Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Elephant Man Actor Blog, Part 1

This is a post from Mike Tepeli, who is playing John Merrick, the title character in BoHo's production of The Elephant Man, opening January 7th.

A reporter once asked Meryl Streep, then rehearsing a new adaptation of Mother "Courage by Tony Kushner for Shakespeare In The Park, what is the job of an actor? 'I am the voice of dead people,' she responded. Short and cryptic, but strangely accurate, that answer is sometimes literally true. It's always exciting to play a real person, and also nerve wrecking. How you walk, sit, respond in anger and in grief, everything you do someone literally did. I think words like good, wrong, and right have no place in a rehearsal, but it's hard not to think there must be a 'right way of doing it' for a historical character: So, you research and read your script, you look at pictures, you read journals and then read your script again.

"Eventually, you start seeing discrepancy's, little differences between the script and the historians. It could be the timeline, character description, anything really. It’s good to know numerous perspectives, but too many choices can cause doubt. The life of John (or Joseph as his birth certificate says) Carey Merrick is muddled and mysterious enough; what do I pull out as 'the right way' of the numerous conflicting accounts? I think, and I know [director] June Eubanks does as well, that you should research as much as you want, but in the end, you have to play Bernard Pomerance's script, and his John Merrick. Research is a tool, and there is no ultimate right.

"I don't wanna give too much away, but our concept lends itself to that theory. In this world, we are actors portraying real people, and I mean that quite literally. It’s a freedom that should be less strange to the actor and the theatre audience; suspending our belief, and imagining. We are just scratching the surface right now, but I can't wait for what’s ahead. Being a dead guy’s voice is pretty thrilling."

-Mike Tepeli, Nov 20.

Check back weekly or subscribe to the RSS feed to read more actor insights from The Elephant Man.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Revealing the Elephant Man

One of the unique facets of BoHo is our gatherings. The first “rehearsal” for each production is a party, usually hosted by a member of the company, which allows the cast, crew, and designers to get to know each other in an informal setting. The centerpiece of these gatherings is the design presentation, in which the director and designers outline for the cast and company their vision for the production. These presentations include all manner of media, from costume sketches to set elevations to sound and music samples, as well as a slew of inspirational images. This is the event which gets the ball rolling, and having all of the artists in one room, presenting and trading ideas, is an exciting way to begin the process.

Lighting Design color conceptual image:
Circus Parade by Georges Seurat.
Our upcoming production of The Elephant Man (opening Jan 7th) recently featured just such an occasion. The Elephant Man by Bernard Pomernace was written and originally envisioned in a Brechtian style, which means the action was not to be depicted as a realistic slice of life. This was a deliberate dramatization, with actors not hiding that they were performing a collection of scenes. In fact, the actor playing the “elephant man” John Merrick wears no prosthetic make up in this show. All is communicated through acting and action.

Lighting Design conceptual image:
painting by Frances Bacon

The director for BoHo’s production, June Eubanks, is embracing this style in her vision. The inner workings of the play will be laid bare as what they are rather than concealed in an attempt at realism. Many of the actors will play multiple parts through simple costume changes in full view of the audience. Set pieces will be versatile and move fluidly from scene to scene, becoming whatever is needed for each location. The lighting design will make use of actors carrying hand-held lights to create dramatic atmospheric shifts. And perhaps most excitingly, sound designer Joe Griffin explained at the gathering that the show’s sound effects will be provided through onstage foley created by the actors themselves. Anyone who has watched a foley artist at work knows the unique energy it brings to the onstage action. (If you haven’t experienced onstage foley yet, check out the amazing talents of Rick Kubes in ATC’s It’s A Wonderful Life this month.)

Set design rendering, featuring a
projection of Dr. Treves and the actor
playing Treves in front of it.
These ideas, taken alone, could be mistaken for a gimmick. And though theatre is, by its nature, full of spectacle, it only becomes a gimmick when used without foundation. By unmasking each of the artistic elements in The Elephant Man, Eubanks is echoing the play’s theme of concealment and revelation as well as its unique performance conventions. The technique at the idea’s core—that the actor playing Merrick uses no makeup to communicate the extent of his deformity—requires the audience to use their imagination to create part of that character. By doing so, the audience must make an investment in the character and in the world of the show. And as Anne Bogart writes in her book And Then, You Act, "ask an audience to supply their imagination, and the results will transcend anything that you can ever afford to put physically onto the stage."

