Liz Allen’s ‘Mother’

Improviser, improv coach, and “ensemble whisperer” Liz Allen discusses her one-person show Tonight, I Am My Mother, her darkly comic exploration of her mother’s alcoholism, in which Liz plays multiple roles (seamlessly). Liz talks about moments of discovery in her childhood; reveals her script’s inspiration; shares stories of working with comedian Mike Birbiglia on his film, Don’t Think Twice; marvels over her show’s Shakespearean levels; confesses the importance of taking creative license; and celebrates the rewards of bringing a complicated family member back to life. (Length 24:39)

Filming ‘Lookingglass Alice’

Scott Silberstein, the co-founder and executive producer of HMS Media, talks about filming Lookingglass Alice, the signature work of Chicago’s Tony-winning Lookingglass Theatre Company, and so beautifully capturing the circus-like energy of the live theatre experience. Scott reveals the importance of responding accurately and honestly to the story being told onstage; how his team are not only great technicians but also great improvisers; the inevitability of filming a concert on your phone and missing the experience not once but twice; how to keep the live element and not spoil the surprise; how you can stream Lookingglass Alice via the PBS Passport and Digital Theatre Plus streaming services; and the definitive answer to the question of whether it’s more difficult to film live theatre or live sports. (Length 17:44) (PICTURED: Molly Hernandez as Alice in the Lookingglass Theatre production of Lookingglass Alice, directed by David Catlin.)

Screwed-Up Teenagers

Scott Bailey’s new book Romeo, Juliet, and Other Screwed-Up Teenagers: An Irreverent Guide to Introducing the World’s Most Staggeringly Inappropriate Play to a Classroom Full of Confused Freshmen is a funny and frank look at Shakespeare’s arguably most popular play, and a great resource for educators, students, and even professional actors. Scott reveals his Shakespeare background, both onstage and for almost 30 years in the classroom; how his Renaissance Faire origin story coincides with the early days of the RSC; the surprise of taking a year off and discovering you have a book in you; and finally, the wonder of constantly discovering new things about a 400-year-old play. (Length 22:47)

Ondřej Pšenička’s Magic

He’s fooled Penn & Teller three times, and now Ondřej Pšenička is fooling audiences every week at the Chicago Magic Lounge in his new show 52 Lovers. Ondřej reveals surprising secrets (but not all of them!) about how he builds his tricks; the difference between being a manipulator and being a conductor; how comedy can enhance the magic when it doesn’t accidentally ruin it; how his theatre background made him a better magician; the crucial importance of audience management; and magic’s inherent promise to bring audiences back to a place of wonder. (Photo by Martin Vecera.) (Length 21:24)

Rosencrantz And Guildenstern

For his final production as thirty-year artistic director of Chicago’s Tony-winning Court Theatre, Charles Newell transforms Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead into an unexpectedly joyful celebration of legacy and theater. Newell reveals his lengthy relationship with not only Stoppard’s plays but with the man himself, and shares how he cast two halves of a whole; how he chose to respond instinctively to what was happening in rehearsal rather than adhere to an intricate plan; and how he embraced the counterintuitive and seemingly-oxymoronic phrase “joyful requiem.” (PICTURED: Erik Hellman and Nate Burger as Guildenstern and Rosencrantz in the Court Theatre production of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, directed by Charles Newell. Photo by Michael Brosilow.) (Length 20:20)

Michelle’s ‘Green World’

Michelle Ephraim – a Professor of English and (with Caroline Bicks), the cohost of the Everyday Shakespeare podcast and the co-author of Shakespeare, Not Stirred: Cocktails for Your Everyday Dramas – joins us this week to talk about her frank and funny new book, Green World: A Tragicomic Memoir of Love & Shakespeare. Michelle reveals she discovered Shakespeare surprisingly late; how “fun” is a a perfectly fine description of her sometimes fraught memoir; the shared curse of meeting hero Stephens; how Shakespeare became a source of both pain and solace in the wake of a parent’s death; how her relatively cushy job became surprisingly hazardous; and, finally, how Shakespeare – a dead European white man – became a very relatable force for inclusion. (Length 19:31)

Visiting ‘Shakespeare’s House’

