Once Upon a Mattress is a 1959 musical comedy that presents a goofy reimagining of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “The Princess and the Pea.” It tells the love story between the adorably awkward (and misleadingly named) Prince Dauntless and the bombastic Princess Winnifred (or Fred to her friends), buoyed by a supporting cast of royals, nobles, and courtiers embroiled in various scandals, japes, and shenanigans. Being a comedy from the 50’s that covers topics of love and marriage, it’s no surprise that Once Upon a Mattress leans heavily on some outdated and reductive gender roles for its laughs. The smart way around this, which director Landree Fleming has employed to hilarious effect, is to lampoon and subvert those roles at every turn — primarily by showcasing a cast that is visibly and joyfully trans, non-binary, and queer.
In the Appalachian town of Williamson, West Virginia, jobs are scarce and opioids are plentiful. Spay, a new play by Madison Fiedler, focuses on one Williamson family’s struggle with addiction at the height of the opioid epidemic. Sisters Harper and Noah Attridge, played by Krystel McNeil and Rae Gray respectively, are together again under the same roof after Noah’s public overdose at a youth baseball game. Over the course of one sober and sobering week, temptations come knocking at the door with the promise of relief. But at what cost? Rivendell Theatre’s world premiere production, directed by Georgette Verdin, is the promising introduction of a stellar script that deserves consideration from any theatre company currently planning their next season.
Preston Choi’s Drive-In To the End of the World will have a public showing presented by Sideshow Theatre Company in residence at Victory Gardens on March 25th. Directed by Sideshow Theatre Artistic Associate and Remy Bumppo Artistic Director Marti Lyons, the play is the culmination of a Sideshow Freshness Initiative that evolved into a customized residency for Choi. Dramaturg and Artistic Director of Sideshow Regina Victor interviews them on the process thus far, and the myths from history, and about ourselves, that drive the play.
Regina Victor: A digital residency is a new experience for all playwrights right now. A truly meta part of this residency is that actors, director and dramaturg will be realizing your play, but you will be in rehearsal digitally. A main theme in Drive-in is the impact on connectivity over great distances, whether they’re mental, spiritual or physical. What do you hope to learn from digitally engaging in the physical space with your collaborators?
Preston Choi: I think it’s an interesting test of the play, what does your script offer up without your physical presence, where does the language inherently help guide the room into how it might want to be played without you whispering into the director’s or dramaturg’s ear to steer on your behalf. Obviously there are different kinds of development where one can be in active conversation throughout the process, which have been very productive and enjoyable, but I am also interested in forcing myself to tinker with the text exclusively, almost like configuring a rube goldberg machine and setting it off, and not being able to stop it even if it goes off course, but seeing it through to the end to see just how off the rails it gets, or if it makes its way back on course, or if it goes into a unexpected but exciting direction. Being a digital presence makes that a far more achievable and practical method of testing, or rather observing, at least for how my life is functioning at the moment.
RV: Marti, can you tell us what it was like to evolve from a facilitator for the play into its director? What it was like to build this play with Preston through this digital process, inside of this non-traditional structure?
Marti Lyons: It was super exciting to be part of a playwright-led exploration and to get to work with Regina as dramaturg, and Preston as playwright. Regina and Sideshow, y’alls way of finding out how to support the project and the process in a way that doesn’t necessarily fit a formula. So figuring out what does this play, this playwright really need, and letting that dictate the steps instead of some predictable metric. I was also super excited to be asked to direct because I think Preston’s play is amazing and I really dig Preston’s voice as a writer. So to move from one role to another I felt really informed about the initial work on the process, and also excited to be engaged in a more direct way. The digital process affords us a lot of opportunity for continued development over a longer period of time, and I really appreciate that. Certainly there are also challenges within that structure but I think it’s really helpful for long term collaborations, and that is something that is not always possible otherwise so I’m grateful for that.
RV: And Preston, how has the play grown during this residency? Or, What is a discovery about the piece that really excited you?
