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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

Spanky’s Serial Killer

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

Favorite Shakespeare Lines

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

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)

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)

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)

Daisy the Littlest Zombie

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

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)

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)

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)

Something More Wonderful

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

More Bard’s Rest

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

Who Wrote Shakespeare?

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

Asian American Renegades

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

Dee Ryan’s ‘Broadguess’

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

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)

Writers Guild Strike

David A. Goodman, the former president of the Writers Guild of America currently leading the negotiations and strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), takes a break from the picket lines to explain why this existential fight is so important. David reveals what’s at stake, avoids heroic hyperbole; declines to craft narratives; confides who has the real power in Hollywood; explains the gutting of the American middle-class; possesses an admirable reluctance to participate in childish banter; and expresses gratitude for the extraordinary support the WGA is getting from its sister Hollywood unions. (Length 20:18)

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)

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.)

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.)

Subversive Improv Guide

David Razowsky has written A Subversive’s Guide to Improvisation: Moving Beyond “Yes, And”, a fascinating, helpful, and inspiring new book that features incredibly insightful advice and exercises improvisers (actors!) can do on their own or in groups. An alum of both the Reduced Shakespeare Company and Chicago’s famed Second City (where he worked with Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert),  Dave discusses his own journey as an artist; from his roots as a young actor to a teacher with students all over the world; his book’s unique structure; how actors must and can develop their own self-awareness; the importance of bringing one’s authentic self to every scene; the joy of creating more monsters; and the rewards of improvising with Dee Ryan. (Length 23:14)

Shakespeare And Fantasy

Bryan Cogman, a four-time Emmy-winning writer and co-executive producer of Game of Thrones and a consulting producer on The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, discusses the rise of televised fantasy and how a grounding in Shakespeare enabled his ability to navigate fictional dynasties. Bryan shares his journey from acting at Juilliard to writing for films and television; insights about how Shakespeare begat Game of Thrones, which in turn begat The Hollow Crown; how early bafflement led to eventual success (and imitators); the challenge of failing at the business of being an actor; how the best fantasy is grounded by relationships; and how it’s a golden age for TV-watching geeks. Featuring a special appearance by the man who wrote the book about Shakespeare and Game of Thrones, Jeffrey R. Wilson. (Length 24:36)

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)

Happy 16th Anniversary!

Mya Gosling, aka GoodTickleBrain, joins us to celebrate the 16th anniversary of the Reduced Shakespeare Company Podcast, new episodes of which have dropped weekly since early December, 2006. Mya interviews producer/host Austin Tichenor, who discusses the podcast’s origins and evolution; the greatest gift the podcast has turned into; how it was partially inspired by physical media; how much of a Shakespearean he was to begin with (and how much of one he’s become); how the RSC’s shows evolved into longer narratives; and the fun of filling existing spaces with your own stories. (Length 26:18) (Stick-figure Mya and Austin courtesy of Mya Gosling/GoodTickleBrain. Used by permission.)

Doug’s Time Traveling

RSC Actor Doug Harvey (Hamlet in Hamlet’s Big Adventure! (a prequel)) performs his one-man show A Time Traveler’s Guide to the Present at the United Solo Festival in New York City on November 5, 2022 (an important date in the space time continuum). The show’s director Abigail Deser joins Doug to discuss how the show evolved for its run at last summer’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe; how the show helps them (and us!) survive in the worst timeline; the expedience of rehearsing over pizza; dealing with pandemic loss; finding the show’s spine; the excitement of virtuosity; the value of stripping away extraneous bells and whistles; the wonder of sacrificing your babies so as to not kill your momentum; how the best time travel stories are also love stories; and the beauty and satisfaction of fulfilling the promise of the time-travelly premise. (Length 21:57)

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)

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.)

