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.

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

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.

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

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.

Continue reading “How the Pandemic is Impacting Theatre Parents Nationwide”

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.

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

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.

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

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.

Continue reading “WHAT WE DO Interview Series: Terry Guest”

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.

Continue reading “WHAT WE DO Interview Series: Brett Neveu”

WHAT WE DO Interview Series: Lavina Jadhwani

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 Lavina Jadhwani, Chicago-based director, adaptor, and activist. She’s directed for Writers Theatre, Silk Road Rising, Remy Bumppo, the side project, and many others.

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

Continue reading “WHAT WE DO Interview Series: Lavina Jadhwani”

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.

Continue reading “The Challenges and Surprises of Making Theatre on Zoom”

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.

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