Thursday, November 30, 2017

Highlights From BoHo's Talkback With Michael John LaChiusa

On November 17th, BoHo Theatre held a talkback with writer/composer Michael John LaChiusa and our artists following a performance of Marie Christine. Presented here are edited selections from that event.

Moderator: What possessed you to write this show?

Michael John LaChiusa: A series of things. One was working with Graciela Daniele. We were talking about our favorite plays of all time and we both agreed that one of the greatest plays ever written was Medea, the Greek play.

And then a young lady came to audition for me for a show I was writing at the time called Hello Again, and she was amazing, she blew my mind, but I couldn’t cast her in the show because she was too young. She had just graduated from Juliard. Her name was Audra McDonald. But at that moment, I said, “I must write a play for her one day.”

And then my brother sent me a book of myths and legends of old New Orleans, particularly of Marie Laveau. And I was sitting there reading that book and there was one line that said, “Marie Laveau had a daughter who ran away north with a white man.” And the pieces fell into place. And I wrote it.

It all just came together. I thought, I can transpose Medea into latter century New Orleans and really explore something I didn’t know a lot about. Also politically, I got to be a murderer too, theatrically, because there is the trope of the tragic mulatto, which is something that I despise, and I thought maybe with Marie Christine, I could kill the tragic mulatto stereotype. So that’s one of the reasons why I wrote it.

It’s all loaded, why I wrote the show, why it’s never really done-- its dark stuff. But it’s one of my most precious scores because it means so much.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Director Stephen Schellhardt Ponders "The Odyssey Years"

A few years back, the New York Times published an article about a new life phase for our generation - the decade of exploration that occurs after college and well into our late 20's and early 30's. The writer called it the "Odyssey Years," and it was this phrase that caught my attention.

I left college with an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment. I thought I could conquer the world and that life would simply fall into place for me. However, I quickly learned that life doesn't work that way. It comes at you quickly, it often makes no sense, and it demands a focus and determination that is often exhausting. Slowly my priorities began to change. I've lived alone, I've lived at home, and I've lived with others. I've had lots of money, and I've had no money at all. I have had no job and too many jobs. I have mourned relationships lost and celebrated relationships gained. My opinions have been challenged on a daily basis. The world I thought I knew when I graduated is not the world I live in now. These years have been a time of exploration, of opportunity, of loss and of love. The have truly been an odyssey.

I know I am not alone in these experiences. BoHo's upcoming cabaret The Odyssey Years on July 25th will explore and illustrate that while also highlighting the enormous talents of our BoHo family. I hope to see you there.

Stephen Schellhardt is BoHo's Artistic Associate, and most recently won acclaim for directing BoHo's production of Urinetown. He is the director for The Odyssey Years cabaret.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Finding Unsuspecting Influences in "Three Days of Rain"

Director Derek Van Barham, on what inspired him about Three Days of Rain.

What first struck me about Three Days of Rain was the richness of the script. We were able to hit the ground running with stellar material, and could spend the whole process really investigating the text. We had time to take risks, try things, fail, and fine tune. Greenberg did us a great service by giving us this deserted apartment in Act One. We are given a sort of blank canvas on which to paint these complex relationships. By contrast, Act Two is a fully realized portrait that we get to deconstruct. We draw something, and then rip it apart.

Each time that I watch our production, I notice different themes and patterns, recurrences in dialogue and gesture. The dynamic between our respective trios is so mercurial. I am still not sure I could say who the protagonist of our story is (though I think I know which character is the key to each act). What a treat to see three talented Chicago actors try to understand their parents only to then (literally) become them. Another Greenberg gift.

The word 'moment' is used throughout the script, and it is a word that has stayed with me. Moments are created and can easily be altered by time and space. For example, my memory of an intimate conversation can be vastly different than that of the other person. The distance between Act One and Act Two is like spilling water on a photo, or exposing a newspaper clipping to sunlight.

Three Days of Rain is about how the most unsuspecting present can have the biggest impact on the future, how the things we barely notice can shape who we are. It’s about the butterfly effect, the ripples of every decision we make.

