Decomposition Instead of Collapse: Seven Years Later, Rescripted Ends

This collapse is necessary.

Decomposition Instead of Collapse is not a binary concept. Decomposition and Collapse are intertwined. One can be found inside the other. Decomposition is the act of identifying the pieces that make the whole, the ingredients, the notes. The collapse is the Tower of Babel, the destruction of complacency that marks the creation of culture. Then, the introduction of the Holy Ghost – the energy that introduces new languages and brings forth societies. Decomposition, Collapse, Rebirth. A spiral. 

Gratitude to my teachers, many who are of the Theatrical Jazz tradition, whose bravery and improvisation guides my courage even now. Call your people’s names, they said: Laurie Carlos, Daniel Alexander Jones, Onawumi Jean Moss, Dr. Omi Osun Joanie Jones, and Sharon Bridgeforth, Phylicia Rashad and Raelle Myrick-Hodges, and, and, and…. I owe the format of this essay to Daniel Alexander Jones’ Decomposition Instead of Collapse: Playing Changes.

In June of 2017, shortly after the death of my maternal grandfather, Carson Bryant, I launched Rescripted.  I got the news of his passing on opening night of the first play I would ever review, We’re Gonna Die at Haven Theatre. I wrote that review on the flight back from his funeral service, where full military honors recognised his ability to climb the ranks as an aerospace engineer in the face of blatant discrimination. His obituary reads: “Carson was truly a real life ‘hidden figure’ in aerospace engineering history.” 

All of my ancestors – whether living, dead, or artistic – have had to create the conditions for their work. 

When I began working in Chicago I saw brilliant plays. From 2016-2018, local  theatre crackled with innovation, from BLKS at Steppenwolf, to No Child at Definition, to Tilikum at Sideshow, to The Displaced at Haven, to The Light at The New Colony. The list is in our archive. For that, I am grateful. Three out of five of the companies mentioned here no longer exist.

The circle of life is a masculine concept, with beginnings and endings. The feminine and queer spiral of the universe will always collapse in on itself to create something new… 

Rescripted was a moment of deciding to act on foresight, and intuition. I had never intended to start this business, it was a half baked idea I had discussed with my co-founder Katherine O’Keefe. It was the community conversations that motivated me to take this risk. It was so clear we were all holding this fear and uncertainty together.   

We held a panel, The Need For Cultivating Critics of Color. I craved membership in the creative artistry of this city, but the artists themselves defined that the conditions in which to create were hostile and rotten. The critical landscape was inhospitable to work by artists of color, trans folks, women, and a litany of other under-recognized voices.. That is why, in the final moments of the panel, I looked up into the lights and blurted “this summer I’ll be starting a media outlet called Rescripted…” With the launch of Rescripted, the Chicago Theatre community now had a platform for and by them, to transcend the comments section and join the critical conversation.

I have always been a gateway. I have always been changeable. 

I have always been a natural fan of other artists. Artists are brilliant when they speak about the work of their peers. They are observant, generous, and have an understanding of the effort that goes into making a show. I define Rescripted as the moment the Chicago community began showing up for each other on paper. People lent their time and expertise to our publication, well before we were able to afford to pay for their thoughts. For that, I am forever grateful.

Our mission “reprogram the way we critique each other” is tied directly to how we perceive each other…

Theatre is a sacred place, where you go to face yourself and the other. It is where we ask the ugliest questions about ourselves without consequence. It is where we do the bloody work. The work of births and transitions, of futurities and past examinations. 

The reception of Rescripted was mixed, full of underhanded comments about “bloggers” and nasty emails from associate artistic directors, other critics, and other editors. Last week, I was clinging to a barstool, doubled in laughter, because the bartender suggested listing all of my personal vendettas in this letter. “That word count would put my readers to sleep.”

In spite of a healthy opposition, I had it in my blood to create the conditions for the work, and history tells us creating those conditions is bloody. This outlet marked the beginning of true media delusion, and I knew we were in the midst of a culture war that has since evolved into global horror and multiple genocides. 

