Thursday, March 29, 2012

The State of the Broadway Musical (Paul Oakley Stovall)

Chicago has bred many incredible talents that are making their way to the world stage, but one man's light shines brighter than the other lights from other people. His name is Paul Oakley Stovall. He is known as a director, actor, playwright, composer, dancer, fry cook, and activist and he is the real fucking deal.

If you haven't seen him in a show at Steppenwolf or seen a play he wrote at the Goodman, then you have probably seen him in the national tour of Rent.

We had a chance to meet Paul and listen to an essay he wrote recently at The Paper Machete one afternoon, and we asked him if he wouldn't mind letting us throw his essay up on the website, and he not only obliged, he also gave us both kisses.

Here is Paul Oakley Stovall's unedited essay on the state of the Broadway Musical:


yes, it’s true. another crop of wonderful movies are ready to bore (or are already boring) you to death as broadway musicals. or piss you off. or drive you to pills and booze. or MAYBE encourage someone to ...gasp... come up with an original idea and write and original musical...with original music even!!

don’t hold your breath.

over the past few years we’ve been assaulted with Legally Blonde, The Wedding Singer, The Little Mermaid, Jekyll and Hyde (which is possibly coming back with Constantine Maroulis of American Idol fame--more on that later), The Color Purple (oh the colored people), How the Grinch Stole Broadway, er, Christmas, Wonderland (wonder why land), Big, Mary Poppins, Hairspray and the Lion King, to name, sadly, just a few.

We could throw in Wicked, Seussical and Spamalot, as they are based on source material....exquisite source material.

To be fair, now and then, this rejiggering of a hit film or not such a hit film can work. Beauty and the Beast is faithful to the story and wonderful for kids. But it was kind of a musical already. Victor/Victoria is another example that comes to mind. however it was set in a musical milieu. the STUFF was already there.

But the jukebox musical--Good Vibrations anyone? All Shook Up? -- and the film “adaptation”, or rather reduction, is becoming the norm, while the BROADWAY MUSICAL, could you feel the all caps in the way that was said?, is an American art form. an original american art form. one of the few that we can really claim... why is it being tossed away? why are we more interested in developing Sleepless in Seattle the musical? yes, that’s happening. the two leads don’t see each other until the end...and yet there is confusion as to why the workshops are fizzling...oy.

Whose bright idea was it to make CATCH ME IF YOU CAN into a Broadway musical?!?!

Leave me alone! I’m not interested in catching you. Stay in hiding. Or better yet, stay on celluloid, where a film like that had a least modest success in what it was aiming for.

So whose idea was it?

it was the idea of someone who wanted to make money. it was the idea of someone who was falling right in line with those who now see dollar signs rather than rallying cries of social change when they think of this pure American art form called the Broadway musical.

The new American musical, created lately by artists like Stew, a tony award winner for his book of Passing Strange, or the revered Tony Kushner, who, with Jeanine Tesori, created Caroline, or Change are sadly few and far between these days. And when we do get something original, the best of them, usually don’t make it to the big time, to make room for.....13....about a bunch of 13 year olds.....singing about....things that 13 year olds care about....but not written by 13 year olds....which could be interesting.

However, artists like Stew and Kushner and Tesori are pushing the form admittedly, neither of those aforementioned projects turned a profit BUT Caroline has had an extremely healthy regional life and Stew is prolifically creating new projects. That’s neither here nor there. The argument that is thrown out is that, “Hey, we gotta make money! And we gotta give the people what they want!” pfft. the people don’t know what they want. they know that they want to be ENTERTAINED! let me say that again. they want to be ENTERTAINED. and not by the latest American Idol runner up. See Maroulis. Or Diana DeGarmo, or Ace what’shisname, or....yeah.

SHREK the musical, sorry Jeanine, ain’t it. It might illicit some silly giggles... but true entertainment includes an enriching of the soul, a lifting of the spirit, a challenge to the brain, a massaging of the heart. 9 to 5? Young Frankenstein? Xanadu? High Fidelity? Urban Cowboy? Chitty Chitty Gang Bang, Bang Bang? Those films were just fine the way they were. Entertaining classics that spoke to their genre in a very specific way. But Gone With the Wind, the musical? That ain’t it kid. That ain’t it kid. Give me A Chorus Line. Carousel, Gypsy, Porgy and Bess, South Pacific, Avenue Q, Ragtime, Anything Goes, RENT...but Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown almost made me have one....

