Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Athol Fugard

Written by Kelli Marino

Athol Fugard has created theater of power, glory, and majestic language. - The New York Times

Once identified by Time Magazine as “the greatest active playwright in the English – speaking world,” Athol Fugard is known for his deeply rooted and controversial anti-apartheid dramas. Raised in Port Elizabeth since the age of three, Fugard deems himself the mongrel son of an English speaking father of Polish/Irish descent and an Afrikaner mother. Before becoming a playwright, young Fugard traveled through Africa, worked on a merchant ship, and served as a clerk in the pass-law court where he witnessed, first-hand, the extremities of Apartheid. As a playwright, Fugard has come into much conflict and controversy. He has been subjected to government surveillance, restricted in his play development and travel by the South African government, and has been able to collaborate with several native, black South Africans to create confrontational and necessary theatre about the curse and price of apartheid both in South Africa and abroad.

There are critics who believe that a white Afrikaner like Fugard can not speak to the tragedies and challenges faced by the black native South Africans of which Fugard writes. People “see a white man being a spokesman for what has happened to black people and they are naturally intolerant. My response,” Fugard says, “is that I haven’t been anybody’s spokesman. I’ve written very selfishly, not to be representative of anybody but myself.”1 This racial identification with which Fugard and his work is often associated is exactly what Fugard has been contesting since he began as a playwright.

The “perception of myself as a political writer disturbs me. An attitude like that closes off an individual to an important thing I have tried to do. I’ve tried to celebrate the human spirit—its capacity to create, its capacity to endure, its capacity to forgive, its capacity to love, even though every conceivable barrier is set up to thwart the act of loving.” – Fugard 2

His works, though concerned with race and politics, should not be viewed as such, but viewed with an eye for creating a better planet, a more understanding and loving world.

In fifty years of writing plays, Fugard’s work ranges from real-life-inspired stories and personal accounts to political theatre protesting South Africa’s inhumane practices and laws. Regardless of his themes, or where his plays lie in his overall body of work, Fugard’s dramas can be summed up as powerful, honest, and thought-provoking. There are six play categories to which Fugard’s work can be ascribed: the Port Elizabeth plays, the Township plays, Exile plays, Statements, My Africa plays, and Sorrows. For the purposes of this article I will only focus on a few of Fugard’s Port Elizabeth, Statements, and My Africa plays, those which deal primarily with apartheid’s effects.3

The plays set in Port Elizabeth (roughly 1961-1982) feature some of Fugard’s most notable and personal works, depicting the familial and personal struggles which are caused by apartheid. The Blood Knot (later known as Blood Knot) tells the story of two Coloured brothers (one light skinned and one dark) who are confronted with the reality of their skin tones when a prospective white pen-pal may visit. The brothers must come to terms with the ways the colors of their skin dictate how both are treated and how they treat each other. Hello and Goodbye, a personal play for Fugard, dramatizes a brother and sister who have been estranged for more than ten years.

Once the fact that their father is dead and there is no inheritance money is learned, the sister leaves and the brother is once again alone; there is no love between them. Fugard’s extremely personal “Master Harold” …and the boys recounts and dramatizes the relationship a young Fugard had with two servants who worked in his mother’s boarding house and tea room. The play confronts racism and bigotry as passed down through generations and is absorbed into one’s culture without ever perceivably accepting it or making the choice to accept it. “Master Harold” examines the father and son relationships between one white boy and two fathers (one black, one white), and the differences in impact these have on the young boy’s views and relationships in the midst of Apartheid’s reign.

Fugard’s Statement plays (1972) directly attack apartheid. These collaborative efforts created through the improvisations of John Kani and Winston Ntshona have brought much acclaim to Fugard’s works and an awareness of Apartheid’s effects to the rest of the world. Sizwe Bansi is Dead illustrates the struggles of Sizwe Bansi, a man who is unable to work because of an incorrect stamp in his pass-book. When a corpse is discovered, Sizwe must decide whether taking the deceased man’s identity is worth the risk, even though in doing so it means working and living. This play is a direct reaction to Fugard’s work as a law clerk at the Native Commissioner’s Court in Johannesburg where he saw blacks jailed daily for not having their pass-books in proper order. The Island, often produced with Sizwe Bansi is Dead, is another play, inspired by true events and directly attacks apartheid.4 Jon and Winston are cell mates and must produce a staged version of Antigone for their fellow inmates, but when one of the men learns his sentence has been reduced, tensions flare and emotions are shaken as the men recreate the final scene of Antigone. Questioning the political reasons for imprisonment and punishment, both for Antigone and the men, The Island evaluates the strength of friendship in the face of oppressive regimes and altering circumstances. Finally, Statements after an Arrest under the Immorality Act explores the love relationship between a black man and white woman during the times when inter-racial mixing of any kind was prohibited.

As Apartheid was ending in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Fugard’s My Africa plays (1989-1996) confront the new challenges that face post-apartheid South Africa. My Children! My Africa!, created by Fugard in protest to the African National Congress’s decision to close African schools and not allow black students an education, depicts two students, one white and one black, debating the values and rights of education in light of recent political action. In the end, as their friendship is interrupted by boycotts, the plays’ black teacher is murdered by a mob and the students are forced to stand by their ideals and take charge of their futures. Valley Song is a play about a Coloured grandfather and his black granddaughter exploring their generational differences, family heritage, and living a simple versus fantastic life in South Africa when they learn that a white man is interested in buying their farm. Playland centers on “two men—one black, one white—with violent pasts [who] meet in an amusement park and in the course of the action confront each other, their pasts, and themselves. It suggests a microcosm of South Africa in which an exorcism of white-black experience and guilt is played out.”5

Because of the strong hold apartheid kept on South Africa’s people and culture, Fugard’s works were un-producible within the country until 1994 (after the end of apartheid), therefore, many of his works premiered in London and at Yale Repertory Theatre. Fugard’s American debut was The Blood Knot, produced Off-Broadway in 1964 by Lucille Lortel at the Cricket Theatre. Five of Fugard’s plays have since played on Broadway: Sizwe Bansi is Dead (1974), The Island (1974), Lesson from Aloes (1980), “Master Harold” and the boys (1982 original and 2003 revival), and Blood Knot (1985 revival).

As to how Fugard’s works have been received by his own South Africa:

“Fugard is now in a somewhat anomalous position in South Africa. Blacks have criticized him for dealing with themes that they feel are more properly developed by black writers. At the same time, he is ostracized by white South African society because of his sympathies toward blacks”6

“I am totally unacceptable, a radical nationalist Afrikaner politician because of the attitudes I have. And I know that both within South Africa now, and certainly in the exiled black community outside of South Africa, I am regarded in a very, very uncertain light. Inside the country my old style liberalism is not radical enough; outside the country I've gone on to be an embarrassment because, so far, in terms of theater at least, I appear to have been the only person who has got around to talking about black realities in South Africa, and I've got a white skin.”7

After decades of government surveillance on Fugard and his family, opening mail, tapping phone lines, being subject to midnight police searches, losing friends and actors to Apartheid, and being given the “choice” to either leave the country or remain without the ability to leave, Fugard has finally been able to rejoice in his plays in South Africa’s theatres free of oppression, and the government has stopped interfering with his life. Fugard states that the government “realized it would be wiser to leave me alone, even though I was an irritant, because the adverse publicity that would come from it would outweigh any benefits to them. I think their sense of me is that, even though he makes a lot of noise, he’s one of those dogs that bark but don’t bite.” 8

Fugard and his works have received many awards and nominations including the Tony, Obie, Lucille Lortel, Evening Standard, Drama Desk, and Audie Awards. He has been honored with the 2005 Order of Ikhamanga in Silver for his “excellent contribution and achievements in the theatre” from the government of South Africa, and he is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Fugard has written over twenty plays, four film scripts, two books (one of which he dumped into a lagoon in Fiji) 9, and two memoirs. He is an Adjunct Professor of Playwriting, Acting, and Directing at the University of California, San Diego.

1. Allen, Paul. “Interview with Athol Fugard”. New Statesman & Society; Sep 7, 1990; 3, 117; ABI/INFORM Global. p. 38.

2. Fugard in a lecture to inaugurate the annual Joe A. Callaway Distinguished Lecture Series in Drama at New York University on October 16, 1990.

