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BOOTH ONE - Celebrating Culture and Conversation
56 minutes | Apr 5, 2020
Dazzling Movement Direction – Choreographer & Actor Breon Arzell – Episode 105
Booth One first encountered Breon’s work seeing The Total Bent, produced by Haven & About Face Theatres. We were all blown away by Lili-Anne Brown’s direction and the marvelous performances, including friend of the show, Robert Cornelius and new friend, Breon Arzell, who also choreographed this great musical. Here are some of the rave reviews. The production design was extraordinary. We were especially wowed by the choreography and costumes, designed by previous guest and friend, Christine Pasqual. You can catch some of his brilliant work in the remote production of Kill Move Paradise. Absolutely not to be missed. We have seen a lot of attempts to capture great theatre on video and this is exceptional. A true masterpiece, directed by dear friend of the show, Wardell Julius Clark. Read one of the many great reviews here. Much more to say, but we want to get the audio published now. Will write more ASAP.
61 minutes | Feb 10, 2020
A Blank Slate – Genius Improvisor, Actor, & Voice-Over Artist David Pasquesi – Episode 104
We always love our amazingly talented guests, but this time we were Star Struck! David Pasquesi is a brilliant artist and one of the nicest people you’re ever likely to meet. He is a master improvisor and has created memorable performances in many movies and TV series. He was excellent as Julia Louis Dreyfuss’s ex-husband, Andrew in VEEP and had a great role as the “local alchemist” on the weird and wonderful Lodge 49. He also has done some infamous and long running voice-over spots for clients like McDonalds and Anheuser Busch. We have included his remarkable commercial reel in this episode. You can also go to David’s website to check out his work. David studied with the legendary improvisation pioneer Del Close, who created the Harold and was part of the first ever Harold team, Baron’s Barracudas. David describes the Harold as a “long form group improvisation that was developed as a performance piece itself as opposed to using it to create material for revues…The aim is that the work is consistently good enough to be able to warrant a ticket price.” We talk about Del’s ideas about working genuinely in improvisation. Gary reads from David and TJ Jagodowski’s book, Improvisation at the Speed of Life. “Del taught us to play slowly without worrying about entertaining the audience. He stressed the importance of playing at the top of our intelligence…Another big lesson I took from Del was not to talk too much because overusing words diminishes the power of each one. Del taught us to dare to be poets…Don’t be afraid of silence.” TJ & Dave have been doing long form performances at iO in Chicago and Barrow Street Theatre in New York since 2001. Stephen Colbert says of them, “One of these guys is the best improvisor in the world. And the other one is better.” The New York Times calls their work, “…a creative tour de force, an intellectual high-wire act as astonishing as it is entertaining.” They met on a team at the Chicago Improv Festival and found they shared a reverence for the same kind of work. They make it “more about discovery than invention…The work can be funny, but also sad, heartwarming, kind, scary, brutal. It’s unlimited.” David talks about the important role of the audience. TJ & Dave “requires interested people watching it.” David and our co-host Frank talk about teaching improvisation. “The most important thing is listening and paying attention…Be genuine moment to moment and the rest of it takes care of itself.” Gary asks about another of David’s teachers and mentors, Charna Halpern, who built ImprovOlympic with Del, has taught so many magnificent actors and writers, and now owns the marvelous iO Theatre at 1501 Kingsbury. There are 4 performances there every night of the week, a nice bar, and good food. Charna gave us great backstory on a few things. Such as: David camped out at her place when he was a student without an apartment and cooked dinner in exchange for his room. She also told us about him juggling apples in his stand up act and that he does great impersonations (not). Learn more about the force of nature that is Charna on episode 47 of our show, performed live at Steppenwolf Theatre. Frank reviews the superb production of Sheepdog, directed by friend of the show and recent guest, Wardell Julius Clark. Frank says its is an important and powerful play that poses questions that lead to great discussions. Running through February 29. Gary is going to see it Feb. 13 and can’t wait. David tells us about some of his other important influences. He took his first class with Judy Morgan. Then read Jeff Sweet’s book, Something Wonderful Right Away. David tells us about the importance of the concepts of heat and weight. Heat involves the gravity of the situation and weight is about the emotional charge. Things that they discover about what’s “already there” rather than making it up. Gary shares his love of a new book called, Life Isn’t Everything, which is comprised of a bunch of old friends talking about improvisor and director, Mike Nichols. Kiss of Death: Buck Henry is the focus of our ongoing closing segment celebrating a life of someone we’ve lost recently. What a career! Read the details in this obituary from the Washington Post. He “dabbled in improvisation” and was the screenwriter for The Graduate. He wrote many other memorable films and appeared in every one of them. He hosted 10 episodes of Saturday Night Live. He was a co-creator of Get Smart. Mike Nichols said of Henry, “He was the funniest and most serious guy I’d ever met.” David does a not to be missed impersonation of a dolphin from Buck Henry’s “Day of the Dolphin.”
59 minutes | Nov 21, 2019
The Zacek Tapes – Victory Gardens’ Artistic Director Emeritus Dennis Zacek – Episode 103
Dennis Zacek, founding member and Artistic Director of Victory Gardens Theatre for 34 years, joined us in the Booth for a fascinating conversation about playwrights, directing, and the history of Chicago theatre. He shares his experiences directing over 250 productions, including his current production of Waiting for Godot, which runs at Victory Gardens through December 15. Dr. Z is an icon of the Chicago theatre community, having been at the forefront of the storefront theatre movement in the mid-1970s. In 2014, Victory Gardens received the special Regional Theatre Tony Award for outstanding contributions to the American theatre landscape. The Zacek Tapes is a fascinating book filled with interviews with Dennis about many aspects of his life in the theatre. We couldn’t recommend it more highly! More notes to come… Kiss of Death Jessye Norman, American opera singer and recitalist. A dramatic soprano, Norman sang a broad repertoire and avoided being limited to one kind of genre. She famously stated that “pigeonholes are for pigeons” and that she was “attracted to the unusual”. A towering figure on operatic, concert, and recital hall stages, Norman leaves a vast catalogue of recordings. NY Times music critic Edward Rothstein described her voice as a “grand mansion of sound”, and wrote that “it has enormous dimensions, reaching backward and upward. It opens onto unexpected vistas.” Jessye Norman was 74. Read the full NYTime obit here.