This lack of effort really, on the part of producers to seek out original material, on the part of artists to insist on bringing original and CURRENT and POLITICALLY RELEVANT material to the table, and on the part of the general public, the consumer, to demand better quality material--and frankly, to say, “hey, I already love Animal House, it’s a classic; i can recite every line in Bullets Over Broadway; Desperately Seeking Susan ain’t Shakespeare but it’s quirky and perfect just as it is-- this, my friends, this signals a malaise that frankly goes deeper than the rash that accompanies the news that Footloose and Flashdance are being developed for the Great White Way.

FIlm is not a literary medium. It doesn’t want lots of words...and rarely does it want songs....and even rarer does it need a dance number.

Fixing this will take a digging in of the heels. The great work begins. The American Musical represents something purely american and it should be protected and nurtured and brought back to the White House garden.

-Paul Oakley Stovall

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Petrified Forest (Strawdog Theater)

The cast of Petrified Forest poses for a picture

Strawdog Theatre Company is known far and wide for their immersive work and high quality productions. If you were ever telling some stranger from out of town about a place to go see a really great storefront show, Strawdog would undoubtedly cross your moistened lips.

Taking classic plays, or unknown little chestnuts and giving them new, unbridled life is the Strawdog calling card, so it should be no surprise to you or your family that they have decided to tackle a play from the 30's called "The Petrified Forest".

In 4th grade, my class had to write reports on National Parks. We were each assigned a different park and much to my disappointment, I got stuck with the boring ass Petrified Forest.

At the time, you have to understand, there was no "Internet" so trying to find any pictures of this place was almost impossible, but why?

The 1st and most obvious reason is because that is where alien spaceships land and the government doesn't want us to see what is really going on. The 2nd and less feasible reason is because no one really cares about Petrified Forest National Park.

So anyway, the point of me telling you that is because I don't want you to feel dumb when I start dropping all this knowledge on you. I am an expert, so please don't think I am showing off.

The Petrified Forest is this place in...I wanna say Wyoming where dinosaurs used to live and used to have all this grass. But then, a volcano or something happened and turned all the grass and trees and everything to rocks. Rocks!

So tourism is a very important industry in that part of the country because people from all over the world come to look at these rocks on the ground, or kill someone.

Now the play "The Petrified Forest" is about this little diner on the edge of the park where travelers going to the West Coast might stop from dinner or maybe some gasoline or a jar of liquor. The owner of this diner a guy who is clearly burdened with his old father that complains about everything and tells stories about when he was younger and was in the circus? Or was a cowboy? He also has his almost adult daughter named Gabby that wants to bang everybody.

Gabby takes care of the diner, while outside at the gas pump is a guy named Boze that used to be a football player in Nevada but probably wasn't really that good, but he still wears his jersey every day. Well, I bet you know that Gabby and Boze like to get it on from time to time behind the dad's back. I don't know what the dad thinks, I mean they are out in the middle of nowhere and his daughter is like, 19 years old. All she thinks about is doing it.

Well, one day this creep with a pencil thin mustache comes in and is all sweaty and orders some hamburgers and a beer. He starts talking in this crazy sort of British accent and smoking this cigarette thing.

Well, he's telling Gabby about how he is a roustabout (homeless bum) an how he is traveling to find himself. Well, of course, Gabby wants to bang this guy, too!

Which, by the way, doesn't make too much sense to me. Imagine if you were in the desert and a sweaty, homeless John Waters wandered into your little diner. Talking in his crazy accent about books and his ex-wife, would you want to sleep with him? No! You would be like, "Hey John Waters, why do you sound like that? You are from Baltimore. Why are you walking alone in the desert? Are you here to rape me?"

But not Gabby! Ooooh no, she has her own agenda! She wants to marry this guy and move to France or California or someplace and leave the football guy and Grandpa behind.

So at this point, about 50 minutes into the first act, you start thinking, "Wait, is this play just about people sitting around eating hamburgers? Because I know a great place to listen to weirdos and eat hamburgers for much less than $28 a ticket."

Then, just when you assume this love triangle and this tense cigarette smoking contest will never end, in busts some other guys! Duke Manatee and his gang of gun carrying outlaws are on the run from the law! They are here and they immediately shake things up by... also sitting down and having cigarettes and hamburgers? Yeah, I guess they do.

At intermission, I got to really take a look at the set and appreciate it. Strawdog has a history of making incredible sets that make you feel like a fly on the wall, and this was no exception. A bar and diner tables, surrounded by the beautiful vista of the Cartoon Mountain Range in the heart of America.

The lights went down and here comes the exciting and action filled second act! I could hardly contain myself! Surely this act had death and destruction in store!

