10:32 PM: Eric Brant's House

Whoa! I just flew home from rehearsal for The Comedy of Errors and boy are my arms tired! Sorry that's an old joke, but it appears (sort of) in the irreverent adaptation by Sean Graney that we are doing for this year's massive Shakespeare in the Park production. With us being just sixteen days from opening, things are moving along nicely with the cast.
 
For this adaptation of one of Shakespeare's funniest comedies, there are only seven actors playing the almost twenty roles in the play. I think audiences will enjoy how some of the language in the play has been made more accessible and hopefully they'll marvel at some of the lightning fast costume changes we have to make. As we are only about two weeks away from our opening at the park on July 12th, cast members have been fine tuning the variety of characters they are playing. This week we got "off book" and with the scripts out of our hands, many of us are playing a lot with our physical characteristics and movement on stage.
 
I am playing the role of the Antipholus twins opposite Braden Cleary who is playing both of the Dromio twins. Antipholus is the master and Dromio is the servant. For Braden and I this has been a process of establishing how the twins from Syracus are different from the twins in Ephesus. With these twins the characterizations have to be more subtle because in the play they are constantly being mistaken for one another.
 
For me, Antipholus of Syracuse is definately the nicer of the two that I play. He has much more of a friendship with his Dromio. The two from Syracuse are a little bit like con men. They constantly joke around with each and conspire on plans or pranks together. It's been really fun playing this relationship opposite Braden. We have a lot of physical comedy and it's been really cool that the rest of the cast and crew applauds us when we get those moments just right.
 
Antipholus of Ephesus, on the other hand, is a bit meaner; he has a short fuse. He can be harsh toward his Dromio and has a reputation as a womanizer. It's been fun playing him when he's getting his just deserts or can't control his situation.
 
In rehearsal, making these discoveries has been a hilarious process that I think will be really entertaining on stage. Of course, there are also several moments in the show, right now, where it's incredibly hard not to laugh at what the other actors are doing with some of their characters. It's truly awesome that we have a director like Lisa FP and a versatile cast that are willing to let go, experiment and, most importantly, play. I think audiences are going to have as much fun watching The Comedy of Errors as we are making it.
 
-Eric Brant, Actor

CaST Profile: Daena Sisk or, If it aint Dutch, it aint much

"If it aint Dutch, it aint much" is the family philosophy of this CST member who began her stint with us in our 2009 production The Triumph of Love. English teacher, Daena Sisk has been a very busy lady this past year with appearances in A Midsummer Night's DreamDracula, The Sound of Music, and American Rex. She continues to demonstrate

In addition to her nine appearances with CST, Daena teamed up with her good friend Barb Malangoni to co-direct our 2012 production of The Cherry Orchard. "That was a great experience," she said, "everyone was so committed to delivering a great show."

Although she has worked with other theatre groups on other shows, she shared that what she loves about Chicago Street is the "risks" we take in giving audiences new works and material that "challenges" her to make her a better performer. Daena added that "most" of her closest friends are at CST and how she likes having the opportunity to work with them on different projects. "We as a group find a nice balance between doing good work and still having a good time." She said that she also likes having the ability to welcome in new people and learn from veteran members of our group.

Daena admitted that she is often "amazed" by the "theatre magic" that always seems to happen during the rehearsal process of a show. "There's always this point where you think this show will never be ready," she said, "and then somehow it opens and it's better than you could have ever imagined." She stated it is the collaborative process of making art that continues to excite her about doing theatre when she isn't teaching, working a summer job, or playing Softball. Sisk loves that "No one's an island in what we do, because there's always support."

MEET A CaST MEMBER: VICKI ZIMMERMAN

If you've been to Chicago Street Theatre recently, Vicki Zimmerman is probably a familiar face. At present, she is the highly valued Stage Manager for Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge. In addition to her work during the run of the show, she was also at the theatre day and night preparing and decorating the extremely detailed set for the play.
 
Zimmerman, a graduate of Indiana University who is originally from "El Passo, Texas via Michigan," describes herself as a "detail Person." Here favorite aspect of working on "View" was having the ability to create detailed areas on the set that said so much about the characters who inhabited those spaces. She added, "If you get down here and see this show, you'll realize that you can be part of a play in so many different ways."
 