Richard Schoch discusses Shakespeare’s House: A Window Onto His Life and Legacy, his wonderful new history of not only the building in Stratford-upon-Avon that William Shakespeare was born in, but how that building survived and became ground zero in the Shakespeare tourism industry. Schoch reveals how he discovered the dual focus of his book; how it took almost 200 years for people to realize the treasure that still stood in their midst; the shenanigans played by people who first depicted Shakespeare’s birthplace; the important distinctions between restoring a house and remaking it; the trick of hitting that sweet spot between writing an academic history and a popular one; and how the most important person in Shakespeare’s birthplace is not Shakespeare but the visitor. (Length 18:52)

All Our Yesterdays

Joel H. Morris discusses his debut novel All Our Yesterdays – no, not the penultimate episode of Star Trek: The Original Series – which tells the compellingly plausible story of the events that lead up to William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Morris reveals his multiple inspirations, both literary and personal; how investigations into the actual historical couple Shakespeare based his play on informed his novel; the ways in which writing is a process of discovery; how he balanced the political and the personal, the natural and supernatural; how he summoned the courage to explore one of literature’s most famous characters; and the wonderful inability to let go of characters that won’t let you go. (Length 22:56)

Ides Of March Madness

What’s Shakespeare’s best speech? That question gets answered on this epic episode by director Nate Cohen and actor/educators Elizabeth Dennehy and Gregory Linington, who agonize over every match-up in this Sweet 16 selection of soliloquies and monologues. Highlights include remorse over the many speeches that didn’t make the tournament; the differences between speeches and soliloquies; how Juliet is the female Hamlet; origins of the phrase “rolling thunder;” the unsurprising dominance of fulcrum speeches; a brief “Rap Othello” interlude; and most importantly, how a full March Madness field of 64 would have included many many more of your favorite Shakespeare monologues. (Length 1:22:47)

Writing ‘Tragedy Averted’

Washington Post humor columnist Alexandra Petri discusses her Shakespearean summer camp comedy Tragedy Averted, now having its midwest premiere at the IO Theatre in Chicago. Tragedy Averted showcases four Shakespeare heroines – Juliet, Cordelia, Desdemona, and Ophelia – who bond at summer camp while struggling with romance, friendship and difficult dads. In conversation with the production’s director Dee Ryan, Alexandra shares the origins of her humor; the depth of her nerdery; inspirational messages from W.H. Auden and T.H. White; the comfort of knowing she always wanted to be a writer; spoileriffic exegesis; her firm belief that any crisis can be addressed head-on, Hamlet-like, by writing a play about it; and how fan fiction means you love the source text but have a significant bone to pick with it. (Length 19:14)

Mark Larson’s ‘Working’

Mark Larson, the author of Ensemble: An Oral History of Chicago Theatre, returns to the podcast to talk about his newest book, Working in the 21st Century: An Oral History of American Work in a time of Social and Economic Transformation, a powerful and insightful collection of interviews that gives a megaphone to some important but quiet voices. Mark reveals how this latest book is timed to the 50th anniversary of Studs Terkel’s classic oral history Working; the joys of serendipity; how subjects reveal themselves to interviewers; the important work of giving a megaphone to quiet voices; and the path towards making this new Working a classroom staple (and maybe a Broadway musical). (Length 18:02)

Stick-Figure Hamlet

For our landmark 900th episode, Mya Gosling and her pocket dramaturg Kate Pitt discuss the epically comic A Stick-Figure Hamlet, Mya’s hysterical and surprisingly rich retelling of Shakespeare’s play from the creative mind behind GoodTickleBrain, the internet’s greatest (and possibly only) Shakespearean webcomic. Mya and Kate reveal the Hamlets they have known and loved; the marvelous elasticity of the comic form; whether Hamlet is legitimately a great play or merely an influential one; the fun of going behind the scenes of the play; how artists can transform the source material; the importance of bringing Ophelia to the fore; having a place to put all your favorite Hamlet Fun Facts; completely bonkers 19th-century productions of the play; and the immense value of taking not only Shakespeare’s play but the conversations about the play off their hifalutin pedestals. (Length 23:14)

Harpo And Chico

Reed Martin has written Harpo and Chico and Bill, a new comedy about Harpo Marx, his son Bill, and Harpo’s brother Chico as they try to put one final live stage show together late in their careers. Written during the pandemic, Reed’s play is is now having its world premiere (under his direction) at San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton. Reed discusses how the script came to be, how it’s evolving with his all-student cast, and where it might go from here; how he got to meet Harpo’s son Bill; how Reed exaggerated the drama (but only a little); how you can’t find a single person who has a bad word to say about Harpo; the importance of family both onstage and off; and how Reed’s performing the public service of introducing a new generation to classic comedians and timeless bits. (Length 22:16)

