My Artistic Heart

My artistic heart was exposed for all to see in the middle of downtown Valpo last night as Hamlet took the stage in front of over a thousand people. If I am perfectly honest, I felt very vulnerable seeing their faces pointed toward the stage in anticipation. I can only imagine the emotions of the actors as they walked through the crowd to take their places backstage. Artists take such huge personal risks to bring a story to life and there is no greater risk for us at Chicago Street than these performances in the park.  The actors rose to the occasion and fed off the energy of the crowd. The production is not truly complete until that moment when the audience shares in the story with you. The audience helps elevate the performances in this indescrible way. Every one of the actors on stage last night performed with more committment and energy than ever before. My artistic heart was very full last night.


I am out of time for now as I must get to the park for set-up. Again tonight, we'll take the leap of faith that live theatre demands and I hope there are many in the audience there to leap with us!

posted by Traci Brant, CST Artistic Chair and Hamlet Director

Hamlet Rings Out in Downtown Valpo

Last night, we had the opportunity to rehearse Hamlet on the Central Park Plaza stage. Despite the rain, the rehearsal was a huge success.  The actors acclimated to the park stage and the crew was able to work through all the technical challenges that come with working outdoors. Even though our entire set was designed with traveling to the park in the forefront of our minds, it was still quite a feat to make it all happen.

We moved the set into a rental truck on Tuesday night after rehearsal. It was almost midnight by the time we were packed up. On Wednesday, we began unloading the truck at the park at 4:30pm and it took until 8:30pm to make the stage performance ready.  The lighting is a real challenge in the park. First off, there's the weather, which did not cooperate with us last night. We had some problems with one of our portable dimmers as well, so it was a real struggle in the beginning. But, through the magic of theatre (and a few smart volunteers), we got everything working. We were able to run lights for Acts 1-3 before the rain became too much. Luckily, the stage does have a roof so the actors continued, nice and dry, through Act 5.

We also rented a 17 x 40 foot backdrop and lift system this year. It's a beautiful midnight blue canvas to offset our silver set, and also solves the problem of not having a backstage area at the park. We have banners that go up and down on motors and video projections to contend with as well. This is why dress reherearsal at the park is a must--we work out all the bugs so we have a beautiful performances for audiences.

As I type all this, I am reminded of a comment lighting designer Bob Cooley made during a stressful moment. He said, "We were just too ambitious." When all the problems get worked out and you are looking at this beautiful piece of art before you on the giant stage in downtown Valpo and then imagining the crowds, I am all too glad to have been ambitious. For most of us, this is our Hamlet. I know with a good deal of certainty that I will not direct this play again so I'm making this count. Even when my back is breaking from the physical labor involved in this project or my mind is completely overwhelmed to the point where I lose my phone twice in 5 minutes, I have no regrets. If Chicago Street Theatre is going to do Hamlet in the park, we're going to do it with all the ambition and imagination we can muster. And, this time, it was quite a lot.  

Now for what I really came here to write (I feel awkward saying it, but I'll do it anyway): The production is breathtakingly beautiful...and moving and exciting and strong and touching and funny.  The actors, music, lights, video, and set have come together on the park stage in the most symbiotic way. I have a deep, deep love for this play. The poetry and the story are unparalleled. To hear Shakespeare's greatest work ring throughout downtown Valpo brings me to the brink of tears.  No exaggeration.  

I'll leave you with the same sentiments I shared with the cast and crew as we approached dress rehearsal in the park:

To share theatre with thousands of people in Central Park Plaza is the pinnacle of fulfilling CST’s mission and an incredibly talented and dedicated group of volunteers make it possible.  For those that don’t know, here is what CST is about:
  • Mission: To present live theatre that nurtures the creative spirit of the community.
  • Vision: A community that embraces the performing arts as a defining and treasured expression of life.
  • Values: We believe in the power of theatre. We believe in the talent and commitment of volunteers. We believe in the nurturing relationship between audiences and artists. We believe in the unique experience of live theatre.
We’re pretty much nailing it! Thank you to all those who support this endeavor and all those that will share in the outdoor performances this weekend. 
posted by Artistic Chair and Director Traci Brant

