Tuesday, December 21, 2010

An invitation from Incoming Artistic Director TIMOTHY DOUGLAS

Greetings ALL ... The Artistic Associates and I are hard at work creating an invigorating bill of plays and events for Remy Bumppo's 2011/2012 Season!

My inaugural season with the company will be a full demonstration of the excellence and integrity you've come to know as worthy of the moniker of ThinkTheatre - along with some augmentation designed to further engage your minds and souls, and which will serve as a meaningful reflection of the transition in leadership.

While I cannot yet reveal the play selections at this time - as we're still very much 'in process' - I wanted to take this opportunity to widen the conversation that surrounds the curiosity and excitement about what happens after the much beloved Founding Artistic Director, James Bohnen, makes his departure. I am deeply aware of just how challenging change of any kind can be, and more specifically of just how dramatic a change can seem when 'the face' that has been associated with an artistic institution for all its existence, moves on and is replaced by another.

I've already had many impassioned discussions surrounding the question of just 'where is Remy Bumppo heading under its new leadership?', and invite you to post your questions and comments here.

And while I acknowledge - for a fair amount of this transition process - we're making it up as we go along, I will respond as candidly as I can.

With the blessings of the season and my best regards ... TIMOTHY DOUGLAS

Friday, December 10, 2010

Share your 'Earnest' thoughts about Wilde!

The Importance of Being Earnest author Oscar Wilde is famous for his crafted one-liners and brilliant witticisms. One of our favorites from the show encompasses our season theme, "The truth is never pure and rarely simple."

We invite you to create and share your own Wilde-style witticism about our production!

Would you rather quip quickly? Give us your cleverest THREE WORDS to describe your experience at our show!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Victorian England: The Emergence of Earnest's Middle Class

from Dramaturg Kelli Marino

Power. Life Style. Wealth. Living Conditions. Religion. Education. Culture.

In a period distinguished by etiquette and social customs, Oscar Wilde wrote his masterful The Importance of Being Earnest. Playing upon the rigid strictures of Victorian classes, Wilde’s Earnest exposes the superficiality of Victorian society, making fun of its people and their customs. He reveals the hypocrisy of the leisured classes, especially scrutinizing those who shunned him.

The Victorian Era (1837-1901) saw the mercantile blossoming of the British Empire. England’s consequent wealth and population boom (a near doubling) precipitated changes within its class system. Class was the chief societal divisor. In a literal sense, London’s wealthy lived on the West End or perhaps in the suburbs, and its working classes lived on the proletarian East End. It is estimated that the aristocracy and the upper classes accounted for two percent of the population, while the working classes accounted for 79%. The remaining 19% was a rather amorphous “middle class” (a term that appeared with increasing frequency), newly invigorated by enterprises associated with the empire’s growth and occupying a less defined space within the English social body. The activities of that middle class, therefore, revolved around self-definition in an attempt to clarify where exactly one fit into the society, domestically and professionally. Because self-definition often involved establishing who one is not, this middle-class surge resulted in manufactured social clashes and the urge to stubbornly display the life that was available to us and not to them.

Love it or hate it, this middle class has been cast as the heart of Victorian society. In the middle class, one can find the full spectrum of dominant social movements. It pushed for reforming the class system (out of disdain either for the depraved aristocracy or the depraved proletariat) as well as enshrining the prestige of their own class. In its ambition to thrive, it created more opportunities for itself in work, ornamented its surroundings with parks, facilities for mental enhancement, and clubs for leisure activities.

The middle class contained a gradation of prosperity within itself. The upper-middle class (the group of Lady Bracknell, Algernon, and Jack) consisted of industrialists, lawyers, doctors, clergy, headmasters, and some theater managers/owners (Arthur Sullivan and William Schwenk Gilbert made fortunes from their shows and received knighthoods). Many members of this class bought their way into their positions through memberships to clubs, land ownership and political affiliations.

