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Connection, Intimacy, Beauty, Love

Connection, Intimacy, Beauty, love

These are the words that we’ve proposed as topics for our new blog series to span over the next few months. All of them are values we Halcyon-ites hold very firmly. They’re words that are exciting. Evocative. Cool. Awesome.

Except for what the HELL do they actually mean?!

Belileve me, as someone who has been in theatre since I was four, I hear these words a lot. I can give you dictionary definitions, two page interpretations, and even BFA acting-journal-approved explanations of each of these terms. But at the end of the day, that’s all it is. Talk.

I think if you ask most theatre companies, they would say, “Yes, we’re down with love/connection/intimacy/etc.” And I would be hard pressed to find anyone who said otherwise. But the problem is, not many know how to actually walk the talk and actually implement those values into their art and business any further than a superficial level. For an art form that is supposed to be so basically human, it sure can seem elite.    

So, needless to say, as much of a self-proclaimed Bleeding heart as I am, I went into this a little jaded. It was hard for me to see how we as a company would be able to actually achieve what most theatres simply talk about in every level of our business model and artistic practice.

It came time to test it when we had our first Ceyx Performance of the season. During the series, we- as a company- reach out to various artists in the Chicago-land community who have unique and diverse skill sets and ask them to showcase their talents with us for a night. (This time around: Artist Frank Waln and Hoop Dancer Sam Sampson, Improvised Jane Austen, Brothers Lovish and Mahi, and our own Artist in Resident Robert Salazar.)

This was also our first night implementing our new Radical Hospitality Program.

There are lots of super fancy ways to break down Radical Hospitality (Check out the link here to see more about how we do it) but the basic gist is that, at every performance, a set amount of the house will be set aside as free seating to be given out on a first-come first-serve basis and in order to guarantee seating, you can call the box office or purchase them online. Basically, if anyone wants to see a show with us, they can- regardless of financial standing. As a company that firmly believes in Eradicating Borders, this kind of policy makes perfect sense.  I was already standing behind it, but I was completely unprepared for the true effect it would have.

On that Friday night, as I stood helping with concessions and set up, I saw our radical hospitality take life in the diverse (in every sense of the word) faces that flowed into the space. I already knew the performances were going to be DOPE, but the magic and energy that came from the audience was what made the night stellar.

Sitting there, in the theatre filled with performers of differing backgrounds (watching them snap instagram pics together and promoting each other after meeting an hour before), my fellow Halcyonites who worked so hard to get the night together, and a room full of Albany Park teens, Parents on a night out, College students, kids, and several other members from the community- I felt it. I felt all those airy-fairy words come together.

THIS is connection/intimacy/love/beauty not just in our words, but in our practice. For an hour, we were just a group of humans, celebrating, honoring, and entertaining together and it was entirely fueled by the fact that everyone was welcome.

We say we open our doors to everyone, and by implementing radical hospitality into our event programming, we prove and ensure that we really mean it.  

We’re saving a seat for you, each and every one of you- no matter what walk of life you’re from.

And that’s pretty awesome.

 

Spotlight Artist: Kelly Opalko

Kelly Opalko in The Emperor of the Moon

Kelly Opalko

Company Member and Company Co-Manager, with Halcyon since 2012 where she started as an Artist-in-Residence

Favorite Halcyon shows:
Emperor of the Moon

Favorite show you either saw or acted in or both, whatever:
Burning Bluebeard by The Ruffians

Complete the sentence I create theatre because:
There are always stories to be told.

If you weren't a theatre artist what would you be:
Ideally, successful Etsy store owner.

What is one of your favorite neighborhoods in Chicago and why:
I love going downtown to the Loop. It's a nice reminder of the fact we live in a big city with amazing architecture and industry.

How did your family/friends react to you joining the arts?
I've been involved in the performing arts my whole life, but my family was surprised by my decision to study theater. They assumed I would continue studying music or go into one of the sciences, since I was an honors student throughout school.

