Snapshots of Terry - After Rehearsal in Stratford

After Rehearsal in Stratford, Ontario, 2004. From left: Sean Hargadon, Joe Schuman, Kaitie Mayberry, Patricia True, Daniel Radcliffe, Laura Shatkus and Terry Domschke. Photo by Tara Schuman. 

After Rehearsal in Stratford, Ontario, 2004. From left: Sean Hargadon, Joe Schuman, Kaitie Mayberry, Patricia True, Daniel Radcliffe, Laura Shatkus and Terry Domschke. Photo by Tara Schuman. 

This photo says it all.

During our trip to the London Fringe Theatre Festival in 2004, our company of actors stayed at Stratford about an hour away, where we hung out, saw shows at the Stratford Festival, played in the parks, drank in the bars and rehearsed – a lot. At least that’s how I remember it.

The show we presented at London Fringe was inspired by Pierre Marivaux’ The Dispute. It played out as a battle between the sexes with a philosophical bent about what is love and who is more faithful, men or women. It was a mashup of sorts with a lot of movement and added text from Shakespeare, Blake and others can’t I remember.

We had a great group of actors with Patricia True, Laura Shatkus, Kaitie Mayberry, Joe Schuman, Daniel Radcliffe and myself. This was core Janus at the time. And this was a fun, sweaty show that received a lot of praise at the London Fringe.

But this picture. Man. Take a look at that for a moment. In my mind, this would be a snapshot of classic Terry right after rehearsal. Here he is, notes in his arm, hand to his chin, talking out about the details of what just happened, and how we could make it better, deeper, more meaningful.

And look at us. There’s Laura (far right), eyes like a Hawk on the group, engaging in the dialogue. There’s Danny staring right back at Terry and not afraid to say anything. Trish has her head down to the ground taking it all in. Then there’s Kaitie, always an intense performer along with the mellow Joe, fixing their gaze at Terry. And me, head off to the side, wondering: “Where is he going with this?”

This photo shows us all working out what he is saying and trying to make sense of what we need to do. These were typical moments at the end of rehearsal. It was rare that Terry didn’t leave you with something to think about. It was part of his training and so, by extension, it was part of your experience working with him.

This frustrated many actors. They preferred rehearsal to end with high-fives or constant positive praise. And they wanted immediate gratification and answers now. This wasn’t how Terry worked. He was always upbeat and supportive, but he was also adept at giving constructive criticism, and letting you know there was more to do, and that you were on a journey of discovery and you needed to find your way.

I think what I love about this photo and the memories associated with this group of people is that we were all working on something we built from scratch and we were taking it to a place we’d never been before. That was gutsy for us and scary. We all had different personalities. And we had to work and live together for some time. It wasn’t always pretty, but we made it work, and looking back I’m so glad we did it.

One & All Solo Festival Schedule of Shows

Janus Theatre Company presents ONE AND ALL: Solo Festival, featuring local and regional artists on stage at the Elgin Art Showcase performing one person shows.

WHO’S PERFORMING?
Thursday, Nov. 13 at 7:30pm: Jeremy Schaefer’s Leaving Rambolia
Leaving Rambolia combines true stories about journeys to places like Machu Picchu and Amsterdam with hazy memories about a child’s imagined kingdom.  The lessons Schaefer learns navigating fantastical lands in his youth ultimately impact the choices he makes and adventures he has in the very real places he visits.  Stories comically and tenderly explore coming of age and the intersection between imagination and reality.  It’s an evening of comedy, spoken word, memory, and vulnerability. Learn more about Jeremy's work here: http://theelginreview.blogspot.com/2016/09/the-first-introductory-line-from.html