Troilus And Cressida

Director Jemma Levy discusses her incredibly successful production of Shakespeare’s problem play Troilus and Cressida for the Atlanta Shakespeare Tavern in the fall of 2023. Jemma reveals what makes the play so complicated to pull off; how she managed to craft a through-line for it with the help of talented actors and and wise dramaturgical archeology; the frustration of not knowing any of the Trojan War’s inside jokes; the problem of the title; the complication of not knowing who to root for; the play’s many shifts of tones; the ability to edit the play and give it a better focus; the degree to which Troilus and Cressida can be considered satire, pastiche, or parody; and the best way to handle “constant awful” – by laughing at it. (Length 20:29)

Dominic’s Debut Novel

The RSC’s own Dominic Conti has published his debut novel Your Book Club, a weird and compelling character-driven mystery that explores madness and “reexamines the art of reading and the postmodern experimental meta novel.” Dominic reveals his unconscious influences; a few mild spoilers; the difference between writing a play and a novel; the perfect director for the film adaptation; inspiration from both Stephen King and Ken Kesey; the significance of one specific proper name; unreliable narrators; and the vital importance of continuing to write so you can discover what you have. Your Book Club – the perfect choice for your book club! (Length 21:42)

CST’s Edward Hall

Edward Hall, the new artistic director of the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, discusses his return to Chicago and his new production of Richard III, starring Tony Award-nominated actor and double-amputee Paralympian medal-winning athlete Katy Sullivan in the title role. Edward reveals what went into his choice of play (and actor); the beauty of happy accidents and wonder of actor-driven Shakespeare; how Shakespeare’s plays are endlessly intriguing and endlessly relevant; the challenge of showing the things we’re saying; the musicality of the American approach to Shakespeare’s verse; inspiration from Game of Thrones, Succession and The Bear; and embracing the Chicago ethos of ensemble and the improv rule of making your scene partner look better. (Length 19:09)

Banning “The Bible”

Last week was the tenth anniversary of “The Kerfuffles,” that time when our performance of The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged) was banned by conservative politicians and then UNbanned when an international media storm arose. Co-authors Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor, and Matt Croke – the show’s original cast (pictured above) – reminisce about the creation of the script, how it developed in workshop performances, and how the controversy was handled. Featuring the show’s big Broadway musical ending; conscious comic and commercial decisions; lost scenes and cut props; and the importance of always heeding the wisdom of former dean of Ringling Brothers Clown College Steve Smith. (Length 24:28)

Measuring The Laughs

On the eve of our upcoming tour of The Complete History of Comedy (abridged), co-authors and RSC co-artistic directors Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor talk about measuring the success of a production, and how it’s easier with a comedy but not so much with a drama. Reed and Austin reveal how comedy opens up the heart; how laughs preceded by quiet moments are usually stronger; their greater willingness to go on a comic journey than a tragic one; a shout-out to George Saunders’s book A Swim in a Pond in the Rain; their feelings about whether Chekhov’s plays are actually funny; their ability to take their own notes about slowing down; how not all laughs are created equal; a special appearance by half an EGOT winner “Weird Al” Yankovic; the complete song, “I Laughed Till I Cried;” and the ultimate challenge of wondering whether a quiet audience is enthralled or simply bored. HEAR HERE! (Length 20:36)

School Of Night

Oliver Senton, one of the co-founders of The School of Night, discusses the origins of the great British Shakespearean improv company (loosely inspired by the mysterious Elizabethan cabal of the same name) and its connection to the late, great actor, writer, and director Ken Campbell (pictured below with Senton). As also one of the co-founders of Showstopper! The Improvised Musical, Senton discusses the comparative difficulties of improvising songs vs. improvising in iambic pentameter and reveals Campbell’s shared connection with the Reduced Shakespeare Company. Senton also explores the secrets of how improvising Shakespeare informs one’s understanding of his plays; the surprising wonder of being big in Newfoundland; how being famous gets in the way of one’s writing; the distinction between Shakespearean characters and Marlovian grandstanding; and the ultimate challenge of improvising a complete, compelling narrative. (Length 20:57) (Pictured above, l-r: Michael Joseph Chance, Dylan Emery, Sean McCann, Alan Cox and Oliver Senton)