3. For more information on Fugard’s other plays, click here.

4. To hear Fugard speak about this real life influence for The Island and also his views on Antigone, click here.

5. Brockett, Oscar G., and Franklin J. Hildy. History of the Theatre. 9th ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2003. p. 608.

6. The Bedford Introduction to Drama. Ed. Lee A. Jacobus. 2nd ed. Boston: St. Martin's, 1993. p. 1228-9.

7. 1982 Interview with Athol Fugard by Heinrich von Staden (pieced together from [The Bedford Introduction to Drama, 2nd ed. Edited by Lee Jacobus pp. 1251-2.] & [The Harcourt Brace Casebook Series in Literature for “Master Harold” …and
the boys. Contributing editor Kimberly J. Allison. pp. 95-101.]

8. Fugard in a lecture to inaugurate the annual Joe A. Callaway Distinguished Lecture Series in Drama at New York University on October 16, 1990.

9. Maclennan, Don. “A Tribute for Athol Fugard at Sixty.” Given in June of 1992 at the Winter School of the Grahamstown Festival, Grahamstown, South Africa. Reprinted in Twentieth Century Literature: A Scholarly and Critical Journal. Athol Fugard Issue. Guest Editor Jack Barbera. Hofstra University. Winter 1993; Vol. 39, Issue 4. p. 517.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Giving Thanks

So it is Turkey Day weekend, and besides being replete with roasted bird, football, and sales, it is also the closing of "Heroes," which I hope you all saw, because it was gently wonderful. I thought it was also perhaps time to give some thanks--as you do! So here goes: Thanks to all who have supported Remy Bumppo along the way; Thanks to all who have subscribed this year and put faith in us--it is greatly appreciated; Thanks to the company's staff, older and newer, who are overworked and underpaid, and who are helping the company weather the economic strictures of our times; Thanks to the Artistic Associates who I now count as my close friends; Thanks to the cast, crew, and designers of "Heroes"--lovely work; and Thanks for supporting Live Theatre, a vital part of our culture and the means to examine ourselves more closely, to laugh at our faults and excesses, to understand and appreciate our differences, and to air and empathize with our shared traumas and difficulties. Here's to our growth together and to taking nothing for granted!


Nick Sandys

Thursday, November 19, 2009

While the "Heroes" cast are working out how to haul their stone canine friend--in between listening to great interviews with Mike Nussbaum on NPR and on tv, commemorating Veterans' Day and regaling us with tales of WWII service--I have been swashing and smashing along in the front lines of stage combat in the city and opening more mayhem on the theatre front. There has been "Ernani" at Lyric Opera (possibly should be titled "Inane-i" if it weren't for the stellar, and very lovely, principals, and an amazing beautiful set and costumes by Scott Marr); and "High Holidays" at the Goodman ("Brighton Beach Memoirs" meets "August: Osage County," with a dose of Yiddish thrown in--literally); and "Holes" at Theatre School at DePaul (I love to hear 500 schoolkids scream and stand when the fights begin!).

But nothing has been nearly as exciting as what I did this past Saturday--I danced with wolves, literally! I went, with my wife Patrice, to Wolf Creek Habitat, near Brookville in southern Indiana (very southern, like 33 miles from Cincinnati) where a lovely couple rescue wolves that cannot be released back into the wild, usually because they have been "imprinted" by humans. And there are four siblings that were born at Wolf Creek and raised by hand, so that they can be used for educational purposes. Visiting with those four wolves was an amazing experience! It is not for the faint of heart, because they are still very large, very fierce animals--as the dead deer debris scattered throughout their penned areas makes clear--and one definitely has to play by the rules, their rules. But they are beautiful and powerful, playful and mischievous, welcoming and warm. I had wolf kisses and nibbles on the neck. I had wolf noses poking all over me. I had wolves standing with their paws on my shoulders, nose to nose, or literally stepping onto my shoulders from a platform above me. And just when you think the Alpha male has had enough, he trots over and rolls on his back to have his belly rubbed, just like a regular big dog. But just to keep you in perspective, one of the females then wanders passed with a deer's scalp in her teeth. If you are interested in wildlife and in experiencing the great animals of the world, check this place out, or donate to support them (they have a great website and you can see lots of pictures of the wolves with their friends).

We stayed near by in Metamora, a quaint, bizarre little historic town, built by the Whitewater Canal, full of historic buildings, strange little country stores and antiques shops. And we ate at the Ertel Winery in near by Batesville, where there are free wine tastings of the local brew while you wait for a table--and the food was pretty good too! (apparently the only decent restaurant in the area).

Now I am off to Baltimore to tech in the remount of Lookingglass' "Around The World In 80 Days" and then I start rehearsals for Marriott's "My Fair Lady".

Happy Thanksgiving and howl at the moon!

Nick Sandys

Friday, October 23, 2009

Heroes in Real Life

During the run of Heroes, there will be events and special installations designed to create awareness of the realities of combat and give patrons an opportunity to pay tribute to U.S. veterans.

The Warrior Poetry Project is a free post-show poetry reading featuring poets and veterans Matt Ping, Timothy Brien, A.D. Moore, Tyler Zabel, and other friends of Remy Bumppo. The reading will take place after the show on Sunday, Nov. 22 at 5:30 p.m.

Five paintings which focus on the universality of war are on display in the lobby of the Greenhouse Theatre, provided by the National Vietnam Veterans Museum. Artists include Michael Cox, Robert Hanson, and Robert Spicher. Also featured in the lobby are two kinetic sculptures created by Heroes set designer Tim Morrison.

James Bohnen on Bringing the Past to the Present

"I was determined to keep the war in the play. Mike Nussbaum, who fought in World War II, and I had spoken about this before rehearsal began. I felt, and he corroborated, that these memories and injuries would loom large in their lives. One of the things we spoke about at length was the sense that they ended up at this home because there was nowhere else to go....meaning that family ties had ended, through death, or argument or whatever. Once we all agreed that the war needed to be the fourth character then it became a challenge to chart the places we could connect.”

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

More from Nick's World

Amidst the flying fists and swords of my life outside Remy B., with three shows just opened, one closed, and now four more in rehearsal (Lyric Opera, Goodman, About Face, and DePaul)--ah, the life of a freeland artiste!--I have been spending a little time this week following "Heroes" through the tech and dress rehearsal process and I cannot wait to see how opening goes. My small part in the process has been to side coach a couple of moments of physical business, and now I am trying to put together the shotlist for making our "trailer" for the show, which will appear on the website and on youtube. The show looks terrific by the way, with a tremendously inventive and clever set by our own Tim Morrison, lit beautifully by Rich Norwood, but the interplay between the three actors is delightful, at least from the runthroughs that I have witnessed and the tone of the play has been captured beautifully, a zesty balance of rambunctious, cantankerous wit combined with a sweet melancholia and camaraderie. Funny and sad, like all the great clowns have been.
Now we have to get down to the tough business of finalizing our season for next year, just as this season officially begins--how weird is that! But the subscriptions seem to be coming along nicely--thank you all who have joined us thus far and a little nudge to those who are still thinking. If this show gets the response is deserves, tickets could be scarce--so get 'em now!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Seriously Funny

Exploring Heroes has been an extremely valuable learning experience. James and the cast investigate the character's memory of risking themselves for their country, and the repercussions of dealing with all that is taken from a soldier after such service. A very precise practice of distancing and recalling is necessary to bring these veterans to life, these three men articulate the details of that ever-present burden dynamically. During rehearsal, James guides the actors through getting the laughs in the most serious way possible and discusses how to make slapstick, rope-pulling, piggy-back riding humor plausible and genuinely problematic for these characters. Being able to sit in on this process made it clear for me how to portray a collective personal confinement that is far more restricting than any man-made barrier.

by Allyson Gonzalez, Dramaturg for Heroes

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Video from our 09/10 Season Salon

Panelists David Faigin, Doug Cassel, Kelly Kleinman, Al Gini and James Bohnen.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Meet our HEROES!

HAPPY (Henri)

GRUMPY (Gustave)

SLEEPY (Philippe)

Mike Nussbaum, David Darlow and Roderick Peeples star as three WWI veterans who get a second chance at one momentous mission in Heroes, opening in just two weeks!