Friday, Nov. 14 at 8pm: Jimmy Shay’s The Meaty Bits of Jimmy Shay and at 9pm: Kelly Bolton’s Lonely Flirty Weird
The Meaty Bits of Jimmy Shay is a deeply personal and hilarious solo show incorporating elements of storytelling, and sketch comedy – from growing up as a fat kid, modern concert etiquette and the death of his best friend. With nothing off limits, especially himself, Jimmy holds nothing back and gets in to the good bits, the real meaty bits. Kelly Bolton returns to her hometow with Lonely Flirty Weird and unpacks her cast of quirky characters as they continue to navigate through ups and downs and ups of life. Learn more about Kelly's work here: http://theelginreview.blogspot.com/2015/09/kelly-bolton-at-elgin-fringe-festival.html Learn more about Jimmy's work here: http://thesketchreview.com/post/109519907243/2015-chicago-sketch-comedy-festival-hot-takes

Saturday, Nov. 15 at 8pm: David Maher's Coma Show and at 9pm: Eileen Tull’s BAD DATES, Or What Killed That Monkey In Indiana Jones Only Makes Me Stronger
The Dave Maher Coma Show is about one man's journey back from being in a diabetic coma for weeks where his condition was so dire physicians told the family to consider pulling the plug before he ultimately woke up. A smart and funny story about coming back from a strange trip. Bad Dates, Or… is a one-woman show about one-woman’s journey through the asteroid field of love, dating, and the filmography of one man. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…Eileen Tull fell in love with Han Solo. And then with a professor by day, loud-punching adventurer by night Indiana Jones. And then with the man behind the hat, the whip, and the tight space pants: Harrison Ford himself. But once the movie is over and the credits roll, how are you supposed to find the scruffy-looking nerf herder you’re looking for? Learn more about Eileen's work here: https://thechicagoambassador.wordpress.com/2016/05/14/having-survived-the-temple-of-doom-eileen-tull-is-aiming-to-find-her-lost-ark/ Learn more about Dave's work here: http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/dave-maher-coma-show-stand-up/Content?oid=20318144

Sunday, Nov. 16 at 2pm: Melody Jefferies’ Manic Pixie Dream Girl and at 3pm: David Boyle’s An Accidental Organist
Melody Jeffries plays sexy, bubbly, suicidal Harmony Story in this humorous and poignant one woman show (co-written by Jack Helbig) that recounts Harmony’s descent down the rabbit hole into a crazy wonderland of awful dates, failing relationships, pretty good sex, and screaming mad tea parties. Jefferies Here Lies A Manic Pixie Dream Girl has played at the Chicago, Elgin and Milwaukee Fringe Festivals. In 1991, David Boyle took over his ailing father's job as church organist & choir director. This solo show is a workplace confessional that explores twenty-five years of sometimes hilarious, sometimes poignant interactions with the congregation. David Boyle's An Accidental Organist debuted in Chicago in 2010 and has since been performed at the Elgin, Minnesota and St. Louis Fringe Festivals. Learn more about David's work here: http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/daily-southtown/opinion/ct-stc-ahern-column-st-0915-20160913-story.html

Janus Presents Modern Play About William Shakespeare

Here's a story that ran on July 11, 2016, from the Elgin Courier News/Tribune Media Group

By Kathy Cichon

Even the Bard can suffer the slings and arrows of critics.

How to move on? That is the question.

"How do I take the next step to work on the next project when I've just drained myself for a failure?" said Nathan Wonder, who explores the idea in his one-man show. "What would it have been like for him?"

The result is "a cathartic conversation with the audience" as William Shakespeare tries to move forward.

Janus Theatre Company will host Wonder as he performs his play, "William Shakespeare Lives," July 15-17 at Elgin Art Showcase in Elgin. Performances are at 8 p.m. July 15-16 and 3 p.m. July 17.

The full title of the play is "William Shakespeare Lives, or a 30-year-old playwright, who lives in Chicago's Edgewater neighborhood has just opened his new play, 'Titus Andronicus,' and it was not well-received; a comedy in three acts."

"The title kind of gives it away," Wonder said.

"This is just me lamenting that I spent months of my life working on (a) play, putting all this time and all this money into it and it ended up not being very good. And no one went to see it, except the critics that panned it."

Wonder, artistic director for Duplicity Ensemble in Chicago, wrote "William Shakespeare Lives" last year with help from company members. It was then performed at the 2015 Chicago Fringe Festival.