 

Hamlet: Getting to the "Good Stuff"

(posted by Director Traci Brant)

Wow, I haven't posted for soooo long. I'm normally a director who uses the CST blog to organize my thoughts and reflect on the work during the rehearsal process, but for Hamlet, I haven't had time to take a breath. I've watched my husband go through this process for the last 3 years of Shakespeare in the Park (twice as a director and once as an actor), so I thought I had an idea about what I was getting into. As it turns out, it's even more daunting and exhausting than I ever imagined. BUT, I have no regrets. So now, just hours from our first of 5 dress rehearsals, I'll give you some ramblings about where we're at.

We are moving forward with each rehearsal--one (often painful) step at a time. Last night we ran the entire show straight through for the first time and it was pretty solid. I am now confident that we will have a beautiful production with a lot of passion and heart. 

Rehearsal 6/30/15Hamlet (Justin Treasure) has made huge strides in the last couple rehearsals. He's a very intelligent, contemplative actor. During the first 4 weeks or so of reherasal, he spent a lot of time wrestling with the character's motivations and analyzing the text for clues. At one point a couple of weeks ago, he actually hated the character for a while. (Thankfully, we've moved past that point!) He's now using his gut instincts and unmitigated command of the stage (a natural gift he has) to embody Hamlet. When you combine that with the analysis work he did leading up to this point, you get an actor who is now inhabiting Hamlet and not just playing a role. That's the corner we needed to turn. We're there and I couldn't be more proud of where he is at. He will now be able to grow over the next 5 rehearsals into what I can now promise will be a remarkable Hamlet.  

That's all I have time for at the moment! But, it was at the forefront of my mind this morning to share my joy that we are now getting to what I call "the good stuff."  I can't wait to share it with everyone at Central Park Plaza... but after a few more rehearsals.  More later perhaps...

Hamlet Made the Cut

We came in at 2 hours 6 minutes! That's a world-class marathon time... and, a pretty comfortable time for the first read-through of Hamlet.  The actors gathered this past Saturday for the first time as an ensemble as we embark upon producing what is proclaimed by some as "the greatest play in the English language."  No pressure.  

Modern Danish Royals As directors, we shared a bit about our design inspiration.  We don't plan to "overlay" the play with any particular time period or setting. We really want the story to speak for itself.  I mean, there's love, murder, betrayal, revenge, and whole lot of action packed in it. Putting an artificial layer on the piece like the roaring twenties or 1970s Berkely felt counter-productive to our story-telling.  Instead, we are focused on the timeless themes.  In that spirit, we've been inspired by an array of things that span centuries.  

CHRISTIANSBORG PALACEI've been doing quite a bit of research on the current Danish royal family. Admittedly, I didn't even know they existed before embarking on this project. The Danish monarchy claims to be the oldest in Europe with a history dating back to the Ninth Century. Modern royals embody this idea of old plus new. While they very much are a product of and living example of tradition, they also navigate a modern political system and modern media. The Danish family enjoys particlularly high approval ratings in Denmark, despite the typical family scandals that pop up now and again. That stylish blend of new and old is where we'd like our design to land.  

 

Great Belt BridgeThe set--always a massive challenge due to the free Central Park shows--will need to be mobile, fit both on the Central Park and CST stages, and serve the multiple locations called for in the play. Perusing photos of the Danish palaces (take a look here), the strong clean, lines stuck with me. I then began to look at modern, "functional" Danish architecture and came across photos of the Great Belt Bridge that connects two islands in Denmark. Again, there were those clean lines and a feeling of strength. This imagery has lead us to our scenic design. I chuckle as I write this because, in the end, the design looks nothing like either of those structures, but it embodies strength and functionality with a bit of royal style.  

We'll reveal more about the production design later as we finalize materials. It's quite a process and I'm thrilled to finally be in the thick of it.  