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)

Counting ‘Zero Zebras’

Children’s book author (Great Estimations, The Beastly Feast) Bruce Goldstone discusses his new book Zero Zebras: A Counting Book About What’s Not There, an adorable way of introducing the idea of nothing (and everything!) to a young audience…and maybe even you. Bruce explains how zero’s possibly the most powerful number, and shares inspirational childhood delight from Hughes Mearns’ “I met a man who wasn’t there;” how divisions and categorization are our enemy; a previous collaboration with the world’s most famous (and surprisingly talkative) mime; his fondness for the absurd; the theatrical nature of children’s picture books; mixing classics with vaudeville; how he’s introducing children to the concept of seeing and imagining things that aren’t there; and how – as in jazz – it’s all about the zebras you don’t count. (Length 19:22)

Summertime Shakespeare Rom-Com

“To go for it, or not to go for it?” That is the appealing question that drives For the Love of the Bard, the debut novel from author Jessica Martin, which is being published just in time to go to the top of your summer reading list, especially if you’re a Shakespeare nerd. The story involves our heroine Miranda Barnes returning to her hometown of Bard’s Rest, New Hampshire, and helping to run the theater festival run by her parents. But once there, Miranda struggles with her feelings for Adam, the hunky veterinarian who spurned her in high school but also looks great with his shirt off. Martin discusses an early pumpkin-related success led to her passion for writing; how writing gets easier only by doing it; how the book’s fantasy works on so many levels; the surprisingly tricky aspects of writing urban fantasy; how she started writing, how she came to Shakespeare, and how she came to write about Shakespeare; shout-outs to both Robertson Davies’s Tempest-Tost and the Hogarth series of Shakespearean novels; and how people who don’t like Shakespeare puns are sad and to be pitied. (Length 17:32)

Jackie & Me

Louis Bayard’s new novel Jackie & Me tells the story of the courtship of Congressman John F. Kennedy and Jackie Bouvier from the point of view of Kennedy’s oldest friend, a closeted gay man named Lem Billings. It’s a charming and moving imagining of how these events played out that takes us inside the heads and hearts of these real people, and Lou discusses how writing about recent Presidential romance is different from writing about 19th-century Presidential romances; how he embraces the multiverse (and who actually invented it); the fun of Googling while reading; a fascination with closeted love; some great jacket copy; how the types of mysteries he writes about has changed; and an irreverent yet perfect celebration of Pride Month. (Length 25:19)

Christopher Moore’s ‘Razzmatazz’

Christopher Moore’s latest comic novel Razzmatazz is a sequel to his 2018 novel Noir, a wonderfully funny and satisfying novel of reinvention that depicts San Francisco’s seedy but fabulous underbelly in post-war 1940s San Francisco. Chris discusses how Razzmatazz came out of the research he did into the history of San Francisco for Noir; how he manages to find the funny in serious subjects; the fun of jumping around in time; the importance of following Shakespeare’s example by adding comic relief to serious subjects; giving readers a win; the ah-ha! moment of realizing a secondary character in Noir can become a protagonist in Razzmatazz; how not to get bogged down in a consistent point of view; which characters got moxie and which characters don’t; the surprisingly long wait for the perfect synopsis; and the origin (and surprising new definition) of the title. (Length 25:35)

Thing Of Darkness

What if Shakespeare didn’t die on April 23, 1616, and instead sailed to the New World? Novelist Allan Batchelder (the Immortal Treachery series) dives into speculative historical fiction to investigate this very question in his new novel This Thing of Darkness, which imagines the aging playwright creating a new family of outsiders amidst tension between their fellow English settles, the suspicious Powhatans, and a creature out of legend. Allan discusses his novel’s origins; how much of the historical record fuels his imagination; how he dives into and refutes various Authorship theories; how spite is a powerful motivator; how his experience as an actor, educator, former stand-up comedian and Girl Scout (!) influences his writing; how he navigates the dangers of writing from on-high; and the fun of positing a different kind of a relationship between William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway. (Length 20:13)

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)