The lights came up, and what was everyone doing onstage? You guessed it. Eating hamburgers and talking! "How much is the hamburger budget for this production?" I wondered. "It would be cheaper if they had just bought a whole cow and ground it up themselves."

Now, you and I both know that legendary director and boy wonder Shade Murray isn't just going to let this sitting around continue forever. He loves action and movement, and this work is no different. Without spoiling anymore of the play for you, let me tell you this: There are guns and blood and kissing and action and it all comes to an enthralling conclusion that will leave you gasping with delight and stir up a round of vigorous applause from your friends and lovers!

The performances in this show are the reason to go. Caroline Neff, once again saves a long first act by being girly and wearing an apron. She understands pace and tone better than most which if you didn't know, is WAY more important than "Being good at acting" (which she also is). Knowing how to carry a show is really a special skill that you don't find a lot in Chicago and Neff can do it, and that's why she is Storefront Prom Queen lately.

Shane Kenyon and Paul Fagen play the football player and the creep, respectively. Kenyon has a manly and somehow dark quality to him that you don't see a lot and is refreshing to see onstage and Fagen plays a possible pedophile with grace and dignity. OH! You know who Fagen's character reminds me of? The Shakespeare actor guy who is always eating eggs in "Bus Stop". You all did that play in college, right?

Good. Don't do it as a grown up because that play is stupid.

Jamie Vann leads the gang of criminals as the exceptional Duke Manteeth. A man with nothing to lose and a learned patience that is admirable. Vann always makes interesting choices that, as an actor, I enjoy because even when he plays bad guys or dads or whatever, he is very trustworthy or something. He has a quality to connect with others onstage and make them understand his objectives. I want to paint him.

John Moran and Adam Shalzi as grown up 'Our Gang' Members With Guns are very scary and nice to see together. These guys really love hamburgers.

There are so many standouts in the show that it is hard to even say they standout, because if everyone is good, then how do you know?

BUT, I loved Jim Poole and Janice O'Neil as some old fashioned rich guys and Mark Pracht as a construction worker or something.

Murray knows how to move lots of people around stage and how to build tension, however patient you need to be for it to happen. It will happen, by God and you will love it when it does.

Go out and see this!
Strawdog does cool stuff!


-Anderson Lawfer, Eric Roach

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Kill Me (WildClaw Theatre)

Jude Roche and Sasha Gioppo look at something far away


This show already closed, but I thought it warranted a review anyway, because WildClaw is an excellent young company. All the members are old, but the company has only been around for like 4 years or so.

End of Preface

It's a always a treat to see a show at The Athenaeum, or as we like to call it, THEATRE JAIL.

Why do we call it theatre jail? Maybe it is the bars on the box office, or the enormous front steps. Maybe it is the large echo-y halls or the gates blocking every turn. In fact, the only thing separating The Athenaeum from an actual jail is a 4Square account.
But an interesting stat, nearly 80% of all shows in Theatre Jail have been wrongfully accused.

Kill Me is one of these shows!

Since Kill Me has been billed as "The Horror Event of The Year" I decided to wear some clean undies and to sit way in the back so as to not make a scene when I started crying and eating. You see, I eat my feelings, and when I get scared I eat soup. Somehow, I equate soup with fright so I was sure to bring a cauldron of steaming hot clam chowder with me, just in case.

When I first walked into the theater, I was impressed. I felt like I was on the set of the new Tim Burton remake of "Sanford and Son" with all this black garbage and musical instrument parts all laying all over the place.

"I'm coming, Elizabeth!" I shouted, spilling some hot soup on the leg of the nice but old usher.

Then the lights went down and the show began!

It begins with these 3 ladies standing in a row, talking at you about something... I don't know. I don't understand a lot of flowery language, and also they were talking so fast. When women talk fast, it seems unnatural to me, because who cares what they are saying in the first place?!

Anyway, these 3 lesbian sisters are yakking away about some sort of car accident or there was almost a car accident? I dunno, they were really burning rubber with their mouths there.

There is a play device, I'm not sure what it is called, but when a few people face the audience and tell their points of view in little sentences? I never liked that because I am an idiot and have a hard time focusing.

So then, the scenes start. These lesbians are talking about something or another, and then the damnedest thing happens. This Mexican Wrestler looking guy in feathers comes out and starts all touching the lady!


And then another crazy looking person comes out! Then another! Soon the stage is filled with all these crazy characters all stroking this broad's shoulders and Viewpointing around the stage!

Well I had to take a moment and look in the program and see what was happening and it turns out that these things were demons! All different looking and all so creepy!