Spanky’s Serial Killer

Improviser, storyteller, and teacher Jonathan Pitts’s one-man show My Dad, His Chimp, and a Serial Killer tells the real-life story of his father David, a skater with the Ice Capades who was driving across the country with his ice-skating chimpanzee Spanky when they picked up a hitchhiker who turned out to be a serial killer. Jonathan shares how he discovered this unknown part of his father’s past; how he turned it into the piece he performed at Lifeline Theatre’s Fillet Of Solo Festival; how the story inspired the film He Went That Way, starring Zachary Quinto and Jacob Elordi; the multiple forms this story has taken; the journey he and his father have been on; and the hazards of going up against 9/11 stories. (Length 22:10)

Favorite Shakespeare Lines

For this first podcast of 2024, father and son authors David Crystal and Ben Crystal share their (many!) favorite quotations they’ve collected in their handy and handsome book, Everyday Shakespeare: Lines for Life. The two Crystals reveal they combined their perspectives as practitioner and linguist, and share how they’ve explored the corners of the canon and found gold; the satisfaction of breakfast-time rituals; how words and their meanings – and their pronunciations! – have changed over the centuries; and the wonder of discovering the diversity of Shakespeare’s voices and characters. (Length 20:05)

Potter V. Scrooge

Joe Dempsey and Austin Tichenor play Mr. Potter and Ebenezer Scrooge in, respectively, It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! at the American Blues Theater and A Christmas Carol at the Goodman Theatre. The two Chicago actors share their stories of being cast and the mixed blessing of being perfect casting for two miserable old characters. Dempsey also reveals an appreciation for Saturday Night Live’s famous “Lost Ending” to the Frank Capra film; a shout-out to American Blues Theater’s brand new performance space; what one taps into to play a scurvy little spider; the luck of getting emotional plausible deniability; having front-row seats to some of the finest acting ensembles anywhere; the value of being of service to great stories; and the ultimate privilege of fulfilling audience desires at this time of year. (Length 21:15)

Muppet Christmas Carol

Author Ethan Warren (The Cinema of Paul Thomas Anderson: American Apocrypha) has written the definitive argument that The Muppet Christmas Carol is the best film adaptation of Dickens’s classic novella for the website Bright Wall/Dark Room. Warren – both a nerd about and expert on all things Christmas Carol – explains how the Muppets perfectly capture Dickens’s authorial voice and shares his thoughts on Scrooges he has known and loved (and loathed). Having viewed every existing film version multiple times for his Christmas Carol Advent Calendar™ video essays, Warren now yearns for a Muppet Hamlet and Muppet Wuthering Heights and reaches the inescapable conclusion that Charles Dickens was the very first Muppet. (Length 20:09)

Marley’s Christmas Carol

On its 20th anniversary, actor and playwright Tom Mula discusses the stage adaptation of his book Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol, which is available to license via Dramatists Play Service. Mula reveals how Marley helping with Scrooge’s redemption inspired Tom to help with Marley’s; how A Christmas Carol remains an enduring personal myth; how, like Scrooge himself, he too was haunted by Jacob Marley; how he helped settle two ghosts; how cartoonist Nicole Hollander helped him get published; his complicated feelings about having a resting Scrooge face; his fear about living up to the set design; and the beautiful art of surviving a demanding role and how it can inform your future work. (Length 17:08)

Hot Santa Extravaganza

Artist and author Gary Andrews (Finding Joy; Daisy the Littlest Zombie) has created the new holiday classic Hot Santa and the Twelve Days of Christmas, his “sumptuously illustrated novella” which sends his incredibly buff St. Nick on a time-traveling quest to gather all the items mentioned in the famous song. Gary reveals the origins of his Hot Santa character via his #DoodleADay diary; the benefits of finding sleep incredibly overrated; his brilliant contribution to the canon (which explains how Santa’s able to get around the world in just one night; a possible crossover sequel; and how making the most of our one crack at life is an wonderfully meaningful holiday message. (Length 19:04)

Holiday Murder Mystery

In a delightfully macabre bit of counter-programming, Northlight Theatre is producing the classic Dial M For Murder, which has already been extended into 2024 and whose director Georgette Verdin talks about why it’s the perfect kind of play for the holiday season. Georgette reveals the fantastic run of mystery-thrillers she’s been on; the opportunity and payoff of leaning into genre programming; the fundamental need for catharsis; how the theatre industry struggles to market new work and reach new audiences (and sometimes succeeds); and the powerful beauty of finding light in the darkness. (Length 17:47)