Lighting Design conceptual image:
still from the 1980 film by David Lynch

Following along these lines of the open process, Mike Tepeli, who is playing John Merrick aka the Elephant Man, will be submitting blog posts describing his process in discovering and recreating this fascinating real-life person. Does the process move from the inner personality to the physical embodiment, or vice versa? What exists when we peel back the layers of a human mind? What kind of experimental leaps are made in the rehearsal room, and which mistakes blossom into inspired ideas in the end? Tepeli’s blog will be posted here every week, so come back often to continue peeking behind the curtain on this amazing show.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Fictional Division Between Musicals & Non-Musicals

The world of BoHo is abuzz right now. We've just closed Big River with great audiences and fantastic feedback, and we're now moving into our two upcoming shows: The Elephant Man and our first holiday musical, Striking 12. As we approach the exciting and daunting task of casting and working with designers and fashioning schedules, the contrast between The Elephant Man and Striking 12 could not be more acute. Striking 12 is a fun New Years Eve musical with the actors playing all the instruments while The Elephant Man is an unflinching and realistic non-musical look at the masks we wear and the cruelty we inflict on others. And, inevitably, people begin to wonder: how can the same theatre company be producing such drastically different works?

This is a question we hear often from others in the theatre community, from our patrons, from our artists, from the organizations that generously provide grants to cover some of our operating expenses: why do you guys do both musicals and non-musicals? Isn't that kind of unfocused? Can't you find your voice? Which do you do, musicals or non-musicals?

This is such an odd question for us. Do people ask the same thing when Steppenwolf, home of very contemporary works such as August: Osage County, produces a Shakespeare play? Or when Chicago Shakespeare presents a Noel Coward play? Or when Raven Theater produces a comedy? This question of choosing between musicals or non-musicals is predicated on the idea that a theatre has to specialize in order to be any good, and that musicals and non-musicals are so different that you can't possibly do both, at least not well. And, apparently, that audiences only go to one or the other and don't enjoy both.

Well we're here to destroy such preposterous ramblings. The reason that we divide our season equally between musicals and non-musicals seems obvious to us. The aim of our season, in fact our entire company outlook, is to present experiences that are equally artistic in all areas. We celebrate art in all its forms, be it painting, lighting, sculpture, poetry, movement, acting, soundscapes, or even, yes, music and singing. Music is as integral to art as breathing is to life. Not every part of life has music in it, just as not every piece of art we create has music. Yet the tapestry of life would be woefully incomplete without music.

Our lives are constructed from a patchwork of moments of intense struggle, of heightened melodrama, of honest affection, of deadly seriousness, and of shameless levity. We try to capture this same artistic complexity by mixing such potent ingredients as the poetry of Shakespeare's The Tempest, the haunting soundscapes of Playing With Fire, the evocatively cyclical scenic design of Hello Again, and even the soaring, heartfelt harmonies of Big River's "Free At Last." So for us, there is no division between music and non-musical sensibilities. Our sandbox is big enough to include all of it. I encourage you to explore our current season, and our past seasons as well, think about them in relation to the moments in your own life, and tell me if you think the experience would be as rich and meaningful without music.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

BoHo Begins Season With Fresh Face And a New Venue

BoHo Theatre is kicking off its seventh season in September with bold new changes, including new Artistic and Executive Directors, a new performance space, and an expanded season!