What's the strangest thing you've been asked to do onstage?
I had to chant in Hawaiian for a production of The Tempest.

How do you judge success in a show?
A successful show is one that leaves the audience thinking about what they saw. They should leave having learned something or questioning something they wouldn't have been exposed to otherwise.

How do you overcome rejection?
I just remind myself that it's only one project or production. There will always be more auditions and more opportunities to look for.

 

*pictured: Kelly Opalko in The Emperor of the Moon,
photo by Charlotte Woolf Photography

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Spotlight Saturday: Sarah Laeuchli

We are so excited to present our first weekly Halcyon Blog segment of "SPOTLIGHT SATURDAY", where we showcase one of Halcyon's great artists and share some of their stores from the stage. We will be starting off with Company Member and Director of New Play Development, Sarah Laeuchli!

Sarah LaeuchliSarah Laeuchli

Company Member and Director of New Play Development, with Halcyon since January 2012. 

Favorite Halcyon shows:
A Lover's Dismantling. It was part of the Alcyone Festival in 2012 and was absolutely fantastic!

Favorite show you’ve ever been involved with: 
I directed a workshop of Fin Coe's Dogwood Triptych—I love working on new plays and Fin's work is brilliant. It makes me excited that our company can do projects like that.

Worst/most embarrassing stage moment:
I was in Grapes of Wrath in college and rocked a really horrible Oklahoma accent. I still shudder thinking about it.

Favorite Theatre Artist:
Katie Mitchell. She has such a great approach to directing and working with actors. I steal so many of her exercises and rehearsal techniques.  

Complete the sentence “I create theatre because”:
I create theatre because I've seen work by wonderful artists that has made me laugh, cry, feel amazing and scary things, and I want to create that experience for other people. 

If you weren't a theatre artist what would you be: I
would run a bakery. And make pies. All day

What is one of your favorite neighborhoods in Chicago and why:
Lakeview! It's my home.

What's your first step for tackling a design/role/play/script?
Read it, read it, read it, and then when I'm getting sick of it, read it one more time. Nothing helps me prepare for a production like knowing the story backwards and forwards.

What does "making it big" mean to you?
How do you judge success in a show? If the actors had a positive experience being in it, and the audience has a positive experience seeing it, then I call that a success :) 

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We’re Gonna Have a Baby!

  • Posted on: 8 October 2013
  • By: Jenn

Each project that you get involved with as an artist feels a little bit like a new baby, doesn't it? The idea is the conception (or being cast if you are an actor), you feed it with ideas, you nurture it with rehearsals and meetings, you give it as much love as you can, and even when you can't see into the future you try to shape how it will be born into performance.

Last January, we started on a journey with no idea where it would take us. Now 9 months later, it is ready to be born.

We started as a group of 10. Inspired by the fact that the 50th anniversary of The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was coming up, we watched documentaries and movies, researched people, and looked at everything from the abolishment of slavery to Wounded Knee and the Gay Rights Movement, and learned about ways that our lives have been impacted by the Civil Rights Movement that we don't even think of. We also watched documentaries on form and style, design, performance icons, and music, in order to get a sense of what style of piece we wanted to create.

And we wrote.... lord, how we wrote. Each documentary, each song and picture, was inspiration for a writing exercise. We wrote scenes, monologues, dance pieces, songs, and carney freak puppet shows!

We rehearsed and performed them for each other. We put them on film to watch later.

One exercise involved making a list of the non-realism styles of theatre, some of which included: Vaudeville, Burlesque, Clown, Circus, Minstrel, Puppet, Hip-hop, spoken word, carnival, acrobat, TED talk, masque, radio/soundscape, kara walker-esque cutouts, standup/comedy, grand guignol, farce, agitprop, mystery play, satyr play, zar/funeral encantation, flamenco, kabuki, Sanskrit drama, street busking, medicine show... and then being given prompts to create in those modes that we were most intimidated by. Some of these were styles I had never even heard of! But it led to incredible risk-taking and bravery on the part of the artists involved. Because to talk about the Civil Rights movement is to explore some very serious issues. Hard topics that open centuries of wounds. And the trust in the room allowed us to do that. To talk openly, to share, to be silly, and vulnerable, and brave.