"It ended up being a sort of semi-autobiographical play," said Wonder, who now lives in Portland, Oregon. "It typically speaks to my life and what I've been through and the challenges I've encountered."

Wonder said he wrote the play while struggling and trying to figure out what he wanted to do as an artist and a theater practitioner, in Chicago specifically. So it looks at the challenges of being a young playwright or actor in the city.

"It's hard to get people to come to your play. It's hard to raise enough money. Even if you're really proud of your work, how do you get people to come out and actually see it?" Wonder said. "It ended up being sort of a love letter to the storefront Chicago theater scene, while at the same time looking back at past events of my life that sort of shaped my past to become a theater artist as an adult."

The presentation of "William Shakespeare Lives" is part of Janus Theatre Company's Elgin 400 Shakespeare Festival. Sean Hargadon, artistic director at Janus, heard about the show last year from a friend. While planning for Elgin 400, the decision was made to ask Wonder to perform his play.

"Part of the excitement to me was that it was so different," Hargadon said. "Rather than doing a traditional production in Elizabethan garb, we've been doing something a little different."

Typically one-person shows about Shakespeare tend to be more biographical, or explore the time period, he said. What Hargadon likes about "William Shakespeare Lives" is the idea of Shakespeare being alive today in Chicago's theater scene, "which could just as easily be Elgin's downtown theater scene."

"Janus Theatre is primarily a fringe company. We've worked in black boxes, theaters, storefronts, lofts, parks…" he said. "While we've produced a lot of works, it's not without a struggle, and it's not without challenges, and it's always with very little money."

Wonder said that while the show explores the experience of what is next after something goes wrong; the tone is kept light with humor. It also has adult language, making it about a PG-13 rating, he said.

"Most of the humor in the play is fairly self-deprecating, and it's pretty blue most of the time too. I'm just up there, drinking PBR, sort of venting to anyone who will listen to me," Wonder said.

Being asked to bring the play to Elgin 400 after performing it at the Chicago Fringe Festival is really exciting, Wonder said. He said he is honored and grateful for the opportunity.

"It's pretty remarkable and doesn't happen very often," he said. "I'm really pleased that Janus reached out and I get to do this again for a whole other group of people who didn't get to see it before."

Hargadon said after the company's production of "Hamlet" earlier this year, Janus decided to lighten things up for Elgin 400's summer events. In addition to hosting "William Shakespeare Lives" in July, Janus will present Walkabout Theater and workshops in August.

So often, he said, people think of Shakespeare and remember it from school as boring.

"But we're trying to present it in a way where it's not that way at all. When it's done right and done well, it's not boring at all," Hargadon said. "It's actually quite engaging and exciting to watch and be a part of."

Kathy Cichon is a freelance writer.

CALLING ALL ARTISTS - June 2016

Janus Theatre Company is seeking artist submissions for its summer show ShakeScene: The Lunatic, The Lover, The Poet. We are looking for Shakespeare-inspired art for a group show to be held at the Elgin Artspace Gallery. This show will be an interactive celebration showcasing Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream and its enduring popularity.

The show opens Friday, July 15, 2016 from 6pm – 10pm at Elgin Artspace Lofts, 51 South Spring Street, Downtown Elgin, and is part of the Elgin 400 Shakespeare festival, a variety of Shakespeare-inspired events throughout downtown to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the writer’s death.

All applications must be submitted by July 7th, 2016 and include the artist’s name, address, name of art piece, size and price of work, special instructions and medium of artwork.

  • Artists are responsible for their own transactions for any of their art hanging on the wall.

  • Artists keep 100% of the profit.

  • All final art must be framed and/or ready to hang.

  • Artists may submit multiple pieces.

  • If you are submitting a 3-D piece, indicate if you will need a pedestal (we have a limited number)

  • After submitting application, you will receive a confirmation email. Drop off times for final art are Thursday, July 14th, 10am-9pm.

