Token Theatre’s RomCom

Who doesn’t love a romcom? David Rhee and Wai Yim discuss Zac Efron, their sweet and very funny romantic comedy now having its world premiere as the inaugural production of Token Theatre Company, whose aim is to change the narrative and shatter false constructs about Asian Americans. David and Wai (who are also Token’s Artistic and Managing Directors) share how they created their version of a Disney movie and translated Wai’s YouTube channel to the stage; successfully avoided traps and make fools of themselves in a good cause; juggle serious themes of AAPI hate crimes and Asian representation; and melded something hugely joyful with something more “important.” (Length 17:20)

The Bard’s Book

Ann Bausum, the author of The Bard and the Book: How the First Folio Saved the Plays of William Shakespeare From Oblivion, discusses how she first discovered the story of Shakespeare’s First Folio and why she decided to share it with young readers. Bausum reveals her Shakespeare origin story; the delight of seeing different generations respond to Shakespeare’s plays; wildly inappropriate metaphors for turning kids on to history and literature; a massive shoutout to the American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wisconsin; gratitude to playwright Lauren Gunderson and the Folger Shakespeare Library; and how children’s literature, like children’s theatre, is the best training for effective communication. (Length 18:09)

Dreaming Multiple ‘Dream’s

Artist, author, and illustrator Gary Andrews (Finding Joy, Drawing on Shakespeare, Daisy the Littlest Zombie) is directing A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the fifth time and making brand new discoveries in this most popular of Shakespeare’s comedies. Gary reveals the Victorian inspiration behind his current production; how he finds unexpected comedy in the scenes between Theseus and Hippolya, and draws on his Welsh heritage; the other Shakespeare plays he would love to return to, and characters he’d love to play for the first time); the danger of over-politicizing the script; the importance of navigating the play’s multiple endings (more than Return of the King!); and resolving the ultimate question: Who doesn’t love a cuddly Bottom? (Length 22:47) (PICTURED: Eloise Wynn-Jones as Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed, photographed, and wearing makeup designed by Gary Andrews.)

Ruining Father’s Day

Mark Nutter and Tom Wolfe bring their special blend of comedy and music to an evening entitled “Another Father’s Day Ruined,” part of the Solo Sunday series held at Mrs. Murphy & Sons Irish Bistro. Mark and Tom discuss their 30-plus-year partnership and reveal their collaborative – for want of a better word – “process;” the ways in which neither of them are Mick Jagger; the time Tom opened for Bill Hicks; a history of ruining other things, like opera and Gershwin; memories of writing and filming the Chris Farley and Matthew Perry comedy Almost Heroes; and almost dying while researching Wild Men, their early-90s parody of Robert Bly’s Iron John. (Length 21:36)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

Will’s Gender Play

The About Face Theatre world premiere production of Gender Play, or what you Will is a tour-de-force for its co-creator and star Will Wilhelm, who transforms their own story as a nonbinary actor into a funny and powerful evening that’s part seance and part dance party. Will shares their journey of discovery and how this play began as a thrown gauntlet; how Shakespeare’s plays are fundamentally queer, and how Will found themself in them; the difficulty of parsing gender identity, gender performance, and cross-dressing; the importance of creating easy on-ramps to appreciating Shakespeare; and how Gender Play will continue to be a gift to future queer performers who can make it their own. (Length 25:20)

Bringing Back Comedy

The original cast (pictured, left to right: Reed Martin, Dominic Conti, and Austin Tichenor) returns to The Complete History of Comedy (abridged) for performances this April and July of 2023 and they discuss how both the show and their performances have changed; how different people can get away with different jokes; the value of bashing away at the material; the audacity of comparing ourselves to Shakespeare; how it’s our most autobiographical show; what it’s like to act with other companies like Chicago’s Goodman Theatre and San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theatre; fixing certain punchlines; and a special appearance from Grammy Award-winning comedian “Weird Al” Yankovic! (Length 18:49)

Shakespearean March Madness

Beware the Ides of March Madness! The question “What’s the greatest Shakespeare play?” gets a definitive answer from director Nate Cohen, who’s created a massive tournament bracket that pits Comedy v. Tragedy and History v. Romances. Nate shares how Shakespeare’s plays got seeded; which plays were the hardest to match up; how a play’s reputation affect its seeding; a production of As You Like It for which Barenaked Ladies wrote the songs (what??); the deep bench of Twelfth Night; tough decisions regarding Richard III; the unsurprising dominance of number one seeds; some surprising bracket-busters; a couple of heart-breaking matchups; what play would win out of ten games; and how the proof of each play’s strengths come in production. A warning to our affiliates: We will go long. (Length 37:26)

Clyde’s In DC

Chicago-based actor Dee Dee Batteast (above) plays the title role in Lynn Nottage’s Clyde’s at the Studio Theatre in Washington DC and she discusses the wild tonal swing between this role and her previous role as Scrooge’s niece in the Goodman Theatre’s A Christmas Carol. Dee Dee shares how much she loves monsters (both watching them and playing them); how she’s doing the devil’s work; how she navigates dizzying extremes; the possibilities of redemption; how freedom looks different for different characters; some strange lobby encounters; insightful mob boss comparisons; the power of playing elemental forces and the fun of playing a badass; and the differences – and surprising similarities – between Clyde’s and A Christmas Carol. (Length 21:43)

Shakespeare’s ‘Star Wars’

Author Ian Doescher wrote William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, a New Hope and others in the Quirk Books Pop Shakespeare series (The Taming of the Clueless, Much Ado About Mean Girls, Get Thee Back to the Future), which imagine popular movies adapted into plays as they might have been written by William Shakespeare. Ian discusses his Jane Austen/zombie inspiration; how his bar idea transformed into an actual best-selling series; figuring out how Yoda speaks in Elizabethan English; his personal connection to Shakespeare; how film action translates to the stage; the delight of inserting deep cut Easter eggs into the narrative; and the huge fun of embracing limitations and visualizing theatricality. (Length 20:54) (Skywalker Hamlet image by Nicolas Delort.)