Much like the Civil Rights Movement, it wasn't one event and it wasn't always the same people. There was a core group that was there from beginning until now, and then there were people that joined and left along the way. There were fights about what we were trying to accomplish. There were split feelings about what we were trying to say. We wondered who was navigating. There were times when we wanted to give up, or wondered if it was really going to happen at all. And then there were times when we would see the most beautiful piece of art created, that it made it all worth it.

It really has been a hard labor; sometimes breech, sometimes having the umbilical cord wrapped too tight, or feeling like this baby was swimming around aimlessly with no sense of how to get out. And the next three weeks are going to be all about sculpting, crafting, and molding what is being born on October 25 to give it the best life possible and with the goal of letting the audience explore with us how far we have come in our fight for freedom and equality, and how far we still have to go.

But I have been changed by this process, and I am not even part of what is going on in rehearsals. I can't imagine how much it has impacted the artists who have been involved the whole way through. Nine months is a long time- ask any expectant mother. But what you have becomes a part of you for the rest of your life.

So, we're not REALLY having a baby... But just like a baby, you feed a play, you nurture it, give it your best, and hope that all of your hard work pays off. You hope the audience becomes a part of that journey and learns, grows, thinks, challenges, and experiences the best parts of what you have been laboring towards. We hope you come see it, and share with us your experience.

 

When The Stars Align: Writing Heart Shaped Nebula

Me: Hey, Tony. I’m happy to write a blog post for you guys leading up to the [Alcyone] festival.

Tony: Great. Write a blog post explaining why you decided to write play about astrophysics.

The Milky Way - Image by Casey Mac

Why did I decide to write a play about astrophysics?

Short answer:

I didn’t.

Long answer:

And I do mean long. I didn’t mean for this blog post to go on and on, but it did.

As for answering the question, it’s going to be a bit of a challenge to see if I can do so without including any spoilers. But, dear reader, if you’re up for it so am I.

It started with an image.

This is how most plays begin for me, as a moment of visual inspiration. I was watching television. Yes, playwrights watch television. The broadcast was abruptly interrupted by an Emergency Alert and as its message scrolled across the screen an image arose in my mind: a girl and a man in a motel room.

I knew two things immediately. First, this image was a play. And second, I did not like the set up. Meaning, I did not want to write a play about a child in the clutches of a predator.

So then, why? Why were they in the room together?

And this, dear reader, is where we teeter very close to spoilers so you will have to forgive me for not giving you a direct answer. But I will say that I found my answer by turning to science.

I grew up with a lot of science in my life. My father taught Earth Science at my local Jr. High. So I participated in science fair from kindergarten to high school—and let me just say that volcanoes are not proper science experiments. Sorry, but after 13 years of applying the Scientific Method, I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder.

But yes, lots of science.

As a child I saw Haley’s Comet through a telescope in a dark Austin park with hundreds of others. I’ve walked the rim of a dormant volcano. Stood next to dinosaur footprints. Marveled at the beauty of stalagmites and stalactites. Was disappointed that Meteor Crater is fenced off and no, you can’t go down into it. Witnessed multiple lunar eclipses, solar eclipses and the Perseid Meteor shower.

The Perseid Meteor shower holds a special place in my heart. It happens every year mid August and the first time I saw the shower was a spectacular experience. I mean, the shower varies from year to year but the first time I saw it was special. Special because despite the light pollution in my small town (not a lot of light, but usually any lights from town or houses impede viewing) didn’t matter. That year there were so many meteors that streaked across the sky. Their tales were so wide I could hardly believe it. And they seemed so close, as if you could reach up and grab a hold of them.

