Filling the House: Putting butts in seats and saving the world…

Filling the House: Putting butts in seats and saving the world…

Okay, maybe a little over the top, but if you have ever managed a theatre, produced or directed a play, if you’re a veteran or aspiring actor, or if you love the theatre, this issue has come up. Indeed, theatre is the one place, realistically, where it ain’t about the money. It should be, to sustain good theatre and encourage fresh visions, but at the end of the day, it is always about the audience. More directly, it is about getting an audience in the door.

I am no stranger to Theatre. I have had two successful plays, have written and performed some improv and sketch comedy, and write about Theatre now and again. As the host of  a growing radio program dedicated to covering the Arts I also have the pleasure of speaking with actors, producers and directors. If there is one common issue it is about getting people into the show. Not for all theatres, such as those with bigger marketing budgets, although every Theatre will struggle at some point.

I’ve been to more than one show in which the house is virtually empty; sometimes a parent and a few friends-often at the compliments of the Theatre. That is as painful for the audience as it is for the actors to step out on stage and give it their all to a virtually empty theatre. owing to the passion and professionalism of stage actors, I have attended several nearly empty theatres only to find actors coming to the stage as if it was standing room only.

Recently on the radio show, (Sundays at 1pm on am1590 WCGO in Chicago) Kerri and I talked with  a local veteran actor, George Manisco. That conversation grew beyond the show. George knows that we want to help accomplish something in the community. We would love to strengthen and deepen an appreciation for the Arts. Funny the places constructive conversations may lead.

This morning I received an email from George who wrote:

“I would Like to talk about how inner city kids can get to see plays. I had heard that Bank of America gave tickets to students at St. Malachy students to see “Hamilton” that is the school that I mentor at. Maybe theatres do this a lot. Anyways, would like to talk about how inner city kids can see plays.”

Needless to say, that got the rusting gears in my head smoking. I am envisioning a program in which small local theatres can apply to be part of a program which encourages young people to attend plays, as a class or with parents and earn points, which can then be redeemed for credits. Each student would have to write a short essay or formatted critique. Sort of like an off campus class.

The ideas are just in their infancy, and I will be reaching out to the City, schools and to the theatre community for their input. What’s the worst than could happen…filled theatre’s throughout Chicagoland? Wouldn’t that be a terrible thing?

Thanks, George!

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This week Timothy Hiatt’s Photography retrospective…

This week Timothy Hiatt’s Photography retrospective…

closed at the Bucktown Gallery in Chicago. For those who don’t know, Tim is a world class photographer. NBC is sending him next week to cover the Kentucky Derby. Kerri and I are working on a book called Mother Tongue that explores the idea of Art as the only true universal language of humanity. The exploration of that concept has lead us from Ice Age cave paintings 40,000 years ago to cutting edge robotic science. The fact of the matter is, there is no agreed upon definition of creativity. You’d think that should be fundamental and foundational, but our ability to define and understand the human creative process is a virtually insurmountable issue in robotics and cyber technology. robots may create paintings and symphonies, through formatted and programmed artistic structures and rigidly defined concepts, but it is more akin to mimicry than true creativity. That has to do not only with the structure of the human brain, but also the uniquely near all-encompassing way the brain responds and inter-relates to Art and the creative process. A Stephen King novel may grow from a childhood memory to become a terrifying horror and suspense novel, with the author’s conscious and unconscious mind, short and long term memory teaming to construct a work of fiction. Jackson Pollack isn’t splattering paint, but accessing movement and motion and direction as a dancer might fully exploit a stage. But of all the art forms, believe it or not, the most human is that of the news, war and situational photographer. The very best are anticipating whether, consciously or unconsciously, a uniquely human moment will resonate intimately and inspirationally with human viewers, whether that moment communicates rage, grief, loss, compassion or triumph. And that is something robots will never be able to mimic.