My eyes were wide and my pen never left the page, my fingers never left the keyboard. What began as wholehearted passion transformed into righteous rage in the face of cycles of ignorance. I was a menace. Penning response pieces on a plane from California to Chicago, furiously striving to publish before I landed. I wrote my very first review on the plane home

Sekhmet was the eye of Ra, and the medicine applied to a sick and corrupt society. She is known as the Egyptian goddess of blood, war, and menstruation, and the protector of ma’at (the truth and balance in all things). Sekhmet slayed evildoers as punishment, and eventually lost control. A plan was concocted to quell her bloodthirsty rampage . One day, it was arranged for the Nile to be filled with poppies and wine. Mistaking the mixture for blood, Sekhmet drank, and drank, and drank… When she awoke, the powerful magic of her community had transformed her into the goddess of spring and fertility, Hathor.

I have tasted sweeter things, and I no longer thirst for blood. I desire birth, new timelines, new growth, and softness.

The heart of the matter is this – “I” was a weapon as long as “I” was needed. I myself now know how to meet an ending with a smile.  It has been a joy and a pleasure to run Rescripted for the past 7 years. Cultivating change in this way has come to an end for me, as I return to the sea of artists from which I came full time.

Spiritually, mentally, physically, I am not who I was when we met. I am a tarot reader, and my spiritual practice is growing every day.  I am the cultural producer of The Bombay Beach Biennale in Southern California, a social, ecological, and artistic blueprint for future arts engagement. I am directing and developing new plays in Chicago, Minneapolis, and San Francisco.

“I walk with ghosts. I dream of Hades. I can no longer be your steward. I must return to the river.”

I have had the joy of being in so many of your lives, your theatres. I have taught many of you through DePaul, UIC, Columbia and Northwestern. I have fond memories of breaking bread at your tables, and dancing away opening nights, in the hope that my presence could dispel the idea that critique is not part of community. 

Over the past seven years, I have watched so many of you learn to be your own advocates. I implore you to continue this work. To take risks. To be your own ambassadors. Rescripted started with the intention of removing objectivity, moving from a “one” to “I”. The spiral folds back in on itself and now, we repurpose this energy to the collective we and us.

“We are the leaders of society.” – Iya Awotunde Judyie Ella Al-Bilali, at the Inaugural Theatrical Jazz Conference 2024. She is referring to artists, not as the leaders of industry but of society. The concept of the starving artist, she argued, was a dangerous and colonial concept. How can the moral center of your society be in a condition of starvation?

This is not a resignation letter. This is a renewal letter. This is the self proclaimed scribe writing the prologue for the next chapter of the story. I don’t have to know how the first chapter starts, I just have to follow my intuition, and the next great thing will find me, as this did. The same is true for you.

What will we write next?

I would to thank Emma Durbin, Monty Cole, Abhi Shrestha, Emjoy Gavino, Michael Locher, Aaron Lockman, Rebekah Heusel, Kristin Idaszak, Kristin Patton, Brian Loevner, Adrianna Desier Durantt, Jessica Thebus, Hallie Palladino, Aaron Carter, and all of our contributors throughout the years. I could not have done this alone. 

 

‘Joe Turner’s Come and Gone…’ and He Took The Magic With Him

Revelation. The impact of finally understanding the unseen forces that conspire to create our world. A reveal, made in a surprising fashion, usually leading to ecstasy or a heightened dramatic state. 

Revelation is the engine of Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, the second play in August Wilson’s Century Cycle. Yet, it is noticeably absent from this production. Continue reading “‘Joe Turner’s Come and Gone…’ and He Took The Magic With Him”

‘The Mothers’ at The Gift Theatre is a Dystopian Sendup of Mommy Influencer Culture

The first act of The Mothers, now playing at The Gift Theatre, is a satirical knife, slipped between the ribs by playwright Anna Ouyang Moench. The second act unflinchingly twists that knife, resulting in an eviscerating theatrical experience adroitly directed by Halena Kays.