Mike Nussbaum is an actor and director. He received a Jeff Award in 1997 for his work in David Hare's Racing Demon. He originated roles in many of David Mamet's plays including Richard in A Life in the Theatre, John in The Shawl and Aaronow in Glengarry Glen Ross. He also originated the roles of Marcus in Claudia Allen's Winter and Shlomo in Charles L. Mee's Time to Burn. Chicago Shakespeare Theater stage credits include Macbeth, Hamlet, The Merchant of Venice, and Romeo and Juliet. Film credits include Field of Dreams and Men in Black.

David Darlow is an Artistic Associate at Remy Bumppo Theatre, where he has been seen in over 10 shows, including The Voysey Inheritance and Major Barbara (After Dark Award). Other Chicago stage credits include A Midsummer Night's Dream, and The Misanthrope at Goodman Theatre; Othello, and As You Like It at Chicago Shakespeare Theater; and Stephen Sondheim's Passion with Patty Lupone and Audra McDonald at Ravinia Festival. He won a Joseph Jefferson Award for his performance in Endgame at American Theater Company (with Mike Nussbaum). Film credits include The Weather Man, Road to Perdition, and Ride with the Devil.

Roderick Peeples
appeared last season in Remy Bumppo's production of The Voysey Inheritance. Chicago work includes Oedipus Complex at Goodman Theatre; Morning Star at Steppenwolf Theatre Company; Hamlet, Pacific Overtures, Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Richard III at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. He won a Jeff Award for Dealer's Choice at Roadworks Theatre and was a company member at Famous Door Theater. Film work includes Robert Altman's The Company, Road to Perdition and The Hudsucker Proxy.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Nick on Comrades and Combat

Heroes enters first week of rehearsals and I am thrilled. What a great cast and what a fun challenge of a play! I am sure all four gentlemen will have a great time and I am really pleased that I got to be a crucial part of that process that brought the play to us, arranging the public reading last year and listening to our subscribers and regular audience-goers. I am convinced that the play is still waiting for its best production to date and I know that we have the potential to deliver it.
As for my own crazy schedule--while our "veterans" contemplate the absurdism of post-world-war trauma and camaraderie, I find myself simply surrounded by violence. Having choreographed the contretemps in Timeline's "All My Sons" (a play that should have been ours!), I find myself not only teaching combat at the Theatre School at DePaul, but also directing fights for "Faust" at Lyric Opera; and for "1001" at the Theatre School; and for "The Castle of Otranto" at First Folio. So I am knee-deep in sabres, rapiers, and scimitars! Already looking forward to the relative single-mindedness of seduction and smallswords in "Liaisons."
Meantime, always remember--Fight Light, Act Violent!

Nick Sandys

Friday, September 4, 2009

James' Henry V Receives Nod from Wall Street Journal

James spent the summer directing Henry V for American Players Theatre. This show comes on the heels of last summer's Henry IV, which James co-adapted.
Henry V features Matt Schwader who has performed previously on the Remy Bumppo stage.

Yesterday Henry V received a terrific review from the Wall Street Journal critic Tery Teachout who sad, "APT's version [of Henry V is] staged with dashing directness by James Bohnen, the artistic director of Chicago's Remy Bumppo Theatre. The 39 speaking parts are played by 13 hard-working actors James Ridge delivers [the opening] speech with an incisive authority that sets the tone for the evening. What follows is a show that hurtles pell-mell from scene to scene, led by Matt Schwader, who plays King Henry with youthful fire."

Photo by: Zane Williams

To see the whole article click here.

Monday, August 17, 2009

David Darlow's Summer Update

David Darlow has spent a Shakespeare-filled summer directing As You Like It for the Utah Shakespeare Fest where he has been immersed in this pastoral comedy.

In a video of David discussing his concept for As You Like It, he said, “The forest of Arden becomes a place for an internal journey where the characters begin to find their own true voice.”

David also spent the summer reunited with Roderick Peeples (featured in photo by Karl Hugh), who plays Duke Senior in As You Like It. He and Roderick were both recently seen in Remy Bumppo’s production of The Voysey Inheritance and will be seen together again in the 09-10 season opener, Heroes.

David just finished filming a movie titled, No God, No Master, in which he plays the character John D. Rockefeller, starring David Strathairn Good Night and Good Luck.

Nick Sandys Receives Rave Reviews!

Nick Sandys plays Henry Higgins in in Light Opera's Works' production of My Fair Lady Aug. 15 through Aug. 30 at the Cahn Auditorium in Evanston. Check out the stellar review Nick received from the Chicago Sun Times.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Linda Gillum's Summer off the Stage

After a busy season of acting, directing, teaching, speech consulting and casting, I'm taking a break this summer. Heroes and Les Liaisons Dangereuses were cast by the end of May and The Island will be cast by the end of August. I took at trip to Minnesota with Guy (photo of us at Cascade Falls near Lake Superior) where we camped for three days (including a 7.7 mile hike and seeing a fresh bear print near our campsite when we returned).

We then drove an hour inland to my sister's cabin where we met her and my parents. Lots of fishing, food and relaxation. Then on to St. Paul where my nephew flew in and I treated everyone to a performance of Cirque du Soleil (my friend Jim Slonina is in their travelling show KOOZA). Jim and his wife Robin took us all backstage for a tour which was a highlight. Spending many of my summer days painting my apartment and redecorating as well as playing beach volleyball. Trying to hide my facial sunburn when going in on commercial auditions! Happy summer to everyone.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Summer Update from Artistic Associate Nick Sandys

Summer is icumen in! And it has been as exhausting as it has been damp! Nevertheless, life in Summer Shakespeareland continues, and has actually been highly rewarding. It is always a process of compromises, with the weather, with the tight schedule (three weeks is insane!!!), with the facilities, with the experience (or lack thereof) of the company, but it is also a thrilling challenge and so much can be achieved, taught, imagined, striven for, and one should always count the victories and then use the scars as insights for next time.

So this summer was my first time directing Macbeth, at First Folio Theatre in Oak Brook--a play that I know very well, having acted in it five times and choreographed at least another four, published academic papers on and taught. This time I was choreographing and directing--note to self: never do this again on a three week schedule! And I'm pretty pleased with the final product, which manages a few moments of genuine surprise and terror, a few moments of unusual and interpretative staging, a few moments of really true emotion, and a couple of kick-ass fights. I also learnt some new things about the play--always a pleasant bonus--such as how parallel the journeys and the language/imagery of the Macbeths are (they begin the play as the most happily married couple in Shakespeare), how crucial it is to integrate the witches into the play so that they are part of the world, and how important it is to play with the theatricality of terror (making an audience sitting on blankets jump is an art in itself). I also believe I grew and am emboldened as a director of Shakespeare, which is likewise a bonus.

But there is no time to linger on victories--I am now in the thick of rehearsals for Higgins in My Fair Lady for Light Opera Works, which opens Aug 15th, and has been a real challenge in a whole other way. I haven't done a musical for 20 years, and even though my "singing" in this production is a la Harrison (though I do sing quite a bit more than he did), I am finding learning songs like this to be very difficult, a different type of muscle. My admiration goes out to all those who do musical theatre and make it look easy--which is of course the art of all good performance--sprezzatura, to use Castiglione's term--because I am certainly finding it hard work. But that may not be helped by having an exhausted brain. And there is no break in sight!!! AAARgghghH! Happy summer!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Terry Teachout's Wall Street Journal Review of Old Times


Time was when Harold Pinter's shorthand dialogue struck most people as impenetrably mysterious -- and times, truth to tell, haven't changed all that much. Yet his best plays continue to make a powerful impression, and "Old Times," first seen on Broadway in 1971, has even become something of a regional-theater staple in recent years, partly because it can be produced so cheaply (three actors, one simple set) and partly because it's so theatrically effective. Pinter never wrote anything more potent than the enigmatic story of Deeley and Kate, an uneasily married couple whose life is disrupted by a visit from Anna, who knew Kate 20 years ago and appears (or maybe not) to have been romantically involved with her. Remy Bumppo Theatre, one of my favorite Chicago companies, is presenting this icy sparring match in an exceptionally satisfying production that has been staged with surgical skill by James Bohnen, the company's artistic director. Nick Sandys, Jenny McKnight and Linda Gillum all give tightly coiled performances that keep the tension rising all the way from curtain to curtain.