57 minutes | Oct 29, 2019
Luminous Power Couple – Regina Victor & Wardell Julius Clark – Episode 102
Wardell Julius Clark and Regina Victor are stars who just keep growing in our Chicago theatre community. We had an amazing time talking with them recently about all of their adventures. They are work and life partners and as Gary said, “extraordinary creative artists and human beings.” They also did a beautiful job introducing the show. Voice over agents, take note. Regina Victor works as a theatre director, producer, dramaturg, arts journalist, and mentor. Regina is a non-binary femme who grew up in Oakland, now residing in Chicago. Regina attended boarding school at Phillips Exeter, then studied theatre, religion, and dance at Santa Clara University. They have worked with and been mentored by, among others, Phylicia Rashad, Anna Shapiro, Raelle Myrick-Hodges, and Danya Taymor. Victor has helped develop world premieres by Antoinette Nwandu (Breach:…), Brett Neveu (To Catch A Fish), Sarah Ruhl and Morgan McNaught (A Persephone Pageant), and Loy Webb (The Light, His Shadow). Regina will be direct a world premiere of Pro-Am at Sideshow in May. They have recently been named to be the first Associate Producer ever at Court Theatre. Regina founded an arts criticism platform called Rescripted in 2017. Rescripted’s mission is “to reprogram the way we critically engage with each other using an empathetic lens, while cultivating critics and adding new voices to the field.” It is a collective of artists who engage with each other’s ideas and opinions openly. Regina mentors young critics through a program called The Key, which has produced some terrific new critics. It is produced in partnership with the Chicago Inclusion Project and is hosted by Steppenwolf Theater Company. Wardell Julius Clark was raised in Fairfield, Alabama, where he toured the country as a child with the amazing Sparkle Dance Company. Read about their mission and programs here. He went on to audition for DePaul University’s acting program, which is extremely competitive. He got in to the program, didn’t get cut, and has been working here in Chicago ever since. He was a very successful actor for the first 10 years of his career, then asked Ron OJ Parsons if he could assist him on directing Gem of the Ocean at Court. He tells a wonderful story about his first (triumphant) directing gig on Insurrection at Stage Left. Next up was Wardell’s hugely acclaimed production of The Shipment. He has been booked as a director since… We recently saw and were blown away by His Shadow, which Wardell (with Sydney Charles) directed, with Regina serving as Dramaturg. It was truly not to be missed. The good news is it was recorded for the archives at Harold Washington Library, so you can see it there. Wardell is a company member at one of our all-time favorite companies, TimeLine, and is a member of their amazing Living History Education Program. Regina is working on a wonderful project at Lyric Opera called “Empower Youth”. More to say about these upcoming projects, but can’t wait to publish their episode. So come back to this site for updates.
59 minutes | Oct 18, 2019
Mover and Shaker – Erica Daniels, Executive Director of Victory Gardens – Episode 101
We were thrilled to have Erica Daniels Strater join us in the Booth, starting our next 100 episodes off in style! She has been an agent, casting director, Associate Artistic Director, president, and now Executive Director. All at top-flight companies. Erica has so many dear friends in the Chicago theatre community. She helped us all out when we were with small companies who needed casting help and couldn’t afford our own casting directors. Her email response would come back pronto with a list of really great suggestions for a role. Early in her career, she joined her close friend and mentor, Martha Lavey, in choosing to make the effort to pay attention to smaller companies and emerging talents and to lend a hand up. A graduate of Northwestern University with a degree in Performance Studies, she studied with an amazing group of artists, including Martha Lavey, Frank Galati, Mary Zimmerman and Dwight Conquergood. When she graduated and was planning to start auditioning, Erica broker her foot. While she was recuperating, she thought maybe she could help out in a casting director’s office. She worked in Jane Brody’s office, then Shirley Hamilton’s, two of the best casting people in Chicago. Then, after an exciting stint as the Theatre Department coordinator at William Morris in New York, she went to work for Steppenwolf as their in-house casting director. She was then promoted to Associate Artistic Director and did a wonderful job in that capacity while continuing to do their casting. She is providing great leadership at Victory Gardens, collaborating with her partner, Artistic Director Chay Yew. Erica is eloquent about Victory Gardens’ mission to “be a leader in developing and producing new work and cultivating an inclusive theater community.” We have seen so many marvelous productions there, most recently, Tiny Beautiful Things. Erica and Chay were listed as #1! in New City Stages’ feature: Players 2019: The Fifty People Who Really Perform for Chicago.. Gary talks to Erica about getting her start in the business, what she looks for in an actor, the audition process, working with directors to cast just the right actor for the role, and what challenges an Executive Director of a Tony Award-winning Chicago off-loop theatre faces on a daily basis. You’ll find Erica to be eloquent and forthright in her responses. Just a joy to have as a guest in the Booth. Kiss of Death: Franco Zeffirelli, Italian director with a penchant for excess. Renowned for his extravagantly romantic opera productions, immensely popular film versions of Shakespeare and an active and sometimes controversial social life. Wiki tells us he was one of the only living people traceably consanguineous with Leonardo da Vinci. Mr. Zeffirelli was 96.
51 minutes | Sep 12, 2019
Game Changers – Michael and Mona Heath – Episode 100!
We chose Michael and Mona Heath for our 100th episode because they are the most amazing angels to the Chicago theatre community. With backgrounds in applied mathematics and computer science, they have dedicated their time, energy, and savings to supporting Chicago theatre artists. Last year, they paid full price to see 336 shows! And that is while living part time in Champaign/Urbana. Not to mention building the mainstage theatre, dressing rooms, and lounge at The Den Theatre. They are the production sponsors of so much important work, including “His Shadow” at 16th Street Theatre, which opens tonight! So much more to say, but want to get this published today. Will add info and photos soon!