One of our design inspirations was the Hiroshima Shadow, the negative space outlines created by the World War II nuclear attack. Outlines of bicycles, ladders, and even people were left on surfaces. Even though the objects and people were gone, their impressions were burned onto the walls. In our show, the room is a character, covered in shadows.

Three Days of Rain tells a story of people who were here and all of the moments they created together. It’s about connecting to the past, if for no other reason than the uncertainty of the future. It resonates in a time where we create our own families, and are constantly taking stock of how we will spend each moment. It is about how we will be remembered. And being remembered, however inaccurately, doesn’t sound so bad to me.

Derek Van Barham,
Director of BoHo's Three Days of Rain

Friday, March 3, 2017

Why Is Urinetown The Perfect Play For Now?

I first saw Urinetown in 2001, shortly after it opened on Broadway and not too long after September 11th. I was in New York City for a weekend with some college friends and I had been told that if there was one show to see on Broadway at that time, it was Urinetown. The title seemed strange but it intrigued me. On the surface, it came across as extremely comical and absurd – hey, we all needed that right after 9/11, right? We yearned for laughter and a little irreverence. Yet underneath that, the musical was dark, grim and poignant. It made a bold statement about our political system – which was on everyone’s mind then, even if we all were tired of talking and hearing about it. Sound familiar?

It succeeded in making me laugh until my belly hurt and yet its underlying message stayed with me for weeks afterward. While it posed some serious questions about society and the future of our world, it also managed to hilariously pay homage to the American musical comedy and to musical theatre form and structure altogether. The book was stellar and the production numbers were energetic, gigantic and fun. It was everything you wanted a musical to be, and more, and at the time it was like no other show I had ever seen before. It became one of my favorite musicals, and yet I never dreamed that I would be lucky enough to direct a production of it almost 16 years later.

When BoHo was searching for a musical for its 2017 season, Urinetown came up as a possible option and I jumped at the chance to be a part of it. I was reluctant at first to direct the show because I knew how difficult it was going to be to pull off this enormous musical-- and pull it off well. But I knew that, just like in 2001, now is the perfect moment for this story to be told. And there is no other company that I would rather tell it with than BoHo.

Urinetown resonates with what is happening with the state of our country and our world at this very moment, just like it did sixteen years ago. Not only because it touches on hefty themes like political corruption, corporate greed, environmental and economic catastrophe, the battle over basic human rights, mistrust and fear of law enforcement, class warfare and over-population-- but also because at the heart of the show lies a revolution. The concept of unexpected, unlikely voices finding strength and rising-up is central to this story. That is what excited me about telling it and why it is so important for it to be told at this exact point in time. It asks one of the bravest and most important moral questions imaginable: Are you willing to do what is right, even if your accomplishments never add up to anything tangible? In a postmodern, cynical world, it’s a question that demands to be asked and considered.

Stephen Schellhardt,
Director of BoHo's Urinetown

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Purely Fiction World of Urinetown

"He who laughs has not yet heard the bad news.”
-Bertold Brecht

Imagine a world where people must pay to carry out one of the most basic human functions. A world where times are so bad that big business ideology is the law, and the top 1% is the only percent that could possibly prevail. A world where fear is the guiding force of politics and socio-economic status. A completely, utterly, wholly fictional world like this is difficult to imagine, I know (no, really!) ... but such is the world of Urinetown.

Not only does the show challenge us to imagine this theatrical world, but it also asks us to re-examine the form of musical theatre. It is a show that breaks all the typical conventions… Not only breaks, but laughs at! A show that makes you chuckle while you cringe. Daniel Marcus, who played Officer Barrel when it opened in New York, called it “a love letter to the American musical in the form of a grenade.”

Why produce this hilarious, satirical, completely fictional, catchy and clever account of a mythical place called Urinetown, you ask?

I don’t know. I enjoyed the music.

-Peter Marston Sullivan,
BoHo Theatre Artistic Director