Scrooge To Scrooge

Larry Yando (left, above) discusses playing the role of Ebenezer Scrooge in the Goodman Theatre production of A Christmas Carol with his “Alternate Scrooge,” the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s own Austin Tichenor. The two actors talk about the challenge of being haunted by the Ghost of Productions Past; how Dickens’s story continues to percolate in the off-season; how they navigate script changes, especially the little annoying ones; how Scrooge compares to some of the other great roles Yando’s played (such as Scar in The Lion King, Prospero, Roy Cohn in Angels in America); how seeing another actor play “your” role can sometimes act like “an undigested bit of beef;” why the story stays relevant year after year; the value of staying on your toes; how and why Scrooge chooses Marley over Belle; and how if A Christmas Carol ended 20 minutes earlier, it’d be King Lear. (Length 21:48)

Everyday Shakespeare Lines

Ben Crystal and David Crystal – authors of multiple works, including Shakespeare’s Words and The Oxford Illustrated Shakespeare Dictionary – discuss their new book Everyday Shakespeare: Lines For Life, a collection of overlooked gems plucked from the canon, organized by monthly themes, and suitable for many situations and every reader. The Crystals share how they selected each quote (and how they wanted to avoid the famous ones); how when you pan for Shakespeare gold you find more than you expect; how their unique approaches to Shakespeare reflect their approaches to life; the variety of places they plant their geek flags; the wonderful realization that the more you dig into the words, the more the author recedes; and the surprising beauty of getting hit in the heart rather than the head. (Length 26:41)

Lionesses In ‘Winter’

Rebecca Spence (left) and Netta Walker play Eleanor of Aquitaine and Alice Capet, the estranged wife and mistress, respectively, of Henry II, in the Court Theatre production of James Goldman’s The Lion in Winter, directed by Ron OJ Parson. Spence and Walker discuss what it’s like to be playing the smartest characters in the play; the joy of facing off in their second onstage collaboration; the highly flattering comparison they make to Robert Preston; the privilege of working with such a sensitive ensemble of actors (and a director who trusts them); and how they navigate their power as women in a play with such, as they say in the 12th century, Big Dagger Energy. (Length 20:23) (Photo by Michael Brosilow.)

Meet Frederick Fronkensteen

Actor Sean Fortunato (TV’s Fargo) discusses playing the iconic role of Frederick Frankenstein in the Mercury Theater Chicago production of Young Frankenstein, Mel Brooks’s musical version of his own legendary film, co-written by and starring the great Gene Wilder. Fortunato talks about the enviable range of roles he’s been able to play (from Malvolio to Otto Frank to Willy Wonka); how they navigate some of the 50-year-old jokes; the challenges and rewards of playing in venues of varying sizes; how he approaches comedy from a place of seriousness and sincerity; and the glory of channeling Gene Wilder’s spirit, rather than copying his specific performance. (Length 15:13)

Let’s Build Forts!

Julie Ritchey, the founding artistic director of Chicago’s Filament Theatre, and scenic and installation designer Eleanor Kahn are two members of the team that created Forts!, the play that turns the audience loose in a controlled environment to create their own event. Julie and Eleanor discuss the creation of Forts! and how it changes despite somehow staying the same; how they’re exploring the intersection of play (the noun) and play (the verb); the challenge of creating a Forts! signature cocktail; the important question of why only toddlers get to wear fun fashions; and why Forts! is a play, not a show, and definitely not an experience. Welcome to podcasting on the edge! (Length 17:23)

The Nacirema Society

Chicago director Lili-Anne Brown brings extraordinary levels of funny and heart to the Goodman Theatre production of Pearl Cleage’s wonderful comedy of class, The Nacirema Society Requests the Honor of Your Presence at a Celebration of Their First One Hundred Years. Brown discusses the kind of rehearsal room she creates; how she worked her way up the theatrical ladder; how we don’t talk enough about the value of comedy; how the comedy basics of high status versus low status goes too frequently unrecognized; how she gives license to her actors to explore and invent; how the best and funniest idea wins; and how the recipe always begins with great actors and giving them permission to try. (Length 21:08)

