Friday, November 21, 2008

Cut to the Quick

I'm in my second season of doing publicity shots for The Side Project. And the work that they do is an excellent example of the reasons that so many people do theatre in Chicago. There's no money in it. The personal sacrifices are enormous. Still, every now and then there is the opportunity to be part of something very special.

Cut to the Quick is a series of three collections of short plays. I haven't seen even one of them yet, only been invited to sit in some preliminary rehearsals and take pictures. This is unusual for my process because I'm very thorough in my preparation, usually reading the play and attending a run before doing the shoot. But this time around, Adam wanted something a little rougher, so we agreed that I was to capture moments and images that any actor might recognize as a rehearsal.

And what any actor will tell you is that the performances are great, especially when a production is working, but that the really transcendent moments happen in a bare room during a rehearsal. It's the moment when the text seems to melt away and the actor becomes the character for the first time that the real theater artists live for. The story comes to life, not in a figurative way, but literally, and there is nothing else in the world but that moment. People become actors for many reasons, but all of the acclaim, all of the money, everything else that comes with monumental success for an actor pales by comparison to the simple moment when the story comes to life.

As dollars become more scarce, everyone is becoming more selective with their entertainment budgets. Put live theater at the top of your lists. And not just the big-bang theatres. The real magic, the stuff that will stir your soul, is happening in the small theatres.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Autumn Garden

Nathaniel Swift directs The Autumn Garden, opens this weekend at the Victory Gardens Greenhouse, and this is a theatrical opportunity that cannot -- CANNOT -- be missed.

Nearly every professional actor started out in a high-school drama department. And those drama departments tended to do large, complex scripts written in the thirties and forties because there were a lot of roles for the kids to play and the family closet provided plenty of costumes. I know that as an actor, I cut my teeth on those scripts.

But in the 1950's the political and economic climate began to change for the American theatre. Musicals began to generate more box-office revenue, and dramas started to shrink. By the 1970's and 80's, two- or three-character plays done on a black-box set were the norm, and in the Chicago store-front theatre, it was/is almost physically (not to mention financially) impossible to mount a script with more than four characters and two costume changes. Throughout the 1980's and 90's, whether from budgetary restrictions or artistic tastes, the scripts that I worked on in high school, and the playwrights who created them, were regarded as passe. At least by me, if no one else.

And still today, Tracy Letts notwithstanding, large, complex dramas aren't common on the Chicago stage. Even Shakespeare gets paired down to accommodate the 10x6 dressing rooms, and fifty-seat house. Therefore it's a real treat to see The Autumn Garden. Trite, but true, they simply don't make them like this anymore. In preparing for my shoot with Eclipse, I read the script twice and watched a late run thru. I've edited maybe twenty pictures from the two shoots, and even as I cropped the last shot, a new detail about the play sprang to mind and I was in awe all over again. And my friends, I'm not easily awed.

This play is not a theatrical hors d'oeurves. Going to see this production is a full, Mame-Dennis theatrical banquet. You won't realize just what you're missing from the theatre until you see this show. Magic!

Directed by Nathaniel Swift. Cast: Julie Daley, Seven Fedoruk, Dawn Alden, Stephen Dale, Geraldine Dulex, John Fenner Mays, Nora Fiffer, Judith Hoppe, Millicent Hurley, Raymond Jacquet, Julie Partyka, Chuck Spencer