Everything you Love and Hate: Birdland at Steep Theatre

Everything you Love and Hate: Birdland at Steep Theatre

Somehow, amid a discussion with a friend yesterday about what would bring people to TheatRE, over TheatERs, Gordon Ramsey’s name popped up. Ramsey is that obnoxious, over-inflated vacuous personality, and part of the manufactured rage-porn that has overtaken our media, supplanting intellectual wound-jabbing for actual substance. Okay, I woke up a bit, well, who among us hasn’t wished for a victim of his profanity-laced tirades to turn the tables, so to speak. Given that, there is a deeply satisfying undertone to Steep Theatre’s latest production, Birdland, which runs through may 12th.

Simon Stephens’ Birdland, stunningly and expertly directed by Jonathan Berry, delivers that philosophical punch to the visceral justice we all secretly desire to see levied against the Ramsey’s and plastic celebs of the world. Sorry, needed to get that off my chest. Now, back to Birdland…

Birdland tells the story of Paul, Played brilliantly by Steep ensemble member Joel Reitsma, a British Pop superstar who has either abandoned or lost the empathy for others for stardom-enabled narcissism and sociopathy.  Money is heaped upon him by a predatory record company, while fandom and pandering tabloids conspire to isolate and sharpen Paul’s narcissism, until even he cannot escape the feeling that he is some sort of cancerous individual; lost in his own personality and the over-hyped perceptions and expectations of his fans. People are toys for his amusement. Women are objects to be seduced and conquered  to a lost soul. Paul turns as abusive as a petulant child whenever he meets resistance. What remains? At what cost? Paul soon discovers the answers to those perilous questions after betraying his one true friend.

So back to the original question. This is Theatre at its finest, in which there is no pretense of attempting to compete with movie screens, but instead keeping theatre intimate, visceral and a singularly unique and private experience for each and every show. There is not a weak spot in the cast, starting with Reitsma, who is on stage for the entire 2 hour performance, moving deftly and seamlessly from scene to scene. Dushane Casteallo as Johnny, Paul’s friend and collaborator, is smart and fluid and natural as he struggles to remain at Paul’s side.

Aila Peck is strong as Paul’s love interest, and his last opportunity at redemption, but I particularly enjoyed Aila with Cindy Marker as a pair of London detectives who confront Paul over a particularly nasty indiscretion. Peter Moore, as David and several other characters,  is always fun to watch on stage, as the characters never seem to emanate from Moore, but rather flow through him. Jim Poole, however, was brilliant playing Paul’s affable and somewhat estranged, if naïve father. Poole, as a sad sack fan, becomes the target of Paul’s usery and cruelty in a powerfully telling scene. Overall, a great looking cast, with terrific energy and believable, even heartbreaking relationships.

Dialectic coach Kathy Logelin makes the story believable with accents in French, Russian and British English; a crucial and critical aspect of the story. Joe Schermoly’s set design beautifully showcases the story, while Brandon Wardell’s lightening helps build the story’s emotional tempo. Indeed, and I’ve said it before, Steep is a jewel in the Chicago Theatre community. Every show feels big and expansive and satisfying.

If you only see one play at Steep Theatre, making it this one. As an incredibly influential member of the liberal media, there was a ticket waiting for me on opening night. I am already anticipating a return to see this amazing play with the wife. It’s that good.

Birdland, runs through May 12th. Steep Theatre is just steps from the Red Line, at 1115 West Berwyn in Chicago.  Call (773) 649-3186, or visit steeptheatre.com for tickets and info.

WC Turck is cohost of @Playtime with Bill Turck and Kerri Kendall, Chicago’s only commercial radio program focused fully on the Arts. The show can be heard Sundays from 1-3pm on AM1590 WCGO in Evanston. 

 

Eclectic Theatre’s “As You Like It”

Eclectic Theatre’s “As You Like It”

So, as it turns out, this Shakespeare fellow has been around awhile, and so his speech impediment of Thou-s and Thine-s is excusable. Seriously, the hardest part of staging a contemporized Shakespeare is in resisting the urge to pander to new audiences or to abbreviate his rich and truly timeless storytelling and characterization; Something all true writers aspire to.

Eclectic Theatre’s retelling of As You Like it, in something of and 80’s motif renders the true spirit of a play that even for 20th century audiences, let alone the 14th, can still find that cutting edge in the era of gender politics and counter-culture juxtapositions, making it difficult to argue with Karl Marx’ adage that History repeats itself, first as tragedy and again as farce.