Daisy the Littlest Zombie

“Some zombies are big
Some zombies are small
But Daisy’s the littlest zombie of all…”
So begins Daisy the Littlest Zombie, the sing-songy coming-of-age tale for children of most ages written by Austin Tichenor and illustrated by Gary Andrews (and published by Sordelet Ink). Austin and Gary reveal how this tale of the undead was brought to life; their love of mashing up genres; how darkness can be cathartic; why it’s sort-of Shaun of the Dead for kids; the joy of including (and discovering!) Easter eggs; inspiration from a performance of Completely Hollywood (abridged); their decision to follow up on the massive success of their award-ignored web series Drawing on Shakespeare; their shared experiences of being a dad to a brother and sister raised in theaters; and how they found meaning and humor in combining profundity and silliness. Now available on all digital platforms and in a handsome hardcover edition! (Length 20:57)

Adapting Kurt Vonnegut

Award-winning playwright and Lifeline Theatre ensemble member John Hildreth wrote an adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s satirical sci-fi novel Cat’s Cradle, now enjoying a spectacular revival at Lifeline through October 22, 2023. John discusses the origins of his adaptation and reveals the sources of his inspiration (including and especially the great comic actor Paul Lynde); how director Heather Currie not only “gets it” but is able to communicate it; the value of ignoring the passage of time; the shared experience of navigating multiple theatre worlds; and how his adaptation of Vonnegut’s novel about the fictional inventor of the atomic bomb achieves a perfectly-timed Barbenheimer level of synergy. (Length 19:19)

Playwright Sarah Ruhl

Award-winning playwright, author, and professor Sarah Ruhl discusses her playwriting philosophy and influences ranging from Ovid to Alice in Wonderland and beyond. Sarah shares her reluctance to categorize her plays and reveals how her theatre heart lives in the mix of comic and tragic modes; opens up about the origins of her popular version of Eurydice; discusses how she wants to put the “play” back in “playwriting;” expounds on her wonderful book, 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write; graciously puts up with impertinent questions; and talks about her journey from poet to playwright, her discovery that plays can be three-dimensional poems, and her strong feeling that Chicago is her artistic home. (Length 15:30)

Eurydice’s Sarah Price

Sarah Price stars in the Writers Theatre production of Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice (directed by Braden Abraham) and discusses the challenges of playing a character out of myth. As an actor with a background in improvisation and comedy, Sarah talks about finding a balance between modern and classical; how she finds the magic within the realistic (and vice versa); the fun of making physical choices; why being a big comedy nerd helped lead her to Chicago; the value, importance, and absolute necessity of listening; and the complete inability of acting programs to teach ‘adorable’. (Length 18:05)

Storyteller Neal Foard

Neal Foard’s short videos on Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok are viral sensations: stories filled with humor, wisdom, and a celebration of our commonalities. Neal talks about how he brings his stories to life and how he’s able to see what others miss, and reveals that it started by telling stories to his daughter; how one can choose to not remember the horrible stories; the universality of our experiences; how much hard work goes into making something look easy; the secret to the pocket square and the mystery of the black void; improbably named high school theatre directors; and the romantic benefits of playwriting. WARNING: Be careful offering to buy him coffee; Neal just might take you up on it. (Length 19:58)

Improvising ‘Star Trek’

Chicago’s Otherworld Theater Company is America’s only non-profit theatre dedicated exclusively to exploring the genres of science-fiction and fantasy (and occasionally horror). Otherworld’s Dylan Schaefer talks about Starship Edsel, the fortnightly improvised Star Trek parody (created by Brandon Brylawski) that combines improv, satire, LARPing, and classic nerdery. Dylan reveals how Star Trek led to his life in the theatre; how Otherworld creates an ecosystem for multiple universes; how Star Trek is in its second golden (or possibly silver) age; how theatre as an art form doesn’t lean into sci-fi/fantasy as much as it should; a special guest appearance by a genuine starship captain; where you can watch Starship Edsel online; and how the Edsel preceded the USS Cerritos as the worst ship in the fleet. (Length 19:12)

Lenny Bruce Lives

Actor and writer Ronnie Marmo (above) talks about his one-man show I’m Not a Comedian…I’m Lenny Bruce (directed by Joe Mantegna), which he’s toured all over the country for over 400 performances. A longtime actor (Criminal Minds, General Hospital), Ronnie reveals how he first fell in love with the so-called “foul-mouthed” comic who never actually cursed all that much; how he was first arrested in Chicago; how Lenny threatened the status quo and “obscenity” was just an excuse to arrest him; what it’s like when the audience is your scene partner; his showbiz origin story; and ultimately, the importance of always being in a play, whether they’re paying you or not. (Length 20:51)

TV’s Neil Flynn (Pt. 2)