55 minutes | Sep 1, 2019
Our Favorite (and First) Costume Designer – Christine Pascual – Episode 99
Christine has created beautiful designs for many of our all-time favorite productions! Check out this list of her recent projects! From Dutch Masters to La Ruta to East Texas Hot Links and To Catch a Fish. All great, great shows! The costumes we think were the most breathtaking were for The Total Bent. Robert Cornelius’s suits (and shoes!) were just perfect, as were all the other costumes, especially the cape she made for Gilbert Domally’s character. Much more to say. Want to publish the audio of this great interview and will update these show notes very son!
59 minutes | Jul 15, 2019
“Astonish Me” – Theatre Historian & Critic Jonathan Abarbanel – Episode 98
Jonathan Abarbanel, our first theatre critic guest, comes with great perspective not just as a theatre historian and scholar but also as an artist. He’s been an actor, dramaturg, playwright, and producer, so he knows what it means and takes to bring work to the stage. He’s the immediate past president of the American Theatre Critics Association. He’s reviewed Chicago theatre for 50 years and continues as a great critic for the Windy City Times and Footlights magazine. He and Kerry Reid are the “Dueling Critics” on The Arts Section on WDCB public radio. This marvelous and nuanced conversation about Isaac Gomez’s play, La Ruta, is a great example of their collaboration and a chance to hear some longer form criticism from two real pros. Frank tells us about his trip to the Dalmation Coast, including a visit to the “Museum of Broken Relationships” in Zagreb. Sounds like a must-see. Jonathan was an early member of the off-loop theatre movement and was part of exciting and important developments like working with Del Close on the Harold. He briefly worked as a copywriter and producer in advertising an came up with an iconic slogan “America spells cheese, K-R-A-F-T“! Another claim to fame was his appearance on the Antique Road Show with original artist boards of Winsor McCay’s comic strip, “Little Nemo in Slumberland.” Winsor invented animated cartoons with a character called “Gertie the Dinosaur“. Jonathan was working summer stock and came across the boards in a barn. He offered to buy them from the property’s owner who said just to take whatever he wanted…They were worth a lot of money when he went on the Road Show and are worth even more now. Picture here is one of the Little Nemo strips he owns, as it appeared in print in full color. Jonathan describes it as “a zoo on Mars and a Martian is showing Nemo and his gang around.” We asked Jonathan about his philosophy of criticism and he responded that he does not believe in attack criticism. And since his review space in the Windy City Times is usually only about 450 words, he doesn’t have space to show off his “style.” He’d rather spend 10 words writing about a costume or sound design than trying to show off his wit. He is very direct. To Jonathan, every single word sounds. Especially when writing about new work. About 50% of the shows produced in Chicago are new work. He will generally approach the script first, rather than the production elements or acting. The question is, “Does it work?” He talks about how consistently excellent most of the performances in Chicago theatre are right now. Speaking of which, Gary, Frank, and Jonathan agree that the performances in Steppenwolf’s production of the new play by Tina Landau and Tarell Alvin McCraney, Ms. Blakk for President, were just terrific! Jonathan quotes the famous New Yorker critic, John Lahr’s book title, Astonish Me, Adventures in Contemporary Theatre about what he’s looking for when he walks into a theater. “Make me walk out full of the wonder of your production.” He looks for that show that “just hits him in the guts.” Sometimes he just “puts his pen down and lets it happen to him.”
57 minutes | May 26, 2019
Cut to the Chaos – PBS Producer & Documentarian Daniel Andries – Episode 97
Seven-time Emmy award winner, WTTW producer, and documentary filmmaker Dan Andries joins us in the Booth! He arrived at the studio having just toured the Hamilton Exhibition on Northerly Island. Sounds like something we need to visit. We recently discovered that Dan was creating a series of pieces for WTTW called “Stage Players.” They are very short interview pieces honoring all of the kinds of people who make Chicago theatre great. They appear between other programs and are excellent. It’s amazing how much they convey in such a short period of time. We have had some of the same amazing guests. Check them out! Dan’s career so far is pretty remarkable. He has been at WTTW since 2000. He was the series producer of Artbeat Chicago for 5 years, and did stories on the arts off and on for Chicago Tonight. In 2005 he began working on documentaries, which included “Beauty Rises: Four Lives in the Arts” (2006), “Cannot Live Without: Illinois Artists at Work” (2014) and nine documentaries on architects, including Chicago architects Jeanne Gang and Tom Beeby and the amazing French architects Marc & Nada Breitman. Here he is in Paris with Marc and WTTW’s Geoffrey Baer: Beauty Rises is a wonderful documentary highlighting Laura Wiley, the co-founder of Albany Park Theatre Project, Orbert Davis, who created the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, sculptor Dessa Kirk, and poet Alison Joseph. All moving and compelling stories. Other documentary projects include co-producing and co-writing “DuSable to Obama: Chicago’s Black Metropolis” and “Out & Proud in Chicago” as well as 2 Geoffrey Baer tour shows (River and the Southwest Suburbs) and a show about the Irish (“Irish Chicago”). Dan created the four-part series “Art & Design in Chicago” that aired in the fall of 2018. Since 2006, he has also “had the great privilege of producing a multi-camera documentation of the work of Albany Park Theatre Project.” He does that work with his wife, Anne Northrup. One of those pieces, “Feast,” was broadcast on WTTW and won an Emmy. He comes from a family of arts journalists. His mother, Dorothy Andries was a music critic on the North Shore for Pioneer Press and his aunt, Wynne Delacoma, was the classical music critic for the Chicago Sun-Times for a number of years. I’ll Be Seeing You: John Singleton: In our regular segment celebrating the life of someone who has recently left us, Gary shares the story of filmmaker, John Singleton. He was a huge talent and contributed so much to our history of film making. Read his obituary from the Washington Post here