The Mothers begins as a dystopian sendup of mommy influencer culture. Set in a hyper-saturated magenta playroom (designed by Lauren Nichols), the caregivers coo at their unseen offspring, placed amongst the audience. At the center of the story is Meg (a propulsive Stephanie Shum), a former lawyer who left her high-powered career for suburban stay-at-home-mom bliss. Meg’s new BFF Ariana (Caren Blackmore, effervescent) exudes an aura of maternal expertise that’s immediately complicated by a casual anti-vaxxer quip. She clashes with Meg’s best friend from law school, Vick (an assured Krystel McNeil) who’s come to visit, leaving her own baby behind. Vick finds no solidarity in her attempts to juggle a demanding legal career and the early months of motherhood. McNeil’s grounded energy provides an effective countercurrent to the electric duo of Shum and Blackmore. Continue reading “‘The Mothers’ at The Gift Theatre is a Dystopian Sendup of Mommy Influencer Culture”

a nod to Shaw, ‘brother sister cyborg space’ explores moral responsibility and societal ills

What if Adam and Eve started life in outer space? What if The Holy Spirit was artificial intelligence? What if billionaires were forced to listen to the working class? What if some prominent activists are able to take social risks due to class privilege? What if you had the opportunity to change the lives of those most at risk? These are just a few of the world bending questions that playwright Paul Michael Thomson is posing in his new play, brother sister cyborg space

At the top of the show, the world is cracked open. We are struck with one extraterrestrial image after another (projections Michael Commendatore), with a silhouetted astronaut waving at us from far, far away upstage. Set pieces (designed by Steven Abbott) move in and out of view revealing new worlds, accompanied by a tectonic, booming aural landscape (sound, Jeffrey Levin). This visual world building by director Terry Guest defines the play’s scope – the use of magical realism signals to us that this will not simply be a living room play. Thomson’s play, brother sister cyborg space creates room for the emotional, the visual, and the visceral. Movement utilized inside the play is essential, whether it comes from the set or the actors, as the intellectual text would be impenetrable without it.  Continue reading “a nod to Shaw, ‘brother sister cyborg space’ explores moral responsibility and societal ills”

‘Antigone’ at Court Theatre is a Feast for Theatre Lovers

Antigone, the final installment of Sophocles’ Oedipus cycle translated by Nicholas Rudall, running at Court Theatre reminds us that the Greeks did not know the meaning of “a living room play.” I have spent the early part of the year in rehearsals for my own show, and not seeing many plays. But, if you read my review of The Gospel At Colonus, you know there’s nothing like a Black Greek Tragedy to get me into the streets and back to my other craft of criticism. I love them so much because Greek Tragedies were meant to hold multidisciplinary storytelling approaches such as music, movement, spectacle and text all at once. 

This Greek polymathic, multilayered approach to storytelling is picked up by director Gabrielle Randle-Bent in the present day, as visual art, fashion, poetry, vocal arrangements and body percussion work together to give us the emotional experience of Antigone. There is so much to eat in this production. Antigone is a whole meal, and I commend Randle-Bent for serving it up. There are places where it can feel like I’m trying to swallow too much, at times I was frustrated – yet Antigone’s world is frustrating. To me, great art isn’t perfect, but it does make me think, and enjoy the process of wrestling with it and making meaning. I appreciate the risks taken in this production. Without them, I’d have nothing to write about. Continue reading “‘Antigone’ at Court Theatre is a Feast for Theatre Lovers”

‘Dial M for Murder’ is an Old Fashioned with a Twist That Packs a Holiday Punch

Holiday festivities returned to a fever pitch of decked halls and wassailing from Thanksgiving to New Years, as we staved off the deep and pervasive loneliness the pandemic engendered in us all.  But after years of seeking out sugarplum-sweet holiday fare, this season I was craving something with a little more punch. So I swapped out Kris Kringle for Alfred Hitchcock.

On Christmas Eve, I watched Jimmy Stewart’s star turn in Hitchcock’s Rear Window instead of It’s a Wonderful Life. I persuaded my family to see Jeffrey Hatcher’s new adaptation of Dial M For Murder at Northlight Theatre, instead of more traditional wintry performances populated by Rat Kings or ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future.