As a member of the upper-middle class, much of one’s activity followed from the desire to elevate oneself as high as possible and to establish a social network that disallowed the entry of the lesser middle-class peoples. Social lists like Who’s Who (first published in 1849) and Burkes Landed Gentry (first published in 1836) informed the social elite of whom it was important to identify and associate.

This elitism and emphasis on social strictures has become especially associated with England’s upper-middle class women (perhaps in no small part because of Earnest’s and more particularly Bracknell’s popularity). Strict guidelines from women of manners like Mrs. Humphry and Lady Collin Campbell dictated the moral etiquette of the Victorian Age. Women took very seriously, the art of being a proper lady, playing the part of the Victorian woman and helping those around her adhere to the guidelines that she, and the etiquette journals, deemed appropriate.

Maintaining the supposedly “determined order”—which was actually being fashioned and re-fashioned as time went on—fueled England’s upper-middle class to perform at its highest caliber. This group, whose lifestyle and reputations were constantly on display, was forced to conceal their private lives (if they had one) in hopes that there might be no consequences. For Wilde, whose private life, once made public, caused him great grief, Earnest was a way to express his frustration with the people of his class, safely and publicly. Earnest, then, attacks—both lovingly and viciously—the obsession with the public presentation of the self that formed the core of middle-class Victorian England.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Share your thoughts on Night and Day

Our 2010 / 2011 Season is underway with Night and Day, the inaugural play that began the company 14 seasons ago.

We've already heard that "this multifaceted drama poses questions that easily might be asked at any point in the current 24/7 news cycle" (Chicago Sun-Times) and that the "production is not only shrewdly timed but very adroit, smart and accomplished." (Chicago Tribune)

Now we wanted to give you the opportunity to share your own reviews, questions and comments about this play and production.

Consider these questions raised by the play:
• What risks and responsibilities should journalists to take today?
• How do you choose which news sources are trustworthy?
• Is "fluff" news crucial to keeping papers around or does it undermine the credibility of the "real" stories?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Stoppard's Night and Day features a young journalist caught in a very dangerous and politically charged story. He puts his life at risk, perhaps unknowingly, to get his hands on the best story. Stoppard's work feels as timely as ever in the light of news from Mexico.

As reported by huffingtonpost.com, on 9/17/10:

On September 16th, two newspaper photographers were killed by gunmen in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based watchdog group cited in our previous post, said in a recent report that at least 22 Mexican journalists have been killed since December 2006, due to violence by drug cartels.

As reported by CNN.com on 9/20/10:

In response to the murder of their young photographers, the paper for which they worked took bold action, publishing an open letter to the drug cartels operating in their city.

"We do not want more deaths," the newspaper's letter to the cartels said Sunday. "We do not want more injuries or even more intimidation. It is impossible to exercise our role in these conditions. Tell us, then, what do you expect of us as a medium?"

However, the deaths may not have been a result of the photographers' work, but rather a personal matter. A Chihuahua state attorney's office spokesman stated, "His murder is not related to his work as a journalist."


Faced with great risk and great responsibility, this paper took bold action, directly addressing very subject of the news which they actively report. What does their appeal say about evolving roles of journalists in today's world? Do we consider the risks these reporters are taking to be crucial to good news?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Journalists on the Front Lines

Stoppard's Night and Day raises complex questions about the need for risk in pursuit of headline news. When an investigative journalist's life is in endangered, is it needless, or crucial to the system of the free press getting the truth back home?

In October, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) released an updated version of its guide to reporting on war and in other situations in which journalists’ lives can be threatened. The handbook is called “On Assignment: A Guide to Reporting in Dangerous Situations,” and what follows are excerpts taken from its various sections.

