Chagall In School

James Sherman is a founding member of the Tony-winning Victory Gardens Theater’s Playwrights Ensemble and his new play, Chagall in School, opens this weekend at Theater Wit in Chicago, in a production by the Grippo Stage Company, directed by Georgette Verdin. Chagall in School follows the the young artist Marc Chagall struggling to find his voice amidst political, cultural, and artistic revolution – which, not coincidentally, happened almost exactly 100 years ago – James discusses the impulse that led to the play’s creation; how plays like Chagall in School come to be: the mixed message of people encouraging you to become a playwright after seeing you act; how the first draft of any play is simply the author improvising; the relationship between revolutions in painting and revolutions in acting; and finally, how the audience is the crucial – and final – component for a brand new play. (Length 20:37) (PICTURED: John Drea and Yourtana Sulaiman as Marc and Berta Chagall in James Sherman’s Chagall In School, directed by Georgette Verdin, Grippo Stage Company.)

The Understudy Bookstore

Chicago will soon get its own Drama Book Shop in the form of The Understudy Bookstore, and founding owners Adam Crawford and Danny Fender talk about their ultimate pandemic pivot and how it’s already become a project the entire Chicago theater community is enthusiastically supporting; how Chicago is like one big college theater campus; how difficult it is (and how privileged they are) to be able to realize this beautiful dream; how it’s possible to have a theatrical career in Chicago; how they learned lessons from fellow small business owners; give a shout-out to Scenes, Chicago’s previous theater bookstore; and The Understudy’s fantastic motto: “Good Books, Fresh Beans, & All The Drama.” (Length 20:47)

Expanding The Canon

Emily Lyon and Shannon Corinthen are the artistic and producing directors of the Hedgepig Ensemble in Brooklyn, NY, and two of the hosts of “This is a Classic: The Expand The Canon Theatre Podcast,” an outgrowth of Hedgepig’s mission to uplift the legacy of women and non-binary writers. Shannon and Emily talk about the plethora of plays out there by underrepresented writers; how they curate their annual “Expand The Canon” lists; how many plays they read each other to create their suggestions; how Hedgepig is committed to expanding the canon by commissioning new works and new translations; the surprising timelessness of so many of these plays; and how so many of them would fit into a theater’s season so much better than some of the overdone and less-worthy plays that get done now. (Length 20:35)

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)

Meet Kamilah Long

Kamilah Long is the new managing director of Play On Shakespeare, the company dedicated to exploring the world of Shakespeare by commissioning living playwrights — many of them women, many of them playwrights of color — to create new translations and adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays. Like all of us, Play On Shakes is changing and evolving through the course of this pandemic, and Kamilah discusses how they’re continuing the meet the needs of its audiences, both now and in the future. Featuring the looming presence of Shakespeare’s shadow; biblical comparisons; a commitment to doing no harm; the consequences of the pandemic, both good and bad; the wonder of playwrights getting paid and being in the room; a soon-to-come exciting new podcast; and the unfortunate demise of Shakespearean phrases like “jive turkey.” (Length 17:53)

Another Day’s Begun

Author, journalist, and theater advocate Howard Sherman talks about his new book, Another Day’s Begun: Thornton Wilder’s Our Town in the 21st Century, a fascinating oral history featuring conversations with over a hundred theater artists talking about productions of this seminal work from Chicago to Miami, from off-Broadway to the UK, and from professionals to students to Kate Powers’ transformative production at Sing Sing Correctional Facility. Featuring the two plays that framed World War II; how Howard’s opinion of Our Town changed during the writing of this book; how every production is telling its own story to its own community; how the play prompted dramatic new considerations about the American criminal justice system; and how the community of Grover’s Corners is always populated anew by the community of actors and audience members coming together at every performance. (Length 28:07)

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) 

Play On Shakespeare

Lue Douthit is the creator and Executive director of Play On Shakespeare, a series of translations and adaptations of the entire Shakespeare canon written by some of the most interesting and talented playwrights working today. Lue talks about the program’s origins and aims, and underscores how these adaptations are not meant to replace Shakespeare’s originals, even though they frequently offer insight into them. Featuring the ability to treat Shakespeare as a living playwright and his works as “new plays;” the importance of putting the playwright in the room; the dangers of editing Shakespeare; how flexible these texts are; establishing rules and then bending them; the importance of contrast in Shakespeare; the genius of Shakespeare’s dramaturgy and structure; how 90% of current Shakespeare productions are already adaptations; and the bold and radical idea of giving living playwrights living wages. Recorded in February, 2020. (Length 27:39)

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).)

Glory Of ‘Ensemble’

Mark Larson discusses his wonderful new book Ensemble: An Oral History of Chicago Theater, a magnificent (and massive!) collection of first-person narratives from such theatre legends as Alan Arkin, Brian Dennehy, Andre DeShields, Laurie Metcalf, Mary Zimmerman, Michael Shannon, Regina Taylor, RSC alum David Razowsky, David Schwimmer, and literally hundreds more, all explaining both the history and the unique nature of Chicago theatre as they lived and created it. Featuring gratitude to those who came before us; the concept of the Chicago theatre community itself as a massive ensemble; theatre as a civic point of pride; eliminating unnecessary characters (like the author); answering the question of why the concept of ensemble developed such strong roots in this particular city; the biggest surprises from this four-and-a-half year process (and how it relates to podcasting); similarities to Studs Terkel and Tom Wolfe; tales of enormous will and enormous generosity; great white whales who got away; the benefits of being an outsider at the edge of the story; making the reader feel part of the Chicago theatre community; how individuals and institutions assist and mentor others; and ultimately the freedom — the ability, the need — to take risks. (Length 21:45)