ShakeScene is an exhibit that will be produced in cooperation with Wicked Whimsy Studio to present an experience that celebrates one of Shakespeare’s most iconic plays with a sense of humor and fun. The goal is to offer something informative and fun for people who love Shakespeare, as well as offering an entry way into the world of Shakespeare for those who are not quite sure what they think.

Please contact SEAN@JANUSPLAYS.COM for more information or go to our home page and click on the SUBMISSIONS button.

From Pahl's Pen - An Impression of THE TRAGICAL HISTORY OF HAMLET

PAHLPITATIONS - An Intimate Journey Into the Maze of Hamlet's Mind

April 23, 2016

By Richard Pahl

I was fortunate to be invited to last night's preview performance (4/22/16) of Janus Theatre's The Tragical History of Hamlet. This promenade production is the most recent development in its series of uniquely staged theatrical events that hark back many years to the very first Walkabout.

The magicians at Janus have arranged pipe and drape to transform the Elgin Art Showcase into a maze of tiny performance spaces. The audience is led down the rabbit hole and totally focused on pure acting and Shakespeare's immortal words.

Every member of this uniquely talented cast is allowed to shine in this specific and personal interpretation. Because the setting is so intimate, much of the story is told in appropriately hushed tones. Happily the audience also occasionally thrills to the more traditional declamatory orations of Jason Lacombe as Laertes and Jim Hinton as Claudius. Melody Jefferies is particularly mesmerizing in her portrayal of the mad Ophelia. Shakespeare inserted a comic gravedigger scene to lighten the mood before the play's final tragic scenes; Kelly Bolton offers a zany take on this character.

The characters are simply clothed in modern dress with some effective details. Theatrical lighting is unnecessary in this up close staging; in fact, Janus has chosen to incorporate darkness into its production. This is intimate, minimalist, thrilling theatre. In this instance, less is most definitely more.

Richard Pahl is an actor, director, and writer, who has worked in professional, community, and college theater for close to 40 years. He has traveled the country plying his trade at various regional theaters. He was the creator of both Playwrights' Advocate and Page To Stage - incubators for new play production, where local and regional plays were commissioned and simply staged in front of live audiences, providing critical feedback for the playwrights. Pahl also served proudly on the Elgin Cultural Arts Commission from 2007-2014. 

From Pahl's Pen - A review of AN ILIAD

PAHLPITATIONS - An Intimate Journey Through Time and Space

February 20, 2016

By Richard Pahl

I was fortunate to be a part of the Opening Night audience for Janus Theatre's AN ILIAD. Publicity materials indicated that the rehearsal process took the cast on an unexpected journey. The actors seemed stoked to finally share their work with a sold out audience equally eager to experience whatever surprises awaited them.
 
If you were paying attention in school, you will remember that the original ILIAD is an ancient Greek epic poem attributed to Homer which recounts the ten-year Trojan War. This stage adaptation yanks it forward to encompass the intervening strife-filled centuries.
 
AN ILIAD is performed by four dynamic actors all taking on the role of the Poet in a theatrical relay race. Since the Poet seems to have witnessed the vagaries of war through many centuries, it doesn't seem unusual that he occasionally changes his physical form. As the Poet bears witness to the things he has seen, he portrays an array of characters and plays out select scenes. We meet warriors on both sides of the battle, a wife, a mother, a father, a child. This muscular cast has no choice but to utilize its entire array of vocal and physical skills.
 
I have seen hundreds of theatrical productions in my lifetime; this is undoubtedly the most intimate and personal. The performance consists of equal parts acting and storytelling. The Poet effectively embraces the audience as a new friend as he tells his story, acts out its events and frequently comments on its happenings from a contemporary perspective. Although the Poet has seemingly forgotten specific details of this long ago war, he is nevertheless plagued with memories of its horrors, foolishness and futility.
 
In this original production the Poet leads the audience on a journey through time and space—literally. Famous for its summer Walkabout productions, Janus Theatre performs AN ILIAD in the green room, a dressing room and several areas in the auditorium. This simulation of travel and the passage of time works effectively for the play.
 