More Michael Chiklis

Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning actor Michael Chiklis returns to discuss some of the roles he’s played and some of the roles he’d like to play. Michael shares his pride in doing The Thing (not to be confused with ‘the thing’); the downside of success in a specific kind of role; his love of music and performing live; how he deals with critics; receiving praise from Stan Lee; the importance of reinvention; which Shakespeare roles he’d like to tackle next; and his arguments for the person he thinks wrote Shakespeare’s plays. (For those wanting an authoritative refutation of the various Authorship Theories, download the free PDF, Shakespeare Bites Back: Not So Anonymous, written by Shakespeare scholars – and RSC Podcast guests – Paul Edmondson and Sir Stanley Wells.) (Length 22:40)

Meet Tré Tyler

Tré Tyler (above left) joins the Reduced Shakespeare Company for this spring’s tour of The Complete History of Comedy (abridged), and endures the RSC rite-of-passage known as the introductory podcast interview. Tré shares how he first worked with Reed Martin in the African-American Shakespeare Company production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) , and discusses how he first learned about the RSC; how his parents encourage and inspire; the unique training he’s had as both an athlete and nerd; how he loves paying homage to the greats; the rewards and challenges of navigating personal relationships with fellow artists; and the danger of too much table work when what an actor really wants to do is get up and move! (Length 18:33)

Charlotte Brontë’s ‘Villette’

Playwright Sara Gmitter (In the Garden: A Darwinian Love Story) returns to Chicago’s Tony-winning Lookingglass Theatre for the world premiere of her adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s novel Villette – and returns to the Podcast to discuss how the production came to be and why the novel isn’t as famous as Brontë’s other work, Jane Eyre. Sara talks about the challenge of channeling Brontë’s voice (in both language and staging); who to credit (or blame) for this adaptation; the joy of working with characters that demand to be brought to life; gratitude to directors and designers who help visualize the story; how the relationship between the protagonist and audience mirrors the one between an author and reader; the undeniable fact that Charlotte Brontë is funny; and the unassailable right of an unreliable narrator to keep some things to herself. (Length 20:35) (PICTURED: Debo Balogun, Mi Kang, Ronald Román-Melendez in the Lookingglass Theatre production of Villette, written by Sara Gmitter, directed by Tracy Walsh. Photo by Sandro Miller.)

Lamb’s 20th Anniversary

Christopher Moore returns to talk about his wise comic novel Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, which celebrates its 20th anniversary in this year of our Lord 2022. Chris discusses how wanted to create a tale of friendship and ended up getting taught in divinity schools; the rewards of swinging for the fences and wading through Thomas Aquinas; getting the facts and theology right when not getting it wrong on purpose; the secret of what actually went on during Jesus’ rumspringa; the challenge of not having conversational Aramaic; and constant vigilance against the ever-present danger of losing your reader. (Length 29:57)

Where We Belong

Madeline Sayet’s one-woman show Where We Belong tells the story of her journey from discovering Shakespeare as a child to studying him in England and directing him (and others, and opera) around the world. Madeline is a director, educator, and writer, a member of the Mohegan Tribe in Connecticut, and she discusses her play’s origins; how different audiences react to it; how Shakespeare became a part of her normal childhood fairy-tale world; the sometimes thorny challenge of adapting personal relationships to accommodate the art; an uncomfortable reminder about how history works; possible sequel titles; how everybody wants to be in the play now that it’s a success; the art – and importance – of loving a thing and still being able to criticize a thing; and how theatre can also be good medicine. Where We Belong ran at the Goodman Theatre and will play Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival in August 2022, Seattle Repertory Theatre and New York’s Public Theatre in the Fall of 2022, and Portland Center Stage and Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2023. (PHOTO: Madeline Sayet in Where We Belong. Photo by Liz Lauren.) (Length 21:33)

Celebrating Anne Hathaway

(No, not that one.) This weekend is the 399th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare’s wife Anne Hathaway, and to commemorate the occasion we talk to Dr. Katherine Scheil, author of Imagining Shakespeare’s Wife: The Afterlife of Anne Hathaway. Dr. Scheil discusses what drew her to Hathaway as a subject for study; how Hathaway is almost always portrayed in relationship to Shakespeare; what to make of the “second best bed” she received in Shakespeare’s will; the wonderful democratization and liberating opportunities of biofiction; how sex is frequently the default source of Shakespeare’s “inspiration;” a discussion of the relative merits of the films Shakespeare In Love and All Is True, the TV series Upstart Crow, and the novel Hamnet; and ultimately, how biofiction can be a more insightful way of understanding historical figures, and even how sitcoms can reveal greater story and character nuance than drama. (Length 25:59)

Jasper’s ‘Early Riser’

New York Times best-selling author Jasper Fforde returns to talk about his new novel Early Riser, a comic thriller set in a world very much like ours — except here, humans hibernate. What happens during the cruel winter months is the subject of this gripping and funny book, and Jasper reveals much about the process of creating it, his ongoing fascination with all things Welsh, how he accepts narrative dares and creates Ffordian Middle Earths, why and when he has to spread textual jam, his ongoing effort to make ‘scribernation’ happen, the promise of sequels, and how creativity is both the angel and the devil sitting on a writer’s shoulders. Also featuring Jasper’s unsolicited (and totally delightful) praise for the Reduced Shakespeare Radio Show (available on Audible and iTunes)! Calling all editorial sherpas! (Length 25:25)