The Challenges and Surprises of Making Theatre on Zoom

In early March, Emma Durbin was midway through writing her capstone project for her playwriting BFA at DePaul University. The workshop of Durbin’s landscape was to be the first time she had worked with a team of professionals on a script of her own. The self-titled “playwright, dramaturg, and amateur sports climber” had been developing landscape for over six-months: drafting proposals, consulting with mentors, researching rock climbing in early-1900’s Scotland — and, of course, writing, rereading, and revising. She was halfway through a full draft when DePaul announced that the university would be switching to remote learning in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. With the announcement, Durbin’s workshop was promptly canceled. Canceled and moved to Zoom.

Durbin’s landscape was one of many rehearsals, workshops, and performances that met their untimely end on account of the pandemic. Artists around the country, from community theatre hobbyists to BFA students to Tony-award-winning veterans, have been forced to find new ways to create live theater. More often than not, this has meant producing work over online platforms such as Zoom.

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Chicago Artists Shine in Virtual Staged Reading of BLACK LIKE ME at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis invites audiences to witness the new play development process firsthand on September 10th with a virtual staged reading of Black Like Me by Monty Cole, based on the memoir of the same name by John Howard Griffin. This entertaining noir docu-drama examines the fine line between allyship and appropriation.

In 1959, a white journalist sought a doctor’s help to temporarily darken his skin so he could “pass” as Black. He traveled the segregated South for three weeks and published his experiences in 1961. Griffin’s journal has been celebrated by many as an indictment of racism, while others have described it as patronizing or offensive.

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The Black Theater Alliance Awards Announces Their 2020 Nominations

The Black Theater Alliance Awards, Inc. (BTAA) Announces Nominations for The 26th Annual Black Theater Alliance/Ira Aldridge Awards

From press release: In the midst of extremely difficult times, BTAA is most proud to announce BTAA nominees for productions presented between August 1, 2019 and July 31, 2020. In an extremely difficult season, excellence in the performing arts was supreme. BTAA saw 47 live productions. Virtual presentations are not considered, and 32 different production companies are participants. Having said that, 28 categories were immersed with 131 nominees. BTAA reviews equity and non-equity productions and performances; equity and non-equity performers are considered in the same category of competition. However, only Black theater productions companies are considered for The Negro Ensemble Company.

This year, BTAA has inducted a legendary name to a BTAA category: Tony Award winning singer and actress, Melba Moore. The Best Actress in a Play (Non-Resident) will be The Melba Moore Award. Date, Time, and Place for The 26th Annual Black Theater Alliance/ Ira Aldridge Awards will be at a later date.

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REVIEW: Her Honor Jane Byrne at Lookingglass Theatre, and the Paradox of Civil Violence

Long, long ago, in the before-times of March 2020, I went to see a show at Lookingglass Theatre called Her Honor Jane Byrne. I wrote a review of it, but then the entire world shut down, the production’s run was cancelled, and the review never saw the light of day. In light of the Black Lives Matter protests and displays of police brutality that have been in the public eye this past month, the subject matter of Her Honor Jane Byrne has never been more relevant, timely, and worthy of analysis. We reached out to Lookingglass, and they gave us the go-ahead to publish this review of their cancelled show.

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Mercury Theater Shuts its Doors

Mercury Theater became the latest Chicago-area theater to announce devastating news last week, as they announced they would be closing permanently. Unlike Steep Theatre, this closure was directly caused by the economic impacts of the pandemic; in an interview with the Sun-Times, executive director L. Walter Stearns cited extreme loss of revenue as the reason for closure.

In a statement on their website, Mercury Theater said: “We sought to bring a little joy to the world and have made many friends along the way. Thank you to the artists who have been a part of our legacy. And thank you to the audiences who have supported our neighborhood theater.”

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Steep Theatre Loses Edgewater Space

Steep Theatre announced yesterday that they will be forced to move out of their current space at 1115 W Berwyn Avenue this fall.

According to Executive Director Kate Piatt-Eckert, “Steep intends to stay in the Edgewater neighborhood and continue to deepen its relationships with long-supportive neighbors as it moves forward with a focus on inclusivity, accessibility, and flexibility. Steep Theatre is not a building – it is a league of fearless artists, bold leaders, and passionate supporters equipped with nineteen years of experience producing storefront theatre and almost two years presenting music and performance at The Boxcar.”

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Victory Gardens Theater Playwrights Withdraw From Ignition Festival of New Plays

All four playwrights have pulled their plays from the 2020 Ignition Festival at Victory Gardens’ Theatre. Read the full letter below, originally published on Medium.

As the 2020 Ignition Festival of New Plays at Victory Gardens approaches, we four emerging playwrights have decided to pull our respective plays from this development opportunity. We demand that leadership in Chicago theaters dispense with hollow gestures of solidarity, hold themselves accountable for past mistakes, and listen to the needs of their community and artists. Continue reading “Victory Gardens Theater Playwrights Withdraw From Ignition Festival of New Plays”

Chicago Financial Aid Resources for Artists During COVID-19

“Mutual aid projects are a form of political participation in which people take responsibility for caring for one another and changing political conditions, not just through symbolic acts or putting pressure on their representatives in government, but by actually building new social relations that are more survivable.” 

This quote comes from the Big Door Brigade, a multi-regional collective inspired by scholar/lawyer/organizer Dean Spade’s uplifting of mutual aid “as a strategy for survival and mobilization.” 

In the wake of CDC recommendation to halt public gatherings of 50 people or more, theatre has been especially affected. Broadway has closed down, as have many theatres in Chicago. Google docs and GoFundMe’s are ripping across our social media feeds as part of an endeavor to lift up and provide support to those who need it. (Local Chicago journalist Kris Vire is keeping us up to date on arts cancellations, and it is staggering.) Writing from the perspective of an artist and graduate student, I’ve seen and felt the economic and emotional impact of the collapse of jobs and social support systems. We are witnessing how the intersection of human rights and our government interests continue to butt against each other — when they don’t have to.  Continue reading “Chicago Financial Aid Resources for Artists During COVID-19”

‘Stick Fly’ at Writers Theatre Asks Poignant Questions About Blackness in America

Stick Fly at Writers Theatre, directed by Ron OJ Parson and written by Lydia R. Diamond, is set around two affluent Black siblings who bring their partners, one black and one white, to their family cottage on Martha’s Vineyard. It is at Vineyard where they are forced to confront their realities, family secrets, and class prejudices.

The trek to Glencoe in the cold might seem daunting, but the show itself is too thoughtful and poignant to miss. It doesn’t beg to be included in the theatre landscape; it carves its own way.

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‘Lipstick Lobotomy’ at Trap Door Theatre Explores Gender in Mental Health

Lipstick Lobotomy, written by Krista Knight and directed by Kate Hendrickson, takes place in a women’s sanitarium in the early 1940’s, conveyed here by a delightfully unsettling green-and-white color palette across the production that evokes the eerie sanitized atmosphere of a hospital. We meet our main character, Ginny (Ann Sonnevile), as she arrives at the hospital straight off the heels of separating from her husband. Ginny immediately meets and befriends fellow patient Rosemary Kennedy (played with a lovable charm by Abby Blankenship, and who is, yes, of those Kennedys). Rosemary struggles with her own mental disability, and against her family’s desire to make her undergo a lobotomy, while Ginny undergoes the opposite struggle. She wants to get a lobotomy in order to stave off her lifelong depression, but her family is understandably horrified at the prospect.

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