This play will never again be performed in such a unique manner. If you are a fan of classic literature or strong acting or clever storytelling or once in a lifetime experiences, you won't want to miss Janus Theatre's AN ILIAD.

Richard Pahl is an actor, director, and writer, who has worked in professional, community, and college theater for close to 40 years. He has traveled the country plying his trade at various regional theaters. He was the creator of both Playwrights' Advocate and Page To Stage - incubators for new play production, where local and regional plays were commissioned and simply staged in front of live audiences, providing critical feedback for the playwrights. Pahl also served proudly on the Elgin Cultural Arts Commission from 2007-2014. 

It's All Greek to Me - Or Walkabout

Lori Holm making discoveries as The Poet playing Achilles.

Lori Holm making discoveries as The Poet playing Achilles.

When we talk about collaboration, what are we talking about exactly? Where does an idea begin? How does it grow?

I kept asking myself these questions after finishing two open rehearsals last weekend. Our first adventure took place at Rediscover Records in the basement. The day after we conducted an open rehearsal as a promenade from room to room at Next Door Theater above Side Street Studio Arts. These experiments in space prompted me to change the whole show. So when people come to see our production of An Iliad, which opens this Friday, it will be something completely different than previously envisioned.

***

When we began this process more than a month ago, I knew I wanted to expand the cast. The play is written for one person, usually a man, but in our production we have two men and two women playing all the parts. We lost one actor due to unforeseen circumstances, so I stepped in to fill the role, something I would normally relish, but I’m not really a fan of directing, producing, and acting in the same show. It is a lot to manage – and you need help from the outside.

***

We’d been rehearsing at various locations to get a flavor of different spaces. Our cast was very supportive of each other and one of my early plans was to offer two open rehearsals where we would run parts of the play in front a live group of people. One our actors, Joe Cattoggio, said it was too bad we couldn’t do that kind of thing all the time. I agreed with him, but at that point the production plans we already set. But I couldn’t let it go, so I asked everyone on the production what they thought about giving the audience a choice: to see the full stage version of the show with full lights and sound or a more unplugged version in side room. Everyone agreed to keep the regular show intact, but maybe offer a special performance of the play in a raw space. That was the idea then…

***

Fast forward…after conducting the open rehearsal at Rediscover Records, the intimacy, closeness, and heat from the cellar basement created a dynamic between the audience and actors that was super-charged. There was a mingling of excitement and fear at the prospect of playing in this setting.

***

The next day…this open rehearsal was held upstairs at Next Door Theater, where we presented different scenes in the small kitchen, the lobby area, greenroom, and theater space. But what made this memorable was a simple request from Stage Manager Tara Schuman, who’s been acting as my outside eye when I’m on stage, since I can’t direct myself and watch everyone else. She asked me to give my opening speech to her in the kitchen just like we were talking over coffee. I did this and the tone in the speech changed. Then she asked the other actors and audience to come in and I did it again, and it changed some more. Then one of our actors, Lori Holm, suggested sitting around the table and talking. Before I knew what was happening, we were interacting with each other in a way that I would not call acting. What this did was take much of the “acting” out of the play and made it more about sharing a story – The Iliad. It also helped us get closer to the play and the audience.

***

Then we moved to another room and Lori shared her section of the story and then another room where Ann Marie Nordby shared her section and then finally we finished with Joe Cattoggio. What captivated me about all this was how it was done with no sound except what was found and no lighting except what was provided. Everything was practical and useful whether it was a chair, a lamp, a stick, or drum, or rattle. And it worked.

***

Once we finished this experiment in space, I quickly suggested that we needed to present the show this way, rather than keep with our old plans. Everyone agreed and the practical work of adapting the Elgin Art Showcase to this new vision began.

***

So, what we have created is a promenade from room to room, or casually called a Walkabout, where the audience goes from space to space seeing and hearing the play being told piece by piece. Nothing is hidden – the actors playing parts, the props being used, the lights being turned on and off, the sound being played by an instrument or CD player or a mixing board. The Wizard of the Theater, or in this case, The Muse of the theater is on full display for everyone to witness.