PC: I think the play has grown, and in a large way my understanding of it and how much I still have yet to understand with every new bit we gain, the breadth of what it’s touching on is never fully in grasp, but in a fun way. From icon/brand commercialism, late stage capitalism, social media personalities, and expanding the list of cryptids and mythologies, so much has come into the mix since it’s initial inception. The play itself feels like a tip of an iceberg above the water, and everything that informs it, all of the conversations over google meet and zoom, and verbatim notes written in notebooks, have just grown, in a way that is wholly invisible to anyone outside the process, and I hope to get more and more of it above water over time. It’s definitely gotten more grounded, to support some of the fantastical leaps, and playing more with genre, and when genre falls apart or decays into another genre.
RV: Marti, what excites you the most about the play, and Preston’s work?
ML: I think Preston’s work has an element of danger but is also very funny, and lives in that sweet spot where comedy and horror overlap, which is in tension building into moments that are funny or gasp-worthy, or scream-worthy. That is really thrilling to be a part of, and also really joyful and invigorating to develop.
RV: So Preston, If you had advice for artistic directors trying to create Playwright centered development what would you tell them?
PC: I think there’s a balance between flexibility and rigidity, finding the blend of both that works for the playwright and the team/organization. The adaptability to adjust with whoever is being collaborated with. Having it be not so formless where things feel intangible and nothing nailed down but also not so controlled where things feel like one is being processed on a factory line. I also think reaching out to check on the play and the playwright when things are going great and when things feel like pulling teeth, that consistency of taking a moment to catch up and connect can be really reassuring, especially when it’s over an extended amount of time.
RV: From my perspective, one of the play’s engines is mythology and the ways we contextualize and create our fears. So I have to ask: what is your favorite scary legend or story, in any medium?
PC: I think one urban legend that I find fascinating, that originates from Korea, is “fan death”. If you sleep in an enclosed room, windows shut, doors closed, having an electric fan on could kill you in your sleep, suffocating you. Very human versus technology, but in such a mundane way, not falling from the ceiling and slicing your head off, or one close to your face blowing a fuse, catching fire and burning you, it’s just sitting there slowly depriving you of breath. I’m a big fan of fans, especially when trying to fall asleep, so I’m very grateful to not yet be a victim to this myth.
ML: Certainly one of my favorite scary stories is the girl with the ribbon around her neck, where when the ribbon is removed her head falls off.. Ugh such a good one.
RV: Finally Marti, why should folks come see this reading?
ML: Folks should come see this reading because Sideshow is on the cutting edge of whatever is next for this industry. I think Sideshow is a company of innovation, and vision. Preston’s work is exhilarating, playful, captivating and off-kilter, and requires heightened tone and style, and all the juicy things that as an artist you want to sink your teeth into, and as an audience member you get to lean in and enjoy. I just think Sideshow makes the kind of storefront that you can’t wait to see what y’all are gonna do next. Preston’s work certainly fits that M.O. You will be on the edge of your seat with laughter, it thrills.
Ever since the smash hit true crime podcast Serial aired in 2014 and catapulted the medium into the national spotlight, many audio storytellers have taken that formula — that is, a plucky reporter from out of town comes in to try and solve a highly personal mystery — and tried to fictionalize it with, in my opinion, limited success. Podcasts like TANIS, The Message, and Limetown tend to run up against the issue that the truly appealing thing about Serial was how off-the-cuff it felt, consisting as it did of Sarah Koenig talking to real people about real things. The obviously staged feeling of most fiction podcasts works against that tone a great deal. So how do you create a story that works in this formula?
Well, if you are triple-threat playwright, lead actor, and co-director Gabriel Ruiz in The Fifth World at Teatro Vista, the answer seems to be that you lean as hard away from realism as possible, embracing the limitless possibilities of audio to create something otherworldly, strange, and transcendent.
Rajiv Joseph’s King James directed by Kenny Leon opened last night at Steppenwolf Theatre to a rocking auditorium. It’s my first time attending an opening under the new artistic directors Audrey Francis and Glenn Davis. It’s only my second time attending an opening of this scale for a production I haven’t worked on since the pandemic took root. I mention this because the theater had an air of a championship game, some dressed in their best jerseys, others their best faux furs. The audience came for an event, and King James delivered.
The play’s title is inspired by LeBron James, arguably the greatest basketball player of all time, who just set a career record of 30,000 career points on March 13th, during opening night of this production. (!!!!)
