Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I made this.

Nuts and bolts first: It was Dog & Pony's God's Ear and The Factory's Mop Top Festival plus watching/working box at Brodie. This Thursday is Profiles' The Wonderful World Of Dissocia and Friday is New Leaf's The Long Count. Saturday morning I'm flying out to Iowa to hang out for a week and then play Co-Best Man for my little brother's wedding on May 9.

My. Little. Brother's. Wedding. I've been utterly single for over 2 1/2 of my 3 1/2 years in Chicago -- handing over the rings to my 21 year old brother is gonna be one of the weirdest feelings of my life. But I'm proud and very happy for him and excited to spend time at home -- so don't be surprised if this place is dead until I get back on May 11.


Jenny Schwartz's God's Ear is one of those plays that is written so well, so insightfully and incisively, so precise that it just makes you want to go home and write yourself. I've been neglecting those creative muscles recently in favor of the acting and directing sort, and while I will continue to flex the acting (I will be playing Merlie Ryan in Signal's The Ballad Of The Sad Cafe opening in August) and the directing (I hope to announce official dates in early 2010 for Part One of The Nine before the end of May -- as soon as the ink is dry on a space), I think it may be time to pick the writing back up.

I don't really write in draft form. While I may go back and change a few sentences or word order for the flow of the piece at any given time, once I write something down, the structure is pretty much set. There is the rare exception, but for the most part my first drafts are near indistinguishable from my final drafts. (I believe Jen wrote something long ago about having a similar technique.) This of course means I have a bajillion half finished projects sitting around at any given time. It also means I can easily pick up those projects at any given time if I remain pleased with them. And remaining pleased with your work months, even years, after you've written it is a great feeling.

I've been going over old projects the last couple days and have found a number that I need to decide between in terms of buckling down and plugging away. There's BlueGrass, an experiment in Boolean Theatre that will be a later part of The Nine; Quiet Ground, my entry for last year's NaPlWriMo that didn't get far within the given timeframe; Terron: A Protagonist, a 26-part semi-Oulipian novella; and Rapture, an I don't know what that lives within my obsession with, well, The Rapture. And I'm going see if I can't finish at least one of these by the time Ballad opens. Yay, goals!

In the meantime, here's a little something I wrote almost three years ago for a one-night ten minute play festival. I still think it holds water. It's called The Mystique.

1: There hasn't been a moon like this in ages.

2: You're crazy; the moon's always been there.


3: They say that it's even there during the day.


3: We just can't see it.


3: Because of the sun.


1: But it's never this bright. That's what I meant: The moon hasn't been this bright in ages.

3: Also because of the sun.

1: Has the sun changed?

2: No, the sun's always been there, too.

3: It is changing

2: (to 1) You're crazy.

3: But not quickly enough to notice.

1: Well I notice that the moon is brighter than it's ever been before. Why is that?

long pause

2: I like it.

1: Oh, I do, too.

2: Why ruin the--

3: Are you sure it's brighter?

2: --the mystique of it?

3: Because it looks very similar to me.

1: I do enjoy the mystique.

2: Yes, it's definitely brighter

long pause

2: The mystique is half the fun.

3: It's really not brighter at all.

1: But it is.

3: Because the moon doesn't actually shine

2: The mystique is half the fun.

3: In that no light emanates from the body that is the moon.

2: The mystique--

1: But--

3: The illusion of a glowing moon that we are currently viewing--

1: Is the mystique--

2: I don't really think we--

3: Is nothing more than the reflection of the sun's rays.

1 and 2: Ahhh....

1: The sun's rays.

2: That makes sense.

1: Because the moon is not in fact giving off light

3: You see?

2: I do.


1: Mmhmm.

long pause

4 (off-stage): Fuck!

pause, 4 enters

4: That is one gorgeous moon, my friends, one gorgeous god damn moon


4: I don't think I've ever seen the moon quite this bright before.

1: It's the sun.


4: No... that's the moon.

2: It's the reflection of the sun's rays. You aren't actually seeing the moon, because the moon is not luminary.

3: What you are seeing is the reflection of the sun's rays off of the surface of the moon.

2: So, in essence, what you are seeing is the sun.


1: Indirectly.

long pause

4: Ah.


4: But there is a moon.

3: Oh yes.

2: No doubt.

1: Can we be sure?

2: (to 1) You're crazy.

