Behind The Curtain: Anna D. Shapiro Speaks About Steppenwolf’s Executive Leadership Transition, Board Relationships, the Pandemic, and the Epidemic of Racism

It is no secret that Steppenwolf Theater Company is one of my artistic homes in Chicago. When the news came out about Brooke Flanagan’s appointment for Executive Director, and David Schmitz’s departure to OSF, I was excited and disappointed all at once. David deserves an excellent opportunity such as this, and Brooke seemed highly qualified for the job, but there had been no job search for the Executive Leadership position.

Once during my fellowship at Steppenwolf, Anna told me she saw my value to the institution, and to our field, in my ability ask the hard questions. With that in mind, I made a phone call, at first asking for a conversation, which became an interview. 

Rarely do our leaders seize an opportunity to tell the truth. When controversial decisions are made, I often ask arts leaders if they will sit down and speak to me about their decision-making process. They will always speak to me off the record, for my own education as an aspiring artistic leader. When it comes to going on the record? To date, every single leader has said no. Until now.

On May 27th, we spoke at length about not only Brooke’s transition, but her own transition into the position of Artistic Director, board relationships, racial inequity, the mysterious career “pipeline,” and police violence against Black people.  The world has already changed so much since then. I encourage you to read this in its totality. This is a rare offering of truth, and I hope it invites other leaders to be more transparent in their processes. My questions are in bold, all other responses are Anna’s unedited thoughts. Continue reading “Behind The Curtain: Anna D. Shapiro Speaks About Steppenwolf’s Executive Leadership Transition, Board Relationships, the Pandemic, and the Epidemic of Racism”

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”

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”

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”

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”

Drury Lane Theatre Hangs Itself With Its Own Race Blindness

The theater community in Chicago has had many reckonings in terms of representation in criticism, casting, play selection, administrative staff, and boards, yet we don’t often discuss Marketing and PR. This week Drury Lane Theater put out advertising on social media and their website for their upcoming show And Then There Were None which was received with a firestorm of criticism. The primary marketing graphic featured a noose. Continue reading “Drury Lane Theatre Hangs Itself With Its Own Race Blindness”

A Critical Response of ‘Language Rooms’ at Broken Nose Theatre

While preparing my review of Language Rooms for publication, I saw a post on Facebook from fellow Rescripted critic, dramaturg and writer Yasmin Zacaria Mikhael. Mikhael’s post led me to a second post from actor Arti Ishak, who has previously contributed to an article on Rescripted by Emma Couling. Both of these posts expressed the pain and frustration caused by this production of Language Rooms, and became catalysts for community discussion about the show, its implications and impact, as well as the response of the largely white group of critics that wrote about the show. In reading those discussions, and after reaching out to Mikhael and Ishak, it was clear that my initial response to the show was missing something. Continue reading “A Critical Response of ‘Language Rooms’ at Broken Nose Theatre”

‘Cambodian Rock Band’ Delivers Reality-Shattering Performances

Cambodian Rock Band written by Lauren Yee, is directed by Marti Lyons at Victory Gardens. The premise of the play is in the name, but the show encompasses so much more depth than the careers of a rock band. It’s about the trauma of genocide in Cambodia, family dynamics, and how one can repair themselves through music. Continue reading “‘Cambodian Rock Band’ Delivers Reality-Shattering Performances”

How I Missed The Jeff Awards, or, The Misrepresentation of the Chicago Theatre Community

Did you know the Jeff Awards were last Monday? If so, you’re already doing better than me. When I returned from working on Pipeline at Indiana Repertory Theatre, I said to a few friends I was planning on going to the Jeffs, which I thought was next Monday (today). I then had a quiet night in my home, scrolling through Facebook, reading scripts and hanging out with my cat, when my friend came over. “Hey!” She said, wine and cheese in hand – how any good friend should arrive at your door – “My boyfriend is at the Jeffs so he won’t be home for a while!” At this point, imagine me, going to the sunken place à la Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out. Continue reading “How I Missed The Jeff Awards, or, The Misrepresentation of the Chicago Theatre Community”

When The Show Must Not Go On: Chicago Artists Respond to Controversial Casting Notice

On Wednesday, September 19, several Chicago artists received an invitation to audition for a play called Angel by playwright Henry Naylor. Angel is the second production in a series called “Arabian Nightmares”. The invitation was sent by local Chicago theatre Akvavit on behalf of Urbanite Theatre, located in Sarasota, Florida. Angel is inspired by fake news tweeted by the English-language news outlet Slemani Times. The tweet contained a photo of a woman named Rehana who was rumored to have killed as many as 100 members of ISIS. It has since been proven that though the photo, taken by Swedish journalist Carl Drott, was of a real woman, she was not Rehana, or “The Angel of Kobane” as they claimed. This story of the “Angel” has no basis in fact, and was disproved by the BBC in 2014. Rehana, “The Angel of Kobane,” never existed at all. Continue reading “When The Show Must Not Go On: Chicago Artists Respond to Controversial Casting Notice”