Now, because Heart Shaped Nebula was using a scientific principle to explain why Amara (a 13-year-old girl) and Miqueo (a 36-year-old man) are in the same motel room, I decided that the third character—Dalila—was going to be an astronomer.

And that’s when Heart Shaped Nebula became a love story. And to be honest it’s a love story on many levels. I put my love for astronomy and Greek mythology into the play. I put my nostalgia [read love] for my home state of Texas into the play. And I put personal, almost autobiographical, love into the play.

So the long answer is, I didn’t “decide” to write a play about astrophysics. It was almost as if the play sorta made the decision. And more than once it’s felt like the stars were aligning for this play in a mysterious and wonderful way.

For example, the title Heart Shaped Nebula. When I first began writing this play I struggled with figuring out a potential title. But then while working on a monologue for Miqueo—a muralist—I found myself describing one of his murals. I was scribbling notes when I wrote down “heart shaped nebula.”

Is there a heart shaped nebula?

The Heart Shaped NebulaThat’s what I wondered as I looked down at the phrase. I mean, I knew there was a horse head nebula. A crab nebula. So I immediately went online to do a google search. Lo and behold there is a Heart Nebula.

Gift number one from the Universe.

But not only is there is a Heart Nebula, there’s also a Soul Nebula, too. And it turns out they are both located in the Perseus arm of the Galaxy.

Perseus.

As in the Perseid meteor shower. The meteor shower has that name because the meteors appear to come from the constellation Perseus. And coincidentally both the Perseid meteor shower and the constellation Perseus are important elements in the plot of the play.

Gift number two from the Universe.

I mean, it sounds like I planned it. Like I knew in advance. But I didn’t. Instead I merely uncovered the connections that already existed. And all on chance. All on the happenstance of stringing three words together: heart shaped nebula.

Turns out those three words unlocked the play. And as the tumblers fell into place it felt like the entire Universe opened up to me in that moment and gave me a brief glimpse of something very special. I hope you’ll come see for yourself.

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Begin at the Beginning

  • Posted on: 5 August 2013
  • By: Jenn

This is when I rub my hands together and say “Ooooo....Where to start? How to begin?” With every new project, each new cast, it is always the first question when rehearsals start.

Do more movement or dissect the language? Work on relationships or start with pacing? Every script needs something different, and each actor has a different way of communicating. And sometimes at the first read through, you still aren’t all the way cast! It’s always a little nerve-wracking, and for me, always very exciting.

The festival poses another challenge, in that sometimes as a director you don’t have your play for a long time before getting into rehearsal, so a lot of preparation needs to be done very quickly.

In my case this year, we have been looking at Emperor of the Moon for a long time, but I wasn’t looking at it as a director. And it was written in 1687. To take place in Naples. So there is a lot of language to be gone through, research to be done, and decisions to be made about whether to keep the time and place as written or change them.

The whole point of the festival is to focus on the playwright. When we are working with a contemporary writer, we stress the importance of continued dialogue with the playwright throughout the process, and making sure the playwright’s choices always take precedence, even if that means the director has to put their own vision or needs on the back burner.

However, another portion of Halcyon’s mission comes into play when dealing with a playwright who has been dead for over 400 years. Recasting classics can mean this;

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recasting classics can also mean this;

 

 

 

 

 

 

meaning, to reshape and mold a piece to keep the playwright’s original intentions in place while showing how the piece still resonates today.

I am choosing to set Emperor of the Moon in 1930, keeping it in Naples. I looked at many different time periods, both before and after we landed on the moon, and decided 1930 would be a great fit because of the similarities with 1687 and now in terms of financial and government instability around the world, the fascination and mystique of astrology and space travel....

AND it will be so fun! The whole end of the play is a big charade, and what better place to do that than in a SPEAKEASY! There is tons of music and dancing, and maybe a guest appearance by Katy Perry... we shall see...

I hope I am right, and I hope you agree. I can’t wait for you to check it out and tell me what you think.