Founded by Artistic Director Steve Genovese and Executive Director Tom Samorian, BoHo Theatre began as a small storefront theatre in 2003 inspired by the idea of theatre that embraces the arts as a whole and produces art for art’s sake. This philosophy lead to the introduction of their four-show season, in which each production represents one of the four pillars of Bohemian philosophy: Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Love. After six years of inspired vision and leadership under Genovese and Samorian, BoHo has grown into one of the most beloved and award-nominated non-Equity theatres in Chicago. Last year alone, BoHo Theatre was nominated for 11 Jeff Awards, including eight for the regional premiere of The Glorious Ones, which received a revival at this summer’s Theatre on the Lake. In his time with BoHo, Genovese has helmed seven Jeff-recommended productions, winning best director for 2006’s SideShow, as well as created scenic and sound design for numerous shows. Samorian meanwhile, has served as Production Manager for 18 out of BoHo’s first 21 shows, and brought productions to audiences at Theatre on the Lake, Theatre Building, Illinois High School Festival, and the Heartland Studio in Rogers Park.

Stepping up into the Artistic Director position is BoHo company member Peter Marston Sullivan. Sullivan has also been at the helm of some of BoHo’s most critically-acclaimed shows, including Playing with Fire, Ghosts, and the Jeff-nominated productions M. Butterfly and I Am My Own Wife (which he co-directed with Genovese). “I couldn’t be more excited to be taking over the artistic leadership of BoHo right now!” says Sullivan. “We are at a point of tremendous growth, adding new company members and moving to a new space. The groundwork that Tom and Steve have given this company is amazing, and we will all be working hard to continue to expand and grow the vision they started.”

The Executive Director position will be filled by new company member Peter Blair. Blair has worked as a stage manager, director, producer, and production administrator at venues such as Drury Lane, Porchlight, Bailiwick, and the Marriot Theatre, as well as the downtown run of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

Genovese and Samorian will remain actively engaged with BoHo Theatre in advisory positions, which will allow them to focus their talents on further artistic endeavors. “One thing we’ve always wanted to do is create immersive environments for our productions,” says Genovese. “We had success doing things like popping fresh popcorn before each performance of SideShow, so the smell of the circus permeated the space and extended the ambience of the scenic design beyond just the stage. We haven’t been able to do as much of that recently, and it’s something I’ll be helping create in the future.” Samorian will be curating lobby art exhibits for each show to help expand the artistic reach of the productions and promote individual artists. He will also be looking for new works to develop, as well as developing a few original pieces of his own.

Also beginning this season, BoHo will be stepping up from its long-time home at the 27-seat Heartland Studio in Rogers Park to become a resident theatre company at the new Theater Wit space. Theater Wit is located at 1229 W Belmont Avenue, formerly the old Bailiwick space, and features three newly-renovated theaters—two traditional 99-seat stages, plus a 79-seat adaptable blackbox space—as well as a state-of-the art box office, a refreshment bar in the spacious lobby, and valet parking in a vibrant neighborhood.
BoHo’s new season kicks off September 10th with Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, winner of eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Book, and Best Score. Based on Mark Twain’s classic take and written by William Hauptman with country music legend Roger Miller, whose classic hits include “King of the Road” and “Dang Me,” Big River is a theatrical journey of pure Americana. The production will also feature a photography exhibit of panoramic views of the Mississippi River by Midwest photographers, Dr. Abdul Sinno and Rafic Sinno, curated by Genovese and Samorian in their new advisory roles. Big River is directed by new Artistic Director Sullivan, fresh from directing BoHo’s Ghosts (“Absolutely stunning” –Hedy Weiss, The Sun-Times), and marks BoHo’s very first show at Theater Wit. Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased at www.bohotheatre.com or by calling the Theater Wit box office at 773-975-8150.

BoHo isn’t leaving its home at the Heartland Studio forever, though. For the first time ever, BoHo Theatre has expanded its season beyond its traditional four production to include a holiday show. Striking 12, dubbed the un-holiday holiday show, is a unique hybrid of musical theatre and live concert. Combining pop-rock, musical comedy, and old-fashioned uplift with a healthy dose of 21st-century skepticism, Striking 12 is a feel-good musical show in which the musicians and actors are one and the same. Striking 12 opens in the Heartland Studio on December 16.

Subscription packages for BoHo’s entire new season are now on sale for $80. Subscriptions include a discounted ticket to each of the mainstage shows at Theater Wit, as well as a free ticket to Striking 12! For more information or to order subscriptions now, visit www.bohotheatre.com.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Only The Symptoms: Why "Ghosts" Is Not a Play About Syphilis

Ghosts, when it was first written by Henrik Ibsen back in the late 1800s, caused a major scandal. London critic Clement Scott described Ghosts as "an open drain; a loathsome sore unbandaged; a dirty act done publicly." The subject matter was so repulsive that the first public staging of the play was in Chicago, half a world away from the society it was criticizing. Since then, society has changed and the taboos of the time have faded.