4: Yes, there is a moon. And because there is a moon, rays from the sun are able to hit the surface and reflect off, making their way to the Earth, including the very spot that I am standing, the very inches that my eyes are occupying. And because the rays are reflected from the surface of the moon to these very inches, I am able to see all else the rays are illuminating. As well as the interlocking shadows -- I am able to see where the rays cannot reach and the battles waging at the line that separates the two. And the shimmering lake -- the needle-glint of a rising wave that is quickly swallowed onto itself by the following needle-glint, each more fleeting than the last, each a mere reflection of a reflection of a ray but piercing just the same. And the stars -- I am able to pick from a million tiny specks, joining together to litter the sky in the short hours before the sun returns in it's arrogance, outshining all, oppressing the stars and the moon and the earth -- burning, simply burning. Because the moon does not shine, because the moon merely reflects, because the moon is merciful, I can see the stars. And the sliver of a passing glint as the lake breaks. And the shadows, the belligerent shadows, driven back by the sun, but free to play, to have their long-awaited reign. Because of the moon. And it's fucking beautiful. It's a fucking beautiful moon.

long pause

4 exits

long pause

1: Fuck.


This was one of my first exercises in cutting back. I initially had a bunch of stage directions in this piece as well, a whole lot of nature-driven quasi-absurdist action. It seemed really cool when I was writing it and read horribly afterwards; symbolism for the sake of symbolism. So I sliced it all out and left just the words, making it inadvertently one of my first exercises in encouraging directorial interpretation as well. This would soon become a running theme.


Since it's past midnight I suppose I can officially give some thoughts on the Jeff Nominations. May as well do so before I'm offline for a week. Intial reactions:

- What the hell happened to The Hypocrites' Our Town? No ensemble nod? No individual acting nods for Cromer and Grace? Was the committee watching the same show as me and everyone else that sold that fucker out and moved it to New York? It deserves the production and director awards, but it also deserves so much more than that.

- On the reverse, the fact that Boho's Jekyll And Hyde: The Musical was nominated for anything other than Waste Of Paul Rekk's Money is discouraging. Other nominated shows that would have made that category: Circle's Hay Fever and Steep's Greensboro: A Requiem.

- Things I see'd and liked a lot: Ryan Jarosch in Hubris' Torch Song Trilogy, Brenda Barrie in Lifeline's Mariette In Ecstasy -- except for the last five minutes; an exceptional group of Supporting Actors in a Play -- I only missed Nathaniel Swift, but the rest were all fantastic; Blindfaith's Woody Guthrie's American Song snagging an under the radar 5 nods.

- Stiffest competition: Sound Design. Nick Keenan for New Leaf's Touch and Stephen Ptacek for Dog & Pony's God's Ear are awesome, awesome, awesome but are just a notch below Tim Hill's subtly unsettling design for Lifeline's Mariette In Ecstasy. But any (or all) of the three would make my day.

But at the end of the day, congratulations to all and to all a good night!


This is what we call inspired casting.

I'll be back with a full post on relevant things tonight, but may I ask just how blasphemous it is for me to be more excited about the prospect of Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy Krueger than I ever was about Robert Englund?

I've had the Jason vs. Freddy argument with a number of my (geekier) friends, and it would take a lot for me to give Freddy the respect most everyone else seems to have for him. I must say, this might be the lot I was looking for.


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Horses At The Window/Orpheus And Eurydice/Way Out West, The Sea Whispered Me, Part I

Working from the inevitability and universal nature of chaos and the acknowledgment that, as fun as chaos can be, there is none without order, there are two methods of creating sense from non. The first is a minimizing approach: collecting the chaos and placing it into a display case, towering above it, magnifying glass within arm's reach should the desire to revisit on rare occasion strike. This is an approach that allows for forgetfulness by means of a dusty closet. Chaos is something to be tucked away, an act perpetrated, the urge of which can be easily explained in behavioral terms. Chaos as incident(al).

The second approach maximizes. By delving into chaos, adopting a Fantastic Voyage approach and releasing oneself and one's world into the wilderness of disorder, a point is reached at which the chaos becomes too great to be visible. This approach encourages forgetfulness by means of high rise. Attempting to view something larger than your scope of vision has a similar effect as wearing blinders. One sees what is possible to see and writes off the rest. Chaos as ubiquity.

The first approach is delusional, the second escapist. We can no more contain disorder in some ill-fitted petri dish than we could unknot that which we are able to rein in. Yet it does us little more good to construct our maze of glass and continue to wander, content as long as we can see our intended destination. Somewhere between lie Wilder's saints and poets. Sitting outside of Ghirardelli with my banana split Saturday evening after seeing Compagnie Marie Chouinard's Orpheus And Eurydice, I had a saints and points moment.