Mr. Teachout, the Journal's drama critic, blogs about theater and the other arts at Write to him at

Friday, May 8, 2009

Blog from Pinterland!

Week two, the reviews are coming out and are strong, the audiences, when they come, are having a fascinating time. Spread the word people. What was great on Sunday, after the matinee, was to see 75% of the audience stay for the talkback, not because they were lost , but because they seemed to want some confirmation on what they thought they understood. There were some great insights and some clear thinking and some fun questions—thank you to the gentleman who noticed all the detailed dialect work! We haven’t had that number of people stay since, oh I don’t know, maybe Hapgood, another brain teaser.

And in the midst of this we are also in the thick of Liaisons auditions, exhausting but exciting work, which I am trying not to let influence Deeley’s demeanor. David Darlow, herr Direktor, has got his work cut out because we just saw a great group of wonderful actresses, a lot of my favorite leading ladies from around Chicago theatres whose work I have admired and some beautiful young actresses new to me and to Remy Bumppo, and he has to make a choice for each role. We could probably cast the show three times over at this point. And I get paid to do this all day!—well, actually I don’t, but it’s the thought that…. counts.


Old Times on Chicago Tonight

Check out what Hedy Weiss says about Old Times on WTTW's Chicago Tonight.,8,8&vid=050509g

Monday, May 4, 2009

A Note from Nick Sandys...

So, first weekend after opening the show and already this adventure is proving tricky, entertaining and frustrating--just like the play itself. The noise from next door's Eclipse show has been less of a distraction than we thought, mainly because their big scream scene times out perfectly for our intermission. Now if only the patrons in the lobby would keep it down. And speaking of patrons, it has already become a massive test of focus in the first five minutes, with shufflers and late-seaters and simply nervousness, all of which is hugely amplified by Pinter's silences and the stillness of the performance. Even more than usual, one wants to turn round and say, "you do know we can see and hear you too" (the apocryphal story of Richardson in the NYC production of "No Man's Land" seems to ring true). Anyway....the show itself has received generally good reviews thus far, which is always lovely. And I have to say the audiences, once they tune in, have been all ears, especially in the last silent two minutes when the veritable pin can be heard tumbling deafeningly to the floorboards. What is tricky, however, is that each audience has been completely different. Just when we thought we had a handle on the pacing and the tone, in comes another group who either laugh far more, or who don't respond at all, and those pauses and silences suddenly start expanding and contracting as we try to work out how to ride the wave. When you have no dialogue to maintain a speed with, it becomes very difficult judging how time is actually passing. Only in Pinterland.....


Friday, May 1, 2009

What is Jenny/Kate Thinking?

From Jenny McKnight:

Those damn kids better get out of my yard...

It's nice here in the desert. Nice and hot. Lots of sandys...

There he goes, talking about his work again. Orson Welles, Schmorson Schwelles...

What is Linda/Anna Thinking?

From Linda Gillum:

"Alright, I'll play your game"

"I know I can make her happy"

What is Nick/Deeley Thinking?

Here are Nick's thoughts:

Actual line: “My mother would have a fit!”
Possible line: “ I can see right through to the other side, wow!” Thinking: “Right, then, all right, then, right, well, there you go, that is it, enough is enough, if you ask my opinion…. I know it is something to do with sex.”

Actual line: “I have my eye on a number of pulses, pulses all round the globe, deprivations and insults…”
Possible line: “ I hate these bloody loafers! Have you seen these revolting things? But at least I have two! And they’re mine!”
Thinking: “ Enough of this British reticence and subtlety. Time to do some good ol’ Chicago shouting! Maybe that’ll help.”

Actual line: “Long Silence”
Possible line: “You can hear the sea sometimes, if you listen very carefully.”
Thinking: “Come on, woman, blink, blink! All right, I suppose you aren’t even going to do that for me.”

Actual line: “Silence”
Possible line: “If I try the Vulcan mind-meld on myself, maybe I’ll be smart enough to understand this play—or at least understand this woman!”
Thinking: “Phew, we have reached the final tableau, the cage of infinity, I am a teary, nose-drippy mess, my character’s life is in tatters, his emotions are flayed, his psyche shredded—aah, it’s just one more night in the theatre… I believe I’ve earned this drink.”

Friday, April 24, 2009

A Blast from Remy Bumppo's Pinter Past

Oct. 2001 Review of No Man’s Land
Review by Mary Shen Barnidge

They met in a pub earlier that evening. Spooner is a garrulous down-at-heels poet given to soliloquizing after the style of T.S.Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Hirst, to whose home they have repaired, is a laconic square who responds with polite deference to his guest’s vulgar speculations about their respective marital histories. After imbibing an extraordinary amount of undiluted liquor in dainty nibbles, Hirst literally crawls off to bed and Spooner proceeds to steal all the cigarettes from the humidor, only to be interrupted by two rough-trade houseboys who warn him to watch his step. The next morning, Hirst is revealed to be a prestigious Man of Letters whose literary status soon reduces the arrogant Spooner to an obsequious acolyte pleading for favor.

Or so one may interpret the dynamic in Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land. Spooner and HIrst might also be a pair of poufs dancing around the closet door. Or a couple of impotent hets crying over the women who left them. Or maybe their claim to have been school chums is genuine and this encounter a big-chill lament for their lost youth. And what’s with those domestic guard-dogs, Briggs and Foster, and the latter’s boast of hustling—girls, of course—in the fleshpots of the Far East? Pinter, renowned for his enigmatic iconography, offers us no overt signposts, instead inviting us to impose our own contexts on the action.

Neither does Remy Bumppo director James Bohnen nudge us in one direction over another, but allows us, if we wish, to ignore context altogether and just enjoy David Darlow and Joe Van Slyke in roles originally created by (and perhaps for) John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson. Together these seasoned players generate a tag-team sensitivity—how often do actors actually LISTEN to one another?—that transforms the long and almost exclusively two-character first act into a symphony of starts, stops, silences and significant stares.

Giving them a breather from time to time are Nick Sandys and Mark L. Montgomery as the ominous caretakers. Kudos also to Tim Morrison and Allison Boland’s excruciatingly tasteful décor whose very tidiness shimmers with suppressed menace.

Pictured above: NO MANS LAND: Nick Sandys, Joe Van Slyke, Mark Montgomery, David Darlow (2001)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Nick tells us about Tech Rehearsal!

Well, we managed to tech the show pretty much like we blocked the show—IN ONE DAY! Wow, luxuries—and unheard of! But this gives us lots of time to keep tuning the show, keep shifting the balance of threat and playfulness, of mask and revelation, of history and present. It is really proving to be one of the toughest assignments I have faced, not because of the physical demand, merely the mental. The play demands absolute focus, absolute concentration, no mental relaxation for a second, because the emotional stakes are so high. The strain on listening is immense—and this means that any noise, and I mean ANY, feels like a slap in the face. And it means I am not feeling emotionally comfortable—and I have to face up to being uncomfortable for the next six weeks. This play feeds on some of our darkest emotions, but not by putting the characters through extremis. Instead, these people are just going through mid-life crises, sieved by Pinter into an existential 70 minutes of doubt.

The set looks great—very simple and elegant, and yet floating in a void—and JR’s lighting, as always, really enhances the atmospherics, playing up the ghostly woods and the distant horizon, and, as James has commented, creating little Cornell boxes, “cages of infinity” (in Michael Billington’s phrase). The last moment is excitingly theatrical and haunting—I will say no more at this juncture. You’ll have to come and see me tortured from the inside for yourselves.


Monday, April 13, 2009

The View from My Seat - OLD TIMES Stage Manager Baleigh Isaacs

1. Couches - There are 2 couches in this show, and there they are. This is a rare glimpse into what they look like before you’ll see them onstage, all cleaned up and reupholstered.

2. Water Bottle - It’s very important for everyone to stay hydrated during rehearsal. Unfortunately, this bottle is currently empty. I should probably remedy that.