There are great laughs, lots of smiles, as well as some brilliant performances and relationships in Eclectic’s rendering. Actress Aja Singletary is confident and convincing as Orlando, the nobleperson in exile who longs for Rosalind. Unbeknownst to one another, both are in exile in the forest of Arden, where the strong-willed and independent Rosalind, played wonderfully by Chloe Baldwin pretends to be a man and becomes a tutor to Orlando in the ways of romance. There is real chemistry between Singletary and Baldwin, making their love story all the more believable, but I found the richest relationship on stage was between Rosalind and her sister, Celia played by Jessica L. Fisher. Tim Lee as Touchstone, the court jester, exiled with Rosalind and Celia, is fantastic and natural to the part with something of a fratboy’s wise-cracking, pithiness. Val Gerard Garcia jr. as both Amiens and especially as LeBeau , a courtier, brings a vibrant, if slightly gender-bending silliness and freedom to the piece, which is exactly how I imagine Shakespeare saw him as well.

Shakespeare’s As You Like It by the Eclectic Theatre Company in Chicago Plays at the Athenaeum theatre, 2936 North Southport in Chicago through April 22nd.

Eclectic-theatre,com for tix, or the athenaeumtheatre.org.

Art and Science: Past is Indeed Prologue

This is the opening for today’s radio program, Playtime with Bill Turck and Kerri Kendall, heard Sundays from 1-3pm on AM1590 WCGO in Chicago:

Have you ever wondered just how greatly Art is interwoven to the most fundamental aspects of our lives? Would humanity exist without Art?

The passing of Stephen hawking, arguably, one of the greatest minds that ever lived, underscores the relationship between Art and science, and while Hawking and other physicists live in the world mathematics, all too often the abstraction of concepts such as the recently discovered Higgs-Boson, perhaps the fundamental building block of our existence, can only be quantified via artistic representations. And how does the human mind fathom the complexity, size and scope of a universe 91 billion light years in diameter? hawking, Carl Sagan in his work, Cosmos, and Albert Einstein all relied upon illustration and Art for mind boggling concepts at the frontiers of knowledge.

Artist Tavares Strachan who trained as a cosmonaut in Russia, is going to work at the Allen Institute and for Space X, to collaborate with a wide range of experts, including neuroscientists, cell biologists, bioengineers, and computational modelers. “We believe by having an artist interacting with our scientists, it may change the way the scientists work,” said Tom Skalak, executive editor of the Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group

Writers, the grandest traditions of parable and storytelling are imperative to the task of comprehending the incomprehensible. Einstein’s paradox of the twins describes how time would slow for a twin travelling at the speed of light to Alpha Centauri, the nearest star, who would return to find his brother 10 years older. The best Science Fiction warns of hubris in the face of humanity’s innately limited perspectives, knowledge and morality.

It all reveals how Art is fundamental, not just to our imagination, but in exploring the limits of our current understanding. It helps us better forge those first cautious steps into that greater unknown. The same was true, scrawled upon cave walls, or enacted in storytelling around an ancient fires for our globalist ancestors-Alex Jones- as they ventured from Africa a million years ago, and just as our future Universal-IST ancestors will one day do with the galaxy.

So the next time you see a child busily coloring in a coloring book, finding rhythm in the swimming patterns of finger paints, drawing, dancing or acting a part, their imagination might well be building the skills and inspiration necessary to become the next Juan Miro, Frida kahlo, the next Stephen hawking, an engineer, a great innovator, or simply to have a greater appreciation for an expression of beauty and transcendence pervading every facet of our humanity.

Incidentally, coming up in the second hour I’ll have a review of Eclectic theatre’s As You Like it by William Shakespeare, and speaking of Einstein’s parable of time travel, this line from the play last night; “Time travels at different speeds for different people. I can tell you who time strolls for, who it trots for, who it gallops for, and who it stops cold for.” As the Character Antonio confesses in the second Act of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. “What is past is prologue.” and indeed that may well be true…

My Rant…

So this is how the week went. I started off after the national school walk out with one of my silly little observations about things talk show hosts say, like “you can’t make this stuff up.” I’m a writer. Yeah, I can. It’s called imagination. HP Lovecraft, Giovanni Boccaccio, Homer, HG Wells all wrote some pretty crazy sh… …or this one: “went missing” No one goes missing, like no one goes disappeared. A person is missing. A person has disappeared.