It's no wonder the sky, especially the night sky, remains such an artistic anchor. There's a relief of refuge in constancy when wading in reality. As I watched the young Hispanic mother, the skater thugs, the Kansan family back to visit mom's alma mater, and the homeless man asleep on the curb; the man in the Caddy blasting '60s soul and the group of bikers blasting the Stones; the white hats in town for the Cubs game and the couple waiting for a horse and carriage to return on the first beautiful night of the season; these and hundreds of others and myself bouncing around as so many atoms, clinging to a sense of direction, hoping to do right by the world, and working to even maintain right by ourselves, it was a semi-regular moment of ease to look up. Because up looked the same. To all of us, all night long, up -- regardless of the reality of the situation -- looked the same.

And maybe that's part of the answer. I like chaos, I do. More than most, I've discovered. But it's good to know that I can immerse myself in the pinball world and at the same time, while knowing better, convince myself that the pockets of certainty I find can be so. And it's even better to know that, after that brief respite, I can face forward and step on, headfirst into not knowing and not needing to, confident grin splayed across my face.

What a lovely fucking nonsense we live.


It was a weekend of Think Theatre. (And all due respect to Remy Bumppo, but they've got a serious case of false advertising using that slogan in a city with this much of adventurous no-wires intelligence in the below radar scene.) Trap Door, Compagnie Marie Chouinard, and Cupola Bobber have tangled a mess of a web in my head that I will try to unweave this week with hopefully another couple of posts. I'm no longer able to discern which thoughts are coming from which show, so I'm throwing it all in one pot. The next post (more a reminder for my own future self) will mostly likely deal with the line between saying and wanting to say.

Marie Chouinard
has already skipped town, so you're out of luck on that one, but you have one more weekend to see both Trap Door's Horses At The Window and Cupola Bobber's Way Out West, The Sea Whispered Me. If you can only make one, go for Horses. As I said to a friend afterwards, the love and war and love in war paradoxical conclusion is the happiest and the saddest I have ever been at the same time. But Cupola Bobber's got something akin to the new American realism up at Links Hall -- like (and entirely unlike) 500 Clown, these are real people really doing unreal things. Hyper-intelligent but grounded in simplicity, Way Out West also comes highly recommended. If you were looking for plans, you just found 'em.

Edit: Out of all the obscure and half-formed phrasing I use on this blog on a day to day basis, I rarely feel the need to elaborate for ease of use. But I just know that the words "new American realism" are going to be read differently than intended far too much. The key word in that grouping is 'new'. This is not your mother's realism, your kitchen sink realism; this is your Paul Rekk realism -- the kind that lives in the same lovely fucking nonsense as I, where real doesn't mean something I understand, it just means real.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Another one down

Well, that's another opening survived and another opening night hangover put to bed. It's been a while since I've been in the position where my job is done on opening night, where all I have left to do is watch how people respond to what we have done.

The Brodie preview and opening night response seems to be very positive. (I realized this week that over the last few months I've started using number of friends who mention the show in their Facebook status as a serious barometer.) Critically, we've hit very good, very middling, and very non-Jeffworthy so far, with a bunch still to come in the following week or two. But I've seen this production more times than all but one or two people and I can -- and will -- honestly say that this was a great opening night for a phenomenal show and I'm excited to finally be able to share it with others. I discovered Monday night that I spend much of the show with a huge grin pasted on my face, and much of the rest with that shortened breath, welling behind the eyes feeling. And it takes me by surprise every time.

It's good to be back, Signal.


This week finds me back into the swing of things: Thursday is Trap Door's Horses At The Window, Friday night I'm saving myself for all kindsa late night bowling action at the WNEP Bowl-a-thon 2009 (there's still time to pledge!), Saturday is monthly movie extravanganza, most likely Monsters Vs. Aliens 3D (!), Adventureland, and Observe And Report, followed by Compagnie Marie Chouinard's Orpheus And Eurydice at the MCA, and Sunday I'm working box at Brodie (come visit!), followed by Cupola Bobber's Way Out West, The Sea Whispered Me.

The swing of things, indeed.


Monday, April 13, 2009

Ahh, tech week.

I had initially thought that I was going to take my Easter afternoon to go see Circle's A Perfect Wedding before heading off to our second Brodie preview. Shortly and swiftly into tech I realized that was a foolish idea and it was quickly excised from my mind. I hope I can get out to see it after we open, but this weekend was dedicated to output, not intake.