From Part II: Who is at Risk?
"Even all the risks of reporting in a conflict zone comprise only a small part of the risks journalists face worldwide. In fact, for every journalist killed in crossfire, three are targeted for murder. Between 1993 and 2002, CPJ research indicates that 366 journalists have been killed while conducting their work; of that total, 60 journalists, or 16 percent, died in crossfire, while 277 journalists, or 76 percent, were murdered in reprisal for their reporting. The remaining journalists were killed on the job in other situations, such as violent street demonstrations.”

From Part IV: Reporting in Hostile Areas: Minimizing Risks
"In some particularly dangerous conflicts, journalists have hired armed guards. The practice first became widespread among television crews and reporters covering Somalia in the early 1990’s after journalists traveling without armed guards were robbed at gunpoint. Journalists who use armed guards, however, should recognize that they may be jeopardizing their status as neutral observers."

From Part IV: Reporting in Hostile Areas: Battlefield Choices

"From at least the U.S. Civil War through the first two world wars, journalists who accompanied combatants were only able to file reports through military censors."

“Journalists briefly enjoyed more autonomy during the Korean War, although it was not until the Vietnam War that many correspondents were able to file without censorship."

Read more excerpts at


Thursday, August 26, 2010

My Love Affair With Newspapers: an interview with Tom Stoppard

This article uses excerpts of a taped interview with Tom Stoppard conducted by BJR editor Bill Hagerty. British Journalism Review Vol. 16, No. 4, 2005, pages 19-29; http://www.bjr.org.uk/data/2005/no4_stoppard.

"Until I was 16 or 17 I had no idea what I wanted to do. Then, when the idea of journalism came up, I thought: 'That's it!' It was instant and final."

Tom Stoppard’s journalism career began when he was just finishing his A-Levels. He took a job as a junior reporter in Bristol and in 1954 took a position at the Western Daily Press covering the local government and city council. "I was in heaven — I loved everything about it."

After writing for the Western Daily Press, Stoppard moved to the Bristol Evening World. But his stay in full time journalism was short lived when he "got turned on by what was happening in the theatre." After six years at the Western Daily Press, Stoppard gave his notice and began writing plays. Continuing to freelance as a journalist to supplement his theatrical income, Stoppard contributed to an Arts page, something he claims turned out to be a "crash-course in culture, because I was writing pieces about things I knew nothing about on Tuesday, but knew enough about by Friday to do 800 magisterial words."

When the Bristol Evening World closed its doors, Stoppard was interviewed by London’s Scene magazine and offered the job as a theatre critic. Using his own name and the pen name William Boot (when there were multiple articles in the magazine), Stoppard continued critiquing theatre while simultaneously writing for stage, screen and radio. During the 1960s and 1970s, Stoppard wrote successes like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (1964/1967), Albert’s Bridge (1967), Enter a Free Man (1968), The Real Inspector Hound (1968), Jumpers (1972), and Travesties (1974). His passion for theatre escalated, and his journalism contributions gradually ceased, but his love of newspapers and news did not.
"In the 70s and 80s, when I was involved in dissident stories in Russia and Czechoslovakia, my refrain was that a free press made all the other freedoms possible, and by that I didn't just mean an uncensored press. I meant an untrammeled press.

This is what got me into writing a play about journalism in 1978. I knew I'd have to write one one day. There's a line in Night and Day that people are always quoting or misquoting – 'I'm with you on the free press, it's the newspapers I can't stand,' and because it's the only line people remember, they assume it's my entire view of newspapers. But, as I said, the good stuff is still good. I admire huge amounts of it, mostly people who go out there and file a story. From the very beginning I've admired foreign and war correspondents, all the way back to Sefton Delmer and Noel Barber, all the way forward to Robert Fisk. I don't give a damn about Fisk's so-called bias, I'm a thinking animal, I can deal with it, I can read round him – the point is it takes courage to be out there and get the story."
Today Stoppard reads many newspapers. "I take only three morning papers now, but I'm thinking of going back to four. [...] On Sundays it's The Observer, Times, Telegraph and Independent. I also take the Times Literary Supplement, London Review of Books, New York Review, Spectator, New Statesman, The Week... sometimes I think I'll cancel the whole damned lot. My papers are on my doormat, five floors up, before seven o'clock."

