Miss Holmes Returns at Lifeline Theatre is one of those rare shows where the storytelling craft of it — the technical design, the direction, the performances, and the admirable effort and talent of everyone involved — is phenomenally executed with passion and panache, but is also somehow the least interesting thing about it. What really jumped out at me about Miss Holmes Returns were the themes: the things it has to say about fighting for what you believe in, finding the strength in admitting weakness, and how to enjoy the collapse of an empire. This is the rare historical piece that feels blisteringly relevant to the modern day; rarely have I had so much fun at the theater while also feeling so refreshingly validated by a show’s politics and message.
All the Tucker women are under the same roof again and Mama is making her legendary recipe. Known simply as “The Stew,” this traditional dish is prepared for only the most special occasions. Director Malkia Stampley turns up the heat on this gripping kitchen-sink drama and brings simmering tensions to a rolling boil. Stew by Zora Howard is a 2021 Pulitzer Prize Finalist for Drama that depicts the seemingly unbreakable patterns that connect three generations of women.
With a cast entirely of women and gender non-conforming actors, Babes With Blades Theatre Company’s Richard III is meaty, violent, and reflective. A decimating opening battle sets the tone for this production of Shakespeare’s iconic history play, and thanks to Becca Venable’s lighting design, pools of blood-red light spill across the stage. But this story is not all about blood and death. Characters sing joyful music to celebrate victory, and even while mothers wail to grieve the dead, hope for a brighter and more just future is not far beyond the horizon.
In his famous opening speech, “Now is the winter of our discontent…,” Richard, Earl of Gloucester (Azskara Gilchrist, she/her), describes himself as “rudely stamped and want of love’s majesty,” and “Cheated of feature by dissembling nature, // Deformed, unfinished.” Setting the stage for the play, he explains that because he cannot be a lover, his “deformity” drives him to be the opposite — a villain. Shakespeare critics and disability activists have long argued that it is necessary to have Gloucester’s role cast with a disabled actor, and with this production presented in partnership with the University of Illinois Chicago’s Disability Cultural Center, Babes with Blades has done just that. Gilchrist, in a gripping performance, uses her mobility device as a percussion tool, smartly accenting Shakespeare’s already rhythmic pentameter as she plots to crown herself king in penance for the world’s scorn.
It was a dark and not-so-stormy night. A night desperate for deception. Without a cloud in the sky, I turned to a different kind of cumulonimbus: a sound cloud. I hit play on A Theater in the Dark’s A Matter of Red Herrings and found myself in the streets of a rainy 1920s Chicago. This 80-minute audio play by Greg Garrison harkens back to the crime novels that set the standard for fiction’s greatest detectives. Directed by Corey Bradberry, A Matter of Red Herrings cheerfully introduces Detective Stainless Steal to a prestigious line of fictional Chicago sleuths.
Nikki Lynnette describes herself as a “possibility model,” rather than a role model, in her autobiographical afrogoth punk-pop musical Get Out Alive. Lynette, an acclaimed hip-hop artist, shares her life story and recounts past suicide attempts, psychiatric institutionalization, her mom’s battle with cancer, and how she made it out alive. This musical is part memorial, part memoir, and part indie concert. The show features live performance mixed with engaging video testimonies and dynamic projections designed by Chris Owens.
Within the Bookspan lobby at the Den Theatre, Haven’s producers curate a punk rock memorial space for the loved ones we have lost and the parts of our own selves in need of healing. Statistics plaster one wall reading “Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide,” and “Nearly 50 million Americans have mental health issues.” Another wall has the prompt “I get out alive by…” Markers are laid out for audience response, and you can peruse a bountiful list of self-care tips already written by previous attendees. A table is stacked with resources for those suffering from depression and/or thoughts of suicide.
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.
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.
To the Victory Gardens Board of Directors:
We, the past, present and future resident companies at Victory Gardens, are writing to express our frustration at the lack of clarity, transparency, and generosity given to Victory Gardens’ Staff and Resident artists. We stand in solidarity with Ken-Matt Martin, the Resident Artists , and staff members of Victory Gardens’ Theatre. We are equally troubled by this board’s lack of leadership, and even more troubled by its pattern of blatant and ongoing disrespect towards Roxanna and Ken-Matt, and the repeated dismissal of the Playwright’s Ensemble and staff.
In a world where women’s rights are under attack, it struck me as peculiar to witness a story about a white woman who in spite of all her wealth and privilege, found time to complain. . . a lot. In a country where 53 percent of white women voted for Donald Trump, it also struck me as peculiar to witness a story about a white woman who feels paralyzed within the comforts of her gilded patriarchy. Luckily, no one masters the peculiar quite like Terry Guest.
The Story Theatre, in its second season, has mounted a theatrical feast with Marie Antoinette and The Magical Negroes. Written and directed by resident playwright Terry Guest, the play chronicles the life and eventual demise of the last queen of France. The production features an ensemble of mostly black actors (sans the two who play Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI) and begins with the façade of a boarded up storefront with the words “This is not history” written broadly across the wall. While this image alludes to days of civil unrest past and present, it functions mainly as an omen that Guest will not be exploring history verbatim, but expanding upon the ripples that provoke the waves of change throughout history. Though much of the action of the play takes place in France from 1774 to 1793, it wouldn’t be a Terry Guest production without transcending time and space. Marie Antoinette explores the continuum of political resistance by taking us to New Orleans, Haiti, Chicago, and even Texas; anywhere where violence and resistance have mingled to create radical change.
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”