As you step into the Downstairs theater, DJ and actress Khloe Janel is setting the vibe, spinning records in the box seats. The audience is rocking to 2000s hits preshow, singing Usher’s “Yeah!” to each other and waving at friends, invoking the spirit of attending a game more than a play. As the DJ winds down her set, the entirety of Marvin Gaye’s National Anthem washes over the audience (sound by Rob Milburn & Michael Bodeen). Lights come up on Matt (Chris Perfetti, Abbott Elementary) alone in a wine bar, Le Cafe Du Vin. He is sitting on the counter, crumbling a piece of paper into a ball. He makes an aspirational shot at the trash can and misses. Shoot, miss, shoot, miss. Finally he brings the trash can on the counter to make the shot – as Shawn (Glenn Davis) enters. Continue reading “King James Scores Big Like Lebron at Steppenwolf Theatre”
The following is an exclusive interview and conversation recorded during the run of Queen of the Night at Victory Gardens. Director Ken-Matt Martin (artistic director, VG) is interviewed by Terry Guest, a multidisciplinary artist who acts in this production of Queen of the Night alongside co-star André Teamer. Martin and Guest reflect on their artistic collaboration on this unique black queer family narrative, written by travis tate. Other behind the scenes insights include Martin’s directing process, his experience with and vision for Victory Gardens, and of course – Beyoncé.
Terry Guest: Where do you call home?
Ken-Matt Martin: I think I call home wherever I’m with people I love these days… Because I’ve kind of lived in a way where work took me all over the place. Little Rock, Arkansas is where I’m from, born and raised, very proud to be from there. But I think I call home wherever I am with people I love. That’s my answer.
TG: So how does Little rock affect the art that you’re making today?
KMM: Little Rock affects every single thing that I do. Continue reading “Queen of the Night: Ken-Matt Martin and Terry Guest in Conversation”
Actor and Director Wardell Julius Clark interviews Chuck Smith, the director of the Goodman Theatre production of August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean. This interview was recorded on February 6, 2022. At the time, Clark was serving as the understudy for the role of Citizen Barlow, originally played by Sharif Atkins.
Clark has since taken over the role of Citizen Barlow from Atkins, performing since February 11th and will continue playing the role of Citizen through closing this Sunday, February 27th, 2022.
Chuck Smith was the dramaturg for the world premiere of Gem of the Ocean in 2003 directed by Marion McClinton. Wardell Julius Clark previously understudied Citizen Barlow and performed in the Court Theatre production directed by Ron OJ Parson in 2015.
Wardell Julius Clark:
So first things first – In 2003 you dramaturg’d the world premiere of Gem of the Ocean?
Had you met August before that?
Yeah. I had worked with August, uh, I mean actually worked with him in ‘97 when I [directed] Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom [at the Goodman Theatre]. He came to the preview and uh, you know, we got this long preview [period]. He came to the first preview and stayed…The whole preview period and worked with me. You know, during the day, you know, in the mornings I came up in the morning. And we go, I show him the South Side, you know? Continue reading “Gem of the Ocean: Chuck Smith and Wardell Julius Clark in Conversation”
Pictured: Editor Regina Victor (they/pharaoh), photo by Gracie Meier.
It feels strange to share my Visions for 2022 in a moment of staggering global and industrial insecurity. I stand in solidarity with those whose hearts are dedicated to the theatre—to the art of conscious gathering. We are on the verge of another ending. Or perhaps, a beginning. We simply have yet to decide.
I believe strongly that every person reading this has the power to transform this moment from an ending, into a beginning. The creativity I have already witnessed from artists, to healthcare professionals, to teachers is what gives me the audacity and the strength to write about how we can dream bigger and better, together.
I don’t have all the answers, but in all this inconstancy I have re-learned to rely on my mind. We spent an entire four year term being gaslit, no matter what side of the mayhem on which you found yourself. Schools of thought separated us from our friends and family before we even knew a global pandemic would further widen the distance between us.
It does not matter what I am teaching. My pedagogy will always revolve around critical thought. It is the idea from which Rescripted grew, and it is where creation begins. Whenever I edit my essays, I can hear my professors saying “scratch out ‘I think’, it’s your paper, it’s all what you think.”