54 minutes | Apr 18, 2019
Quadruple Threats! – Lili-Anne Brown & Robert Cornelius – Episode 96
Join our rollicking conversation with two of the most talented artists we know, Lili-Anne Brown and Robert Cornelius. Lili-Anne is the luminous director of many great productions and also an accomplished actor, singer, and educator. Robert, who has appeared on our show before (episode 67), is a brilliant actor, singer, educator, and designer. These are just some of their many gifts. Booth One has had the honor of witnessing two of their thrilling collaborations this season in The Total Bent produced by Haven and About Face and in Lottery Day, onstage now through April 28 at the Goodman. Gary and Frank talked about how much they loved The Total Bent on our last episode. Learn more about that show and Ike Holter’s dazzling Lottery Day on this episode. We have so much more to say about the conversation, but are publishing it now while there are still some chances to get seats to see Lottery Day (11 more performances with just a few tickets left). Will update this page soon…
47 minutes | Apr 17, 2019
Theatergoers Digest – Gary and Frank – Episode 95
It’s Gary and Frank together in the Booth for a cavalcade of theatergoer notes on shows we’ve recently seen around Chicago. First off, Frank tells us about his adventures in speech competition judging that’s kept him away from home the past month. By all accounts, the dazzling array of young talented actors and orators is promising news for the future of theater and performance in the Chicago area. Just this afternoon, our boys went to Northlight Theatre to see the world premiere play Landladies by Sharyn Rothstein, directed by Jess McLeod. As luck would have it, this sparkling three-hander features actress Leah Karpel, who Frank has known since she was a baby some 25-odd years ago. Leah was gracious enough to spend a few minutes with us after the show talking about her role and the privilege of appearing in a world premiere, and we bring you some of that remote interview in this episode. Running through April 20. Next, we traveled to the Den Theatre to see a truly inspiring and brilliantly produced musical show called The Total Bent. Written by the acclaimed singer, songwriter, founder and leader of the punk-rock combo The Negro Problem, Stew, and his writing partner Heidi Rodewald, The Total Bent traces the lives of an established Gospel and R&B singer (magnificently played by Robert Cornelius) and his upstart young son (a dazzling debut by Gilbert Domally) as they navigate show business and the total bent of their lives together and apart. Though closed now, this show was one of the finest productions Chicago has seen in many years, so keep your eyes peeled for a revival. Director Lili-Anne Brown does amazing work keeping the story and the tension moving. Teaser Alert: Robert Cornelius and Lili-Anne Brown will be our guests next time on Episode 96! Have you heard of the very smart fish that scientists think can recognize itself in a mirror? Until now, the only species to have passed the mirror test were great apes, bottlenose dolphins, killer whales, Eurasian magpies and a single Asian elephant. Add to that list the cleaner wrasse, a 4-inch fish that lives in coral reefs. Read the full story here. Along those lines, Gary wishes that some annoying theatergoers were more self-aware! A Caryl Churchill play called A Number is receiving a striking production at Writers Theatre this spring. Running through June 9 in the Gillian Theatre, this 65-minute show is about parenting, cloning and going back to try to fix mistakes in your life. Gary was a bit lost in the narrative at times, but the two performances by William Brown and Nate Burger are compelling. Directed by Robin Witt, it’s a roller coaster ride through a strikingly familiar future. As always with Writers, the production values and quality are top-notch. You can’t go wrong with an evening out at Writers Theatre. Former President Jimmy Carter has become the longest-living president in US history. This past week, Mr. Carter, the nation’s 39th president, reached the age of 94 years and 172 days. He has enjoyed the longest post-presidency in American history. His tireless resolve and heart have helped to improve life for millions of the world’s poorest people. God bless Mr. Carter and his continued work for those in need. I’ll Be Seeing You (aka Kiss of Death) Stanley Donan – The director and choreographer of classic musicals such as Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Singin’ in the Rain, Royal Wedding, The Pajama Game and Damn Yankees. Mr. Donan was frequently overshadowed by his collaborator Gene Kelly, but they made a grand team. By 1960, the Metro musical was no more and Donan became an accomplished director of comedy, romance and spoof thrillers, such as Charade and Two for the Road. Mr. Donan was married five times and is survived by his long-time partner, the writer, director and actor Elaine May. Stanley Donan was 94. Read the full Guardian obit by David Thomson here.