However, for many people Ghosts remains the show about syphilis, which is baffling since the word "syphilis" never appears in the script. In fact, how shocking was the onstage suggestion of syphilis if, as medical estimates of the time say, almost 50% of Europe had the disease? In fact, if Ghosts really was just a play about syphilis, it would be about as exciting and noteworthy as a 2nd grade informational film strip (pink cartoon syphilis microbes not withstanding). Still, audiences and critics continue to see the play through the lens of shock value, as Kerry Reid did in her recent review of BoHo's Ghosts in The Chicago Reader with the tag line "It’s a struggle to make Ghosts seem scandalous in the age of August: Osage County." The article went on to say that since the revelations in the story were no longer “gasp-worthy,” there was “a bit of creakiness in the play's bones.”

So it would seem that Ghosts is merely a late-19th century shock piece. But if that were the case, why would it still be performed today? If the only thing the play has up its sleeve is the visceral horror of an old Jackass episode, it too would have been left to the dustbin of history and forgotten.

Just because something was shocking in its day does not mean that shock was its only intent. The Beatle's "Helter Skelter" was a vulgar noise that proved to the uptight culture guardians of the 1960s that rock and roll was the music of the devil. Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers glorified serial killers and gore and made all the conservative talking heads of 1994 decry the death of decency. Yet these works are still enjoyed today because there was more to them than just shock. "Helter Skelter" has gone on to be a foundation of modern rock and metal music, and below the savagery of Natural Born Killers was a prescient examination of the media's fascination with fame and infamy.

Along these lines, Ghosts does contain elements of incest, disease, arson, and secret debauchery that rattled society at one time. But these are only elements, they are not the story; or as Oswald says in the climax of the show “those aren’t the sickness, they’re only the symptoms.” The story of Ghosts and the sickness it examines are secrets and repression. Is it good and right to keep something hidden in order to maintain a dignified public image, or to hide something from your children in order to protect them? On the other hand, is revealing truth for truth's sake always right, or can it do more harm than good? Can a middle ground be found between strangling restraint and wild hedonism?

Based on these themes, one could easily pluck Ghosts out of its 19th century Scandinavian setting and relocate it to modern America and it would still be timely. Reverend Manders, the upright voice of the conservative community, could just as easily be a conservative southern preacher; Oswald the artist living a Bohemian lifestyle in Paris, could just as easily be from New York or San Francisco.  In a political climate that pits stuffy conservatives against hippy liberals, a culture which craves dirty secrets and then deplores the people who reveal them, a society in which creating the public image you desire is a pain-staking life-long work, the real story of Ibsen’s Ghosts is just as relevant as ever.

Friday, May 7, 2010

BoHo Grabs Eleven Jeff Noms!!

The Glenwood Ave Arts District is on fire this week with the announcement of the 2009 Non-Equity Jeff Award nominations! The top three nominated companies in the entire city came from our little stretch of neighborhood with Lifeline Theatre grabbing 13 nominations, Theo Ubique with 11, and BoHo Theatre grabbing 11 as well. BoHo's regional premiere of the energetic musical The Glorious Ones tied with Theo Ubique's Chess with eight nominations. The one-man powerhouse of a show, I Am My Own Wife, scooped up the other three nods. BoHo Theatre congratulates our fellow Rogers Park theater artists, as well as all the nominated companies, for their fantastic work in the past year.

What were we nominated for?

Check it out:
Nominations for BoHo Theatre's The Glorious Ones:
Outstanding Production (Musical)
Outstanding Direction (Musical):  Stephen M. Genovese
Outstanding Ensemble
Principle Actor in a Musical:  Eric Damon Smith.
Supporting Actress in a Musical:  Danni Smith,
Supporting Actress in a Musical:  Dana Tretta
Outstanding Musical Direction:  Nick Sula,
Outstanding Costume Design:  Theresa Ham

Nominations for BoHo Theatre's I Am My Own Wife:
Principle Actor in a Play:  Peter Robel
Outstanding Scenic Design:  John Zuiker
Outstanding Lighting:  Katy Peterson

Read the press release with the full list of nominations over at the Jeff Committee website.

