Lighting The Comedy

Tony, Obie, Drama Desk, and Joseph Jefferson award-winning designer Christopher Akerlind has designed the lights for the current Goodman Theatre production of Lynn Nottage’s Clyde’s, a powerful comedy directed by Kate Whoriskey and featuring astonishing performances from a terrific ensemble (including friend of the pod Kevin Kenerly). Chris discusses how his bold (and funny!) lighting design for Clyde’s goes against his general philosophy of staying out of the way; how he always tries to stay open to the possibility of improvisation in your design; the importance of finding restrictions; how he’s open to the timing and rhythms of actors, language, and ultimately, audiences; how he embraces the opportunity to create visual humor; the secret to developing design muscles; and how Shakespeare is the opposite of restricting. (Length 18:29) (PICTURED ABOVE: Reza Salazar and Nedra Snipes in the Goodman Theatre production of Lynn Nottage’s Clyde’s, directed by Kate Whoriskey. Photo by Liz Lauren.)

Tyla Abercrumbie’s ‘Relentless’

Tyla Abercrumbie is an actor, director, and playwright whose play Relentless was produced by Chicago’s Timeline Theatre Company, called “The best new work here in years,” by the Chicago Tribune, then subsequently presented by the Goodman Theatre. Relentless tells the story of two sisters who return to Philadelphia in 1919 to settle the estate of their mother and make family discoveries that change their knowledge of the past and will possibly determine their future. Tyla talks about her play came to be; what inspired it but also (more importantly) what motivated it; how her acting informs her writing; her goals for a large canon; the joy of costumes, both wearing them and writing for them; the fun of doing it the way Shakespeare did it; and how disparate ideas come together as if they were meant to be – which they probably were. (Length 21:40) (PICTURED: Ayanna Bria Bakari and Jane Ladymore in the Timeline Theatre Company’s production of Tyla Abercrumbie’s Relentless, at the Goodman Theatre, directed by Ron OJ Parson.)

Ron OJ Parson

Ron OJ Parson is a multiple award-winning director and Resident Artist at the 2022 Tony-winning regional theater Court Theatre in Chicago, where his production of Arsenic and Old Lace opens this Saturday night. Ron’s extraordinary range includes over 30 productions of August Wilson’s plays, musicals, classics, and world premieres, and he discusses how he approaches each script, regardless of genre; how the best direction is collaboration; bonding with Brian Dennehy and formative mentoring from Marion McClinton and Stephen McKinley Henderson; the art of not doing all that much to the play while you’re doing the harder work of just doing the play; how he’s one of the folks responsible for it being a golden age of August Wilson in Chicago (and elsewhere); and how believes in the fundamental importance of laughter, not just as entertainment but as catharsis. Can you say #RonaissanceMan? (Length 18:33) (Photo of Ron OJ Parson by Joe Mazza.)

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 ‘Lookingglass Alice’

David Catlin is a founding Ensemble Member, actor, writer, director, and former Artistic Director of the Tony-winning Lookingglass Theatre in Chicago, and, whose adaptations and productions, which include Moby Dick and The Little Prince, “has sculpted the Lookingglass aesthetic.” David discusses the origins of Lookingglass Alice and the art of combining multiple skillsets; how the show is reshaped to the specific skills of its cast members; how David’s less of a director and more of an air traffic controller; the challenge (and joy!) of creating theater that shatters boundaries and explores possibilities; a proposed title for a new reduced version of a Herman Melville classic; and how Lookingglass is one of several models of college kids forming a theater and making a go of it. (Length 23:57)

Staging “Athena”‘s Fencing

David Blixt is the co-fight choreographer of the Writers Theatre production of Gracie Gardner’s Athena, directed by Jessica Fisch and featuring two stand-out performances by Aja Singletary (right) and Mary Tilden (left). David discusses the things that make this production unique in his experience; the importance of being a storyteller; the language of the body; the value of creating theater as an ensemble; how distance equals danger; why the actors had to actually hit each other; and how stage violence is always a story of desire and denial. (Length 16:24)

Episode 800! Hail, ‘King James’!

For our landmark 800th episode, we’re joined by Rajiv Joseph, the Obie-winning playwright and screenwriter whose Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo was a finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize, talking about his new play King James, now in its final week at Steppenwolf Theater before its month-long run at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. Rajiv talks about how the play found its ultimate shape; the bona fides and credibility he brings to the topic; the theatrical pageantry of sporting events, and how some of that invaluable arena energy is brought into the theater; the largely unexplored area of the emotional impact of sports; and our shared belief that the subject of sports remains fruitful and largely unexplored territory in the theater. (Length 17:44)

Are You Here?