60 minutes | Mar 30, 2019
Creating a Safe Space – Stage Managers Malcolm Ewen and Laura Glenn – Episode 94
Gary welcomes to the Booth two true Chicago theatre professionals – both long-time stage managers at Steppenwolf Theatre – Malcolm Ewen and Laura Glenn. No one has better behind-the scenes stories than great stage managers. Malcolm has been at Steppenwolf since 1987 and was most recently welcomed into the company’s elite Ensemble, an honor he didn’t even know was possible. He is the first stage manager to become an ensemble member. Malcolm has taken 4 shows to Broadway, including The Grapes of Wrath and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, which were both honored with Tony awards. He has also stage managed at the Goodman, Northlight, and Remains Theatres, among others. He has directed at the Weston Playhouse Theatre in Vermont during summers for 30 years. Laura has been with Steppenwolf for 25 years with an impressive resume of memorable shows including Buried Child, Superior Donuts, and The Rembrandt. From her Actor’s Equity bio: “I was fortunate enough to work with and be mentored by many great stage managers, including my hero, Malcolm Ewen. I have been a part of world premieres, great revivals, taken shows to international festivals and Broadway – both with Steppenwolf and my other creative home, Northlight Theatre.” Laura and Malcolm address the age-old question, “What does a stage manager do?”, with wit, sincerity and personal insight. As Gary well knows, having started his career in the theatre as a stage manager in New York, being an SM involves a myriad of responsibilities, including establishing a safe and collaborative space in which the actors and director can feel free to create, fail and try new ideas. There are also the tangible elements of scheduling, communicating, and upholding the Actors’ Equity rule book, which Malcolm describes as jigsaw puzzle work. The two colleagues and dear friends reminisce about past show experiences, including some of their most satisfying and rewarding projects – Bruce Norris’ Downstate for Laura and Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolff for Mal. Laura talks about the special bond she had with the late John Mahoney. As a teacher of stage management, Malcolm has reminded his students to find their own rewards and reasons for individual achievement in a profession that can have very few accolades or public job recognition. Laura likens stage management to being a catcher on a baseball diamond. While you direct the traffic on the field and may even call the no-hitter, it’s likely most people will not see your face behind the mask. Malcolm discusses his most challenging project to date – Paul Simon’s Broadway musical The Capeman. This 1998 Broadway show was a commercial and critical failure, and Gary compares it to his experience on the ill-fated Peter Allen musical Legs Diamond. The three stage managers recall how the most stressful projects are the ones where the many elements that go into making a stage piece either don’t come together or were ill-conceived from the start. Large casts and financial risk are also contributing factors. In our “Good Times and Bum Times” segment, we learn about the ex-wife of a man who declined to take him back even after he won the $275 million Mega Millions lottery. “I have morals,” Eileen Murray said. Then there’s the story of the man who tried to strangle his Lyft driver for singing out-of-season Christmas songs. Silent Night indeed! Everyone loves to hear stories of theatrical near-disasters and Malcolm, Laura and Gary have their share of tales to tell. From The Grapes of Wrath (41 actors for starters) to John Malkovich in a scenery train wreck, these stories bring to light the backstage trials and tribulations of stage management and production. And they’re hilarious to boot! Gary announces the 2019-20 Steppenwolf season of shows, which contains two basketball-themed plays, as well as a world premiere musical called Lindiwe featuring the music of Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Malcolm and Laura will both be working on that project, directed by friend of the show Jonathan Berry. Finally, Gary asks Malcolm about his sobriquet “The King of Broadway.” The story behind how he got this nickname is on par with the great backstage theatre anecdotes of all time. Thank you, Terry Kinney!
52 minutes | Mar 10, 2019
Red Rex – Director Jonathan Berry and Actor Jessica Dean Turner – Episode 93
Gary welcomes director Jonathan Berry and actor Jessica Dean Turner from the new hit play Red Rex to the Booth today. Written by Ike Holter as the newest in his Rightlynd series of plays, Red Rex is is receiving a world premiere by Steep Theatre and is being presented in their 55-seat space at 1115 W. Berwyn through March 30. Gary called it “one of the most moving, thought-provoking and beautifully produced plays he’s seen in many a season.” The production is about members of a Chicago storefront theater company who are working on a new play being presented by a Chicago storefront theater company. Jonathan discusses the meta nature of directing this project at Steep, where he’s been an ensemble member for many years, having directed there since 2007. Jon describes one of the themes of the play: “The theatre community can create its own center of focus, obscuring, entirely, the actual world just outside the door.” Jonathan and Jessica talk about the play’s other themes, including equity and inclusion, inadvertent and subtle acts of racism, shining a light on the pretentiousness of some creative processes, and the deep humor and humanity with which Ike Holter treats each of his characters. It’s a discussion that will make you want to run, don’t walk, to the see Red Rex at the Steep. Jessica talks about her theatre training in the very intensive program at the University of Illinois – Urbana, and how the rigorous nature of the program prepared her for the life of a working actor. As a non-Equity actor striving to make a career in the burgeoning off-Loop theatre scene, Jessica is frank in her assessment of the challenges and struggles that entails. The commutes are long, the pay is low, and the competition is steep(!) But Jonathan and Jessica both emphasize what most audiences already know – the Chicago style of acting exemplifies a fierceness and passion fueled by the daily grind that is the nature of a life in the theatre. Gary offers a play idea with the news story of 183 Amtrak passengers stranded for 37 hours in a snowstorm in the Oregon wilderness. Jonathan has been on plenty of delayed Amtrak trips and describes the mounting stress among the passengers as “a Lord of the Flies mentality.” The dramatic possibilities are endless! Jessica also teaches at the Chicago High School for the Arts (ChiArts), training young performers. ChiArts is a public 4–year college preparatory visual and performing arts high school located in the Humboldt Park neighborhood. Operated by the Chicago Public Schools district, the school opened for the 2009–10 school year. She’s also worked as an actor-patient at Northwestern Medical School where she helped train doctors to treat a variety of conditions and symptoms. A great acting exercise. Kiss of Death: Ethel Ennis – Celebrated Singer Who Walked Away from Fame: Ms. Ennis was a highly respected jazz singer in the 1950s and 60s. Ella Fitzgerald stated that Ms. Ennis was her favorite young vocalist, and Frank Sinatra called her “my kind of singer”. But Ethel grew disillusioned with the demands placed on young divas, and she eschewed national celebrity for a quieter life in her hometown of Baltimore, where she earned the unofficial title of Baltimore’s “First Lady of Jazz.” Ethel Ennis was 86. Read the full NYTimes obit here. Check out her beautiful rendition of My Foolish Heart on YouTube.