Absent literal spirits, Dial M For Murder, is delightfully haunting. Running through January 7, it is adroitly directed by Georgette Verdin, straight off of her equally successful thriller Night Watch at Raven Theatre. Verdin is carving out a niche for herself for lovers of mystery plays – and they are having a moment!  Continue reading “‘Dial M for Murder’ is an Old Fashioned with a Twist That Packs a Holiday Punch”

‘Islander’ is a Sea of Innovative Sound From Across the Atlantic

Kinnan is an island divided. Metaphorically, folklorically, and, it turns out, literally. When Islander begins, its inhabitants are engaged in a fierce debate over their future. Should they stay on their island and protect their traditional lifestyle, or accept government funds to relocate to the Mainland? Conceived and originally directed by Amy Draper, Islander is a Scottish folk musical that debuted at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2019, currently running at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre as part of its WorldStage Series.  Continue reading “‘Islander’ is a Sea of Innovative Sound From Across the Atlantic”

Decomposition Instead of Collapse: Seeding Renewal in Death with estrellita beatriz

Editor’s note: This essay series is by and for the theater community, and hopes to offer regenerative, communal thinking in the face of industry changes. We are providing a brave space for artists and administrators to focus on creating present and future solutions out of, or beyond our past [perceived] failures. This series builds upon Annalisa Dias’ essay Decomposition Instead of Collapse: Dear Theater Leaders Be Like Soil, originally curated and published by Rescripted and Nothing for the Group. To mirror the mycelial intent of this series, we decided to expand our collaboration and partner with 3Views, amplifying this content on multiple platforms. All editing for this series is done on a voluntary basis, and we offer a small honorarium to our writers for their perspectives. We encourage you to support/donate to our platforms so we can continue this important work. Thank you to Stephanie Ybarra, Lauren Halvorsen, and Annalisa Dias for being originating thought partners in this work. [This series is published in a commons with 3Views on Theater, Rescripted and Nothing for the Group, and you can read this content on any of our platforms for maximum amplification.]

“By every account, we are standing at a moment of necessary change the seduction of contraction to do things we have always done to settle into the stale and oppressive belief and behaviors, to be lauded by the familiarness of fear is to miss what is the awkward mess of loving change that is our due…Will you change? Will you do what the world asks of you?” —Prentis Hemphill

As a poly-disciplinary artist manager, transition acompañamiente (doula), intimacy coach and ordained oracle, I have seen that the fear of death is a well-documented phenomenon that has shaped or, at minimum, influenced everyone’s civic, private, and spiritual life alike. Theatre, like most rituals, is often a deliberate reflection of culture. I consider many of the storylines on American stages as proof positive that decomposition, when feared, turns life into an act of meaningless consumption.  Continue reading “Decomposition Instead of Collapse: Seeding Renewal in Death with estrellita beatriz”

A Kingdom Held in the Jaws of ‘The Lion in Winter’ at Court Theatre

The Lion In Winter is the latest offering from Court Theatre, directed by one of Chicago’s most established maestros – Ron OJ Parson. Though James Goldman’s script was penned in 1966, its subject matter takes us almost a millenia prior, to Christmas Day, 1183 in King Henry II’s Castle in France. King Henry II, played with robust fervor and soft tenderness in equal measure by John Hookenager, finds himself surrounded by jackals who thirst for his throne on all sides. The jackals in this case, just so happen to be his immediate family. Continue reading “A Kingdom Held in the Jaws of ‘The Lion in Winter’ at Court Theatre”

‘Beautiful: The Carole King Musical’ is Dynamic Family Fun

Sultry sounds, smooth moves, and sumptuous outfits are all hallmarks of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical directed by Jessica Fisch at Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire Illinois. This family-friendly musical is presented just in time for the holiday season. The musical is the life story of popular singer/songwriter Carole King, played with heartfelt sincerity by Kaitlyn Davis. We follow King’s whirlwind romance with her husband, lyricist Gerry Goffin (Andrew Mueller) and their chart-topping rivalry with frenemies Cynthia Weil (Erica Stephan) and Barry Mann (Justin Albinder).  Continue reading “‘Beautiful: The Carole King Musical’ is Dynamic Family Fun”