Vicki became involved with the theatre nearly six years ago with Chicago Street's 2007 production of Andrew Lippa's Wild Party through Scott MacDonald, a college friend, who was in the musical and recommended her as stage manager. Having studied technical theatre while in college, she quickly became involved at CST working on sets and volunteering for various events. She said that what drew her to working at Chicago Street Theatre was the quality of theatre.  Since joining the group she has been part of twelve productions where she says she has had the "opportunity to do anything and everything."
 
In addition to her recent work on the set for A View from the Bridge, she is also proud to have "practiced some amateur taxidermy" on last season's production of The Goat or Who is Sylvia? and to have designed the lights for The Pillowman. Although she has appeared on stage, she says that she is generally attracted to the many artistic challenges that can be a part of any show. Vicki said that if there's one thing everyone should know about her it's "If I'm here, I'm here to work."

We are thankful to have Vicki as a party of the CST family!

It's all in the Details

I've been peeking in on tech week rehearsals for A View from the Bridge. If first impressions are any indication (and, I believe they are), then we have quite an incredible show about to open on the mainstage.  The first thing that strikes you when you walk in is the incredibly detailed period set. From the wallpaper and woodwork to the props and furniture, great care has been taken to make sure the world of the play is conveyed from the moment the audience is ushered to their seats.  

I debated revealing the set on the blog with pictures. There is a magic that happens when you first enter the theatre and I don't want to spoil it.  Instead, I've photographed some of the incredible details just to give you a small taste of the fantastic scenic design.  Enjoy!

-posted by Traci Brant, Artistic Chair


 

Director Karl Berner on "View"

What drew you to A View from the Bridge? 

After having directed two comedies as my first projects, I was decidedly on the lookout for a drama that gripped me. Additionally, Justin and I usually speak about shows we like, I had to share this work with him after reading it. We had discussed other projects, but this piece we agreed on proceeding with almost immediately.

Arthur Miller is obviously one of the greatest playwrights of the 20th Century, what makes his storytelling so powerful? 

Arthur Miller, like many playwrights who find major success, has the gifted ability to literally put conversationalism on paper. Outside of A View From The Bridge, the other glaring example of his would be Death of A Salesman. It's a challenge for actors to really get a sense of the conversation, dynamic and tone of a scene, but when it's performed accurately, the enitre life of the story is already written. The challenge is right there in black and white. That is part of his brilliance as a playwright.

What makes this particular story an American classic?  

It's a truly American story based on an actual life occurrence. It has everything the pursuit of the "American Dream" offers: success and reward for honest work and a chance for happiess, but with cautious sirens about the perils of taking too much, of holding on to what may not rightfully be yours.

What does A View from the Bridge have to say about issues of immigration that are still relevant today? 

Regardless of the current jobs situation and economic climate America currently faces, it still does represent a chance for a better life to may who come here. Adapting to one's new environment is also a timeless experience for anyone.

What does the play have to say about families and relationships?  

Through the contrast of Eddie, the protagonist, and the immigrant, Marco, we see a idealistic clash as to what makes family important, and how the definition of honor and respect differ between these two men. While one tends to focus on power and possession, the other views family as a village of virtuous individuals all worthy of respect, no matter what.

The cast features quite a few experienced CST actors. What have they brought to this production?  

We do have some seasoned veterans, and they have really helped to lead by example for those who are younger in their craft as actors. It has been a learning experience for everyone, and it's a joy to watch the actors not only make discoveries together, but to mutually enjoy them and build on them.

Tell me a little bit about the crew and technical aspects of the show.  

We have an unbelievable Jill-of-all-trades in Vicki Zimmerman. I can say, certainly, we would not be as far along without her. She has an amazing work ethic and attention to detail in every aspect of live theatre. Our set was designed by Jeff DeBoer, who Justin and I have both worked with in the past and who has a keen sense of how to use a given space based upon a director's needs. Auriel Felsecker is our youngest lighting designer.  After apprenticing under Marcia Burbage, she is now creating her own unique designs. Marsha Gerhardt--who is back with us after a long hiatus--has had some great vision as far as costumes; a period piece requires quite a bit of detail, as does taking a character's class standing into consideration. Costumes tell a story in and of themselves.

