The importance of exposing kids to the arts

By June Saavedra

"Dragonfly" in CST's A Midsummer Night's Dream

In the mid ‘90s I worked with Redmoon Theatre in Chicago.  I was assistant director of the Redmoon Children’s Company, a name we officially gave to a group of children who were benefiting from our community outreach program.  These impoverished inner-city kids regularly attended our free Saturday morning art class and regularly performed in the All Hallow’s Eve parade and spectacle and the Winter Pageant.  We decided to call them a company and create extra gigs exclusively for them.

When one of our core families consisting of the siblings Edwin, Osvaldo, and Veva moved to a new neighborhood, I would have to pick them up and drive them to the workshop or rehearsals or to other theaters to see other types of performance or to museums.  One time, I arrived to pick them up and their mom told me that they were being punished for something (and I assure you it was not anything schoolwork related, just saying) and so they weren’t allowed to go.  I was disappointed to say the least.  When I arrived at rehearsal kid-less, my colleagues were equally disappointed.  One was outraged enough to claim, “That’s like telling your kids they can’t go to school!”  “I know, right,” and then we all sighed in unison.

Maybe their mom just didn’t get it.  Maybe she just didn’t get how important, no, how essential, it is to expose children to art.  Better yet, if the kids are up to it, allow them to create art.  And best of all, share their art with their community.  It’s an intrinsic part of being a child – creativity.  Being creative drives their play and thus their learning.  Children have an impulse to make something new out of interesting materials and show it to another.  Children also have a predisposition to be creative with their bodies and voices.  Children want to create something and then show it.  Everyone – the children and the community – benefits from such endeavors.

This mom gets it.

My daughter will shout at me 87 times, “Mama, look what I can do!” while in the pool.  She goes underwater.  That’s the amazing thing she figured out she could do with her body and she wants me to see it.  Be her audience.  Knowing what we were in for this summer (all three kids and I performed in Chicago Street Theatre’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream), I would think to myself, “Oh darling, you think going underwater is something amazing you can do?  Just wait.  You are going to do something so amazing.  You are going to be on a stage…”

I began telling the kids a story of a girl and a boy who were in love but weren’t allowed to get married.  Another boy also loved this girl but she didn’t love him, another girl did.  They all decided to run away to the forest where magical fairies lived and played tricks on people.

They begged for more.

I told the kids that a fairy king and queen were arguing.  The king had a sidekick named Puck and he was mischievous.  A group of actors (who, um, weren’t very good and so that is very funny) show up in the woods and Puck turns one of them into a donkey.  When the kids’ laughter subsided, I added, and then because of a magic spell the fairy queen falls in love with him. 

Squeals of laughter.  Oh, and speaking of falling in love, Puck plays more tricks on those boys and girls in the forest and makes both boys fall in love with the wrong girl.

Do you know who wrote this amazing story?  William Shakespeare.

When my children showed up at rehearsal for the first time, I’m not sure what everyone thought.  Typically the rule is no animals or children.  Some may have been delighted by the idea of cute little children in the play.  Some may have thought the children would be distracting, naughty, destructive, demanding, a nuisance or trouble-makers.  Well, perhaps, if I had given them the chance.  Instead I was pretty sure that even though 3-, 5- and 7-year-olds are young children and have a bundle of energy, the theater has some pretty awesome energy itself.  And my kids could feel it. 

Wolfie was familiar with the Chicago Street Theater building because he had taken a class in the upstairs studio.  The girls had been there too to see Wolfie’s play.  But when they first stepped onto the main stage, I saw the awe in their face.  I saw the excitement.  They trembled a little bit.  They could feel the energy.  They knew that they were going to be part of something very, very creative and they would get to show it to people.  A LOT of people as it turns out.

We have one more weekend of performances.  “Do we have rehearsal today?”  “Do we have a show today?”  I catch my kids reenacting scenes from the play.  Mostly, perhaps to my neighbor’s horror if they are not familiar with The most lamentable comedy and most cruel death of Pyramus and Thisbe, my children poke their bellies with a snorkel while shrieking, “Die! Die! Die! Die! Die!” while laughing hysterically.  They are combining scenes from the play with other games of make believe.  We have been entertaining an awful lot of fairy mischief lately.