And then I would spin that off into something about the limits of language and how the wording of the 2nd amendment is reinterpreted and mythologized by all sides, and how everyone assumes they know from written words alone what someone meant 230 years ago—the same people by the way who will fly off the handle on Facebook because they don’t understand the writer’s context without an emoticom or LOL afterwards .

Every week before the show Kerri walks into the station and asks if I want an extra copy of the show schedule she printed out, and I always tell her that I’m usually still working on it right up to show time.

This morning cooking breakfast I recalled a caller sometime back named Peggy, a conservative listener. We were talking with singer songwiter val leventhal, and I asked what we have we lost. Peggy called and was angry because I had kicked over these monolithic assumptions in her mind and I just kept kicking them over. Why could my dad on a steelworkers union and part-time volunteer firefighter’s salary afford a house, a car and a family, or my first job in 1978 bagging groceries in a small town, how could the produce department manager at Jewel, now a $15 dollar an hour job, afford the same thing on a union salary? What happened in that 40 some-odd years that it now takes both parents working sometimes several jobs to barely accomplish. That should be the fundamental question for everything.

As far as Art is concerned…

There was a time in this country when the media sought out writers and artists. And people placed more value in their views that it did in lawyers. They found value in people who observed and dissected humanity over those who profited from and cannibalized it.

I was laying in bed this morning when I recalled walking along an empty stretch of road in Serbian-held Bosnia, close enough to the front that the earth trembled under my feet and the artillery reports thudded in my chest. the Serbs were suspicious of journalists and lawyers, especially Americans. In old Yugoslavia journalists and lawyers were functionaries of the state, while Artists were dissidents, quietly exalted by the people as standing and striving for something more human than the state.

Emblazed upon my pack were the words Umjetnick, Kunsler, Artist, and once people realized I was an artists and not a journalist I was embraced, invited into homes, protected…and even got two marriage proposals.

What have the lawyers and their media patrons given us that is different from any administration in the last 50 years? They sell us the flags for opposing teams, but the rules of the game never really change. If you believe there is no fundamental difference between the Bush, Clinton, Obama and Trump administrations, you are too much in that game.

But Art is something altogether different. It is a way of seeing, of truly critiquing not just the body politic but in uplifting humanity and illuminating the perils of hubris and the possibility of dreams.

Recently, Kerri and I have been posting quite a lot about the origins of Art. We have posted stories of pigeons capable of disseminating good art from bad, evidence that aesthetics is endemic not to humans alone but may be secured within our evolutionary DNA. Evidence for that in mankind reaches back, for what still remains of the archaeological past at least 350,000 years, far beyond the emergence of Modern man and Neanderthals. Certainly farther back than organized economics, and certainly capitalism…and perhaps even lawyers.

New research reveals that the same parts of the brain responsible for creativity also engage language and community. These are the fundamentals…and reminding us all of these fundamentals and what we’ve lost and what there is to regain… that is the purpose of this show…   

Not about Guns, but about Democracy vs the NRA…

Recent polls suggest that a clear majority of Americans favor some sort of reasonable gun control, and yet their constitutionally “guaranteed” voices are being ignored by their elected officials who are more beholden to the financial check writing power of the unelected NRA than to Americans.

Following the deaths of 58 in the 2017 Las Vegas shooting 64 percent of voters in a Politico/Morning Consult survey   said they wanted stricter gun controls-not gun elimination, but control. A February 2018 Quinnipiac poll, taken days after the Florida school shooting showed that 67-29 percent of Americans support a ban on the sale of assault weapons and 83-14 support a mandatory waiting period for gun purchases. The results were higher than those taken in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December 2012 that killed 20 students and six adults.

The only explanation for the intransigence of elected leaders, who claim outlawing women’s choice, building a wall on the border, eliminating affordable healthcare and tax cuts favoring the wealthy are “the will of the people,” would seem to betray a lie, and that they are more beholden to the NRA leadership than to their working and voting constituents…