They sort of looked like the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse's Hillbilly Cousins.

These hillbillies start playing this piano board up there and then one takes out a violin bow. Trust me when I tell you that you have never been more frightened in your life then when an enormous Demon of Hades starts handling a violin bow.

Now when this Demon takes out a violin bow and starts playing it, do you know what happened? Some guy in my row had a seizure!

Honest to God!

Well, he started making these noises, and it's nothing to joke around about, because we can all get seizures at anytime, but the thought that this man saw a Demon handling a violin bow and started freaking out, well that is just a testament to the Power of Theatre!

These Demons are really starting to really invade the Red Headed Lesbian's mind. She confides in her lesbian friends that she doesn't think she can die. So she starts drinking this antifreeze and sort of stabbing herself and taking pills to show the others that she really cannot die!

1 of the other lesbians is all like "Well, it's just a coincidence because she didn't stab herself right, and she got her stomach pumped and whatnot, but she CAN die".

But can she? Why doesn't she shotgun blast herself in the face and find out? Well, that is where the horror lies! Because you don't know why!

You know what you DO know? These broads sure are good lookin'. I have never seen more attractive insanity in my life. ESPECIALLY for all being lesbians.

See, it doesn't come out at first that they are lesbians, but there are little clues you can see to help you figure it out. For example, 1 lady is wearing a vest and a chain wallet. Not just a wallet, but a CHAIN wallet. For the future, when you are out hitting on chicks at the bar, stay away from the ones who dress like dudes in 1994.

The way horror works is the same way that comedy works. It needs to rely on your basest instincts. Part of making art in those particular genres is both confusion and juxtaposition. So, having scary stuff happen on a scary looking set doesn't do much for me, because it seems like it is happening in the right place.

If these Demons were walking around and girls cutting themselves up was happening in a nice living room, you would get more mileage out of it because it wouldn't fit. It would confuse your little brain.

Now, the other thing that is important for horror and comedy both is that the performers have to sell the shit out of it. And WildClaw delivers more than any other company in the world.

Their actors believe in what they are doing and it shows in the work and can make a mediocre play a great one.

This play is no exception. The 3 lesbian sisters were all great in their clarity and purpose. Casey Cunningham is a stellar young actress that we will all be seeing more of. Sasha Gioppo takes an easy part as the main lesbian cutter and turns it into a complex and engrossing role.

The night I went, the part of Grace, the vesty lesbian, was played by Carly Ciarrocchi whom I had never seen before but, OH MAN WAS SHE GOOD! You are all God dammed lucky to have an understudy work on your show as good she is. God dammed lucky.

The Demons were all played with a beautiful sense of inescapable cruelty by the great Matt Kahler, the enormous and frightening Jude Roche, the cat-like R. Christopher Maxwell, and my favorite little evil hillbilly Ele Matelan.

You should go see theatre like this, because it shows that right here in Chicago, we are changing the face of entertainment. These guys are good and only getting better.

WildClaw! America! Everybody!

Grade: A

-Anderson Lawfer, Eric Roach

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Jacqueline Stone's Meringue Cookies (Celebrity Recipe)

We first met Jacqueline Stone when she was the incredible star of TUTA'S "The Wedding" and since we have been enormous fans.

She is a leader in our city and someone to put on your radar in the future.

Now you can see her with all the right moves in TUTA'S Fulton Street Sessions.

Here is her favorite cookie recipe, and it is PERFECT to make for strikes and benefits:

Forgotten Meringue Cookies

Put wax paper or parchment paper on cookie sheet. Grease the paper.
Preheat oven 350.

2 egg whites
¾ cup sugar
6 oz chocolate chips

Beat eggs until stiff. Beat in sugar slowly. Fold in chocolate chips.
Drop by teaspoon onto cookie sheet. Turn off oven, put cookies in and leave in for 6 hours.

-Anderson Lawfer, Eric Roach

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Please Boicot This Show: The New Colony's Rise of the Numberless

"The show is called r1s3 of the numb3rl3ss (remove the jarg) which i could call rise of the dumber fellas.

Basically america celebrates the adoption of a one child policy that saves the country and i suppose the world from starvation, cancer, unemployment, war, and many other catastrophes.

But as you could guess the stars in the show are a group of tinfoil hats that have as many children as they want because they dont care at all about other people suffering, and that are shown as victims being fugitives on the ran.