In the end, Stoppard says that "in all the newsprint I've read there isn't a sentence I'd rather have written."

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Welcome Chelsea Keenan!

Chelsea Keenan joins Remy Bumppo as the new Director of Marketing and Audience Development after seven seasons with Evanston's Next Theatre Company where she served as the Marketing Director and Artistic Administrator. During her tenure, Next marked six straight seasons of growth, more than doubling attendance for the theater's progressive programming.

She came to Chicago after having completed the two-year Actor Training program at the Pacific Conservatory for the Performing Arts and the BFA degree in Theatre at the University of California Santa Barbara. While in Santa Barbara, she worked as the Box Office Manager for Center Stage Theater, a busy community rental space, and as the Assistant Director for Speaking of Stories, a literary arts organization with theatrical and educational arms. She is a founding member of and serves on the Board of Directors for Sandbox Theatre Project, and is a Company Member with The Building Stage. In addition to her roles in arts administration, Chelsea also contributes to Chicago-area theater as a performer.

Make sure to introduce yourself to Chelsea and welcome her when you speak to her on the phone or see her at the theater this fall! Reach her anytime at ckeenan@remybumppo.org.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Remy Bumppo's Beach Blanket Reading Recommendations

Remy Bumppo wants to know...what are you reading this summer? Here is a look at what company members are currently reading. Tell us your summer reading list and we'll publish the titles in next month's newsletter.

Artistic Associate Linda Gillum is reading Young Kate by Christopher Andersen. Young Kate is an authorized biography of Katharine Hepburn that touches very little on her career and later life and gives more detail about her parent's influence on her and their lives and how her brother's suicide affected the family. I read it in one day."

Artistic Director James Bohnen has two recommendations to get you in the mood for Night and Day, Tom Stoppard's great romantic play about the power and importance of reporters getting the story out. The first is Evelyn Waugh's fascinating novel about reporters following a war in Africa, Scoop. Written in 1937 after Waugh returned from Africa and covering the war in Ethiopia, the novel is about classes and the ways the press can massage the message. Stoppard was inspired to write Night and Day when he re-read it in the middle 1970s., and he uses a famous line from the novel in the play. Keep your ears peeled. The second book is brand new. It is a wonderful first novel by a foreign correspondent named Tom Rachman, The Imperfectionists. This book is about an English language paper published in Rome. It is told in individual chapters about various figures on the paper, so you get both a personal story of these vivid or sad or fragile or funny, or all of the above, characters, and a view into various jobs on a paper. If that weren't enough, at the end of each chapter is a two or three page piece that chronologically traces the history of the paper from its founding in the Sixties until 2007. Wonderful story telling and a glimpse into a world few of us have experienced.

Artistic Associate Nick Sandys recommends The Painter of Battles by Arturo Perez-Reverte, a thriller about an ex-photojournalist-turned-artist, haunted by memories and by a mysterious stranger, a novel that raises some very interesting moral dilemmas about journalism's role and responsibilities in the theatre of war, and possibly a good counterpoint to Night and Day which starts our season in the fall.

Marketing Chair and Founding Board President, Nancy McDaniel: ANY of the series of The Number One Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith. even if you are not passionate about Africa (and especially Botswana) as I am the vivid descriptions and engaging stories are sure to win you over. A quick read and wonderful for the pool beach or backyard this summer

Director of Development Kate Oczkowski is reading The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World by Eric Weiner. Weiner is a former foreign correspondent for NPR who traveled around the globe, visiting countries whose residents claim to be the “happiest” (eg. Iceland, Bhutan, Switzerland) and the “least happy” (eg. Moldova) to try to figure out what’s making them so blissful (or miserable – sorry, Moldovans). It’s a unique sort of travelogue – thought-provoking, inspiring and, at times, laugh-out-loud funny.