What do you hope audiences take away from the show?  

I'm hoping--especially if they've never seen A View From The Bridge--that we've done justice to Arthur Miller's work, and that they'll enjoy this grim, hard-hitting piece of 1950s, east-coast Americana.

What makes Chicago Street Theatre such a unique venue for theater in Northwest Indiana?  

What makes Chicago Street theatre unique is their unwavering tendency toward taking risks for the chance of creating new artistic statements. Providing directors, actors and designers alike with chances to explore and create live art from abstract, off the beaten path or even controversial works is an avenue not often found in small-town community theatre settings.

Inaugural Studio Show is a Treat

Anyone who knows me, knows that I love shows and movies that are some how connected or rooted in historical fact. So imagine my delight in getting to see our current production of A Picasso by Jeffrey Hatcher this past weekend in Chicago Street Theatre's New Edith B. Wood Studio Theatre. The one act featuring the venerable Larry Hinken and talented Maggie Reister-Walters is the inagural production to take place in the intimate studio space. It is also the first, of what CST hopes will be many opportunities to co-produce with other theatre groups throughout the Region.

A Picasso was proposed by the Genesius Guild President, Ed Griffith, who had the work brought to his attention by his long time colleague Deb Johansen. The two wanted to produce the play but felt the intensity of the piece and smaller cast wasn't a good fit for their space in Hammond. CST's Jim Henry brought the show to our Artistic Committee as they were looking at shows for the 58th season. After reading Hatcher's script based on real life events during Nazi occuppied areas of France and destruction of "indecent" art during World War II, the Committee decided it would be the perfect work to open the studio space. 

In 2010, Chicago Street volunteers renovated the upstairs rehearsal studio to create a better space for classes, showcases, auditions, and rehearsals with the intent of one day using it as a performance space. The space is equipped for sound and lights with a small black-box stage at the end of the room. At the time the space was renovated, it was also set up with a rubberized flooring to minimize the noise between the studio and the mainstage area.

For me, the space is reminiscent of the Alley Studio that CTG occupied from 1996 to 1998 while making the transition from the Memorial Opera House to our current Chicago Street home. When we were at the alley, we produced a number of initimate small cast shows like Love Letters, Orphans, and Eleemosynary, as well as brought other area theatre groups in to do small venue theatre that wouldn't fill the seats of their mainstage houses. 

As an actor, I loved the Alley Studio because the stage was so close to the audience that every detail of your performance mattered. It also taught me to focus and "stay in the moment" of the play. Admittedly, I was somewhat jealous watching what Larry and Maggie were getting to do as I saw the play on Saturday night. The minimalized set in the black box space made the focus about two actors just being and inhabiting their characters.

I think Edie would approve of our new space. The new 40 seat venue, named for CST's long time matriarch (read more about Edie Wood here), is perfect for projects like A Picasso. The proximity of the stage to the audience makes you feel as though you are part of the drama, humor, and intensity of Jeffrey Hatcher's play. People should take advantage of wonderful theatre tour de force which has its remaining performances on May 16, 17 and 18 at 8 PM. Tickets are only $10. It's exciting that CST has the environment to co-create this kind of experience.

-Posted by CST member Eric Brant

A Look Back: Edith B. Wood

The production A Picasso, which opened May 10, 2013, is being presented as a collaborative effort with the Genesius Guild – responsible for the artistic side (directors, actors, set, tech) – and CTG - providing the venue and ‘front end’ needs (facility, tickets, refreshments, house manager).  For the first time a fully staged play is being presented in the Edith B. Wood Studio.  This space was used as a Fellowship Hall by the Assembly of God Church. CTG’s first use was as meeting and rehearsal area,  furniture storage, and a place to take portraits for programs and our 50th celebration. Eventually it became the domain of our education department.

