Drive-In To The End of The World: Preston Choi, Marti Lyons, and Regina Victor in Conversation

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. 

 

Queen of the Night: Ken-Matt Martin and Terry Guest in Conversation

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.

Queen of the Night runs at Victory Gardens  through Sunday, March 13th. 

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”

Visions for 2022: A Letter From the Editor

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.

 

Trust

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 Expands Company Membership, Radically Embodying Chicago’s Cultural Landscape

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.”

You can support Sideshow Theatre Company’s endeavor to diversify the Chicago arts landscape by visiting their website and/or donating to their $21,000 for 2021 campaign.

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! 

“I Hate It Here” Heralds a Fresh New Wave of Theater Innovation

“How do we capture something that is fundamentally, profoundly, a live experience?” – Lili-Anne Brown asks the audience in her pre-show interview at one minute to curtain. I Hate it Here by Ike Holter is Brown’s savvy answer to theatre’s existential dilemma.

A title slide appears: ‘Going live in a few moments,’ which marks the beginning of the incredible adventure you’re about to see. Shot in the style of a 90s sitcom, a reality TV show, or the live medium of Saturday Night Live. Release your need for linear storytelling and let Ike Holter and the cast and crew of I Hate It Here take you on a grief, rage, and pandemic fueled fever dream that will have you laughing and crying for 80 minutes straight.

Did I mention it’s all live? Continue reading ““I Hate It Here” Heralds a Fresh New Wave of Theater Innovation”

Founding Artistic Director of Writers Theatre Michael Halberstam Resigns

The Founding Artistic Director of Writers Theatre, Michael Halberstam announced in a press release today that Halberstam has resigned from his role at the theatre.

“It has been an honor and a joy to lead Writers Theatre for the past 30 years. I am proud of the strong working relationships I have created with some of the field’s finest practitioners. I am grateful for their many years of unparralleled artistry and the work we have created together. I am fortunate in having served one of the finest audiences a theatre could ask for and particularly for having  diversified our stages in the past five years. I am also profoundly grateful to our board of trustees, our superb staff, and the donors and patrons of Writers Theatre,” Halberstam said in his resignation statement on 7/14/2021.

Halberstam’s resignation marks the end of his 30-year artistic leadership career and stewardship of Writers Theatre, including the establishment of their new theatre building in 2016. Halberstam and Writers Theatre leadership state “now is the time to look forward, to create pathways for new voices and stories, and to build for the next 30 years.”

The Board, Halberstam, and the Writers Theatre leadership team, led by Executive Director Kathryn Lipuma, have begun a transition process with the best interests of the theatre, staff, artists, and its patrons at the forefront. Writers Theatre had received complaints about Halberstam’s workplace conduct and allegations of sexual abuse. Similar community concerns had previously voiced by local journalists about Halberstam’s sexual abuse and workplace harm allegations, while local artists have also been vocal on Facebook and Twitter.

The press release states, “the timing of Halberstam’s departure signals Halberstam and Writers Theatre’s desire to preserve the goodwill of the theatre and to continue to ensure a respectful workplace for all.”

A national search will be conducted for a new artistic director. Writers Theatre has appointed their long-time Director of New Work and Dramaturgy, Bobby Kennedy, to be the interim artistic director during the search. Plans for the Writers 2021/2022 season will be announced in late August 2021.

Resignations, and endings, are not always bad things. Sometimes they are necessary for the future to grow and truly be able to take root. The We See You White American Theatre Demands have a section that actually suggests leaders should consider resignation after 20 years. Harm reduction, safety, and securing a future for our artists are beneficial reasons to consider making staffing changes. We at Rescripted are sending our love out to our community as we undergo these leadership changes. Whether they inspire excitement or fear, hold the faith that we are constantly improving on ourselves. Our institutions can handle change, and I know from experience, it’s only going to make us better.

Your Journalists Are Failing You

I am not a journalist nor should you settle for me.  

On April 15th, Lowell Thomas released a statement citing his reasons for his resignation under duress at Steppenwolf and the theatre community shared it across all social media platforms. No major media outlets paid attention. Two weeks later, on Tuesday April 27th, I compiled an article that included large excerpts of artist statements that had been made individually by Lowell Thomas and Isaac Gomez. The only person who amplified it was Chris Jones, who said Rescripted, aka I, was calling for divestment and dissent, a mischaracterization of the piece as a whole. The hot take is that I am apparently, inciting a riot (I am not). We will unpack how dangerous this is to say about a group of people of color another time. 