Business and Operations Manager Amy Schultz recommends The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan. Riordan, who used Greek mythology to capture our imaginations in his Percy Jackson series, now tackles the myths of Ancient Egypt in The Red Pyramid. This first book in a new series of adventures follows 14-year-old Carter Kane and his 12-year-old sister Sadie as they learn how to harness their “godling” powers in order to save the world from chaos and destruction. An entertaining and educational read for both children and adults!

Subscription Manager Charles Riffenburg highly recommends City of Truth by James Morrow. Morrow is one of the top religious and cultural satire authors in the country, and City of Truth is one of his most touching works, and a delightfully short read. It tells the story of Jack Sperry, who lives in a future dystopian world in which everyone has been conditioned to only speak the truth, regardless of the consequences. Jack's job is to destroy the lies of the old world, incinerating objects like art, novels, magazines, and all works of fiction. When his son is stricken with a fatal disease, he recalls having read about the power of hope and positive thinking in one of the artifacts he has destroyed, and decides to lie to his son by telling him he'll be alright. This leads Jack down a dangerous path, in which he must find the balance between lies and truth, and how an extreme in either direction is a bad thing.

Farewell and Godspeed Stephanie

by Remy Bumppo Executive Director Kristin Larsen

June is a significant month for Remy Bumppo. It is the end of our fiscal year and this year, the conclusion of our 13th season. June is usually an opportunity for all of us at Remy Bumppo to collect ourselves after a busy season of producing plays. We look forward to this time to reflect and plan for the upcoming season. However, this June is different. You know this upcoming season will be James Bohnen’s last as Remy Bumppo’s Artistic Director. As we all wonder what it might be like to no longer have his daily presence in the office come July 2011, he and I wonder what it will be like to no longer have our long time partner Stephanie Kulke, Remy Bumppo’s Director of Marketing and Communications, at our side over this next year.

On July 2 Stephanie leaves Remy Bumppo after eight years on staff, and five years prior to that as our Media Relations Director when she was at Carol Fox & Associates. Stephanie is starting Kick Start Marketing Chicago, her own marketing and media relations firm.

The accomplishments of Remy Bumppo over these past 13 years are attributable to the amazing artistic leadership of James, played out by our Artistic Associates, but only known to you and the other 14,000 people who in any given year visit Remy Bumppo because of the marketing and press relations that Stephanie has ably conceived and directed in her tenure with the company.

I remember well our first month together in August 2002. There were two desks and a fax machine in the office. Neither one of us had ever led a subscription campaign, much less ever assumed roles anything near what we were required as the first full-time staff of Remy Bumppo. Marcie McVay, the former Managing Director of Victory Gardens Theater and her staff were instrumental in mentoring our abilities in all things box office. And with their help Stephanie welcomed our first subscribers- 150 in 2002/03, which grew to 300, then 550, then 750 and now there are 1400 of you (-and we have 11 work stations and a copier)!

To review our past season brochures reminds me how much we have learned over the years, as a company and as individuals. Stephanie was the perfect partner for Remy Bumppo - the start up. She brought her five years of marketing Remy Bumppo while at Carol Fox & Associates- and hit the ground running. With Stephanie’s deep respect for James and the artists, she constantly reminded us of what we did best- and helped us find people who would appreciate the work of the company. She lent her extraordinary media relationships, expanding our horizons and own belief of what we might accomplish in this vibrant cultural community by suggesting arts partners such as the Humanities Festival, the Newberry Library, Chicago Public Radio, and MCA Stage. And Stephanie, in her steadfast way, is responsible for the continuity you see and hear in each of our published pieces from the season brochure, production postcards, video, website, monthly Newsletter and weekly e-blasts. Her voice has become our voice, and we will miss her contribution to the daily cacophony of our shared workspace.