3. Calendar - Some of my paperwork. It is the schedule of all rehearsals, performances, and special events. It can be tricky business trying to work out a schedule that fits everyone’s lives, particularly when folks work on multiple shows around town. Yikes! Tech week is coming up so soon!
4. Tape Measure - Not always on my table, but we had to measure the couches to get reupholstered...and so I can accurately draw them in the script. Also useful for “taping out the floor”, when we put spike tape on the floor of the rehearsal room, indicating the set.

5. Playbill draft - We all have to review the final draft of the Playbill before it gets sent in for publishing...check for typos, etc. A lot of people put a lot of work into it.

6. Multi-tool - More helpful at the theatre...but good to have in rehearsal for making templates (see 12), putting together Ikea furniture that we don’t end up using, fixing eyeglasses, etc.

7. Eraser and Eraser Dust - A good eraser is a stage manager’s best friend. If you look very closely...go ahead, press your face against the can make out the large quantities of eraser dust scattered everywhere. That’s a sure sign that we’ve had a productive day in rehearsal.

8. Chocolate - Another rehearsal necessity. In my rehearsals, I make sure to have good dark chocolate. I tend to keep it for emergency use only, but in this show, we’re also using it as a prop.

9. Cell Phone - The official timepiece of rehearsal. Also used for actors to call in when they’re running late. Also, instant treat evoker. If anyone’s phone goes off during rehearsal, they have to bring in treats for everyone in the room. It’s possible that I’ve called James’s cell during rehearsal intentionally for this purpose.

10. Laptop - The magic silver box, as James likes to call it. I use it to get instant answers to questions that come up in rehearsal (what character did Jeremy Northam play in Gosford Park?), to play sound cues, to communicate with designers and staff, to write rehearsal reports and schedules, and to keep all my beautiful paperwork beautiful. Definitely not for goofing off during rehearsal.

11. Post-it Notes - All kinds of uses for these! Lots of colors and sizes. I use them for notes throughout the script about props, running times, etc. They’re great for passing notes between me and my assistant. Especially great for reminders during the day.

12. Template - Sometimes I like to make a template that I can trace onto my blocking sheets in my prompt book (see 15). We use mini-diagrams of the stage to draw pictures of what’s going on. You can see that those 2 rectangles represent the couches at the top of the picture.

13. Scale Rule - Same purposes as the tape measure, but on a smaller...scale.

14. Prompt Key - The guide to my secret code used in the prompt book (see 15). Every stage manager uses different symbols and abbreviations when they write down blocking, so this key helps others read my method.

15. Prompt Book - Probably should have started with this thing. This is my script, where I write down where the actors move, keep calendars and contact sheets, and keep a complete record of the props, scenery, light and sound notes, and anything else related to the running of the show. When we get into tech, the script will also be filled with all the cues (lights, sound, actors). Maintaining the prompt book is one of my most important to keeping James in line.

Nick Sandys continues...

Now that we have got through the script a couple of times, have blocked it in one and a half days (unheard of for a Bohnen-meister production!), and tried to work it through, there comes the dreaded memorisation moment, and oh is this going to be fun--Not! Pinter's precision is so poetic, so rhythmic, that any word out of place, or the wrong word, just makes you hiccough in the line anyway. And what with the repetitions and the non-linear leaps, the next few days will feel like an inner circle of hell! Other than that elephant in the room, things are going well, I feel. If only I could actually have a night off to work on the lines and get some sleep, I would be smiling "fit to bust"! We are currently working on bringing the lightness to the menace, finding the places when a character feels in control enough to back off, to ease off the pointed digs and competition because he/she feels like they know something "dead." And of course, they are then undermined within a couple of pages. But this lightness seems really necessary for the play's humor to surface--and will counterpoint with the savage humor when people behave badly. And it is also time for us to dig deeper, to find the sub-basement to use James' words, so that the heavy emotions are accessible and rise up to haunt us. Always uncomfortable but exciting work.

We also are blessed by having a very smart young assistant director in the room, Sean, who not only gives James someone to tell stories to, but who also has a keen eye and has made several great suggestions already. He also gave me an essay on "sats," a Norwegian term for the potential energy that precedes kinetic action, a vital part of the threat bubbling under the surface of any Pinter play. The essay connects the writings of many theatre theorists and practitioners, who all agree on the necessity of this power to generate meaning for the audience and transmit intentions even when nothing is actually acted out--like watching a cat focus before it chases: you know what it is going to do, what it wants to chase and destroy. Now that is Pinter--none of that "weasel under the sideboard" rubbish!

Friday, April 10, 2009

If Pictures could Speak...

Hey all!

Our first preview picture of the show has come out. To think this was taken on the first day of rehearsal and already our cast is looking the part. Tension. Hidden secrets. Memories. Its all there!

Stay tuned to this spot as all three give you a taste of whats to come in OLD TIMES.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Nick Sandys on Pinter's Old Times

Saturday April 4th--first week of rehearsal!

Okay, okay, okay, here we are, deep in the Pinterlands and I had forgotten how mind-bending it can be. I feel pretty confident nowadays about delving into a script and finding through-lines and clues to the characters inner-life, and analyzing a character's specific use of language. But then here comes Mr. Pinter and makes you realise how pathetic your toolbox really is. It is like returning to Acting 101 and finding yourself without mooring, floating along in the profoundly disturbing cesspool of his characters' inner monologues--and the waters never clear. In fact, though I usually love tablework, I found that, on this one, I was massively relieved to get up on my feet--or, in this case, slump in an armchair in the corner of the stage and watch like a hawk. Suddenly, what had appeared to be an Escher-like maelstrom of dark emotions disappearing into primeval depths became more playable, more playful, and the opportunity to drive along the surface of his brilliantly bare language provided a wonderfully simple map--once you tune in. There are still multiple hidden turnings to negotiate, but it was not as frightening, or as mentally tiring, as digging into the text and debating the multivalency of his simplest images and relationships. I begin to see sunlight through the clouds--or is that the horizon through the trees--and can appreciate the amazing skill of the writing. Now I just have to brave enough to hurl myself on board this speedboat and set course for this particular Scylla and Charybdis. But hey, I get to act opposite two gorgeous women--I need to stop complaining and smell the coffee. Ahhhh, nothing like bad rehearsal coffee to get the juices flowing!


Friday, March 27, 2009

Usman's thoughts

We are now in our last weekend of American Ethnic, and the fact that we have 4 sold out shows is an amazing testament to the beautiful artistic work, and excellent marketing of this production! I could not be happier with how things have turned out for us…the work is slick, meaningful and diverse. The production values are excellent, the talk backs with academics and civic leaders brilliant. I think this is the first year that thinkTank has really been what was first envisioned- a month of powerful eclectic and socially conscisous work.

As an actor and an artist its been a great growth process for me as well, giving me the opportunity to hone some of my writing, figuring out what works for me and what doesn’t, and what do I need to be able to tell a story clearly, AND stylistically. Its been dope, its been real, and I am excited to see where we can take this show- around the country, festivals…the sky is the limit.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Kelly reflects....

I can’t believe we’re already on the last weekend of our run for “American Ethnic” -- I’d have to say that I’m incredibly proud of our work. The fact that critics, theater fans, spoken word folks, hip hop heads, activist types, and people who just kinda stumbled into the show have all had a deep connection with the work emotionally and intellectually, means a lot to me. I feel like it’s a real testament to the beauty of this collaboration. This show is as good an example as any of what is possible when people from diverse backgrounds (experience-wise and artistically) listen to each other, respect each other’s talents, and are open enough to being inspired by bringing out the best in ourselves.

So yes, it is absolutely living the dream in so many different ways, and thank you so much to everybody who’s come out to support the show – it means so so much! We’re having convo’s right now about the future life of the show, so hopefully it will be in a city near you – and if you are a presenting organization or school that would like to bring us out – most definitely let us know! I know the words, thoughts, experiences, and post-show discussions evoked by the show will be staying with me and my art for a very long time

Friday, March 20, 2009

A note from an Audience Member

American Ethnic deals with ethnicity, race, gender and class issues from the perspective of three artists: Usman Ally, Idris Goodwin, and Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai. Usman Ally is a Pakistani man, Idris Goodwin is an African-American man, and Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai is a Taiwanese woman. At times performing together and usually performing apart, the three artists, confront us with their experiences and thoughts in America and abroad as minorities. To understand the show it is also helpful to know the mission of thinkTank: “thinkTank features dramatic works with a focus on provoking timely conversation about a social, political or economic issue in which Chicago citizens have a stake.” Further, they provide this opportunity for conversation immediately following the production of their shows. ...

