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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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.)

Adrian’s Alan Adaptation

Two-time Olivier Award winning actor Adrian Scarborough has written The Clothes They Stood Up In, an adaptation of the novella of the same name by Alan Bennett (The Madness of King George, Talking Heads, The History Boys, and The Lady in the Van), about a mild-mannered couple (played by Adrian and Sophie Thompson) who return home from the opera one evening to find their flat completely bare and every single item they own stolen. What happens next is the action of this very funny play, which opens this week at the Nottingham Playhouse, and Adrian talks about about how his adaptation came to be, and how many versions he’s had to learn; the challenges of wearing both his actor and playwright hats; his successful preview at The Berko Speakeasy; finding (and imitating) Bennett’s voice; the value of getting microphones in the toilet; the privilege of getting to sit on the other side of the table; and the enormous satisfaction of challenging one’s self to come up with the goods. (Length 21:38)

Jack And Louise

Two-time Olivier Award-winning playwright Ken Ludwig has written Dear Jack, Dear Louise, a funny and charming romantic comedy that won the Helen Hayes award in 2020 for Best New Play and opens this week at the Northlight Theatre in the suburbs of Chicago. Dear Jack, Dear Louise depicts the unlikely courtship of Ken’s parents during World War II, and he discusses the origins of a play that is both right in his wheelhouse and a departure from the rest of his oeuvre; the joy of discovering subject matter that’s both freeing and always surprising; the wonder of actors becoming new people who also have his parents’ essence; whether it’s easier to think of your parents as real people or as characters in a play; how he’s writing a brand-new jukebox comic opera, using music by Rossini, called Tenor Overboard; a shout-out to the Chichester Theater Festival; and how Dear Jack, Dear Louise is ultimately a love letter to Ken’s – any maybe all – parents. (Length 18:45) (PICTURED: Casey Hoekstra and Sarah Price as the title characters in the Northlight Theatre production of Dear Jack, Dear Louise, directed by Jessica Fisch. Photo by Greg Inda.

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)

Flatwater Shakespeare’s ‘Unshaken’

Flatwater Shakespeare Company is hosting its first (and hopefully annual) “Unshaken Festival,” five solo pieces that engage with Shakespeare comically, poignantly, and powerfully (including Dee Ryan’s Broadguess, featuring actor Fred Vogel). Summer Lukasiewicz is Flatwater’s outgoing executive artistic director, and she shares how these new pieces were selected; how the festival came to be, and how it’s a reaction to the pandemic; the importance of getting changes to the tech crew; the differences between working with living playwrights (as opposed to dead ones), including why the royalty line-item suddenly has numbers in it bigger than zero; whether (and how) the “Unhaken Festival” will continue; and why seeing Shakespeare through difference lenses and from different perspectives is one reason why Shakespeare continues to live. (Length 20:25)

Something Wonderful Now

Jeffrey Sweet’s Something Wonderful Right Away, an oral history of The Compass Players and Second City was first published in 1978 and it’s arguably still one of the definitive works about the rise of Chicago improvisation and maybe the defining actor training method of the second half of the 20th-century. Jeffrey discusses how the book came to be and talks about his encounters with such greats as Barbara Harris, Sheldon Patinkin, Jules Feiffer, Mike Nichols, Anne Meara, and Elaine May; how specific movies and plays revealed to him a specific style; reveals the joy and wonder of shared realities; what it means to have gotten a B from Martin Scorcese; gives a shout-out to oral history pioneer Studs Terkel; how poverty can be theatre’s friend; how the only two essential elements to theater are actors and audiences (not playwrights!); the devastating truth that playwriting is not literature; and finally, further proof that following your passion can frequently lead you to a career. (Length 20:45)

Anthony Clarvoe’s ‘Living’