I am so pleased with the experience my children have had with Chicago Street Theatre and the cast and crew.  Mostly, I am so pleased with how well respected the children are.  I suppose that’s because everyone in the cast and crew get it, too.  We all know how important, no, essential, it is to make art and share it with the community.  My children are meeting interesting people.  My children are listening to Shakespeare and dissecting the plot.  My children are performing and learning about improvising as well as rule-following.  My children are experiencing the joy and electricity that comes from performing on a stage in front of a live audience.  My children are learning that their bodies, voices and creative talents are cherished things and they can use them in awe-inspiring ways.

Best of all, for the rest of their lives, my children get to tell everyone that when they were 3, 5 and 7 they got to perform in a Shakespeare play in front of an audience of over 1,000 people.  Thank you, Chicago Street Theatre.

Tulip asked me when our next show is and I told her it would be three days from now.  “Oh good.  I bet Jordan will be so happy to see us again.  He said he missed us last time.”  I guess some people are delighted to have children join them in this play.

No Small Feat

CST students entertain the crowd with a Yard Show.As Chairman of the board at CST, I want to deliver a personal thank you to the cast, crew, Shakespeare students, and all our wonderful volunteers who made this past weekend possible. Shakespeare in the Park was an absolute success. I heard over and over again from audience members how impressed they were with the quality of acting, the amazing set and the gorgeous costumes, and the sound.

It was no small feat to mount a production the caliber of A Midsummer Night's Dream outdoors…fighting the heat and the rain…..but you all did it and CST is proud of each and every one of you. Sending you our congrats and thanks!!!

A special shout out and thanks goes to Kelly Hite, our Development Director. Without her driving passion, seemingly unending energy, and attention to detail, the street festival with our super dining partners would never have happened. Thanks and congrats!

Thanks also to all our generous sponsors… especially to Urschel Labs. And also thanks to John Siebert and the Valpo Parks Department for partnering with CST.

This was a massive undertaking and not without tremendous risk. I appreciate that CST board and all our members realized how important it is to our mission and vision to bring theatre to the full community. Thank you to all who helped and backed this project!

As I was speaking with my neighbor, Lee, today, I realized just how successful we were. She was an audience member and she was thrilled with every aspect of the show, but what really thrilled me was her observation of a father and his 11 year old daughter as they were walking to their car after the production. The girl was marveling about the play…. the set, actors, costumes…. and finally summed it up with “Dad, that was just awesome!”

--Jonni Pera, Chairman of the Board of Trustees at Chicago Street

Thank You!

We are absolutely overjoyed by the incredible weekend of Shakespeare in the Park.  Nearly 2500 people shared in the Midsummer magic at Central Park Plaza!  This is truly a dream come true for all of us at Chicago Street. Thank you to all the volunteers, actors, designers, sponsors, audience members, and supporters who helped make it happen. Our mission is to share the magic of live theatre with everyone young and old. To give that gift to the community this weekend has been one of the most awesome experiences we've ever had at Chicago Street.  Thank you!!!!

And that's why we call it a REHEARSAL....

We discovered last night that the boundary mics just aren't cutting it for picking up the rest of the company.  So, a quick executive session was called, we all huddled and discussed the options, a frantic phone call was made first thing this morning, and Kirby is currently on the road back from the rental house with eleven more channels of wireless mics.

This means that tonight, every actor with a speaking part will be miked.  And it means that I'll be dancing with 19 live microphones, not all on stage at the same time.  Mary DeBoer will be at my side, acting as my spotter, making sure the correct actors are "hot" when they come on stage, and off when they leave.

This changes the game considerably from my side of the world.  But it also means that everyone throughout the park will get to hear all of the actors' hard work.

Stay tuned.

-- Paul Braun, Sound Manager

Experiences of a first-time actor

My name is Darrell Hobson and A Midsummer Night's Dream is my first acting experience since my one and only part in my high school musical way back in the mid 80's.  My partner and I have been attending Chicago Street Theatre's opening night's productions for 6+ years.  Each time I saw a show, it brought me back to watching my little brother up on stage in high school and wanting to be up there.  When Chicago Street had their open casting call for productions last fall, I felt it was my chance.  I didn't want a large role, and this production was perfect.  It would get my feet wet and help me understand what it takes to stage a professional style show.