To continue reading this blog, click

The Reviews are In!

"a funny and powerful mash-up of three vibrant young voices raised in defiance of the status quo." - Leon Hilton, Chicago Reader

"this is one helluva show. Three writer-performers occupy the stage like they're standing on the ledge of a is entirely about the here and now." - New City Stage

"a new, unexpected and inspiring experience...It's very smart. It's very moving." - Annabel Armour, Actress and Remy Bumppo Artistic Associate

"The writer-performers ... are clearly aware of the complexities involved in viewing modern media through this lens..." - Brian Nemtusak, TimeOut Chicago

"The profound sketches...did cause me to reflect on some of my own ideas about the topics ... It was enlightening." - Katheryne Lumous, Remy Bumppo patron"It's Cheap. It's Unexpected. It's Great. Go." - Karen Aldridge, Actress

Did you know you can listen to all American Ethnic post-show discussions from your home?
Log on to and search "Chicago Amplified Archives" for all of Remy Bumppo's programs.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Stage Management

I moved to Chicago to be a part of projects like American Ethnic. The pieces are personal and poignant; they tell a story of our ethnic past and present, they ask the dangerous questions about where WE are headed as a county - as people. Pieces that instill change into an audience, that help shape they way they view the world. I guess it may sound trite, but this is why I chose this as my profession.

We have just finished our tech weekend and are jumping into tech/opening week. Tech week is my favorite week...I get to be "hands on" with the production, helping to pull all the pieces together and watch it take shape. This collaberation, has been extremely rewarding for me - to work with such talented individuals and produce something that can cause change, it's a rarity (though not at Remy Bumppo :).

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Well the weekend was grueling. A ten hour tech on Saturday and another 5 hours on Sunday, but it was well worth it. The show is in great shape, the lights and sound adding a great deal of color, vibrancy and immediacy to the production. It’s great working with sound expert Nick Keenan, and lighting wizz Stephanette. Under the guiding eye of stage manager Amy Bertacini and director Nick Sandys, tech weekend was unusually relaxed but efficient at the same time.
As for the performers, we are getting a little antsy, ready to put this show up in front of an audience! I can’t believe opening is so soon, and the nervous energy is getting the better of me! I am ready!
Shameless plug: Sunday evening Kelly and I will be at the Green Mill’s Uptown Poetry Slam this Sunday the 15th of March.

Then catch us at Café Mestizo Wednesday 18th March.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Nick Sandys: On Tech Rehearsal

The past weekend was full, full, full, as we added all the other elements of the production to the rehearsal text and went through a lengthy technical process. Not surprisingly, the sound score to the show is another character—which we are rehearsing in just two days, basically. Nick Keenan has a great feeling for the rhythms of the show, and thanks to places like Youtube, soundbites are now available for so many different historical and cultural moments—eg. from 2005 Amman bombings, to Elmer Fudd’s chuckle, to “Kimora: Life in the Fab Lane”—all of which appear at some point in the show. The performers were terrific at quickly adapting and welcoming their new scene partner, sometimes seamlessly. They seemed a little less used to adapting to finding their light, since that plot element is equally detailed to create the different looks and movement for all 21 pieces in the show. It is going to be a lot of fun, over the next few days, watching them get comfortable again.

And all Samantha’s costumes are very relaxed and unobtrusive, but characterful. I was torn over Kelly’s silver ankle sneakers but they would prove to be a little too Vegas for this particular version of the show, I think.

The hardest decisions have been about the set, where Tim Morrison is coming up with some amazing stencil images for the walls, but each one leads to an important debate about the connotations of the images, and why they are present or not. Once you use a media image but change its context, especially by putting into a show about racial issues, the echoes of meaning start to become deafening. Even the placement on the walls becomes thematic, about who is in and who is left out of the frame. This whole rehearsal process, and working with these three thinking artists, has been a wonderful debate about the issues we are staging—much of it essentially stemming from the central paradoxical problem of mixing hip-hop and classical theatre aesthetics. Hip-hop culture is all about specificity and individuality, speaking only for the different self and personal experience—but all conventional theatre is built around the idea of representation, that everything on the stage is a symbol or represents something in the real world, therefore always speaking for others, erasing difference. It is a conundrum that I hope will yield some very interesting talkbacks.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


What's up RB family? 10 days until opening night, and I'm SO excited. I'm really proud of the work that we're doing and seeing the possibilities, the borders and boundaries of the work and how to collaboratively and collectively lift text and performance from these humble pages in the 3-dimensional space of the theater. Something that Nick told us in rehearsal last week really resonates with me -- He mentioned how in the UK -- actors are trained to explore what emotion the character is going through and then hide it, since that's what most people do in real life. For me, as a spoken word artist, this totally flies in the face of what I think we usually do as spoken word artists.

Nick and I were talking how poetry (and particularly spoken word) is more often like music -- The performance is written into the musicality of the work -- you become the instrument through which the emotion is played as opposed to the ways that text and performance and emotion play out in theater. It's been a good exploration for me through the poetry and monologue work and rudimentary character development. I'm looking forward to fleshing out more and more the layers of what we've written into the work. Making all those discoveries that we maybe did not even know ourselves about race, gender, and media in America today...


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A Cricket fan's nightmare

For a Pakistani seeing images of gunman firing at cricket players in a bus is one of the saddest sights ever. Cricket is a more than a national pastime for my people. Its something that binds us all together, and is in fact an obsession. Pakistani treat cricketers from all over the world like royalty, amazed at the talent, aggression and intelligence they show on the field. It is hard for an American to fully understand how the term "aggression" can be used in the same sentence as cricket, and because of the terrorist attack today, the word term has found a new, completely disgusting connection with our sport.

Pakistanis love aggressive bombastic cricket, but we love to see it on the field. We love to see a batsmen thrash a quick bowler who has been sending the ball down at him at over 99 Miles/hour.
We love to see the wickets smash when that bowler has got his revenge, chest thumping and being mobbed by his teammates. We blow horns in the crowd, we dance, we sing, we taunt the opposition. The andrenaline is so powerful.
As someone who played the game competitively for many years, there was no better feeling than winning a trying, tiring test match.

We love cricket. We love cricketers. We even love cricketers from other countries. We huddle around televisions and watch, and for a moment all the rest of the hardships of life, the suicide bombings, the taliban, the political instability, all of it doesnt matter anymore.

So, when cricketers are the targets of attacks by fanatical idiots, we feel outraged, ashamed and at total despair. This attack will kill cricket in Pakistan, and the biggest step to the death of our people. I am thankful that our friends the Sri Lankan cricket team were saved from serious harm. But now, no teams will tour Pakistan, and the stadiums will remain empty.

Its interesting watching these images on the screen from here in the states, so far away from the devastation, and then hearing my fathers voice on the phone lamenting the death of all civilization in Pakistan. He has a tendency to be melodramatic, but I have heard him say this over and over again this year and the last. This coming from a man who only a few years ago would never have said something like this about his own country. Pakistan is being slowly overrun but a small minority of nutjobs, who are unfortunately misrepresenting the entire population. How much can I really blame the media representations of me, when I see this violence by my people against my own people. How often can we shift the blame, pass the buck.

Over there bombs are going off, over here I'm writing a show about how unfair it is to be an actor of color. Sometimes, our perspective is so out of whack.
But, I know that just because things are worse somewhere else doesnt meant our own country should be immune from criticism. Voices of dissent, and outrage are what separate us from crazy nutjobs....both the Taliban types, and the ultra nationalists here in America.


Monday, March 2, 2009

Idris Goodwin talks about American Ethnic Rehearsal

Weds Feb.25
We are butchering Ol man River. No, we aren't doing showboat but elements of the song appear. (Did I just give away something important?) I feel Paul Robeson's spirit in the room and he is vomiting.......even that sounds better than our poor rendition of the song.