60 minutes | Feb 11, 2019
Division Street Princess – Author Elaine Soloway – Episode 92
We were thrilled to welcome Elaine Soloway to the booth for episode 92! Check out her bio here. She is something else. Between her two memoirs, her Roman à clef, the essays she writes for her blogs, and having part of her life fictionalized on the television show, Transparent, Elaine is “living out loud.” Learn about her books and essays by going to Elaine’s website. Or friend her on Facebook. At 80 years old, she regularly communicates on social media and has 4,000 FB friends! Elaine grew up on Division Street in Chicago. Her memoir about those years is called Division Street Princess. We highly recommend that and all of her books! Elaine’s “audacious” daughters are Jill and Faith Soloway, whose many remarkable accomplishments include creating the sensation called The Real Live Brady Bunch at Chicago’s Annoyance Theatre. This project was a huge hit and wound up traveling the country with a first rate cast including Jane Lynch and Andy Richter. Check out this video rehearsal footage. Faith is a musician & producer of rock operas. She regularly works as a collaborator with her sister, Jill, who wrote created the ground-breaking and award-winning show Transparent. The character of Maura was inspired by their father and Elaine calls Judith Light’s wonderful character a “version” of herself. Jill Soloway’s other credits include writing for the TV show Six Feet Under. When Faith & Jill were growing up, their family lived in “South Commons” in Chicago for 10 years. The intention of this 30 acre community was to integrate people of different races, incomes, home styles, and ages. There was a K-3 school on the campus and a community center with tons of exciting activities. Elaine, who had been an unhappy housewife, was soon editor of the community paper and had started a musical theatre company. Her husband and daughters starred in some of those shows. Elaine thinks that community helped make her extraordinarily talented daughters who they are. GZ & Frank review the movie Cold War and give it a big thumbs up. Elaine tells us about a recent comedy pilot writing class she took at iO taught by Mike McCarthy. Gary shares the sighting of Deep Blue, one of the largest great white sharks in the world. more than 20 feet long and 2.5 tons at age 50. Check out this amazing story. Elaine appeared on Season 3, Episode 3 of Transparent and was fabulous. She talks about what a warm family the cast is and how much fun it is to be on the set. We ask about our favorite Chicago actors on the show, Alexandra Billings and Amy Landecker. She adores them. Season Five is going to be a 2-hour musical (!) and Elaine reports the entire cast can really sing. Faith is writing the music. To be released this year. We can’t wait! Kiss of Death: Francis Grill – Founder of Click Model Management. Read the NYT obit by Rachel Felder here. Grill’s story is remarkable. She founded the first inclusive modeling agency and the way she got her start is fascinating. Look up some of the images of models she represented.
58 minutes | Jan 24, 2019
The Year of Chicago Theatre, with Mark Kelly & Sandra Marquez – Episode 91
We are thrilled to be part of the launch of the “Year of Chicago Theatre”, helmed by the Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events (DCASE) Commisioner, Mark Kelly. Mark at the Chicago Jazz Festival Mark joined us to talk about this first-ever City initiative that is “calling on the world to recognize the power of Chicago Theatre.” Partnering with the League of Chicago Theatres and all of the individual theatres, the goal is: “to be a Chicagoan, you are welcome into a Chicago Theatre.” From the City’s press release: “To truly fall in love with Chicago, you must go to our theaters. This is where the city bares its fearless soul. From joy to heartache and every feeling in between, Chicago theatre tells stories that evoke big emotions. Stories that take risks, inspire awe, ask tough questions – and dare audiences to do the same. Through Broadway musicals or storefront plays and improv, the energy of the city comes alive in our theaters. And with a diverse collection of over 250 dynamic theaters throughout our neighborhoods, there’s always a seat waiting for you…The Year of Chicago Theatre will also encourage dialog within Chicago’s theatre and philanthropic communities around inclusion and equity issues – and will seek to expand the geographic scope of Chicago theatre, especially on the city’s south and west sides.” Sandra Marquez – photo credit Joe Mazza We also welcome to the show an important member of the theatre community, actress and director Sandra Marquez. Most recently we saw her brilliant direction of Isaac Gomez’s play, “La Ruta” (episode 89) and her wonderful performance in Jen Silverman’s “The Roommate” with Ora Jones. Marquez is a longtime member of Teatro Vista, the only equity Latino theatre company in the midwest. She has also been a member of the Steppenwolf Theatre ensemble since 2016. She is on the faculty at Northwestern University, teaching acting and voice. She is in rehearsal to play Nora in Steppenwolf’s production of “A Doll’s House, Part 2”. Previews start Jan. 31. Can’t wait to see her in this. Hear Sandra and Mark’s takes on what makes theatre here so special. “We are doing new work all the time, everyone supporting and pushing each other to do gutsy and innovative work…We have more world premieres than anywhere else.” Chicago Theatre Week is coming up from Feb. 7 – 17, with theatres of all sizes offering tickets from $15 to $30. Click on this link for a complete schedule of some really great shows. Learn about Mark’s fascinating job at DCASE, which presents theatre, music, art, and other mostly free cultural events to 28 million people annually and awards grants across a wide spectrum of the arts. One of his goals is to encourage more support for the vitality of Chicago arts organizations, financially and otherwise. Hear some fascinating stories about Mark and Sandra’s backgrounds and other interests. As in Mark is a drummer and Sandra once tried to join a convent. And you don’t want to miss Mark’s story about pretending to be a celebrity so he could sit in the actual Booth One at the Pump Room back in the day. Kiss of Death: Marc Hauser World-renowned photographer Marc Hauser was a friend and a guest on our show. Read about him in Mark Brown’s excellent obituary for the Chicago Sun-Times, which surprisingly quotes Marc’s Booth One interview. He was a remarkable talent and character. We will all miss him. Here is a link to our interview with him. If you check out the show notes, you will see several of his iconic images. The photo above is Marc with Gary and Roscoe in his studio.
53 minutes | Dec 23, 2018
Renaissance Man – Artist & Illustrator Tom Bachtell – Episode 90
Join us in a great conversation with brilliant artist and illustrator Tom Bachtell. Learn how this self-taught artist became the best thing about the New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town”. He is still doing stunning caricatures and illustrations for the magazine 23 years later. Check out this wonderful piece Neil Steinberg recently wrote about Tom in the Sun-Times. Tom tells us that “People are bundles of ambiguity. That’s what I try to capture in portraits.”