Friday, April 30, 2010

May We Live In Interesting Times

Last night, I saw a performance of Mike Daisey's provocatively titled one-man show How Theatre Failed America. If you've heard the hype, then believe it. Daisey weaves together rants and observations of the business of American theatre with thematically resonant personal stories from his own theatrical past. The man held the entire theatre enthralled for two full hours just by sitting behind a desk and speaking.

But this was merely the first act. I was fortunate enough to attend on one of the two nights which also featured a round-table discussion with members of the Chicago theatre community, including Roche Schulfer, executive director of the Goodman; Amy Morton from Steppenwolf; Michael Halberstam, artistic director of Writers’ Theater; and Ann Joseph, Artistic Director of Congo Square. This hour-long back-and-forth exchange between the panelists and eventually the audience became at times passionate and heated, but it was never dull. In all, the evening was an almost three-and-a-half hour celebration of and exchange of ideas about art. In short, it was what I'm looking for every time I go to the theatre.

I bring up this Mike Daisey experience for two reasons. The first concerns community and art spaces. There was much debate over Daisey's claim that the decline of much regional theatre in this country is due to the exultation of decadent theatrical spaces rather than of the art form itself. The panelists pushed back against this idea, citing Chicago as being different because Chicago theatre is very community-centered. Now, as the new Media Director for BoHo Theatre, I am very excited about our upcoming residency in the new Theatre Wit space (formerly the old Baliwick space). This new venue will include three working theatres as well as a coffee and wine bar. I find these kinds of arts spaces very exciting and the antithesis of the problem Daisey is talking about. I find having several theatre companies working side-by-side under one roof to be an inspiring experience and a fantastic opportunity for cross-germination among different types of audiences. These are the spaces where you can be exposed to something you might never have sought out. I have worked at the Greenhouse Theater Center and the Center on Halsted (which is especially cool for having the Whole Foods ajacent and the community area on the ground floor). With this in mind, I can see nothing but good things and opportunity on the horizon for BoHo in the coming season.

My second point coming away from the show last night was one of funding, and this is where I'd like to hear anyone else's ideas. Most of the panelists and audience at How Theatre Failed America lamented the paltry wages that actors in general receive (if they are paid at all). Full-time actors who work exclusively in acting and artistic pusuits are refered to as "the lucky few," and even the most talented and successful artists still live a life of day-jobs, temping, and cobbling together a mosaic of different odd jobs.

At the same time, there was grumbling over ticket prices to the theatre. Roch Schulfer admitted that no non-profit theatre can survive competely on ticket sales, which for the big theatres can run $30-60 per performance easy. Other cultural institutions, such as museums, are not expected to do so, he pointed out. One audience member later commented that even though we may seek to inspire children to love the theatre and thereby cultivate a renewable patron base, it won't matter if they can't afford to attend! So the question becomes: if artists deserve fair pay and stability for their hard work, and a theatre cannot sustain itself on its tickets sales alone, no matter how popular they are, then where does the money come from? Must American non-profit theatre always be on the look-out for wealthy donors and benefactors, always applying for endless grants, and always cutting corners? Is it a fact of life that there will just never be enough money to go around when it comes to the arts, especially in Chicago, which is packed with more theatre per square inch than another other American city?

These are my thoughts. Do you have answers, or questions of your own? Have you seen Mike Daisey's show and want to comment on it? (And if you haven't, why not? All self-respecting theatre artists owe it to themselves to do so.) Drop us a comments below and let us know what's on your mind!
-Charles Riffenburg
BoHo Theatre Media Director

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Hello Again is a critic fave!

BoHo Theatre's Hello Again is raking in rave reviews from critics and is now Jeff Recommended! Check out a selection of reviews below, then call 866-811-4111 or visit BoHo's online box office to order your tickets now!