Nick knows a lot about how to stage violence (and quite possibly off stage violence). I have begun to ask him about random scenes in movies and plays to see if he knows how they were done. I have yet to stump him. I need to go into my blaxploitation film grab bag. Lets see if he knows how they did the fight scenes in Black Belt Jones! There is no physical violence in our show though nunchucks are referenced - the word BOMB shows up quite a bit as well.

Amy, our stage manager, typically reels our focus back in when we go off on tangents about movies and medieval weaponry (that's all Nick). Though she did join in a conversation about the plays of Martin McDonagh.

Usman and Kelly are very good actors in addition to writers. I have such regard for the craft of acting. Acting is hard. It looks so easy because that's the point - to do it so well it looks natural and effortless. But its very very hard. As a spoken word performer I typically perform the words and not the moment as Kelly would say. I know, I know, if it wasn't hard everyone would do it. I know I should be grateful and I am grateful.....I'm just sayin.....for me spoken word is fun, acting is work. Don't tell anyone. I got a reputation to maintain. I'm just sayin....

The themes of the show aside, this fusion (or maybe I can say exploration) of different performance styles is what has become the most interesting for me. collage, monologue, song, sketch, commentary, commentary, commentary - the specificity of current experience - the sweeping indictments - the odes - the pace that we move from piece to piece - the windows into culture - the celebration of both community and self - this feels like just the beginning of what is possible for us nerdy hip hop kids with aspirations for the stage.
idris goodwin

Friday, February 27, 2009

Flexing the Writing Muscles

When I moved to Chicago, I was filled with ambition, both as an actor but particularly as a writer/spoken word artist. I had been doing the whole SLAM and Hiop Hop Theatre scene in both Portland, OR as a student, and in Florida during my MFA, but i was now moving to the self proclaimed "birth-place of spoken word!"

I had told myself to immerse myself in the writing scene, and hit up all the spots regularly performing my style of spoken word....but that didnt quite happen. Instead I've hit up the Green Mill a few times, been a featured performer, and done Public Enemy last year for thinkTank. The focus for the last two years in this city has been on acting...only. And thats been great! just fine with me, since thats what my degree is I've worked with Victory Gardens, Steppenwolf and Lookingglass to name a few, and been gaining really important professional experience.

So as you can imagine, its taken me a bit to flex that writing muscle and get back into the writing, while during the rehearsals so much of my energy has been in the actions, the motivations for each piece. I hunger to find specificity in choices on stage, how to enliven a piece, but thankfully with the editting and conversational help of my co-horts, the writing has come along grandly! as well!

Its an amazing feeling when it feels like things are chugging along, and you are artistically connecting to a piece both as a writer and hip hop kid, but also as an actor.

So for me, we are in that place right now, where the writing is all coming together, we are more and more satisfied with what is on the page, and now its time to build, create, make choices, make more choices, and bring it all onto the stage. That great, nitty gritty stuff that all actors love.

I was reading Hanif Kureishi's Strangers When We Meet, and he has a great thought in there. He says "The depth and passion Florence has on stage is clear to me. But, I know what an artist finds interesting about their own work, the part they consider original and penetrating, will not necessarily compel an audience, who might not even notice it, but only attend to the story."

Very well put.


Thursday, February 26, 2009

Director's Take- HipHopHopeLand

Today the show started to really take shape and find its direction--which is good for me, as director! As we began to put sections together and see how they fit, I realised that the initial sections that we had created early on were not quite making sense--which makes sense! As our three intrepid writers are still writing, and have responded to their recent experiences and feelings (Usman's return to his Pakistani homeland, Kelly's response to current hiphop music), the shows pieces begin to change tone and to crossfade/mix with each other in different combinations. Now a section on television can be divided into two, one half on role models and creation myths, a second on news and its censorship of experience. This devlopment then changes the section before, and changes where the comedy and lightness needs to be. So this process, so alive and so exciting, just took another step into scary territory, since I am far more comfortable, or expereinced at least, in carving up Shakespeare's text, than I am in analyzing Idris', Kelly's, and Usman's soft rhymes, riffs, ragings--but I love their passion, their opinions, and their words. This is a wild ride into hiphophopeland, and today the show just grew another super power!


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Columbia College on Race in the Media

Media Coverage of Obama and Race Schemas
by CRM Interactive - Monday, October 13, 2008, 08:17 AM

Toni Nealie's class recently discussed media reports about Barack Obama being "too black", "not black enough" or off on an "exotic holiday". Some examples include the NY Times article about steel workers not wanting to vote for Obama because he is black, Cokie Roberts statements about obama's exotic holiday and Time magazine's cover story is Obama black enough. (see New York Times Article). The students in Toni's class explored personal and media schemas about African-American males and how news reports about black male criminals, shootings on the South side etc provide a shorthand version but not a wider picture. How do those schemas play into media commentary about Senator Obama?

For more and to see student dialogue, click on the picture.

Monday, February 9, 2009



Chicago Shakespeare Theater
800 East Grand Avenue
Admission is free, but reservations are recommended.
Call 312.595.5460 or visit

My Nose and Me: A TragedyLite or TragiDelight in 33 Scenes by John Surowiecki is the inaugural winner of the Poetry Foundation’s Verse Drama Prize. It makes its Chicago debut here, under the direction of Bernard Sahlins.

“Loosely inspired by Gogol's comic masterpiece ‘The Nose,’ master poet John Surowiecki has written a laugh-out-loud gem of a play. In some 30 short, fast-paced scenes, this award-winning work carries us through time and across continents, taking shots at pompous doctors, randy nurses, and intellectual quackery in general while attesting to the unity of our physical constituents—including our noses.”—Bernard Sahlins

John Surowiecki is the author of Watching Cartoons before Attending a Funeral, The Hat City after Men Stopped Wearing Hats, and five chapbooks. He won Nimrod’s Pablo Neruda Prize and has received fellowships from the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism. He makes his home in Connecticut, where he is a freelance writer and teaches poetry courses at Manchester Community College.

Bernard Sahlins co-founded the Second City Theater and the International Theatre Festival of Chicago. He has produced and directed shows in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, London, and Toronto. His memoir, Days and Nights at the Second City, appeared from Ivan R. Dee in 2002.

Presented by Poetry Foundation

Friday, February 6, 2009

Global Media

For this week's blog entry, we borrow a post from Usman Ally's own personal blog.
Usman recently returned from Pakistan, where he was fascinated by what he calls the "creeping Americanisation of Pakistani Media."

Here's his excerpt: (for more of his blog check out


I’ve been here just about a week now, and I have to admit there has been quite a bit to take in. Everything from uncovering of old family stories that make us laugh and ache deep in our hearts, to the unavoidable reopening of old wounds that never fully healed and become part of our unspoken family history.

Life is strange: I finally become used to sitting next to my mother, watching Pakistani dramas and Indian movies when the world outside all of a sudden rudely interrupts our awkwardly beautiful moments of reconnection. The news on the telly has been flooded with images of death and destruction in Gaza, and the perception of the Arab-Israeli conflict is presented in a completely different light than it is in Chicago, Illinois.
However the media here uses much of the same tools. There is a FOX News here too, and it features radical perspectives calling for an armed military intervention by Pakistan in Gaza to “teach Israel a lesson” much in the same way Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity wanted America to “bomb them to bits” a few years ago. Thankfully the sane, sober news stations far outnumber the crazy ones, but it still leaves an impression in your mind when you see how different yet similar things are here.
As the conflict in Gaza grows many Arab nations and peoples have been looking to Pakistan as a muslim force that might be able to halt Israel. I say hogwash to that. Pakistan has plenty of its own problems to deal with what with inner turmoil of terror organizations, the Afghan border and India. And besides Arab nations love to beckon Pakistan to do something because this country has armed nuclear power, but Arabs still treat Pakistani people in a very pejorative way. But, I think I have mentioned this in a previous post already so I won’t waffle on now. I’ll just say that hopefully the armed offensive will end soon before more Palestinians are killed.