And speaking of which! Signal's The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie opens downstairs at the Chopin tonight and runs through May 16. Come rock and roll with us Scottish school girl style and feast your eyes upon the finest assistant direction this side of Bonnie Kilmeny. For realsies, though, this has been a great experience and I'm going to come out of it feeling not only like I've been a part of a helluva production, but that I also had a part in making it a helluva production. This wasn't a "which one of you had the grande macchiato?" AD gig -- I can watch the show and know that I had a hand in helping to shape parts of it as well, which is immensely gratifying feeling for an assistant anything. Big shouts out not only to everyone involved in the show and the rest of the Signal gang, but especially to director Ronan Marra for rolling with me on this. He's been open, flexible and decisive through the whole process and a blast to work with on the other side of the fourth wall. So now that the process part of it is coming to a close, come see what we hath wrought! Not only am I proud of the show, but the audience response from the previews has been very good, so I feel quite comfortable saying you'll like it, methinks.

Ticket information is here, and every night is Industry Night at Signal Ensemble, so bring your proof of industry with you for a $10 ticket. It sounds like opening is already sold out, but there are plenty of other opportunities to come say hey -- may I suggest in particular the April 23rd charity night for the Chicago Academy for the Arts? Or the May 9th benefit performance from which all proceeds will go to Will Schutz (man of talent, friend of Signal, and Orgie winner extraordinaire) as he continues to battle pancreatic cancer? Or the matinees on April 19th and 26th, where you will have a chance to say hey to my smiling mug as I work box office? Or, you know, whenever you can -- we'll be glad to have you!


Friday, April 3, 2009

The Tempest

For those who find this sort of thing important, I attended a preview performance of The Tempest.

Among the major houses in Chicago, Steppenwolf's the one that's figured this sustainability thing out but good. They're going to continue to find a new audience for themselves, and they aren't forsaking the old for it. I still give the Goodman insane major props for the O'Neill Festival and have a certain degree of renewed faith in them, but they've established a sort of do-it-for-love, do-it-for-money seesaw, playing to two very separate audiences and finding little compatability between the two. Chicago Shakes has all but thrown their hands up, opting to see just what they can physically put on their stage. (When your main selling point for a show is how many gallons of water you fit up there, it may be time to rethink priorities.) Steppenwolf, on the other hand, has somehow managed to walk the line right down the middle, earning prestige, earning ticket sales, and earning artistic respectability all in similar amounts. I think The Tempest goes a long way towards explaining this.

On paper, the show sounds like it has potential to be a Graney-copping big budget post-modern mess. Ariel alternating between football pants and tutus while cuing up sound and music on his MacBook, spirits in red leather hoopskirts and hoods, a hip-hop infused dance number, ziplines and rope ladders above the house, and a shit ton of projections. And yet, the show feels real, feels invested, feels true, and feels a natural extension of Shakespeare's words. And it feels youthful, which is an inviting proposition. You've got Jon Michael Hill, who is quickly becoming one of my favorites to watch, running all over the place with his unsung physical precision; and Stephen Louis Grush, who is not only inhumanly talented, but who also spends almost the entire show topless, revealing a wealth of ink (and as a tattooed actor, this is a big selling point -- mark my words, directors who embrace rather than hide or ignore body art are ahead of their time); and then Frank Galati, whose balance to the proceedings not only adds the necessary sense of gravity, but calm as well -- to have said hip-hop Juno dance light fun time extravaganza lead directly into Galati and Hill on a bare stage shows a remarkable and almost unnoticed ease with both the play and the production. Maybe it's that ease that has me so convinced that Tina Landau has a show for young and old, traditional and no on her hands. This Tempest is able to roll the world it is creating and the world in which it is created into one inseparable amalgam. And, even more to their credit, the Steppenwolf crew do it as if it weren't no big thing, without ATC's "Look what I'm doing!" sensibility or Lookingglass' emotion in spite of a labyrinth of theatricality. They're doing something right -- something progressive and something that doesn't feel it has to prove itself. They're just doin' what they do, for better or for worse.

It's not to say there ain't troubles -- I hope Landau took her extra week of rehearsal to work hard and heavy on those coma-inducing Lords scenes, especially Lois Smith's Gonzalo -- but it still comes recommended as a great example of experimenting in the everyday.


Tonight I'm checking out These United States and Anni Rossi at The Hideout and Saturday is Program B of The Building Stage's Objects In Motion festival. And then... tech week! Hope you've got your Brodie tickets -- we open on April 13th and that's a lot sooner than you'd think!

Also, I don't know that I ever made an official announcement on here, but not long ago I became one of the newest company members of WNEP Theater. Hooray! My first official act as a member will be to bowl my little ass off at the WNEP Bowl-a-thon 2009. I encourage you to come drink, bowl, and be merry with me. And everyone else, I suppose. But mainly me. I also especially encourage you to show your Paul Rekk/Bries Vannon/WNEP support by clicking that link and pledging you some money to my bowling prowess. I recommended pledging per beer -- I'm much better at drinking than bowling.