59 minutes | Dec 16, 2018
To Never Forget – La Ruta – Isaac Gomez & Karen Rodriguez – Episode 89
Rising stars Isaac Gomez & Karen Rodriguez join us in the Booth to talk about the rehearsal process for their world premiere production of Isaac’s play, La Ruta, at Steppenwolf Theatre. Previews begin December 13 and the show runs through January 27. We are going to press opening on December 20 and cannot wait! This amazing project features a number of Steppenwolf debuts: It is Isaac’s as a playwright, ensemble member Sandra Marquez’s as a director, and Karen’s as a new ensemble member! Director Sandra Marquez with Karen Rodriguez Isaac tells us that the play is “about a community of women who are living in the wake of unspeakable loss…About how resiliance takes form in various capacities and directions for each of them.” La Ruta is a bus that takes women to the U.S. owned factories in Ciudad Juarez. Along this route, many women have disappeared, been attacked, and murdered. Steppenwolf Poster The eight Latina actresses in this play all represent real women Isaac has interviewed. As he describes it, “I made a promise to these women that their stories would be heard by as many people as humanly possible, and through this world premiere at Steppenwolf, we are one step closer to keeping that promise — to bear witness and carry their stories forward. As a queer Mexicano from the border, I owe my entire existence to Mexican women. This play is for them. Para todas. Para siempre.” Gomez grew up in the border town of El Paso and Ciudad Juarez. Though he lived on the El Paso side, much of his extended family lived and still lives in Juarez. He visited Mexico every weekend. He was brought up by two “superheroes, who gave all of themselves when they had nothing to begin with.” Gomez’s motivation to write plays is to never forget. He wants to never forget the things that happen to him each day, the callouses on his father’s hands when he would cook fajitas, the stories of the women he met in Juarez… Karen Rodriguez is also from a Mexican border town, Matamoros, Tamaulipas, which is directly across the border from Brownsville, Texas. Her family moved for a time to Kokomo, Indiana because of her father’s job. She spoke no English at that time. They moved back to Mexico and she applied to the University of Texas, Austin to major in marketing and business. She got interested in theatre and decided to double major. She met Isaac in a theatre class and they became best friends. Together, they moved to Chicago 5 years ago. Karen inspires Isaac’s writing in many ways, both as a person and an actress. Gomez talks about her “willingness to go there, to explore unapologetically, unsure of the result.” Isaac’s plays inspire her work too. They “bring out the best in each other.” You will hear the chemistry of their amazing collaboration in this interview. Kiss of Death: Kitty O’Neil Hear about the fascinating life of stuntwoman extraordinaire, Kitty O’Neil. She was absolutely fearless. And what makes her daredevil feats even more impressive, she was deaf. What a story!
52 minutes | Nov 12, 2018
Nena’s Notes – Fashion Expert & Writer Nena Ivon – Episode 88
Fashion world icon Nena Ivon joins us in the Booth to talk about her astounding career, her varied interests in all things cultural, and so much more! A legend in Chicago, Nena Ivon was the fashion and special events director at Saks Fifth Avenue from 1956 to 2009, where among other things, she produced all of the fashion shows, handled publicity, styled the windows and dressed the mannequins. She has worked with hundreds of the leading fashion designers and style icons of the 20th and 21st centuries, including many great models. Nena talked about the quality one-on-one time she got to spend with these designers, picking them up at the airport when they came to town for Saks events. She is currently a member of the executive board of the Costume Council of the Chicago History Museum, and a faculty member in Fashion Studies at Columbia College Chicago (where the Nena Ivon Collection is archived). She is also the author of a marvelous blog called Nena’s Notes. We love the way she organized the blog. As you will learn in more detail on the episode, each day of the week has a different theme to reflect things she’s passionate about. Monday is for profiles of people, starting with a Proust-like questionnaire, then an interview. A favorite topic for her is how people reinvent themselves when they leave one career, such as the models she worked with. Tuesday is for book reviews. Wednesday is musings, which can go in a number of different directions. Thursday is for collections, not just of fashion, but also other beautiful objects. Friday is for Fashion. Spotlights on designers she’s worked with or the current season. Check it out. There is something for everyone. We are excited that she is working on a podcast and a book! Amazingly enough, Nena has a direct connection to the real Booth One and the impetus for our show. Back in the day at Saks, they would hold two fashion shows a week at The Pump Room at lunch time. Then there were conversations in Booth One with stars, Broadway tryout cast members, authors, and local personalities. Nena led a number of these interviews. Oh, how we wish those were recorded! Speaking of Booth One, she is a huge fan of theatre, ballet, and opera. Her favorite medium is musical theatre! Learn who Nena’s favorite designers are, including the great Bob Mackie, who she says is a brilliant designer of clothes as well as costumes. Gary tells Nena that he has never missed an episode of Project Runway. Her favorite designer to come out of that show is Christian Seriano and she tells us why. Check out this glam photo of Nena with Christian LaCroix. The photographer, Robert Carl, said of the picture, ““I love this shot of two sophisticates, Nena Ivon and Christian Lacroix. It reminds me of Grant Wood’s “American Gothic,” even though she is the high priestess of Chicago fashion and he is the darling of Paris.” We talk about the new Library of Congress National Screening Room, which has films from 1890-1999. They are being digitized so we can all check them out. The goal is to have their vast collection reach the largest possible audience. Nena talks about Guo Pei’s collection at Paris fashion week. Wow. Check out her stunning and show-stopping designs on her website. Kiss of Death: Dorcas B. Reilley As you know, we end every episode with a celebration of a life. Our New York correspondent and good friend, Robbie Young, suggested Dorcas B. Reilley, the inventor of green bean casserole. She was a supervisor in Campbell’s Soup test kitchen and led the group to come up with a great dish that could be made with things already in most people’s pantries. Made with Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup, it offered “convenience with a touch of glamour.” Here is the original recipe, still being made today. It is estimated that it will be served in 20 million homes this coming Thanksgiving. Our producer’s grandmother added some Velveeta, which made it even better. Read her story here.