-Traci Brant, Director and Artistic Chair

 

 

The Legendary Ty Cobb

Ty Cobb, the oldest of thee children, grew up in Royston, Georgia where his father taught him the value of hard work by setting an example in his professional career in education and politics--failure was never an option for his father or him.

Ty Cobb was deemed the greatest baseball player of all time in a 1942 survey. Through the years, there have been many baseball greats who have merited this same title. However, Cobb stands out from other greats in the game in that he is considered a legend.

Known as the Georgia Peach, Cobb is truly a great with stats that show reason why “According to the Elias Sports Bureau during his 24 seasons, most with the Detroit Tigers and a couple with the Philadelphia Athletics, Cobb compiled a .367 batting average, the highest in the history of the game. He is the leader in runs scored 2,245, and was the all time hit leader until the mid 1980’s when Pete Rose eclipsed him. In 1993, Ty Cobb became the first inductee of baseball’s Hall of Fame, earning 222 out of a possible 226 votes.” (Ty Cobb Inc.) 

Cobb was known for his extreme perseverance to play and win in the game of baseball under any condition of pain as Grantland Rice describes, “I recall when Cobb played a series with each leg a mass of raw flesh, he had a temperature of 103 and the doctors ordered him to bed for several days, but he got three hits, stole three bases, and won the game. Afterward he collapsed on the bench.” (Ty Cobb Inc.) Cobb took every chance to win injured or not. His determination to go to the extreme to win came with a price. He would at times practice sliding bases till his legs were raw. He would hike through deep winter snow to strengthen his legs. Cobb did anything he could to get the completive edge.

On July 17, 1961 in Atlanta, Georgia, Ty Cobb died leaving a legacy of incredible statistics behind him; he is widely credited with setting 90 MLB records.  His career and personal life were paved with controversies owing to his surly temperament, racist behavior, and highly aggressive playing style.  Lee Blessing's play, Cobb,explores the man, the myth, and the legend that is Ty Cobb.  

-Toni Hoyle

 


Cited Work

Ty Cobb Inc., The Official Website of Ty COBB. 10, May 2015 Web. 

Cobb Honors Harry Danning

Cobb is generously supported by the Harry Danning Foundation in honor of New York Giants catcher Harry “The Horse” Danning (1911-2004).

Before World War II, minorities in sports were a rarity especially in America’s favorite pastime—baseball. So what could baseball legends Ty Cobb, a builder of these barriers and Harry Danning, who helped break them down, possibly have in common? Both men loved the game of baseball. Cobb is being dedicated to the memory of Harry Danning, a Jewish catcher for the New York Giants from 1931 to 1942, for his great love of the game and the enduring spirit of American baseball.  

For 25 years, the Valparaiso Parks Department honored Danning, Valparaiso’s adopted son, with an annual softball tournament in his name made possible by donations from friends and family. In 2014, the Parks Department ended that tradition citing a lack of interest in baseball. Rather than allowing the spirit of baseball to strike out, his daughter, Viktoria Voller McAuliffe, worked with Chicago Street to bring this production of Cobb to the community. 

Danning moved from California to Chesterton in 1976 when he retired from the Metropolitan Insurance Company. After he was widowed, he  joined  his only  daughter, Viktoria and her husband, Lot Voller, in Valparaiso. He enjoyed the community and found purpose in volunteering with the Parks Department, the American Cancer Society, and the Valparaiso Chamber’s Senior Core of Retired Executives. 

He was most proud of his grandkids, Randy, Dee Dee, and Cynthia Voller, who were active in sports, music, and theatre. Through the years, Grandpa Harry never missed a Chicago Street Theatre production when his grand kids were performing or his daughter was involved back stage. “Theatre, like baseball, is about bringing the community together in an optimistic way, and I like that,” Danning always said.  

Danning passed away at the Valparaiso VNA Hospice on November 29, 2004. At that time, he was the last surviving member of the fabled New York Giants baseball teams of the 1930’s. This notoriety was the inspiration for a short 17-minute film, “The Last Giant,” directed by Seth Swirsky. The 2007 film was a finalist in the Washington D.C. Independent Film Festival and the National Baseball Hall
of Fame and Museum Film Festival. 