***

So that’s a little look behind the process of making a show. One thing leads to another if you allow others to look and lead and share.

Feedback File 1

We love feedback. After watching a show many times, you start to grow blind, and are no longer able to see everything as clearly as you once did. You get so close to the play and the actors and the space that everything becomes a bit predictable. That’s when the audience can come in and set you straight and tell you what is actually happening.

What is really interesting is how a group of people sitting together in a dark theater are watching the same play, but they are all having a different experience. It is quite personal. And the smaller the space is and the closer the actors get, the more intimate and immediate it all becomes. It is a fascinating process.

Here are some recent comments from audience members who attended the King of Shadows show. The comments originally appeared on Facebook praising the show: 

“Seeing a new play, one that hasn't been done to death, is an exciting experience. Janus Theatre's King of Shadows gives their audience this stimulating and well-crafted opportunity...see this show!”  - Pat Rataj

“Still thinking about Janus Theatre Company's latest play King of Shadows…So good in many different ways! Loved the intimate setting, spot on music, lighting, simple yet appropriate use of props, and amazingly believable cast. It was such great play to feature this time of year and a wonderful play on what is real and what is not, plus the reasons and motives of why we do what we do to "help others." A great play if you are one who works or volunteers in the non-profit world with youth, who believes that not everything in this world is explainable and cut and dry, and how our past unresolved issues can continue to effect the present. This coming weekend is their last so make sure to get out and go to a show and buy some Mama Lee's Gourmet Popcorn!” - Jennifer Benson

“I'm so pleased that I drove to Elgin to see the Matinee performance! [The] cast of four, each did an excellent job! As I sat watching, I couldn't help but look at the rest of the audience in the intimate setting and every person was transfixed and attentive. [The] use of individual lighting spots where we were allowed into the thinking process of the characters was brilliant…The cast has worked very hard to bring the play to life. I'm glad [we] were able to make it out yesterday and see the results of their work.” - Jessie Sylvie

One word that keeps coming up from many people that have seen the show is how “intriguing” the play is and how different it is from the usual mystery/thriller production. It is not easy to categorize.

And at the end of the show, we ask our audience to share with us what they believe. Without giving away too much, overwhelmingly most people say they believe in the King of Shadows, but after our most recent performance that balance almost tipped and went the other way. This just illustrates how each performance is constantly changing and evolving.

From Pahl's Pen - A review of King of Shadows

PAHLPITATIONS: Top Ten Reasons Why You Should See Janus Theatre's "King of Shadows"
 
November 7, 2015
By Richard Pahl
 
If, like me, you are the sort of theatregoer who appreciates new plays, I wholeheartedly encourage you to see this little gem of a production. Its original story is told in a unique manner--a theatrical hybrid blending of styles and genres.
 
On its face King of Shadows is the story of a grad student who hopes to do some good in a dangerous world by taking in a 15-year-old runaway who may or may not be a danger to her and her family. Her sister takes an immediate liking to the scamp; her cop boyfriend is alarmed. Their story takes place at the intersection where worlds collide, where one person's reality may be indistinguishable from another person's fantasy.
 
The playwright focuses on a volatile mix of characters. A homeless teen seemingly rooted in a dream world collides with two sisters living with the fallout of a family tragedy and a detective who recently fled from the unbearable memory of a young boy being brutalized. This chance meeting forces them to confront the possibilities of other worlds, other realities and the potential consequences of their choices.
 
Top Ten Reasons you should see this production:
 
1. The intimate setting provides an up close view of the action.
 
2. Impassioned performances by a vigorous, youthful ensemble.
 
3-5. Janus Theatre's signature strong production values—the lighting, soundscape and original artwork are thoughtfully chosen to establish and enhance the mood of the play.
 
6. The very first scene establishes a sense of mystery that becomes more compelling as the play progresses.
 
7. This fantastic tale offers thoughtful viewpoints on subjects like public service, belief and disbelief, doubt, fear (actual, imaginary and imagined), and the realism of dreams.
 