Neil Flynn (The Fugitive, Mean Girls, Scrubs, The Middle) returns to talk about how he manages to work both sides of the acting street: comedic and dramatic, improvised and scripted. A theatre vet, Neil marvels at the times he’s been allowed to frequently act onscreen in 4-5 page scenes (something that rarely happens), and shares the reasons he doesn’t do many talk shows; the bites he’s gotten to take out of dramatic apples; the best business decision he ever made; how basketball led to his role of the Janitor on Scrubs; the joy of getting lucky twice; and his absolute satisfaction about his place on the showbiz ladder. (Length 18:52)

TV’s Neil Flynn (Pt. 1)

Film (Mean Girls, Magnolia) and television (Scrubs, The Middle) veteran Neil Flynn talks about the joys of meeting your heroes, including working with Dick Van Dyke twice and Harrison Ford three times in The Fugitive (below), which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and in Shrinking. A Second City alum, Neil shares the fun of working with people you look up to, as well as the possibility of working with people who’ve looked up to you, and the surprising things you do and don’t remember from your career. (Length 16:21)

Steppenwolf’s Jeff Perry

Steppenwolf Theatre Company ensemble member and co-founder Jeff Perry returns to Chicago to star in Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land, and he discusses what drew him to this role, at this time, at this theatre. Perry shares how seeing John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson in No Man’s Land in 1975 inspired a lifetime love of theatre and passion for Pinter; reveals the surprising number of Pinter productions at Steppenwolf over the years; evokes the original cast of Fiddler on the Roof; confesses the delirious joy of communal tomfoolery; talks about how Balm in Gilead gave him a triple doctorate in advanced theatre physics, as well as a motto for the Steppenwolf ensemble; and marvels at the wonder of having a “jazz soul.” Just a couple of old theatre geeks sitting around talking. (Length 21:47)

Phony Winning Musical

Laura Hall (from TV’s “Whose Line Is It, Anyway?”) discusses Phony Award Winning, the improvised musical comedy inspired by classic musicals that she co-created and which performs Sunday nights at the IO Theater in Chicago. Laura, who got her start at Chicago’s Second City and Annoyance theaters, reveals how her early training and connections led to this exciting new improvisational form. Laura shares which other musicals they’re considering for future performances (and why none of them will be Hamilton); how the cast is flexible enough to swap roles every performance; the extent to which doing televised improv differs from doing it onstage; how to make audiences completely relaxed right at the top of the show; the exciting motivation to see the show more than once; and how improvising in the language, style, and tropes of different musicals offers fun and specific new challenges. (Length 21:15)

Beethoven’s Killer B’s

Jeff Yang, a classically-trained crossover musician and artistic director of In the Realm of Senses, discusses his production of Beethoven and the Killer B’s, which due to popular demand is having several encore performances at Chicago’s Epiphany Center for the Arts. Jeff, joined by board member Cassandra Rose, shares the difficulty of articulating the nature of this extraordinary multi-media project, which is part concert, part tribute to John Belushi, part spoken-word biography, and part art installation featuring projections and scent sculptures. Revelations include the challenge of finding the right tonal balance; the desire to find a better description than “Smell-O-Rama!”; the journey towards executing one man’s sensory vision; and the difficulty of talking about integrative art that’s never been done before! (Length 23:44)

On Being Unreasonable

Dr. Kirsty Sedgman’s new book, On Being Unreasonable: Breaking the Rules and Making Things Better, examines our age of division and how we can be unreasonable for the right reasons. Born of a lifetime of studying theatre as a window into larger social questions, Sedgman argues that audience behavior is the canary in the coal mine of greater societal concerns, and the subject of her first book, The Reasonable Audience: Theatre Etiquette, Behavior Policing, and the Live Performance Experience. Sedgman discusses how despite our wishful thinking, we’re not in a post-pandemic landscape; the rise of the relaxed performance movement; the vital importance of carefully navigating sometimes competing truths and wrestling with the complexities of our divided age; and the value of getting into what Congressman John Lewis called “good trouble.” (Length 19:03)

Adrian Scarborough’s Churchill

Olivier Award-winning actor Adrian Scarborough plays Winston Churchill in the Donmar Warehouse production of Jack Thorne’s new play, When Winston Went to War with the Wireless, about the government’s meddling with the independence of the fledgling BBC during Great Britain’s general strike of 1926. Adrian discusses bringing this iconic man to life while giving the audience a bit of what they expect from earlier portrayals of the older Churchill; the challenge and thrill of performing the text gymnastically; how training with Shakespeare helps you get on top of the language; the pride of doing one’s own lip work; a shout-out to Thorne’s other new play The Motive and the Cue; and finally, a bit of Shakespeare as performed by Winston himself. (Length 22:15)