Harry “The Horse” Danning, former New York Giants star catcher during the 1930’s and 1940’s, was born the third of six children to immigrant parents in Los Angeles on September 6, 1911. During his baseball career, “The Horse” played in four all-star games with and against such notables as Carl Hubbell, Gabby Hartnett, Joe DiMaggio, Bob Feller, Jimmie Foxx, Hank Greenburg, Lou Gehrig and Ted Williams, just to mention a few.  

–Viktoria Danning McAuliffe 

Danning’s other career highlights include: 

  • Named best catcher in the National League in 1939 and best catcher in baseball in 1940
  • Danning was catching when Lou Gehrig hit his last World Series home run, Joe DiMaggio hit his first World Series home run, and Ted Williams hit his famous game winner in the 1941 All Star Game.
  • The record for hitting five homeruns in one inning still stands. On June 6, 1939, five Giants—catcher Harry Danning, right fielder Joe Moore, center fielder Frank Demare, second baseman Burgess Whitehead, and pitcher Manny Salvo—all hit home runs in the fourth inning against the Cincinnati Reds.
  • Selected for the 1938 and 1939 All-Star Teams
  • Inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. Also inducted are Sandy Koufax (MLB), Ed Sabol (NFL), “Red” Auerbach and David Stern (NBA), and Mark Spitz (Olympian)

 

An Inspiring Weekend

Posted by Traci Brant, Artistic Chair

This weekend, Chicago Street Theatre was privileged to partner with Mental Health America of Porter County to host a very special production in honor of Mental Health Awareness month in May. Chicago playwright and actress Arlene Malinowski performed her one-woman original play A Little Bit Not Normal. The play took audiences on Arlene's journey into, and then back out of, the "hole" that is depression. As Artistic Chair, I've been reflecting on the project and how it relates to the work we do as a not-for-profit organization serving our community. Many of you may not be familiar with CST's mission and vision statements: 

  • Chicago Street Theatre's mission is to create quality theatre experiences, engaging the regional community in the unique character of live art. 
  • Chicago Street Theatre's vision is a community that embraces the performing arts as a defining and treasured expression of life.

We don't tout our mission and vision a lot. We're busy living it through making art so I don't think about it very often--until this weekend, when it leapt to the forefront of my mind. Bringing A Little Bit Not Normal to the stage embodied those statements.

As I sat in auditorium during the post-play discussion, the incomparable power of sharing stories live and in-person was palpable. The same story could have been read on the web or watched on TV or heard on the radio and it would have been interesting and moving, no doubt.  BUT, viewing this very personal piece of art with a group of people who were clearly connecting with her work on stage is an experience that can ONLY be had at a live theatre performance. 

The performance also really embodied CST's vision that art should be an expression of life. Arlene's play is just that... an expression of her life. Then, audiences engage with the piece and it reflects and expresses their lives and gives them insight into people they know or situations they've experienced personally. It may even cause them to change their outlook on the world or their interaction with one another. That's powerful. Her play was powerful. I will treasure the experience of watching it at Chicago Street Theatre for a long time to come.  

I am so overwhelming proud of this collaboration of artists and community organizations. Thank you to all who were able to join us, to those that shared their insights and stories during the post-play discussion, to Arlene and her talented crew, to those who volunteered for the event, and to our sponsors who believed in this beautiful endeavor. 

Hamlet by the Numbers

posted by Director Traci Brant

Hamlet has already been a lengthy, challenging, terrifying, and completely thrilling process for Co-Director Jonni Pera and I.  The first daunting task was to craft a cut-down version of the play that tells the story in a compelling, clear, and urgent style. It was quite a process so here are some fun tidbits to put that in perspective. Even though artistic endeavors are a passion of mine, math and spreadsheets also put a smile on my face.   