8. It frequently provides the sweet relief of unexpected laughs.
 
9. Janus Theatre, the Elgin Arts Showcase and local arts groups need and deserve your support.
 
10. With all of the distractions in this high tech world, YOU don't want to lose sight of the magic of live theatre. It can't exist without YOU!
 
Go. See. Janus Theatre's KING OF SHADOWS.
 
Richard Pahl is an actor, director, and writer, who has worked in professional, community, and college theater for close to 40 years. He has traveled the country plying his trade at various regional theaters. He was the creator of both Playwrights' Advocate and Page To Stage - incubators for new play production, where local and regional plays were commissioned and simply staged in front of live audiences, providing critical feedback for the playwrights. Pahl also served proudly on the Elgin Cultural Arts Commission from 2007-2014. 

Adventure Time!

This painting "Real Talk" is by Elgin artist Bobby Rowland, who is currently working on our new Janus Theatre production.

This painting "Real Talk" is by Elgin artist Bobby Rowland, who is currently working on our new Janus Theatre production.

An artist walks into a café. He’s got red paint on his hands, a sketchbook under his arm, and questions in his mind.

Meet Bobby Rowland. He’s doing the art direction for King of Shadows. What does that mean exactly? He’ll be providing images that will be used for the play, since one of our lead characters is a young artist who draws throughout the play.

Bobby and I are meeting at Blue Box Café to go over his initial sketches for the show. I can tell he’s a bit frazzled and maybe a little distracted. He’s running late when he arrives, and I quickly find out he was working when his dog, in the hope of getting his attention, knocked over a can of red paint in his apartment.

“It went everywhere,” he said. “So I had to clean it up before heading down.” Bobby lives in ArtSpace, a downtown Elgin hub, where artists of all kinds live in eclectic industrial-style apartments. So many ArtSpace residents are working and creating in Elgin and we are lucky that Bobby agreed to work on our fall show.

I first met Bobby at the American Jubilee event held at Side Street Studio Arts over the summer. He was interning at the time and manning the dunk tank, where yours truly and many others, were consistently dropped in the water by people passing by. Bobby is affable, engaging, funny, and a talented artist. I didn’t know this until I saw the show AWAKE at Side Street later that summer. Bobby’s work was on display and it was a mix of pop, fantastical and mythical art that revealed a landscape that was part dream and nightmare. (Of course, you could say that’s my personal opinion.) In any case, the work really affected me, but I didn’t know who it was until later much later at Dave Metzger’s Fez Fest event held at ArtSpace, where Side Street owner Erin Rehberg and I were talking about my fall show and our need for an artist to develop pieces for the production. She quickly recommended Bobby.

So…here we are sitting in Blue Box Café going over the sketches. They’re rough. Bobby knows this and he’s looking at me to see how I will react. Will I discard them? Will I say “Is that it?” This is a tricky time in the process because as the artist you’re guessing at what the client wants. It is a bit of a push/pull between two creative people. Together we need to find our way towards something we both can live with and like, and something that works for the show.

I look over the sketches and there are ideas hidden in the lines, the circles, the colors, and the feeling they evoke. We go back and forth and I let Bobby talk to get out his thoughts, so we can meet somewhere in the middle. He’s read the play and knows what happens, but like all things, he has a point of view and will see things differently than I do. This is a process like everything else. And it takes time. But time keeps ticking away and there never seems to be enough of it.

I take him to the Elgin Art Showcase, the space where the play will be performed, and we talk about the show, the space, the actors, and the overall atmosphere. So much happens that is unspoken during these encounters. He is processing everything around him, taking it in, and when the actors ask if they can see his initial sketches, he looks at me and I know he would prefer not to at this point. And he’s right because the ideas are still evolving in his mind.