We are unused to speaking as though our opinions hold weight to anyone but ourselves. You can’t create a world onstage if you do not trust that you know how to transport your audience in the way only you can.
Trust yourselves. Practice your intuition with regular gut checks. Here’s a very basic tool I used when first starting out in leadership – and sometimes still rely on – easy enough anyone can do it. Hold up both hands, assign an option to each, have a friend pick. Are you excited? That’s you’re gut pick. Disappointed? Do the alternate option instead. Repeat until you realize you already know the answer.
Trust each other. Trust can be inspired as much as it can be earned. Trust that you are putting out into the universe what is expected to come to you. Trust that the colleagues you choose to collaborate with will treat you with respect, and prioritize safety in the workplace. This is not saying to turn the other cheek. This is an exercise to help you notice, and then remove yourself from anything and everyone who betrays that trust. Trust is different from vulnerability, in that you are assuming your power and creating space for someone else to share their own with the goal of creating meaningful, consensual connection. Vulnerability on the other hand requires a sacrifice, an imbalance of power that is appropriate in some situations but not in an industry where abuse is so common.
Mistreatment is so common in our industry, I found I actually needed to re-train myself to be surprised by dehumanization. I trust, and anything that betrays that trust becomes a non-issue, and a non-entity in my life. Trust that is given freely can be removed just as freely, and hopefully at little to no cost to self. Therefore giving your trust quickly is actually self protection and not vulnerability. Vulnerability means exposing your weaknesses and hoping the gesture is reciprocated. Trust, on the other hand, is not a weakness. Betrayal, deceit, and disrespect are the weaknesses. If your experience of applying this mindset is similar to mine, you’ll see those big shiny red flags waving and get out of dodge to the places you’re meant to be thriving.
Continue reading “Visions for 2022: A Letter From the Editor”
Sideshow Theatre Company has announced the addition of ten new company members listed below:
Ensemble Members: estrellita beatriz, Adelina Feldman-Schultz, Hanna Kime, Tina Muñoz Pandya and Shariba Rivers.
Artistic Associates: Sam Boeck, Olivia Canaday, Sydney Charles, Micah Figueroa and Mallory Raven-Ellen Backstrom.
Sideshow Theatre Company’s first recruited cohort under Victor exploded with BIPOC representation. This year’s cohort continues to demonstrate the direction the company is taking under the guidance of Artistic Director Regina Victor and Executive Director Brian Pastor.
Comments Sideshow Artistic Director Regina Victor(they/them), “One of the greatest gifts of being the Artistic Director of Sideshow Theatre Company is the ability to collaborate with the ensemble to cultivate a community that reflects our artists, and our city. This past year we have spent time identifying our values and evaluating our ethics, which lets us be specific about who we are becoming, and who we want on that journey. We are all such huge fans of these artists, fans of their intellect, talent and values. Each of these artists represents the future of Chicago theatre in their own unique way, and I cannot wait for Chicago to get to know them even better through this affiliation.”
Bias Alert: Regina Victor is the Editor of Rescripted.org.
Rescripted is a community-funded publication, and we are grateful for your support. If you’d like to support arts criticism like this, subscribe to our Patreon today!
Helmed by Director Kristina McCloskey and Associate Director Stephanie Mattos, Midsommer Flight’s Twelfth Night transforms the four lush showrooms of the Lincoln Park Conservatory into the land of Illyria, a world populated by guitar-strumming jesters, sword fighting pirates, foiled lovers, and capering drunks. This queer-af adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies invites the audience to sing along to sea shanties, share asides with actors, and walk from room to room to explore as many as three simultaneously occurring plots.
A typical summary of Twelfth Night might go something like this: Viola, shipwrecked noblewoman, disguises herself as a man after being stranded in Illyria and separated from her identical twin Sebastian. However, the plot each audience member experiences will vary wildly depending on which of the simultaneously occurring scenes they end up watching. As director McCloskey says, “Audiences can enjoy the wide range of experiences as the characters would live them, meaning they will only have the perspectives of the characters they are following. Plots, secrets, and surprises will run amok — until the final scene when all is revealed and resolved.” I, for one, spent most of my time following the booze-soaked revels of side-character Sir Toby Belch (Grant Brown) and his clueless sidekick Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Lexy Hope Weixel).