This large room was called simply the Rehearsal Hall until 2009 when our last remaining charter member, Edith Wood, passed away.  She was one of the committee of 3 who were sent to inspect the Memorial Opera House in 1955 to determine if the new theatre company could work there.  When asked about the experience she said, “You had to watch your step, and you were afraid to put your full weight down anywhere (on the stage).  One whole corner of the floor was missing, damaged scenery was stacked everywhere, And you were wary of the crooked battens hanging on unsafe-looking ropes above your head.”   

A graduate of Northwestern University School of Drama where she had studied and taught technical theatre, her first responsibilities in the newly-formed company were lighting and sets.  The lighting consisted of 3 huge dimmers.  One was either on full or off, the second worked as it should, and the third didn’t work at all.  The picture below shows Edith at the dimmers, and her husband Fred at the ropes.  Flats had to be cut down to size and re-covered for the set.

Her first role was Emeline Randall in Southern Exposure, CTG’s 4th production.  She was on the Board of Trustees for 20 of the first 27 seasons, and served as it’s chairman twice.  At the same time she continued to design lights and sets, do make-up, make costumes, act, and direct.  One of her most inventive costuming jobs was for CTG’s first musical, Once Upon a Mattress (2/64).  “Actors wore draperies and shower curtains, sported bleach bottles as crowns, and balanced headdresses made from bent coat hangers.”  

In 1986 one of our Board members, Steve Holm, suggested it was time to create an award to honor ‘one of us’ for unselfish service to CTG “beyond the call of duty”.  The first recipients of the Community Theatre Guild Board of Trustees Achievement Award were Edith and Fred Wood.

Fred was drafted – as were other husbands – to perform in Stalag 17 (9/57), which needed a large cast of men. For Little Mary Sunshine (11/64), he was the only one tall enough to wear Chief Brown Bear’s headdress.  He repeated that role in 1982, and performed in a few other productions, as well as helping on various crews. 

However, his greatest contribution to CTG was the slide library he began with the 3rd production, The Heiress (3/56).  Dress rehearsal for each production found him seated in the front row with his camera.  It wasn’t until the mid to late 80’s that he had to stop for health reasons, and we lost him to cancer in 1990.  Fred’s faithfulness is the main reason we have so many pictures of our early history.

Edith continued to support CTG financially as well as actively.  If someone needed information about a period costume, “Call Edie!”  If they needed help with a special set design – “Call Edie!”  

L-R: Life with Father (1971-Costumes), Eddie (1981), Light up the Sky (1971-Set design)

In 1991 she helped finance our trip to Scotland creating a special costume so she could go with us, and gave moral support as she watched “her kids” perform in international competition….and win!  

When we held our Encores fund raisers, she always attended, cheering us on when we bought Chicago Street Theatre. In 2007 CTG became more serious about classes and hired our first Director of Education.  The ‘rehearsal hall’ became CTG’s classroom.  When Edith passed away in 2010, her children, Cathy and Chris Wood, donated $20,000 in her name to remodel that area ... hence the name Edith B. Wood Studio. Besides classes, we have held staged readings, readings of new plays, and One Night Jam concerts in that room. 

L-R: Stage area, Office/props/kitchenette (March 2010)

There are still a number for things to improve in order to bring the stage area up to par.  We hope the students will be able to use sound and lighting for their showcases as they learn on their own technical equipment.  Edith would approve.  CTG is honored to present this collaborative production of A Picasso as the first fully-staged play in Edie’s space!  

Photo for CTG's 50th Anniversary Season

-Posted by CST Historian Marcia Burbage

A Very Late Night

When an audience comes into any theatre to see a stage play, first impressions are everything.
 
As I am sure many of our audience members do, the first thing I do after I get to my seat (and after opening my Peanut Butter M&Ms) is to check out the set on stage. Study it. What is going on with it?  What story is the SET already telling me before the lights even go down and the cast takes the stage?  To me, the set is the "first character" in any play.
 