Seriously, make a law to charge every cast member, technician, scripter, director, and VERY SPECIALLY the producers for every unemployed and poor people in the world, they will lost EVERYTHING AND EVERY PROPERTY and it will be like an useless drop in the mouth of an utterly thirsty behemoth growing at the speed of light and killing hundred millions every year in many ways."
 -Internet Commenter userwords, from the forum A Childfree Life, which claims to be A Safe Haven in a Baby-Crazed World

I love when people are crazy on the internet, I mean, I looooooooooooove it.  There's now a way to pinpoint exact locations of insanity in the online world and completely ignore it, or secretly revel in it.  Like, back in the old Chicago days, we would say things like "Oh, man, don't even LOOK at the Wooden Nickel off of Wilson.  They will throw a shiv at you through the front door."  But now, you can go to the Wooden Nickel as a ghost and just hang out in the corner while drunken immigrants scream about people having babies.

This commenter (we'll call her Wanda) is incoherently bitching about "Rise of the Numberless", a new musical collaboration between the Bailiwick Theatre and local legends The New Colony.  Now, I dig The New Colony...they are a bunch of nice people who do hard work and make new musicals, which in an America where ANIMAL HOUSE is being adapted as a musical for the Broadway stage is an incredibly fucking daunting task.  And this one sounds particularly intriguing...a rock concert in support of the "numberless" children of the world who have become fugitives from society in a "One Child, One Nation" type of sci-fi dystopian future.  Actually, sounds pretty bitchin', and if I know The New Colony it's going to be intelligent and entertaining and fun!

Now, let's breakdown what Wanda here is trying to accomplish in her poorly worded post to "Boicot this show."  I want to concentrate on her last paragraph, because oh god it's so insane:
Seriously, make a law to charge every cast member, technician, scripter, director, and VERY SPECIALLY the producers for every unemployed and poor people in the world, they will lost EVERYTHING AND EVERY PROPERTY and it will be like an useless drop in the mouth of an utterly thirsty behemoth growing at the speed of light and killing hundred millions every year in many ways.
First of all, you can tell she is serious because she uses the word Seriously.  "Seriously, aliens are hiding plans to destroy country up anus."  What anus, slick?  Your story fell apart in the last moments.

Make a law to charge every one involved for every unemployed and poor person in the world.  Wait, make a law?  A law?  You are aware this is a fictional musical running at a small not-for-profit theater space in Chicago that at the most, maybe 1000 people will see?  No offense, I mean, I hope millions of people see it, but I'm not a crazy lady typing in broken English on an internet forum that celebrates killing babies to cut down smog levels.

Here's my favorite part though, the thesis statement of her magnum opus.  "...They will lost EVERYTHING AND EVERY PROPERTY and it will be like an useless drop in the mouth of an utterly thirsty behemoth growing at the speed of light and killing hundred millions every year in many ways."

Wow.  An utterly thirsty behemoth growing at the speed of light is quite a simile.  You sure you want to go to the "behemoth" analogy?  I mean, I crave some good crazy monsters who suffer from gigantism and murderous psychopathic tendencies but does one want to close with that?  Especially if you are trying to get normals on your side?  Kind of Book of Revelations, in my opinion, which is a pretty good book but it's no 2nd Corinthians.  Let's not kid ourselves, it's too pretty of a day.

Anyway, don't boicot a show.  Never boicot any show, for God's sake, what are we children?  Still, it was nice of Wanda to give Rise of the Numberless all this free pubilicity.  I wonder why more people don't realize that the average human will line up to do something when you tell them specifically not to do it?  Oh, because they are crazy people, that's right.

Thanks, Wanda!


-Eric Roach, Anderson Lawfer

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Your Theatre Company's Marketing Problems

This is not a good picture to market your show

Let's talk for a few about the way we market our theatre companies in Chicago.

After I wrote that sentence, I took a week away from this piece to think. I get so frustrated with the state of our visibility and marketing decisions, that I wanted to make clear, coherent arguments that would be helpful for the discussion instead of angry, insane ramblings like we usually do.

But the thing is, when you have a review blog, you receive no less than 5 press releases a day and the atrocities are constantly in your face.

So let's start off easy and discuss your theatre's Mission Statement.

A Mission Statement is used to grab grant money and to inform potential board members of your goals and the type of work you are interested in doing.

Eclipse Theatre Company presents the work of one playwright each season. We offer the audience an opportunity, unique in the midwest, to journey with us through the playwright's works.

See? Simple, succinct, classy. It tells you what the company does and doesn't talk itself in circles.
Another example in a different style from The Hypocrites:

We will make theater. We will respect the audience. We will create a unique theater experience for every production. We will push our own limits in order to push the limits of theater. We will honor the playwright's intentions. We will hold interest in entertainment and art. We will change these rules.