 Once the first week of rehearsals was announced, I then knew what I had gotten myself into; six weeks and dozens of hours of practice.  Going to the first rehearsal was a little scary.  I felt like I knew a lot of the actors and directors since I had been to so many performances and opening night galas, but I still felt like an outsider.  Everyone really knew each other already and most had taken acting classes before (unlike me).  I tend to be a shy person until I get to know people, but as more rehearsals came and went, I started to feel more comfortable and a little more open.  There tends to be a lot of down time during practice and that can be a little boring, but it provides a chance to get to know the other actors.  I also noticed a lot of the experienced actors came prepared for the down time by bringing something to read or a smart phone to keep them busy.

Since this production contains roughly 25 actors with several acts and scenes, the rehearsals were divided up into different groups of actors on different nights.  It wasn't until a couple of weeks into practices that the entire production was brought together and I really knew how it all fit together and saw it evolve into a professional, polished performance.  The same thing could be said of the stage set.  I was amazed that the set wasn't really completely finished until 5 days before the first performance, and the director had to plead for the actors to help.  I guess I really didn't know who built the set before working on this production.

 I really don't have any lines of dialogue in this production, and I am amazed how someone can memorize all of those lines of Shakespeare.  I am in complete awe of that as well as how they remember all of their stage cues and movements.  But probably what I am most impressed with are the costumes and the directors’ set design.  I don't consider myself a very creative and artistic person, and I really admire people that can dream up things so amazing.    Costume designer JoBeth Cruz is a true artist.  Once the actors put on their costumes, the roles truly come alive.

 Overall, this has been a wonderful experience for me.  It really makes me, as a future audience member, and maybe another acting role, truly appreciate the art of acting and all of the work it takes to bring such an elaborate production to life.  I can honestly say this has been nothing like my high school production where Mom, Dad, and other family members in the audience were prepared to give nothing but praise and come back to every performance.  The audience at Chicago Street Theatre expects nothing but the best, and with the direction of Eric Brant, Steve Holm, and Mary DeBoer, that is exactly what they will get.

The Globe Theatre - a storied past

Posted by Lisa Formosa-Parmigiano
In the middle ages, many people thought actors were no better than beggars, asking for money for doing nothing of value.  Like beggars, they were "masterless men," because they didn't have a useful trade that served a "master."  Often, traveling players risked being put in the stocks or driven out of town.
By the 1570s, players were anxious to show they were respectable.  The best way to do this was to persuade a nobleman to be their patron.  This meant the players performed for him whenever he wished.  In return, they could claim to be one of his "men".  They got no pay from him but his title gave them status.  One of the first, and best companies was the Earl of Leicester's Men. Its manager, James Burbage, was a very clever  businessman.  He believed his company could attract much bigger audiences than an inn yard could hold so he proposed a bold idea.  He rented some land outside the city walls, where the city council had less control.  There, he put up a building specially designed for staging plays.  This was England's first purpose-built theatre. By this time, Burbage's company was patroned by Lord Chamberlain and they became known as the best acting company in London.  Shakespeare was named as one of their players in 1594.
Burbage shared his brainstorm with his brother-in-law and partner, John Brayne.  They borrowed some money and signed a lease to rent the land for 21 years. In 1597, when the lease ended, the Burbage family tried to make a new agreement, but the landlord refused to sign.  He claimed that the  Burbages had been bad tenants.  James Burbage himself was dead by this time and his two sons had inherited The Theatre.  They did not mean to let the landlord rob them of their building.  They rented another plot of ground on Bankside, across the river, and hired a builder to pull The Theatre down and save its timbers for rebuilding. 
There is a great legend that Burbage's men and the landlord's men had a bloody fight while the The Theatre was being disimantled, in the middle of the night.  Burbage's men eventually succeeded and the legend is told that they carted the wooden planks from the original Theatre, across the frozen Themes River to build the new Globe. They raised money by selling shares in the new theatre.  Five leading players in the company agreed to buy shares, meaning the rebuilt theatre belonged to seven, with the two Burbage brothers.  Shakespeare was one of these shareholders.
The Globe was a 20-sided building that held 3,000 people -- a big audience, even by today's standards.  No one knows exactly what its interior was like, but judging from a sketch a visitor made of a similar theatre, the Swan, we make assumptions.  In 1599, The doors opened for the first time.  It cost one penny (half the price of a pint of good ale) to enter the Globe and watch the performance, standing in the "Pit." Those who did were referred to as, the "Groundlings," or later, in the heat of summer, as the "Stinkards."  Those who wanted to sit paid another penny at the two stairways leading to the Galleries.  A seat with a cushion cost another penny.  The gallery above the stage was where the musicians usually played.  If the gallery was not needed for this, or for battlement or balcony scenes, nobles could sit there to watch the play.  The got a good view and avoided mixing with the crowd.  The Lord's Rooms were the best sections of seating, closest to the stage as they were often on the stage itself.  These were prized seats because they afforded the royalty the opportunity to see and be seen by all.
Most of Shakespeare's greatest plays were performed on The Globe's stage and Burbage's son, Richard, became known for bringing to life some of the Shakespeare's finest characters.  The Company was so well-liked, Queen Elizabeth asked them to give all six of her Christmas command performances.  In 1603, with the death of Elizabeth and accession of James I, The Chamberlain's Men were renamed The King's Men, as he thought so highly of their work, he became their direct patron. This was quite an honor, considering a century prior, actors were thought of as "worthless, masterless men."
In 1613, The Globe was destroyed by fire during Henry VIII in which Richard Burbage played the King.  The performance on June 29th provided more spectacle than anyone had bargained for.  When the King arrives on stage at Cardinal Wolsey's house, the cannon fire that greeted him set the theatre on fire.  A spark landed on the thatched roof and set it smoldering. A second Globe was built with a tile roof, but demolished in 1644.
In 1970, an American named Sam Wanamaker launched a campaign to build a replica of the first Globe Theatre as close as possible to its original site on Bankside.  In 1997, the first full season of performances ran at England's new Globe.