Continue reading “Your Journalists Are Failing You”

Divestment and Dissent – Artists Speak Out on Steppenwolf Theatre

Steppenwolf has had internal complaints about equity from their staff of color for years, which began to accelerate after The Great Leap when Deanna Myers’ complaints of harassment on the job went viral on social media. In the past year they have struggled to retain their staff of color for a variety of reasons, many having to do with inhospitable job environments, under-resourced shows, and pay inequity. Recently, two artists affiliated with the theatre have spoken to their journeys of navigating and negotiating with this institution. This article includes all three statements from these artists including the essay published by Isaac Gomez just today.

It is only fair to present these separate and yet deeply related arguments alongside each other, in order to ask ourselves what our path of engagement or divestment may look like. It is not a short read, but diligence is required of those seeking justice. Lowell Thomas served as Video Content Producer and resigned from the company earlier this month. Here, Thomas states his reasoning in his own words, posted on Instagram April 15th:

Steppenwolf Theatre Company has committed itself to inequity. Time has revealed that the leadership of Anna Shapiro, Brooke Flanagan, and Leelai  Demoz betrays the very people who have helped it maintain its renowned status. It smugly ignores the urgency of the We See You White American Theatre Demands and offers only tepid reflection as a response. It buries claims of harassment, racism, and sexism to avoid accountability and real change. There is no redemption for this kind of leadership. It will continue to exploit its artists and staff under the guise of “grit” while clutching its pearls whenever presented with the harm it has inflicted on others.  Continue reading “Divestment and Dissent – Artists Speak Out on Steppenwolf Theatre”

Mosque4Mosque SCOUT Presentation Sets a New Standard at Steppenwolf

Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s new play development initiative, SCOUT will present A Virtual Reading of Mosque4Mosque by Omer Abbas Salem on Sunday, March 28th at 2pm CST. This free reading is the culmination of a 30-hour workshop process directed by Arti Ishak.

Mosque4Mosque follows Ibrahim, the average 30-something Queer Arab American Muslim. Normal job, quiet life, easy men. Between dodging reminders of how unmarried he is from his relentlessly caring immigrant mother and helping raise his smart, popular, hijabi cheerleading sister, Ibrahim has always found comfort sinking into the background. But when his mother sees a glimpse of what could be his first real relationship, she feels compelled to take Ibrahim’s future into her own hands by seeking out the perfect man for him to marry. Mosque4Mosque is a comedy about a normal Muslim American family that asks us to wrestle with what we believe normal to be.

“I wrote Mosque4Mosque to reimagine my experience with family, religion, and being queer. I also wanted to create a world in which Arab artists felt proud to exist, because I can’t tell you how often I’ve felt ashamed by what passes for our representation. I can’t thank Steppenwolf enough for the support and opportunity to uplift our voices and begin correcting a wrong in American theater.” – Playwright, Omer Abbas Salem. Continue reading “Mosque4Mosque SCOUT Presentation Sets a New Standard at Steppenwolf”

Victory Gardens’ Incoming Artistic Director Ken-Matt Martin on Leadership and The Road Ahead

Victory Gardens Theater  has found its new Artistic Director in the multi-hyphenate and accomplished producer Ken-Matt Martin (he/him/his). Chicago artists may know him best as the Associate Producer at The Goodman, where he co-created and curated the Future Labs new play development program with Jonathan Green and Quenna Barrett. Regionally, Martin’s resume is just as impressive, beginning with his co-founding of Pyramid Theatre Company in Des Moines, IA, a company inspired by the Black Arts Movement. He served as Pyramid’s Executive Director until 2018, and it is there where his aesthetic compatibility to Chicago becomes clear. At Pyramid, Martin directed Ike Holter’s Prowess, and produced Hooded: Or Being Black for Dummies, both shows that ran to great success at Chicago companies. He then put his skills to action to national acclaim as the Producing Director of Williamstown Theatre Festival where he produced the revivals of Raisin in the Sun directed by Robert O’Hara, Ghosts starring Uma Thurman, and numerous other world premieres. 

Continue reading “Victory Gardens’ Incoming Artistic Director Ken-Matt Martin on Leadership and The Road Ahead”