Episode 621. Processing The Process

Oregon Shakespeare Festival Director of Literary Development and Dramaturgy Amrita Ramanan talks about the role of the dramaturg at a theatre dedicated to a playwright who’s been dead for 402 years, and discusses the planning and programs OSF has put in place to create a canon of new Histories, Comedies, Tragedies, and Romances. Our highly caffeinated conversation features distinctions between institutional dramaturgy and production dramaturgy, studying the intent of the text, carrying a sense of engagement, determining what a 400 year old play means today, identifying the ethos and identify of Shakespeare’s work, how a dramaturg’s job is very similar to a director’s, the value of gadflies, thematic connectivity, harnessing the all-important dramaturgy of the actor, and how producing new work and new playwrights, in addition to producing his 400 year old plays, actually does the greatest honor to Master Shakespeare himself. (Length 17:51

Episode 609. Well-Intentioned Director’s Guide

Director Nate Cohen is in his second year of Northwestern University’s MFA Directing program and recently created a cheeky — and slightly tongue-in-cheek — flowchart entitled “Should I Direct This Play (A Guide for Well-Intentioned Cis Het White Men).” Nate posted the chart on Facebook and tagged, among other people, American Theatre magazine, which retweeted it and prompted much national discussion and a little bit of blowback. Nate discusses his own intentions and the issue of taking up space; the dangers of getting stuck in an irony loop; the cautionary tale of Robert LePage; the fact of walking like a (straight white) man; the reason it’s a guide, not a rulebook; vital interactions with Lauren Gunderson; the potential danger of artist-splaining; a grateful shout-out to the Hawkins Family (and this live concert recording in particular); the importance of thinking through things critically and not being a dick; and ultimately, the valuable question of how do we do better? (Length 27:46)

Episode 558. Theatre In Chicago

On the occasion of its world premiere (and Broadway-bound) production of Trevor: The Musical, Writers Theatre artistic director Michael Halberstam talks about the Chicago theatre community, its evolving so-called “style”, and the state of musical theatre (and theatre generally) in America. Featuring comparisons to London, cynical imperatives, lifeguard metaphors, and Read more…

Episode 539. Encouraging Young Writers

”It’s national Encourage a Young Writer Day! To honor this auspicious occasion, we discuss the old adage “write what you know” with playwright Tom Coash, who shares his experiences struggling with narrative and the importance of procrastination research, the value of networks, the priority of open questions, the need for communication, and Read more…

Episode 391. The Director’s Job

”Jessica Thebus teaches Directing at Northwestern University and has directed classics and world premieres across the country at such theaters as Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the Huntington Theatre in Boston, the Kennedy Center, Steppenwolf, the Goodman, and Lookingglass Theatre, so she’s the perfect person to explain just what it is a Read more…

Episode 364. Constructing The Narrative

”Sometimes the hardest work goes completely unnoticed — which is as it should be. Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor discuss the narrative conceit they created for The Complete History of Comedy (abridged), other company’s failed attempts to create something similar, the problems of being too close to the subject matter, Read more…

Episode 361. A Comedian’s Prayer

”Reed Martin, Dominic Conti, and Austin Tichenor take a break from rehearsing the world premiere of The Complete History of Comedy (abridged) at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. The boys talk about how it’s going and share typical rehearsal room antics, excerpts from the show, a discussion of fools both Shakespearean Read more…

Episode 360. Austin Tichenor’s ‘Frankenstein’

Austin Tichenor’s adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is getting new life, with a new production and published acting edition. Austin talks to director Rob Richards about the current production and consider the ideal interpreters of 19th-century Romantic authors, some genius casting notions, the dangers of polite acting, the close relationship between laughter and screams, a special appearance by newly elected Senator Cory Booker, dodgy Jeff Goldblum impressions, and the nature of monstrosity. (Length 19:15) (Pictured: Matthew Geary as The Creature in the 2013 Phillips Exeter Academy production. Photo by Cheryl Semter. Used by permission.)

Episode 352. Our Comic Inspirations

”On the opening weekend of The Complete History of Comedy (abridged), authors Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor reflect on how their early comic influences have inspired the writing of the show. Featuring favorite movies, formative stand-ups, fundamental lessons, a celebration of Blackhawk Films, and the importance of parents with excellent Read more…

Episode 342. ‘Bible’ Down Under

”Finally! We return to Australia, with RSC veterans Michael Faulkner, Jerry Kernion, Mick Orfe, and Dominic Conti performing The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged) in Melbourne, Adelaide, Canberra, Brisbane, and Sydney. This week, playwrights and directors Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor chat with original cast member Matt Croke about putting together the original Read more…

Episode 276. How We Write

”Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor talk about how they create the RSC’s “Complete (abridged)” shows, and reveal their ideal writing surroundings, how they come up with their ideas, and where in the world favorite scenes were actually composed. Featuring advice on good ways not to collaborate, and some background on Read more…

Episode 201. Endings Are Important

”We’ve discussed our writing process before, but this week we talk about designing effective openings and killer endings. Featuring stumbles and fumbles, happy accidents, show construction, meticulous planning, adherence to form, template deviation, and impertinent comparisons to both Shakespeare and the Beatles. (MP3. Length 22:15)

Episode 175. Playwrights Who Direct

”Austin Tichenor and Reed Martin are writing The Complete World of Sports (abridged), which the Reduced Shakespeare Company will premiere in September 2010. But they’re in rehearsals now, directing a non-RSC production in California. They talk about this unusual process, and about the wisdom of playwrights directing their own work. Read more…