58 minutes | Oct 29, 2018
Always Say Yes…-Actor Francis Guinan – Episode 87
Gary and Frank welcome one of the finest actors we’ve ever had the pleasure to meet to Booth One! Francis Guinan has been with the Steppenwolf Theatre ensemble since 1979 and has appeared in a remarkable number of shows. Check out the list of past productions on his Steppenwolf bio. We have seen many of them and his work is simply not to be missed. Speaking of not to be missed…he is currently appearing in a world premiere of Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Bruce Norris’s Downstate alongside a breathtaking ensemble cast. Beautifully staged by Tony award winner Pam MacKinnon, it is a co-production with the National Theatre of Great Britain and stars several actors from there, including the marvelous Cecilia Noble. The Steppenwolf ensemble members (Glenn David, K. Todd Freeman, Francis Guinan, and Tim Hopper) are all just astonishing. Our good friend, Laura Glenn is Downstate’s fabulous stage manager. The production will travel to London in the spring of 2019. Here are a couple of Downstate production shots: Fran’s first show with Steppenwolf was The Real Inspector Hound. Learn more about his illustrious career there in this article from 2009. One of our favorite recent performances was in The Rembrandt, working opposite his dear friend, the late John Mahoney. Of his relationship with John, he told us they had worked together s0 often and that their 30 years of shared history was “present in every glance.” Fran said John was immensely generous on stage and off…Check out this Chicago Tonight interview with John and Fran talking about the last show they would do together. A shot with the the great Audrey Francis in You Got Older: Francis talks about the magic that only happens in a theater. How sometimes you can say a line to an audience of 300 or more people and then there is total silence. A collective holding of breath. And that feeling is not like anything else. He talks about the vibrance and truth of the Chicago style that goes back to the Compass Players. He thanks “the Godfather of Chicago Theatre, Sheldon Patinkin for teaching so many people in our community to “Always Say Yes.” That it’s not about you. It is all to the benefit of the story. Whatever your fellow actor throws out there, accept it and play that moment, even if it’s very different from the night before. Kiss of Death: Carol Hall Carol Hall, a songwriter who wrote the music and lyrics for “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas”, which was about a brothel called the Chicken Ranch (because customers often paid with chickens), died on October 11 at age 82. Here is an excerpt from her NYT obit:“Staying behind the scenes remained her preference. She wrote three songs for “Free to Be … You and Me,” the 1972 children’s album (and television special) conceived by Marlo Thomas. One was “It’s All Right to Cry,” performed by Rosey Grier, a former professional football player. She also wrote for Sesame Street and Barbra Streisand.
56 minutes | Oct 10, 2018
A Film Report from TIFF – Frank and Dan at the Toronto International Film Festival – Episode 86
Booth One’s Frank Tourangeau and his husband, filmmaker Dan Pal, who serves as Booth One’s film correspondent, have just returned from a trip to the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and have much to report! They have been going to film festivals for many years, including several trips to Telluride, Sundance, Toronto, and our very own Chicago Fest. The Chicago Film Festival is happening from October 10 through October 21 at the AMC River East. They also share secrets about how to have a Booth One experience at a festival! Let’s cut to the chase. Dan and Frank both LOVED a movie called Roma, written and directed by Alfonso Cuaron, which won the prestigious Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival. A story about a domestic worker in Mexico City working for an upper middle-class family, it is said to be the most personal work of Cuaron’s career. And also his best. It has a 98% Rotten Tomatoes rating. Dan, who says it’s the best film he’s seen this year, thinks it is a shoe-in for Best Foreign Film and also has a chance to win Best Picture. The actress playing the housekeeper has never been in a movie before. So many reasons we can’t wait to see it! Frank and Dan saw 14 films in 5 days. The most thrilling thing for them is getting to see movies before anyone else does. Every director was there and did a Q & A. Lots of big time actors too. They shared their reviews and impressions about all the movies they saw, including: Ben is Back, directed by Peter Hedges and starring Julia Roberts & Lucas Hedges. Vox Lux starring Natalie Portman and Jude Law. (They did not like it.) If Beale Street Could Talk, based on a James Baldwin novel, adapted and directed by Oscar winner Barry Jenkins, made its world premiere at Toronto. Dan and Frank say it is an absolute stand-out. Very powerful and more dialogue driven than Moonlight. The score by Nicolas Britell is “spectacular!” One of the stars, Chicago actress Kiki Lane, was in Booth One favorite Byhalia, Mississippi and part of the ensemble of Definition Theatre Company. We are so excited for you. Go Kiki, go! While they weren’t able to score tickets to A Star is Born, here’s a fun photo of the stars in Toronto: Gary announces that sadly, the wonderful show public access television show, Theater Talk, has ended after 25 years. Because its station wanted to take over editorial control. 🙁 And just after it won an Emmy award! Everyone who’s anyone has appeared on Susan Haskins‘ great interview show, which we think has a lot in common with Booth One. Its last season was distributed to more than a hundred public television stations nationwide. Gary talks about an episode featuring James Grissom, an author who has written a great book called Follies of God: Tennessee Williams and the Women of the Fog, which is based on his many, many hours of conversation with the playwright about his close relationships with a number of women who influenced him. Other films that are discussed in this episode: The Hummingbird Project starring Jesse Eisenberg The Front Runner with Hugh Jackman as politician Gary Hart Hotel Mumbai featuring Dev Patel and Armie Hammer. This American-Australian thriller was clearly Frank and Dan’s front-running favorite. Gary and Frank attended opening night of Indecent at Victory Gardens Theatre, the Paula Vogal play with music, directed by local favorite Gary Griffin. Though they had a few reservations about the production, it’s recommended as a piece of theatrical ingenuity and depth. And the Running now through November 4. Kiss of Death Andre Blay, who revolutionized the film industry by introducing the first consumer grade full-length movies on videocassette. His Magnetic Video Corporation created the Video Club of America where subscribers could buy a movie for about half the going retail price in stores. By 1987, home video was generating more revenue than movie-theater ticket sales. Mr. Blay was 81. Full Obit here.
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