AND I am pleased that our association with Stephanie will continue, in support of her private enterprise, by engaging her and Kick Start Marketing Chicago. Stephanie will partner with our incoming Director of Marketing & Audience Development, Chelsea Keenan (see separate article) and manage each production’s public and press relations.

My relationship with Stephanie has been the richest and deepest of any professional relationship. As I begin my 8th year as Remy Bumppo’s Executive Director, what I find most surprising is not that people come and then go, but how much I still miss them, though they may have departed years ago. You might think I am referring to staff members or actors, but I am also thinking of subscribers and long time supporters. I would have thought the longer I am here myself, the easier it would become. But I see now, that Stephanie’s departure awakens within me the awareness that each relationship begun as a result of my association with Remy Bumppo, is deeply rich and intimate.

This is the legacy of Remy Bumppo… that our commitment to artistic excellence, thoughtful community discourse, and engagement of the highest quality of talent (on and off the stage) has thrilled your ear and STIRRED YOUR HEART.

Godspeed Stephanie. You have stirred our hearts.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Edward Albee, Glenn Close, Nellie McKay, et al. Featured in My Dog: An Unconditional Love Story to Be Released on DVD May 25

From Theater News
By: Andy Propst · Apr 28, 2010 · New York

Cindy Adams, Edward Albee, Richard Belzer, Glenn Close, Billy Collins, Edie Falco, Richard Gere, Greg Louganis, Carey Lowell, Gail Martz, Nellie McKay, Christopher Meloni, Isaac Mizrahi, Lynn Redgrave, and Daryl Roth are among the celebrities featured in the film My Dog: An Unconditional Love Story, which will be released on DVD on May 25 by Docurama Films. Mark St. Germain has directed the movie, which he co-produced with Roth.

My Dog explores the unique relationship between people and their beloved pets through candid interviews with notable dog lovers. Through the conversations, viewers are offered an intimate glimpse into the lives of these actors and musicians, authors and designers. In addition to the original movie, which was a featured selection at the Heartland Film Festival and the Sedona International Film Festival, the DVD includes deleted scenes and additional interviews not included in the official release.

The DVD will also serve a charitable purpose as 20% of every dollar earned by the film is being donated to non-profit animal welfare charities designated by the participants themselves,

For further information, visit: www.docurama.com.

Here in the Remy Bumppo office we have 2 full-time furry staff members who can usually be found sniffing around, Star and Hannah; and of course the visiting Ella.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Three Plays, Three Directors, One Interview: A Conversation About the Work of Athol Fugard

James Bohnen

Ron OJ Parson

Jonathan Wilson

Welcome to January and the official beginning of Chicago’s Fugard Fest 2010. As you may know, Timeline, Court, and Remy Bumppo Theatres are collaborating in an effort to bring awareness to Athol Fugard’s important work. Last month, an introductory article about Athol Fugard’s works was sent out to theatre patrons (access is at Timeline or Remy Bumppo if you have not yet read it). As Timeline’s production of “Master Harold” … and the Boys and Remy Bumppo’s production of The Island are about to open at the end of January, I, as the Fugard Fest Staff Writer, wanted to probe all three of these shows’ directors to get an insight into their experiences with Fugard’s works and what they hope to achieve through their productions. Here is what James Bohnen (JB), director of The Island at Remy Bumppo, Ron OJ Parson (RP), director of Sizwe Bansi is Dead and Court Theatre, and Jonathan Wilson (JW), director of “Master Harold” … and the Boys at Timeline, had to say.

KM: What was your first theatrical encounter with Athol Fugard?

JW: I acted in a production of A Lesson from Aloes at Northwestern University in 1982.
RP: I performed in several Fugard’s plays in my early days as an actor in New York at various theatres and workshops, and at school at the University of Michigan in the 1970s in the Black Theatre Workshop.
JB: My first theatrical encounter was in graduate school at Boston University in 1980 where a classmate had directed Sizwe Bansi is Dead.

KM: And did his work grab you right from the beginning?