"A spicy revival ... Directors Michael Ryczek and Stephen Rader team with excellent music director Nick Sula and clever set designer Stephen M. Genovese for this adults-only show."
-Hedy Weiss, Chicago Sun-Times - RECOMMENDED

"Ryczek and Rader use Stephen M. Genovese’s clever backdrop as a kind of parabolic dish, focusing their performers’ intensity both musically (under the fine direction and accompaniment of Nick Sula) and emotionally... The talented, mostly very young cast finds plenty of humor in the material but also aptly conveys the aching behind connections that are missed in every sense but the physical."
- Kris Vire , Time Out Chicago- 4 STARS

"Will make you blush while you are laughing your head off."
-Alan Bresloff, Steadstyle Chicago

Boho’s “Hello Again” revives my love of the [musical theatre] genre. Michael John LaChiusa’s song cycle about love and sex across the ages has a heartfelt sweetness that doesn’t leave a bad aftertaste... The sex is steamy, the passion palpable."
-Lisa Buscani, Newcity Stage - RECOMMENDED

Directors Michael Ryczek and Stephen Rader utilize the intimate space exquisitely ... a series of erotic encounters that run the gamut of the sexual spectrum while retaining emotional intensity ... The dedication of the actors to the material translates to raw excitement on the stage, and when the company says goodbye, get ready to reach for the nightstand because you’re gonna want a cigarette."
-Oliver Sava, Chicago Theater Blog - 3½ (out of 4) STARS

Friday, March 5, 2010

A lot of change happening at BoHo ...

... and it's all good!

There's a new website, a new season announced, and some new peeps in the driver's seat!

So, I don't think I could be more stoked about all that is happening.
The new website (designed by Chuck Riffenburg of Grab Bag Media)
totally rocks! It's graphic, fun, and shows so much BoHo personality.
It's so much easier to navigate too. Do yourself a favor and check it
out at www.bohotheatre.com.
Chuck and I worked a lot of hours (well, Chuck worked and then showed me the fruits of our discussions) to come up with something really quite cool.

Speaking of cool, the 2010-2011 season is really that! We announced it at the February benefit at The Glenwood, and everyone was talking about how much they liked it. Adding a special 5th show is a nice twist to our "normal" 4-show season, and the shows chosen are ones that I think excite both actors and audience members.

Check out the shows in-depth by clicking HERE.

So, the other bit of news is that, after 7 years, and 6 seasons, I have decided to step down as Artistic Director of BoHo Theatre. I have loved every minute of my tenure, and will still be a part of the company. It's just time to let some new blood take the reigns and guide BoHo along the next part of the journey. The new Artistic Director of BoHo Theatre is Peter Marston Sullivan. His artistic vision and strong connection to the BoHo values and mission make him a perfect choice for the job. Next time you see him, let him know how excited you are for all that he has in store for BoHo. :-)

I will blog soon about what BoHo has meant to me, and what it means to me to be a founding member of such an awesome company.

I am pretty new to blogging. Read plenty of them, but haven't really written much for any. It might take me a while to get the "true" hang of it, but thanks for reading!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

BoHo will (eventually) be a resident at Theatre Wit

We say "eventually" because the space is still under construction and will be for some time. We've chosen to perform our full 2009/2010 season in our current space at 7016 North Glenwood regardless of when the Theatre Wit space is ready. Why? Well, WE LOVE ROGER'S PARK for one. AND we love our current space -so much so that we are maintaining our presence there even after we move by using it for special events, rehearsals, and as a venue for other up-and-coming theatre companies to perform. Why the move? We sell out seats so quickly in our current 31-seat configuration that we end up turning people away from out shows ...we HATE that! The new space will allow up to 99 people to attend. In the meantime, we are excited to see you at our next production in Roger's Park ... and while you're there, check out the other amazing companies bringing top-notch theatre to the Glenwood Avenue Arts District:

The Side ProjectLifeline TheatreTheo Ubique

and, as always, don't forget to visit these fantastic eateries: Gruppo Di Amici, Charmer's Cafe, Morseland, and OF COURSE
Heartland Cafe!

We thank you for your support, and for supporting live theatre in Roger's Park!