That seems fun! All quirky and shit... You don't agree? Who cares. It's a Mission Statement and at the end of the day, the only people you are trying to please with this is Corporate Donors, Board Members, and Grant Writers.
You need to say that you are the best, give yourself a little rubdown and move on.
*I am not discounting the importance of a great mission statement, but I think that is something you can figure out for yourself. If you are using it as a guide within your company, stop and make a Constitution so everyone understands their rights and responsibilities in your group.

Now, let's move on, briefly to Show Selection.

Part of the beauty of this town is the unending choices of live entertainment you have in front of you. In plays alone, there are usually at least 1oo shows going on at any one time. The sort of plays you decide to do is your decision, but know that if you love to do Eastern European Existential Farces, that no audience is going to come and see it, and plan accordingly.
Get a smaller theater, cut down your marketing budget, because all the advertising in the world will not help you get people into your place.

So, the long and short of it is, do whatever you want. BUT you are also a consumer and know what people want to see, so just keep that in mind.

Press Releases

This, and the subsequent section are the hardest for me to deal with because I do not have many answers. I can tell you that collectively, we make GOD AWFUL press releases with no end in sight.
The problem is not in our writing ability or in our intentions, it is in the fact that we expect everyone else to be as boring as we are.

Vampire Couch Theatre Company is proud to present a devised new work based on The Ancient Fables of Phaedrus. Entitled "The Joy of Sharks and Romans" Vampire Couch seeks to explore what it means to be a human in these trying times of memories and acceptance. Told through Commedia Dell'Arte, Character based Movement, and Rhythm, Vampire Couch shines a provocative light on Humanity.

Sounds ridiculous, right? No one would ever write something like that, right?
If you think that this fake synopsis sounds ridiculous, you ARE right. If you think that no one would ever write something like this, then you are WRONG, bro.

Read a press release every now and then. They are all terrible. Not all. 90% of them are terrible. You are trying to get people to come and see your show! Pay attention!
Is there somebody in your show that is super hot right now? Did the director get great reviews for something else?
Use that in your release!

"From the Producers of 'Mexican Christmas' comes..."


"Caroline Neff in..."

Why are we afraid to be celebrities and use our names to sell shows?
Are we afraid of fame? Are we scared we will hurt somebody's feelings? If Rob McLean is in a show and his name is not at the fucking top of the bill, you are doing a disservice to your show.

I went and recently saw a Joe Foust play. Now, please bare in mind that Foust is this city's finest actor. People fucking love him. I love him. Do you know where his name was on the advertising?

In alphabetical order.


Is it not worth it to you to use a person's name to help promote your show? See, when you run an entertainment business, you need to stay on top of trends and understand the climate of what is popular and who is making things happen.

As I am writing this write now, I am imagining at least 30% of the readers are very involved in Chicago Theatre and have no idea who Joe Foust is. Or Joe Dempsey. Or even Rich Cotovsky or Lance Baker.

Why don't they know?

Because they don't fucking care! They want to make their own little movement based plays and fight for Chase Grants and explore.

It takes 10 minutes to jump around some websites and find out how your actors are with critics. We have things available to us now that we didn't before. is a great resource for review collections of shows. Go on there and find out about your cast!
We are making a professional decision here to make a show, act like an adult and promote it that way.

If the show is hot, talk about that. You got a great director? Talk about that.

Whatever. Just don't use your play cookie cutter to make a show.

Now, that brings me to Marketing Companies. I know it is very trendy to hire your own Marketing Company right now, and I understand why. Because it is less work for you, less pressure, and you have someone to blame when it doesn't work.

And while they tell you they have 750 contacts they can reach, and you can possibly get on Dueling Critics or they can guarantee a Trib review...go on the internet and see how many new periodical contacts you can get in 30 minutes. Read some of their past work. Ask them who their favorite artists are in town. Chances are, they don't know shit.

I LOVE Shout! Marketing, and think they are knowledgeable and easy to work with, for the record, but unless you have either a hot director, actor or a hot previous show, it's hard for anybody to get Chris Jones to pay attention.

We have created a world where the only voice that is worth anything is Chris Jones at the Trib. There are other great reviewers, including Kerry Reid, Kris Vire and dozens of bloggers that are knowledgeable and worthy of our inclusion .

That being said, the only reviews that make any difference for ticket sales are Chris Jones, a 5 star review from Time Out, and the Asshole at the Times. You cannot worry about what she says, because she doesn't know what she is talking about.