JB: I had read a couple of other plays at that point, but that Sizwe production really taught me how potent the music of performing was. In New York in the early 1980s I saw the original American productions of “Master Harold”…and the Boys, A Lesson from Aloes, and The Road to Mecca. Years later in London, I saw the 25th anniversary production of The Island (the only time I have seen it) at the Royal National Theatre.
RP: I was fascinated with his work, the social injustices he explored, and what apartheid was doing to us as a world. I was also amazed in finding how the politics of Africa affected me in the United Sates; it made me more aware of the racism that existed right here at home. The style that the collaborators (Fugard, Winston Ntshona, and John Kani’s) work inspired such innovative productions.

KM: Have you directed other Fugard plays?

RP: I have only directed Sizwe, but I have acted in it twice prior to directing it at The Williamsport Drama Workshop in the early 1980s and a college tour in Pennsylvania which performed at local prisons; I have played all of the roles. I have also acted in A Lesson from Aloes in the mid 1980s in Buffalo, New York.
JW: I directed a production of Playland in 1994 at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company. It was a wonderful experience. I worked with two really fine actors, Lou Ferguson and Gary Cole. The play is set in an amusement park on New Year's Eve, so we had an absolutely marvelous set for it as well.
JB: The only one I have directed is The Road to Mecca; Remy Bumppo produced it in 1999. It was fascinating to work on, how the combination of exploring the artistic impulse converged with life in South Africa and the frustrations of the passionate young white school teacher. Fugard’s connection to landscape and place speak quite strongly to me. Remy Bumppo was not very well established when we produced it...and it was the only time we did just one show....nobody came to see it....I mean, NOBODY. It was quite frustrating to the young, passionate white actress playing the school teacher. It all makes me smile now; I was delighted to have offered it to the community.

KM: What is it about Fugard’s plays that make them so vital to not only theatre, but the wider world?

RP: The political consciousness of his plays and the importance of Fugard’s works during apartheid; the way they continue to resonate. There is an incredible depth in his characters and a passion that endures in his work.
JB: I’d say the way Fugard’s plays are so firmly rooted in individual character. I think that is the key to their impact. These are always flawed, complicated people you come to know, so the ideas land with an almost unbearable lightness because they are one person's particular experience within a larger, bleak canvass. He is a writer who understands that power very clearly.
JW: Fugard always gives his audience a lot to think about and discuss when leaving the theatre. The relationships in his plays tend to be very complicated thus calling for very strong and experienced actors. I like the depth and honesty with which he writes. I tend to be drawn into the plot of his plays in much the same way as I am the plays of Eugene O'Neill, as if I am standing across the street in the beginning, then finding myself being slowly panned towards the characters. When we reached the inner soul of his characters and you can feel the turmoil, I am brought slowly back to where we started and made to contemplate what has happened long after I have left the theatre. Athol Fugard mesmerizes me by his style of writing.

KM: Why are you directing your particular play? What do you like about it?

JW: As an African American, I have a particular interest in the racial climate and politics of South Africa. I grew up following the apartheid situation in South Africa and learning about Nelson and Winnie Mandela and the African National Congress. I was introduced to the plays of Athol Fugard when I was in graduate school and found them to be a powerful look at South Africa's history from a personal and political perspective. I especially like “Master Harold”…and the Boys because, on the one hand, it is Fugard's personal recollection of his childhood relationship with his parents, and on the other it is his relationship with two black men who were long time employees of his family. These two men, Sam and Willie, became Fugard's surrogate parents, and in the play Hally, the central character, must deal with both sets of family. It reminds so much of my grandmother who spent much of her life traveling to white suburban homes in Amherst, New York to clean their homes and raise their children. When I graduated from college, my grandmother took me to one of those homes because she was very proud of me and wanted to show me off; it was a very uncomfortable situation. So I have a feel for what I think Fugard's central character is going through in “Master Harold”.
RP: I have always wanted to revisit Sizwe. I was a lot younger when I first worked on it and I now feel I can bring more depth to my direction of it today. I like the complexity of the characters and its political significance. I am looking forward to the challenge of bringing Sizwe to fruition with all of its necessary elements.
JB: I have always been moved by The Island. To be honest, I rarely have much patience for the Greek tragedies on stage, but this is a flaw in me, not the plays. I do love Antigone. The story is utterly universal and its message is deliciously unambiguous. It really comes to what writing plays like Fugard’s or acting in them under the apartheid regime is about. Understanding the risk inherent in the activity and knowing there doesn't seem to be another choice. There always is the choice to do nothing, of course, but this play gently brings us to a clear sense of purpose. The bravery in The Island, beginning with what the men did to land themselves on the island fascinates me. I wonder if I would have that courage...I doubt it.

