But the core of it, the writing? It’s still churning.

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