  • Hamlet is Shakespeare's longest play at nearly 5 hours uncut. We estimate that CST's current working script is approximately 2 hours 20 minutes.
  • According to various sources, the play as written has nearly 30,000 words.  [Wow, too many]  We've got it cut down to approximately 14,000. 
  • The original play has 34 characters.  We're at 19 characters played by 14 actors.  
  • The Arden Shakespeare edition of Hamlet has over 400 pages.  CST's hand-typed script is only 152 pages, and that's with Arial 13 point font with lots of space between lines and in the margins for notes. Honestly, it's not that long at all.  We estimate an average of 1 minute per page for scripts with much tighter margins.  

We may cut the script down even more as we go through the rehearsal process. It will not be the longest play CST has produced. Off the top of my head, at around 3 hours, both The Man Who Came to Dinner and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? have Hamlet beat. For that matter, Annie and The Sound of Music both ran around 2 1/2 hours. We got this. Cut the fat. Get to the heart of the story.... revenge, murder, love, loss... all the good stuff that makes up most compelling drama whether on television or on stage.

After months and months of script work, it was a relief to actually build out the rehearsal schedule over the weekend... albeit a daunting 3-hour process. Our priorities included avoiding actor conflicts, blocking all the scenes, working all the scenes, time for discoveries, and putting the play back together for continuity. I know we are now ready to move Hamlet from the page to the stage.

Staged Reading: Mark of a Dog's Foot

We have an upcoming Staged Reading at CST!

We cap off the opening weekend of The Angels of Lemnos with a reading of a brand new play from another NW Indiana writer Anthony Hall Seed. 

Mark of a Dog’s Foot

By Anthony Hall Seed

Sunday, April 12, 7pm

Chicago Street Theatre Main Stage

There will be a 15 minute talk-back with the playwright after the reading.

Forty years after a bar fight gone very bad and the resulting cover-up that involved them all, five former Hobart Brickie football players return to that same bar to consider their options before the skeletons of their past are exposed and destroy them all.

ANTHONY HALL SEED (Playwright)

Anthony Seed's play, Somewhere between Fubar and Snafu, was produced at the Artistic Home Theatre in Chicago, January 2014, and was directed by Frank Nall. 

Mr. Seed's first play, The Mark of a Dog's Foot, was named a Finalist for the 2011 Eugene O'Neill National Playwright Conference; received a staged reading and named 3rd Place Winner in the 4th Annual Northeastern Indiana Playwright Festival; awarded 37th Place Top 100 Plays in the 80th Annual Writers' Digest Contest; named a Semi-Finalist in the Firehouse Theatre Project; invited to the Thespis Theatre Festival in NYC.

Mr. Seed's play, Somewhat difficult to put into words, was a Semi-Finalist in the 7th Annual Northern Writers' New Works Festival, the South Camden Theatre Company's Play Reading Series, the Hudson River Valley Showcase Theatre, and received Honorable Mention in the New Works of Merit contest.

His play, Swimming with Sharks in the South China Sea, was awarded 13th Place Top 100 Plays, 80th Annual Writers' Digest Contest; named a Finalist for the Pacific Northwest Writers' Association Contest and was long-listed for the 2014 Kenneth Branagh Playwright Festival in Windsor, England.

His play, Confessionall, was awarded 4th Place Top 100 Plays in the 81st Annual Writers' Digest Contest.

His play, Trip Wires, was named a Semi-Finalist for the Wordsmyth Theatre Contest and his play, Between the Sheets, was named 3rd place winner for the 2015 Northeastern Indiana Playwright Festival.

His short play, Writing it Out, was directed by Ron Wells at Chicago Dramatists in a Scene Showcase production. 

Mr. Seed's most recently completed play is Sam's Heavy Load.

Mr. Seed is a writer in the Chicago area, a Network Playwright with Chicago Dramatists and a member of the Dramatists Guild.  He is an award-winning short-story writer, a former award-winning newspaper journalist, and a Vietnam veteran.  He has a bachelor degree from Indiana University and he and his wife, Eileen, have been married thirty-six years.  They have a son, Jason.