Anthony Clarvoe’s play The Living takes place in London during the plague year of 1665, and its echoes to our current moment are unmistakable. Anthony discusses how The Living (written in 1990) was inspired by the AIDS crisis of the 1980s; how he discovered his primary play’s sources; how he was galvanized by Daniel Defoe’s 18th-century novel A Journal of the Plague Year; moving descriptions of empty streets; the value of current events; being simultaneously both intimate and epic; loving group protagonists; celebrating the father of population statistics; sharing themes, actors, and a director with Tony Kushner’s Angels in America; how you can order both physical and digital copies; and reference to an ancient and obscure research technology known as “a card catalogue.” (Length 22:06)

Madhuri Shekar, Storyteller

Award-winning playwright, audio dramatist, and now screenwriter Madhuri Shekar is an alum of Julliard’s playwriting program and has an MFA from USC in Dramatic Writing and a dual Master’s degree in Global Media and Communications from USC and the London School of Economics. Madhuri was awarded the 2020 Lanford Wilson Playwriting Award and her audio drama Evil Eye won the 2020 Audie Award for Best Original Work, and now Evil Eye has been turned into a movie for Amazon Prime. Madhuri talks about how she first started writing stories as a child and discusses our shared Bay Area roots; how she felt seen at a performance of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged); the gift of parental encouragement; the perfection of a scary movie directed by identical twins; the marvel of accurate trailers; huge love for (and the difficulty of achieving) genre tonal shifts; the challenge of performing in empty space; a time to slow down; and the power of theatre and the importance of artist safety. ALSO FEATURING: Our unabridged joy at being a reduced part of Madhuri’s origin story! (Length 22:06) 

Chris Interviews Austin

It’s our 700th episode!! And because it happily coincides with the publication of Christopher Moore’s Shakespeare For Squirrels, the New York Times best-selling author turns the tables and interviews RSC co-artistic director Austin Tichenor in an epic un-reduced unabridged almost one-hour conversation. The two Fauxspeareans celebrate the release of Chris’s book by getting lost in the weeds of craft and discussing the importance of inoculating people against Shakespeareaphobia; the value of learning to keep 5-7 year olds entertained; the difficulties of working with living playwrights; understanding who got Shakespeare’s jokes and who didn’t; writing a Hitchcock adaptation for Disney animation; the dangers of unskilled labor; learning comic timing from stand-ups and Gilbert & Sullivan; using a five-act structure; the value of memorizing Shakespeare; the art of capturing Shakespeare’s exquisite mixture of tones; the perfectly understandable struggle to explain Shakespeare’s greatness; plausible explanations for why Shakespeare left his wife his second-best bed; snappy answers to listener questions; and being members in the small club of authors rewriting Shakespeare. (Length 58:17) 

693. Phone Porn Voices

Playwright, actor, and musician Deb Hiett discusses one of her most interesting survival jobs, many years ago in the heyday of the 900 number, and how it allowed her to flex her storytelling muscles and skills as a character actress. Featuring writing and performing both audio erotica and Quarantunes™; creating stories; involuntary gag reflexes; an arsenal of accents; crafting monologues; being co-lead singer in the band Orson Welk; an extensive resume of appearances in film and television; the limited imagination of Tower Records; and the profitable power of delaying gratification. A perfect tale for these times of social distancing and self-isolation! (Length (23:10)

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)

690. Alchemy Of Gender

Lisa Wolpe, currently playing Cassius in Julius Caesar at Playmakers Repertory Company, is an actress, director, teacher, playwright, and producer; the founder of the Los Angeles Women’s Shakespeare Company; and the creator and performer of Shakespeare and the Alchemy of Gender, her solo show which explores the transformational power of empathy. Lisa, who’s “probably played more of Shakespeare’s male leading roles than any woman in history,”  talks about creating her show and exploring the masculine in Shakespeare’s plays; how this helped understand her father’s PTSD; reveals the true definition of ingenue; investigates a re-gendered Taming of the Shrew; and shares the urgency and importance of putting the quest in the question. (Length 23:59)

Steadfast Tin Soldier

The Lookingglass Theatre Company in Chicago is remounting Mary Zimmerman’s production of The Steadfast Tin Soldier this holiday season, and the Tony-winning director and adapter herself talks to us about how the show came to life. Featuring seeking and finding, bittersweet qualities, being drawn to outsiders, staging an advent calendar, music hall influences, Masterpiece Theatre memories, colonizing the mind, actor contributions, a tribute to longtime collaborator Christopher Donahue, the value of taking a break, kitty sneezes, ending on a pun, toggling back and forth between literary and theatrical storytelling, and the value of beautiful legitimate sentiment. (Length 25:05) (Pictured: Alex Stein in the title role in the Lookingglass Theatre Company production of The Steadfast Tin Soldier, directed and adapted by Mary Zimmerman (left). Photos by Liz Lauren.)