Now, my point is, is that if we continue to rely on reviews from Chris Jones exclusively, we will fail at our potential. He is a smart and nice man, but unfortunately for us, he is also honest.

So how do we turn the tide? We need to constantly be embracing other blogs and periodicals as we would the Trib. Our theatre patrons will follow, if we make it the way. Direct them to sites tat you like and are proud to have in your town. Build their trust. Get a Yelp page.

We, as of today, rely on reviews to sell our shows because we are too lazy to actually try to get subscribers, but if this is going to be the case we need to get creative and put an effort into our exposure through other online sites, AND we need to get off the computer and talk to people and sell our product.

Which brings me to Facebook.
Facebook is our greatest online marketing tool. It connects us with each other in the community and helps us know what else is happening. Now you and I both know, that if we rely exclusively on Facebook to promote our show, then we will fail. We cannot rely on social networking to promote us and keep us afloat. Do not be lazy. People will listen to you speak more than they will read your posts.

That being said, if you have an ensemble member who isn't on Facebook, kick them out.

If you are going to exclusively rely on Facebook, then learn how to use it. Look at your impressions and see what time of day you are getting the most hits. Don't post things at 10pm and expect anyone to read it. The same goes for 7am. Read a book about how to use it correctly, because I am not telling you.

Here's the thing with marketing in this town, too. It's fun! You get to go out and drink! Go to an after party at a theater you have never been to and meet new people. Develop relationships, expand your talent pool. Do not wait for them to come to you, because they won't. They will say that they have never heard of you and change the subject.

We need to make a conscious change in our Facebooking soon because if you haven't noticed, it is suffocating.

You know what is best for your company. You are an artist and can find creative ways to market your product. Stay diligent. Have fun. Bond with fellow artists and learn about the world you are a part of, because lots of other people know about it already and will give your company a chance.

Artistic Directors, make your ensemble go work other places and meet new people. It will help you in the long run. You will meet new faces.

Also, if you are a casting director and you don't go and see theatre then you are an asshole and should be relieved of your duties. Not the same 5 theaters you always go to either. Go! Get out of here and go meet new people!

And last but not least, Marketing Photos.

Go ahead and splurge and take a picture that is interesting. Take a quick walk through a theatre website and look at the artwork you see. It is all awful. The only consistently decent company with this stuff is The House. Why? I dunno. Have you ever seen a House show? I bet at least half of you reading this haven't.

You look at advertising all day, and you are not exempt from making attractive ads. So take a pen around town and see what jumps out at you and what about them are interesting.

If I see one more picture of people standing in corsets in a field I am going to murder you myself.

Chicago, get better at this. Get better at your art and get better at the art of selling your art.

-Anderson Lawfer, Eric Roach

Monday, March 12, 2012

The North Plan (Theater Wit)

Buddeke and Stark look to Lucy Sandy for guidance on sweater fashion

One thing you notice when you arrive at virtually any Chicago Theater is that all companies try to stick to their own genres.

Genres are things that can really help you to find an audience. For example, there are companies that only do Irish plays, Horror plays, plays about food, plays about America, plays about families, plays about Middle Eastern people, plays by one playwright, plays for black people, plays for white people (most theatre companies do plays exclusively for white people), and plays about birds.

So, if I am just a regular guy who loves birds and I don't see a lot of theatre, I might go see this play at Bird Ensemble.

The point is, it takes a lot of nuts and balls and guts and heart to do a play without the safety net of a single genre, because you don't know where your audience is going to come from.

Well, that is exactly what Theater Wit has done with "The North Plan". They have taken their love of every genre ever made and put them all into a single 90 minute play that is sure to delight and inspire you to murder a police officer.

*Note: In my description of this play, I will include the correct genre by the appropriate plot point.

Tanya, a crazy redneck on her way to work, has been arrested for turning herself in for drunken driving (Hillbilly Comedy). She has a long talk with the black lady assistant about her struggle (Civil Rights Drama), and the Sheriff (Small Town Melodrama). Next into the holding cell is Carlton. He doesn't like Tanya because she is loud and obnoxious (Prison Friendship/ Unlikely Partner) but he needs her help because he is talking about how the government has taken over and put the country under martial law. He has a list of some thing or another (Conspiracy Theory), but the Sheriff informs him that unknown officers are coming to collect him and it is important that his name doesn't enter the police system (Existentialism). So he tells Tanya that he needs her help. She makes a sexual advance on him (Romantic Comedy) and he informs her that he is a Gay Jew (Woody Allen).
2 Detectives arrive (Buddy Cop) and rough Carlton up (Torture Porn) telling him that they need the list (Interrogation). Tanya gets out and returns (Mistaken Identity) and there is some hiding (Farce) and then some shooting in the Police Station (Western) which leads to a dramatic conclusion (Yosemite Sam Cartoon).