Back to war time terminology though…here terrorist organizations that lurk in the shadows of the northern areas of Pakistan feel galvanized and find justification of their actions because of the United States’ inaction, and seemingly pro-Israeli standpoint. Today 2 bombs went off in a part of Punjab that is not too far off from where we live. Far enough that it doesn’t affect us here in Islamabad at all, but still eerily close. I wonder if Americans back in Chicago realize that the terror organizations that plant these bombs that kill women and children use the same language as the US armed forces. When innocents are killed they call it “collateral damage” and those that have been killed are “casualties of war.” When more Pakistanis die than those who are targeted they say that it is due to “friendly fire.” They justify their war in exactly the same way that the US Armed Forces justify their own military actions in the Middle East. Interesting huh?"

Thursday, January 29, 2009


With the election of our lovely new and improved President, one can’t help but notice the wave of anticipation, and excitement in the air. Most everyone (yes even some Republican Americans) cannot help but be swept up into the electric atmosphere. I have never seen people so giddy every time that man comes up on the screen. People smile when he bobs his head to Aretha Franklin, people tear up when he speaks about his mother, people applaud when he quotes the great Sam Cooke saying “A Change Gonna Come!”
Of course all of this has begged the question of whether we live in a post-racial word. In an earlier blog entry my co-horts Kelly Tsai and Idris Goodwin responded to the bizarre question posed in the Chicago RedEye “Is Racism Dead?” If I can be permitted to paraphrase them, “Hells No!” I perfectly understand that it is monumental and historic that Obama is now in the white house, no longer is a man of color (not a black man, but a man of color, lets be real) unable to go higher up than a General Colin Powell, or a Condi Rice, this man of color is DA MAN! But, this means very little in the real day to day world. There are still forms of institutional racism that exist today, still a lack of investment in schools in poor neighborhoods, still a disproportionate level of punishment for African American narcotics offenders, still a lack of representation of people of color in investment firms, in the legal system and in HOLLYWOOD to ever say that racism is dead or that we live in a post-racial world. Obama’s election does not in the slightest way make everything ok, and while that might seem an obvious statement, you would be surprised to know how many people interact with me as if I have suddenly been liberated.
At the end of the day, I am still a perceived threat to many in this country because of my ethnicity, I am still suspect. I am still having a harder time getting apartments to rent when people see my face after talking to me on the phone, and I know that if I lived in Inglewood, Chicago and decided to raise a family, my kids would get a poor education based on the demographic and geographic environment.

Now, what the election of our President does pose is….(drum roll please) HOPE. Obama brings the possibility that the ball will start rolling on these issues, that he will kindly remind his advisers that they need to think about what the little guy needs, that other people of color who are consistently overlooked or misrepresented need to be brought to the table. Here’s hoping.
I feel for him though…coming into this economic climate, the mess from the previous administration and the war in Gaza it almost seems like he has been set up to fail in some way.
I don’t think my expectations are lofty though….I think he just needs to deliver, like any president would have to…regardless of race.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Black, White, Whatever

Check out Kelly's new video. Tell us what you think! Agreements, disagreements? Kudos? Lets get the dialogue going!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Limbaugh: I Hope Obama Fails

Earlier this month, right wing mouthpiece Rush Limbaugh upset conservatives and liberals alike with his outlandish statement:

Limbaugh: I Hope Obama Fails
January 16, 2009

What do you think?

Friday, January 16, 2009

The right words
In the right order…
Think feel play

Friday, January 9, 2009

Idris Goodwin talks...

So I guess we gotta talk about Obama…..again.

I’m not saying I wasn’t as excited as you. I’m not saying it’s not historic. I’m just saying I didn’t ask to get involved.

From the moment Obama accepted his nomination the strangest thing happened. Middle-aged white people began stopping me at random in the street, at the grocery store, while hiking, to engage in racial dialogue.

I should be excited by this - when I was coming up the only people interested in public conversations about race were those who had been victims of racism. By that I mean, up until Obama ran, white people tended to shy away from talking with me about race in a non-p.c., I-don’t-see-color kind of way (except of course for that whole OJ thing).

So it was jarring when grown, respectable, upstanding baby boomers began giving me goofy eyes, knowing nods, awkwardly shifting gears from “nice weather we’re’ having” to trips down memory lane: the 60’s when hands interlocked and Motown bridged the gaps and on and on and on and on.

It got real deep when I worked this summer at an outdoor newsstand in downtown Santa Fe, NM, which is incidentally where east coast leftists escape for retirement and death. It’s the sort of place where every store, restaurant and street has a Spanish or Native American name, yet all the Spanish speaking and Native American people are nowhere in sight.

And it should come as no surprise that while Santa Fe has an abundance of sunlight and parking spots, it is desperately lacking in the 31-year-old black guy department.
You get what I’m saying.

So there I was, sitting on a busy Santa Fe street in front of rows and rows of magazines featuring everyone’s favorite brown boy on the cover. I was an easy target.

The day after Obama won the primary someone yelled from across the street -- maybe 20 feet away -- “I bet you’re happy!”

Considering their logic they should have been happy when McCain won his respective primary. After all he is old, white and rich. Of course I never said that. I am no agitator.

I didn’t even respond to the woman who shook her head conspiratorially, “Can you believe he picked Biden? Always gotta shoulder up with the white man, right?”

It was getting out of control.

I couldn’t wait for the whole thing to hurry up and just get decided already. Then the tokenism would stop and things could back to the way they were. You know, when we would tip toe gingerly around the old race maypole, talk color with our skin-folk. It was hard enough for me to deal with my own day-to-day trials without having to participate – without having to be the sounding board for the wish fulfillment and redemption of the older generation.

I was sure that when it was over the dust would settle. But then he won. And it dawned on me, I’ve got four more years of this. Maybe eight.

So the night of Nov.4th, after Obama’s acceptance speech, after the bells and whistles and good tidings of joy, I found myself conflicted, weighing the consequences. Reflecting on how now everyone will assume that racism and it’s legacy is a thing of the past.

Suddenly, inexplicably, my great great great grandfather appeared beside me on the couch. Obama’s speech still hanging in the air, the ghost of my grandfather to my right, and me in-between.

Of course I immediately apologized for not keeping in better touch with him. He told me to shove my apology, then proceeded to remind me that in his day it was not only Illegal for black people to vote but it was illegal for black people to be people. In his day the house slave was allotted maybe 15 minutes for dreaming, but his dreams were confined to that of better ways to serve his or her master.

He continued on and on and on like the ghosts of our great great great grandfather’s tend to do, reminding me of all the privileges I now enjoy and that the last thing I should be concerned about is white people wanting to talk to me in a positive way about a black man that they aren’t interested in lynching or betting on to win the superbowl.

And with that, he was gone. So were my petty annoyances. I now accept my role in Obama’s unofficial cabinet. In fact, I welcome all testimonials, opinions and cash donations. (The last thing I’d want to do is come off rude.)

So let’s talk about race, America.

Yes, this extraordinary biracial politician (that everyone calls black; see the one drop rule) defeated the candidate of the crippled Republican Party. Does this signal the dawn of a post racial America? For those who answered yes, you are a sad and hilarious example of irony, like low-fat junk food.

Racism is a disease. It’s the AIDS virus of the “isms.” It’s responsible for countless deaths, deferred dreams, horrific atrocities. I don’t know if any of you have read Frederick Douglas, but homeboy could’ve talked circles around Obama and led our country in his sleep, though I doubt he could have raised the necessary funds at the time. Why? Racism. It’s ingrained, woven tightly into the fabric of our country. It’s the reason I am an American citizen and have the last name Goodwin. It’s the reason why initially we didn’t think Obama had a Lobster’s chance in boiling water. It’s what prompted someone in Delaware to deface Obama-Biden campaign posters with KKK.

You could say racism is our national pastime.

You could say America is Dr. Frankenstein and racism is its monster – but we can’t scare it with fire-lit torches.

Do I think things are better? Of course. When my parents entered their teens, Jim Crow laws were still in effect. However, my black and brown cohorts continue to be profiled by state troopers and affluent liberals alike. This country is ripe with generations of brown-skinned people for whom racism has robbed of the ability to dream, to actualize, to even imagine being the president of the student council let alone the United States of America.

To suggest that racism is over because the browner guy won the game underestimates the weight and power of its legacy and insults its victims.