Doug The Time-Traveler

Meet Doug Harvey (center, above), the newest member of the RSC and also the author and star of the one-man show The Time Traveler’s Guide to the Present, which earlier this summer won the Paul Koslo Memorial / MET Theatre Award at the Hollywood Fringe Festival. Doug reveals his RSC origin story and shares some live musical spaghettification; his feelings about the need for adventure and more shows about science; how a one-man show became a sci-fi romance; day gigs at LA’s Griffith Observatory; references to the darkest timelines; a couple of harmonizing triads; the Michael Faulkner conduit; growing up with Bay Area theatre like California Shakespeare Company and American Conservatory Theatre; tales of successful auditions; the importance of serious clowning; and the answer to the ultimate question: What’s the closest we have to a time machine? Not a Delorean, not Bill and Ted’s phone booth, but…a theatre. (Length 21:29) (Pictured: Austin Tichenor as the King, Doug Harvey as Hamlet, and Chad Yarish as Yorick in the Reduced Shakespeare Company production of Hamlet’s Big Adventure! (a prequel).)

Hamlet's Big Adventure (a prequel)

Hamlet’s Big Adventure!

It’s the comedy of the prince of Denmark! Hamlet’s Big Adventure (a prequel) will be the eleventh stage show performed by the Reduced Shakespeare Company and the tenth RSC script by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor, who discuss the origins of the script; where it’s being workshopped as part of Napa Valley College’s Emergence Festival; how the transitive property applies to ranking plays; the incredible insight given to us by our dramaturg Kate Pitt; echoes of Hamlet as well as Henry IV Part 1; the feeling of being both Queen Elizabeth demanding a new play about Sir John Falstaff and the Shakespeare who gets to write it; the hesitation of getting rid of our usual framing device; the challenge of creating a comedy that’s funny to people who don’t know the original; the balancing act of finding the right ratio of highbrow to lowbrow; and the fun of answering questions inspired by Shakespeare’s original tragedy. Poster art by the incomparable Lar DeSouza. (Length 20:45)

Episode 601. More Lauren Gunderson

Playwright Lauren Gunderson continues the conversation we began with her last November 2017, talking about her amazing play The Book of Will, a valentine about the creation of the First Folio, the first collection of all (most) of Shakespeare’s plays in 1623. WARNING: This is a slightly spoiler-y conversation (our first spoiler-free conversation can be found here) but in it Lauren reveals the process of research, dramaturgy, and creation; and also discusses the value of preparing for loss; being present; the wonder of ephemera; Shakespeare’s amazing women (both onstage and off); practicing memory as an active thing; favorite brilliant actors; and the absolute magic of double-casting. Featuring a special appearance by Oregon Shakespeare Festival Executive Director Cynthia Rider. (Length 17:23) (Pictured: Cristofer Jean in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival production of The Book of Will. Photo by Jenny Graham)

Episode 500! Playwright Ken Ludwig

Ken Ludwig (right) is the prolific American comic playwright responsible for such Tony- and Olivier-award winning shows as Lend Me a Tenor, Crazy For You, Moon Over Buffalo, Shakespeare In Hollywood, Baskerville, and almost two dozen more plays and musicals that have been produced in more than 30 countries in over 20 languages. For this special milestone episode, Ken talks about his work, his process, his new book How To Teach Your Children Shakespeare, future projects, the importance of being in touch with Twelfth Night, the difference between farce and muscular comedy, the contrast between prose and poetry, the power of comic engines, and the all-important value of romance. (Length 31:22)