A veteran of film, TV, and Broadway, Jim Ortlieb stars in John Kolvenbach’s Stand Up If You’re Here Tonight, a tour-de-force one-person play about what it means to struggle to survive, to move on, to connect, and to find community again. Now in its Chicago premiere at the American Blues Theater, the noted film, stage, and TV actor talks about the challenge of acting by himself…but with an entire audience; how behavior reveals meaning; how the death of Hal Holbrook inspired the play; the importance of mourning and how we, as a culture, aren’t that good at at; that moment when spouses figure you out; how this one play might become a life’s work; and navigating that line where the character stops and where the actor begins. (Length 19:53)

Choreographer Matt Crowle

Matt Crowle has directed and choreographed Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn at the the Drury Lane Theatre outside Chicago, and this week he discusses how one job led to (and informs) the other. Featuring early inspiration from Gene Kelly, Ray Bolger, Eleanor Powell, and Bob Fosse; a litany of luck; advice from Mike Nichols; a preference for “characters who dance” over a uniform chorus line; the attraction of athleticism; the importance of serving the piece and killing your darlings; and the relief of knowing the next show will come along soon. (Length 19:15) (Pictured, above: Danielle Davis and Adrian Aguilar in Holiday Inn, directed by Matt Crowle, Drury Lane Theatre. Photo by Brett Beiner.)

692. J. Nicole Brooks

Actor, director, and playwright J. Nicole Brooks is the author and director of Her Honor Jane Byrne, which looks at the moment in Chicago history when its first woman mayor moved into the Cabrini-Green housing projects. Just three nights after it had its official world premiere opening at Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre, the rest of the run was cancelled due to the restrictions being imposed around the world in the midst of this global pandemic. Brooks discusses how the play came together and how love letters to Chicago can be complicated; the value of Shakespearean echoes and wise fools; a fascination with corruption; shining light on haunted communities; getting laughs when you least expect them; decolonizing the space; losing revenue streams; surprising shout-outs to Shelley Winters in The Poseidon Adventure; and the brilliance of writing a dark comedy about kings and queens and guillotines. (Length 22:03)

Into The Woods

The Writers Theatre production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into The Woods combines professional artistry with community theatre charm to create a very immediate and powerful version of this popular musical. Directed by Gary Griffin, one of the world’s leading interpreters of Sondheim, the cast features McKinley Carter as Jack’s Mother, Brianna Borger as the Baker’s Wife, and Bethany Thomas as the Witch, all of whom discuss the challenges of going into the Woods multiple times and making new discoveries every time you do. Featuring impertinent references to The Fantasticks; doing the Lord’s work; creating characters instead of types; heightening the immediacy and stakes; the danger of gateway Sondheim drugs; Borscht Belt energy; and an emphasis on the frequently-fraught (“fraught than I thought,” to quote another Sondheim show) relationships between parents and children. (Length 21:05) (Pictured, l to r: Bethany Thomas, Brianna Borger, and McKinley Carter in the Writers Theatre production of Into The Woods, directed by Gary Griffin. Photos by Michael Brosilow.)

Episode 605. The Actors Gymnasium

Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi is the artistic director and co-founder of The Actors Gymnasium, a physical theatre school with a huge emphasis on circus and telling stories through movement. A longtime collaborator with Chicago’s Tony-winning Lookingglass Theatre, Sylvia created the underwater choreography for Lookingglass’ current production of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and talks about how she creates her work and the value of her collaborators, the invaluable nature of literally growing up in the circus, questioning the value of not taking a risk, learning the language of physicality, getting actors to a different level, and the joy of watching a performer discover new skills and manners of expression. (Length 19:20)

Episode 597. Lady Macbeth Herself

Chaon Cross plays Lady Macbeth in the exciting and literally magical production of the Scottish play directed by Aaron Posner and Teller in the current production at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, and discusses the challenges of finding the balance between the textual and theatrical and between character and razzmatazz; the difficulties of acting while performing magic; the art of creating a useful backstory; the pitfalls of human desires: the glory of creating a world; the relative usefulness of politics; and the surprising delight of speaking with Lady She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. (Length 21:16)

Episode 309. The UnReduced Hamlet

”Scott Parkinson is one of those great stage actors you’ve probably never heard of, and he’s playing the title role in an amazing production of Hamlet at the wonderfully intimate Writers Theatre in the Chicago suburb of Glencoe. Austin Tichenor sits down with Scott (you know, one Hamlet to another) and Read more…