The performers understand the hefty task they have recognizing and performing in all of these genres and do so with elegant grace and style.

3 performances stand out in my mind as perfect examples of how to just go with it!

Kate Buddeke, as usual, gives her all as a hopeless and unlikeable hick with a heart of oil. See, here's the secret: When the play starts, you think she is a jerk, and when it still think she is a jerk. She is just a jerk for different reasons. Buddeke herself seems very likable in real life, so get off her back, everybody.

In Chicago, we hold our great male actors up on pedestals, and there is one man that stands at the top of the pedestal with aplomb and a disdain for media types. You will never see him give an interview because he is pure art, You cannot interview art. All you can do is watch and wonder what that art means, and then you can discuss the art over coffee when you leave the museum. In this case, that art's name is Kevin Stark. Stark shines brightly in the winter of our theatrical landscape. A star with a mustache and sex appeal that every generation cannot deny. Your daughters and sons from Bronzeville to West Rogers Park are revering him with posters and chat rooms devoted to his whereabouts and favorite things.
Stark portrays the cagey Carlton and works off of Buddeke magnificently. He treats her with both mercy and respect, intertwined with bouts of confusion and anger.

The last and certainly greatest actor to emerge in Chicago in the last 5 years is Tom Hickey. Hickey has a small but important role and, as always, steals the show and puts it into his duffel bag that he always carries with him. If you ever have an opportunity to meet Tom Hickey, he will undoubtedly be holding his trusty duffel bag and when you ask him what is inside, he won't answer you. He will probably change the subject to the weather or a recent film, but you will know that inside that duffel bag, is the show he has just stolen from everyone and he is going to take it home and impregnate that show.

Applause to Kimberly Senior and Theater Wit for directing and producing this show that, in any other hands, would have been confined to a singular genre, and the magic would be gone.

I loved every rootin-tootin second of it!!!


-Anderson Lawfer, Eric Roach

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

What To Make Of All These "Slut" Comments (Theories)

While we were talking this morning, the subject came around to the recent Rush Limbaugh comments painting a 30 year old college girl as a “Slut” and the news that Snooki has gone up and got herself engaged. We discussed what it means to be a slut, what it means to be a man, and what we can do about it.
Here is our unedited conversation.

We've seen way too much of Snooki...where are the salacious details and dirty pictures of our friends? I'm getting sick of pics of Kate Upton and Megan Fox, why won't all the girls I know on Facebook get naked?

I mean, these are girls who will go on something called a "Slutwalk", but wear jeans and a sensible top. When I open a photo album labeled SLUTWALK know what I don't want? Pics of girls smiling in medium shot.

Are we heading towards a world where women are taking back the word slut like African-Americans did with the N word?
That’s great!

But, if you want to be treated like a man, and not called a slut, then you need to grab a couple sluts and bend them over a dumpster because that is what MEN do.

Women work day jobs and eat salads for lunch like men do but they refuse to ask for bathroom blowjobs like men do. So what can we do to help them? They are hurting themselves here.

More girls SHOULD be wanna act like men? Sleep around, send shirtless pics of yourself to all your friends, and give handies to total strangers.

Only then can slut shaming end, and slut AMAZINGNESS can begin.

I'm giving Andy a handie RIGHT NOW.  Not because I want to, but because society said so

I just sent topless pics to some dude i met at the Jewel-Osco. DOES THAT MAKE ME A SLUT? Then oh well!

I guess I’m a slut.

You wanna shame us for that? Go right ahead...I'll still buttfuck your father, like a MAN would.

With these 24 hour media channels and so much diversity in this country, we've all gone way too far with worrying about what words actually mean.  Slut means you like facials and getting paid a steady wage.
Just like a MAN.

“Slut” means something dirty. Being a Man means getting fingerblasted at a party by a work friend and getting really long painted nails.

Do we need a protest for this? Cuz I will get on the bus to Camp David for it. I will fuck my way to the Berlin Wall if that’s what it takes. For people to know what it means to be a dirty, filthy slut.

We're all mad at Snooki because she's a slut on TV...I applaud her for being a real man in a slut's world. And if she wants to clap that booty, then fucking clap it, you MAN!

So all you women out there that want to be paid like a man and treated like a man, then ACT LIKE A MAN and get out there and blow all your boyfriend’s college buddies!

-Eric Roach, Anderson Lawfer