For our next production, A View from the Bridge by Arthur Miller, the directors, cast and crew have been working days and NIGHTS in hopes that your first impression is molto bella (Italian: very beautiful). When I say days and NIGHTS, I mean LATE nights. The past week, various members of the View team have stayed at the theatre until as late as 3:30 in the morning working on the set. Last night (actually Sunday morning), I left the theatre at 3 am and our two dedicated directors, Karl Berner and Justin Treasure, were still there working on set details.  "Dio li benedica", both of them.

Why work so hard and long on the set? To bring to life our "first character."  To create a set that will transport you to the small neighborhood of Red Hook in Brooklyn NY in the late 1950's.

 Why all the Italian references?  Well, the characters in View are all of Italian decent, some of them fresh off the boat! So please, come see our set, stay for the show, and enjoy little bit of Italy.
Grazie e arrivederci,
Jim Henry
Mr. Alfieri in A View from the Bridge

This Play is Not the Truth

Director Ed Griffith shares his thoughts on tonight's opening of A Picasso in the Edith B. Wood Studio Theatre.

We all know that Art is NOT truth

Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth

- Pablo Picasso

This play is not the truth. It is rooted in history, biographical facts, and quotations by its famous subject. But as far as anyone knows, this encounter never actually occurred. That the author weaves so many themes about art, war, guilt, betrayal, responsibility and love in a single room with 2 actors and only 80 minutes is a miracle of economy. When my partner-in-crime, Deb, brought this play to my attention, I immediately wanted to direct it. But I also knew it wasnít exactly appropriate for the Genesius Guild space. So when the opportunity arose to open a new studio theatre at Chicago Street, there was never a second choice in my mind. This was the perfect space for this play.

I hope audiences enjoy the twists and turns that this roller-coaster of a play takes us on. This play should make you think, discuss ideas, and be shocked. But most of all, audiences will be entertained. So I hope you will join us in the new Wood Studio Theatre and enjoy the ride that is A Picasso.

A Peak at View from the Bridge Rehearsal

Last night I snuck into the CST mainstage to watch rehearsal for A View from the Bridge and it was truly thrilling. Arthur Miller is without a doubt one of America's greatest playwrights, and sitting there watching his words come to life reminded me of just how prolific and beautiful they are.  

Directors Karl Berner and Justin Treasure have assembled an asolutely stellar cast for this very difficult piece including

  • John Larrabee as Eddie Carbone, a longshorman 
  • Heather Chaddock as Catherine, the niece of Eddie and Beatrice
  • Dona Henry as Beatrice, wife of Eddie and aunt of Catherine
  • Timothy Gleason as Marco, cousin of Beatrice
  • Josh Eggleston as Rodolpho, Beatrice's cousin from Italy
  • Jim Henry as Alfieri, an Italian-American lawyer
  • Rodney Thornton as Louis, a longshoreman and friend of Eddie's
  • Jim Drader as Tony, a friend of the Carbones, and 1st Immigration Officer 
  • T.J. Aubuchon as Mike, a longshoreman and friend of Eddie's, and 2nd Immigration Officer
  • Mark McColley as Mr. Lipari, a butcher who lives upstairs from the Carbone's
  • Patricia Schulz as Mrs. Lipari, the upstairs neighbor of the Carbone's

They definitely hit a home run when they assembled this group... and they are working their tails off! Between the confrontations, emotional intensity, fight scenes, and Italian accents, these actors have their work cut out for them.  If this rehearsal was any indication, they're up to the task.

The first scene I watched began with actor Jim Henry asking director Justin Treasure if he could "try something a little different."  The rehearsal definetely had a positive tone of collaboration and mutual respect.  I won't give away too much as I saw a couple of scenes at the end of Act II and don't want to spoil it for those who have not had the pleasure of reading or seeing this moving play.  Suffice to say, director Justin Treasure was pleased with their progress by the end of rehearsal.  During their note session, he reminded the actors to keep up their intensity, to find even more emotion, to take their time at some points and to proceed with urgency during others. Justin's directing style is almost like that of a therapist; he asks the actors questions to make them think and arrive at their own character motivation. It was really a pleasure to watch. Perhaps I'll sneak in again later this week and report back. 

posted by Artistic Chair Traci Brant