So much of what we do is out of our control even when we are creating. We are led by impulses, feelings, and thoughts that take us on journeys of discovery. You pick a play, read it, have an idea in your head how it should look/feel, and then actors, designers, the space, and other variables start getting into the mix. Before you know it, you’re in the middle of the process, in the belly of the beast, out at sea, deep in the maze – you can pick your metaphor. But boy, what an adventure it is sometimes.

So in just a few days, after weeks of work, we’ll get to see where Bobby’s imagination has taken him and how it fits into the overall production.

It’s all a process…

 

 

 

Asking Questions

Joe Cattoggio and Jaime Patriarca work a scene together inside the 'tombs' of Rediscover Records. Photo by Janus Theatre Company.

Joe Cattoggio and Jaime Patriarca work a scene together inside the 'tombs' of Rediscover Records. Photo by Janus Theatre Company.

A good play asks interesting questions and forces you to wrestle with ideas.

We’ve been working on the King of Shadows for more than three weeks now. We started this process as an ensemble collaborating together.

I like to open rehearsals up in ways where we ask lots of questions about what the play is about while working physically, experimenting through different exercises, some which may or may not reveal things hidden in the text.

You see, you can look at a play, read it, and feel you know everything there is to know about the characters and the story. But if you leave it there, your interpretation may be thin, and the story may never fully come to life. That’s why we explore the text and the world of the play much like the maze I described earlier.

And the more we rehearse, the more the play reveals itself to us. It’s like peeling an onion. And like peeling an onion, it can be difficult work, because rehearsals are messy encounters, where we fumble around and fall and find new ideas and discard old ones. It is all great stuff, and you have to be patient.

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The King of Shadows is an exciting script. It plays with a lot of ideas about how we think about contemporary issues.

While the play feels at times like a procedural cop drama/mystery/horror/thriller, we’ve tried to break it down into some basic ideas but framed as questions:

  • Does social work make a difference or is it a waste of taxpayer money?
  • Should police serve and protect or enforce and defend?
  • How far would you go to pursue your dreams if it meant losing your family?
  • Is there magic in the world or is everything we call reality just what we see?

Sounds heavy, doesn’t it? But it really isn’t once you start asking these questions and figure out how they relate to the play and our world.

And when add to that rehearsals conducted in lofts, galleries, and tombs, you start to get a feel for the mysteries hidden in the play, waiting to be revealed, discovered in front of a live audience. Or at least that’s the goal we set for ourselves.

Groping in the Dark

IN REHEARSAL: Christopher Sylvie plays Nihar, the mysterious youth who is on the run from the King of Shadows in a play by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, presented by Janus Theatre.

Working on a show is not unlike like walking through a maze.

As you set out on your journey, you have an idea about where you want to go. You have a sense about how everything should run, how it should look, how it should feel. Then you take your first steps and before you know it, you are groping in the dark. You look back and you can't see the beginning anymore. You've gone too far. "But I just started," you say. It doesn't matter because this journey is about finding things hidden all around you.

There are clues in rehearsal, clues in the text, clues in the interaction between actors and characters, space and people. Could we just block the show, learn our lines, and then present it in front of an audience? Of course. But that's making the choice to walk around the maze rather than enter inside of it.

We've recently started rehearsals for King of Shadows by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, an intriguing script that has everyone in the cast asking lots of questions. The play opens our 18th season and runs November 6-22, 2015, at the Elgin Art Showcase.

The play is not typical in the sense that it has a bit of the fantastical going on once you get into the story. If you're familiar with Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, then you may remember how Oberon and Titania - two powerful spirits - fought over the possession of a young human boy. By the end of the play, they work out this dilemma and all seems somewhat resolved.

Fast forward, years later we find a graduate student, Jessica, doing research on homeless youth and she comes across a teenager, Nihar, who is sweet, terrified, angry, and seems to have mysterious insight into people's lives. He's on the run, trying to find safety from the King of Shadows, who just happens to be Oberon. You see, Oberon abducts these young children and never sets them free.

So, what we have is a bit of Shakespeare meets Stephen King meets the supernatural It's all very exciting and curious as our cast attempts to answer the questions raised inside the play.

Stay tuned...