Something More Wonderful

Jeffrey Sweet, the author of Something Wonderful Right Away, returns to the podcast to discuss the brand-new second edition of this granddaddy of all improv books. Jeff shares how his book had an impact over and above what he ever imagined; how the second edition features new interviews with Keegan-Michael Key and the founding mother of improv Viola Spolin; how improvisation shares so much with games; his many inspirations (including TJ and Dave and Lanford Wilson); and the similarities between improvisation and playwriting. (Length 18:35)

More Bard’s Rest

Novelist Jessica Martin returns to her fictional town of Bard’s Rest, NH, for her second Shakespearean romcom, The Dane of my Existence. Her first book, For The Love of the Bard, focused on the character of Miranda Barnes, but the new book focuses on Miranda’s sister Portia, a high-powered lawyer who’s about to land the role of her dreams: becoming the youngest managing partner in her law firm’s history. But during her summer sabbatical at her family’s annual Shakespeare festival in Bard’s Rest, she encounters hunky hotshot developer Benjamin Dane, and hilarity, romance, and legal hijinks ensue. Jessica talks about how a single book has become a series; the importance of puppies in romantic fiction; how to construct a compelling romance while adding a soupçon of John Grisham; the difference between enemies and rivals; how fully fleshed-out all the supporting characters are, and which ones may get their own books; unintentional echoes of Taming of the Shrew; adjusting the amount of steam and the danger of writing non-gross sex scenes; and the important lesson of making room next to the work you love for the people you love. (Length 19:21)

Who Wrote Shakespeare?

Don’t know your Bacons from your Marlowes, your deVeres from your Rutlands? Fear not. We addressed the so-called “Authorship Question” in our 2006 book, Reduced Shakespeare: The Complete Guide for the Attention-Impaired (abridged), outlining all the major candidates and computing the odds that someone other than Shakespeare actually wrote his keen plays and nifty sonnets. The answer may surprise you! This episode features the entire text of Chapter Five, “Who Wrote This Stuff?”, and offers iconoclasm and mischief-making, scandalous scholarship, wild supposition, equally unlikely possibilities, and a little thing we like to call “logic.” (Length 29:34)

Asian American Renegades

Matthew C. Yee (above) wrote the book and score for Lucy and Charlie’s Honeymoon, and plays one half of the titular couple in the Lookingglass Theatre world premiere. Joined by co-star Rammel Chan, the two actors discuss the show’s origins; how they walk its tricky tonal lines; how a script with humble college beginnings became a full-fledged country western musical; the ways in which the characters are both inside and outside the law; the challenge of being not just the author and composer, but also an actor and musician; wonderful and unintended similarities to Harpo Marx; and the lasting questions of why there aren’t more country western musicals? (Length 19:58)

Dee Ryan’s ‘Broadguess’

Actor, improviser, and playwright Dee Ryan has written Broadguess, her one-person comedy in which a hard-boiled Elsinore detective gets too close to some mysterious deaths amongst the Danish royal family and gets transferred to…Verona. As Detective Broadguess discovers murders most foul in Italy and Scotland, she uncovers the sick mind responsible and investigates what kind of man creates this level of carnage. Ryan, a Jeff nominated Second City alum, talks about the origins of the piece; how it was inspired by her Shakespeare book club; its debut as part of Flatwater Shakespeare Company’s “UnShaken Festival;” how she’s recreating Shakespeare’s connection to a broad (!) audience; her gratitude to Jeff Award-winning director Barb Wallace; and how her very funny comedy is a dee-construction of both Shakespeare’s canon and Shakespeare the Man. (Length 20:04)

Meet Braden Abraham

Braden Abraham, the new artistic director of Chicago’s Writers Theatre, just announced the theater’s 31st season, the first one he’s programmed since joining the company. Braden talks about what goes into planning a season (and how that thinking never really ends); how a theatre season is like a great album; the importance of being in a learning and discovery phase; remaining in conversation with various overlapping communities; how programming a show in one city leads to a different show in another; the challenge of making each show an event; finding the right balance of scale and intimacy; and the value of bring some west coast energy to the north shore. (Length 19:18)