A Midsummer Night's Tech Rehearsal

Tonight should be interesting, to say the least.

Nancy Haller is doing the music part of the sound design for MSND, and has come up with some really unique musical choices.  As Eric mentioned, we spent 5 hours on Sunday cleaning up and editing the selections, Monday night we did a rough playback during rehearsal, and then Tuesday before rehearsal started I started the process of building the cues into our show cue software.

This is one of those things where it takes some more time up front -- building the cues, setting timing and levels, things like that -- but it pays off with simplicity and repeatability on show night.  The other awesome thing about the show cue software is that in an emergency, anyone involved with the show, even [**gasp**] the director can jump in and run the cues.  They just need to follow along in the script and hit "next" on the screen when it's called out on the page.

Having seen one rehearsal with more or less finalized cues on Tuesday, I was able to insert all of the automation cues that control when things start and stop, how the following cue interacts with the previous one.... and then ran it during last night's rehearsal.  A few minor tweaks tonight, and we should be golden.

The beauty of this system is that when we're at CST, I have a fully-professional audio workstation built to run the show from.  However, when we do "guerilla theatre" like Shakespeare In The Park, I can install the show software on a laptop, plug in the audio interface, copy the show file folder from the main PC to the laptop, and I have the exact same show to run in the park.  For those of you "in the biz" who are reading this, the system I use is from http://www.showcuesystems.com/.  And no, I'm not getting paid to plug 'em.  It's just really good, fairly inexpensive software (Windows only.  I know, I know.  I'm a Mac guy.  But I built Windows machines just for this app.)

However, that's only one part of tonight's rehearsal.  This is a play, performed in an outdoor, downtown pavilion.  And that means microphones.  Lots of them.  And since this is the first time at this venue, some of what I'm trying is a bit experimental.  I'll have 6 "boundary mics" across the stage - those are flat mics that are designed to sit on a hard surface, and the sound is picked up at the boundary of the floor and the mic.  I'll also have eight wireless mics on key actors.

So, I'll have my hands full mixing 14 microphones, trying to control extraneous sounds and feedback while a sound tech runs the show control software.  This is most definitely a two- or three-person sound crew kinda show.

I will also be setting up four front-fill speakers at the front of the stage to support the front lawn section, while at the same time providing a feed to the house system consisting of pole-mounted speakers throughout the park.  And then we have to strike it all tonight, pack it into storage, set it up again tomorrow, tear it down, set it up Saturday, tear it down....

It's a big undertaking.  In my head, it all works.  We'll see how reality pans out tonight. 

--Paul Braun, Sound Manager