KM: Do you have any concerns about directing your plays?

JW: As director, my only concern is bringing to the stage as close an approximation of what Fugard intended with this play as I can get.
JB: My concern is bringing the unspoken world of oppression into the play and being brave enough to make the first, unspoken section of the play difficult for both performers and audience...to not let the audience off the hook (or let any of us off the larger hook we are on).

KM: What do you hope that audiences will retain from your production? Or from seeing all three productions?

JB: It is so hard to predict any of that. The two things that move me most are the essential importance of comradeship and the constant, unchanging power of the truly universal stories.
JW: I hope that audiences will genuinely like all three of the characters in “Master Harold” …and the Boys, and be moved by the painful circumstances which puts their love for each other in jeopardy.
RP: Well I hope they get something from all three productions: an awareness of a political history that scared us as a people forever, a system that was overcome by sure grit and determination, and a realization that anything can be achieved if we work together.

KM: How can these three Fugard works affect or reflect today’s society?

JW: All three, on one level or another, deal with racial issues. All three plays are having productions in Chicago, one of the most polarized cities in the nation. I think it would be most beneficial if we utilized the productions as a vehicle for discussing black/white relations in Chicago.
ROP: We always need to know where we came from to know where we are going. Of course racism still exists, and South African history can even reflect our own history. We have to make sure there are reminders so we will never repeat the atrocities that took place during apartheid.
JB: I think these shows collectively are a somber reminder that man will be inhumane in new ways and old ways, and that these stories must serve as sentinels, reminding us that evil is always dancing somewhere. But more importantly, these plays are a study, and reminder, in the power of a compassionate response within dire circumstances.

KM: What do you say about the critics of Fugard who believe that these particular people and experiences he is writing are not appropriate for a white, South African to write about?

RP: Balderdash! There were many sacrifices made by a lot of people of all races and ethnic backgrounds to get the truth out about the social injustices that took place during apartheid; sometimes the messenger can be in many forms. Athol Fugard was a man of conscious who wanted to help make a difference. I say the same for a man like American abolitionist John Brown who saw an injustice and had the conscience and will to try and right it... (John Brown instigated and fought in several armed battles to bring an end to slavery).
JB: I know some people feel that way about him and his works, but I don't share the feeling (Is this because I am white? I don't know.). I am glad these plays exist, they seem human and real and driven by authentic feeling. The world is BETTER because they exist. It is the way I feel about Shakespeare’s plays. I don't care who might have written them, I just know that the world is better because of them. The same goes for Fugard’s plays.
JW: Good playwrights write about what they know. I trust that Athol Fugard has an understanding of the country in which he was born and raised. We can question his ideas and perspectives about issues of concern, but as an artist he has the right to depict what he believes to be true.

KM: What are your thoughts about the idea that Fugard’s plays beg the question “Who cares for whom in this world?”

JW: I think it is a very important question and at the center of what makes Fugard's plays so vitally important. Fugard teaches us that love for one another is what life is really all about. And if we can truly find it in each other it will overcome racial and political strife. He may be right.

By Kelli Marino, Chicago Fugard Fest 2010 Staff Writer