Introducing Alcyone 13

  • Posted on: 31 July 2013
  • By: Tony

We’re gearing up for the Alcyone Festival again. This year is a little later in the year than last. It’ll open September 7th, instead of in mid-summer as we normally do.

I’m pretty excited to say we’ll be performing this year’s festival in Albany Park, which has been our home base for a while now, even though we’ve been doing most of our public performances in other parts of the city. With the new location, we took a little more time for planning.

Performances will be at Christ Lutheran Church, where we’ve been rehearsing for the past two years.  I also love that it’s where Albany Park Theatre Project started. They’re one of my favorite arts organizations in the country, so I’m happy to be performing where they began.

In addition to the new performance location, we’ve also made a lot of internal changes. Our organizational model is completely different, we’ve added awesome company members and the artists-in-residence program and  a lot of really exciting new programming that’s about to go out of the lab and into the world in the next year.

So with all that, it seemed a natural fit to have this year’s theme for the Alcyone festival be “A New Dawn, A New Day.”

This year’s lineup includes a pretty great mix of plays, from classical farce to new plays being developed in the festival.

The full lineup includes:

  • The Emperor of the Moon by Aphra Behn, directed by Jennifer Adams
  • Heart  Shaped Nebula by Marisela Treviño Orta, directed by Juan Castañeda
  • One Week in Spring by Kristiana Colón, directed by Tara Branham
  • The First Woman by Nambi E. Kelley, directed by Alexander St. John
  • MAY 39th by Callie Kimball, directed by Rinska Carrasco-Prestinary

For me it’s also a great mix of people we’ve worked with for a long time, people we’ve wanted to work with for a long time and great artists we’ve meeting for the first time.

As we get closer to the festival, each of the plays and their processes will be talked about more here, but I’m really excited to be able to share these with you.

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How to Accomplish a Big Goal

Greetings from New York City! I recently started my own blog and want to share this post comparing completing a big item from your To-Do list to finishing dessert.

Enjoy! 

How to Accomplish a Big Goal

The Costco Pumpkin Pie with its 12-inch pie crust. From pievcake.

or How to Eat a Costco Pumpkin Pie by Yourself!

I’ve got a number of projects on my mind and am determined to finish each one, but I get overwhelmed if I try to do them all at once. Even if I’m working hard, I spread myself too thin and end up making very little progress in any direction at all. Then I get discouraged and wind up giving up or at least spending a lot more time and energy stressing than necessary. So recently, I’ve been making my daily and weekly goal lists smaller – only 3 big items per day (and maybe 2 or 3 other little things). The keys are to focus on one thing at a time and to break down the big goal into little steps.

I liken it to buying and eating Costco desserts when I’m shopping for one: dessert-loving ME.

1. Focus on one goal at a time:

I really love their All American Chocolate Cake. It may look small, but I'm pretty sure it feeds 30.

Costco’s All-American Chocolate Cake. Looks small here but is 4 layers tall & easily feeds 30.

If I buy two desserts at Costco, like my favorites, the pumpkin pie (12-inch pie crust, $6) and the All-American cake (the biggest rich and moist chocolate cake you can buy for $17), I simply will not be able to eat them both in a timely matter without making myself sick. They take up a ton of room in my fridge and will sit on the middle shelf reminding me of my failure to shop wisely every time I open the fridge.

However, if I only buy one dessert at a time, let’s say the pumpkin pie because it’s marginally healthier and a party in my mouth, then I can focus on finishing that pie before it goes bad at a pace that won’t make me gain 5 pounds in a week. Totally doable. And delicious.

2. Break down the big goal into little steps:

While I might be tempted, I’m not going to eat the pie all at once or…even in thirds. I’m going to tackle consuming the pumpkin goodness in smaller pieces. Every time I have a slice, perhaps one for breakfast and for a snack or dessert, I cut only a small piece and put it on a small plate. Not only do I enjoy it more – a nicely cut piece presented on an appropriately-sized plate is much more special than eating forkfuls of pie from the container while standing at the counter – I also don’t get tired of eating it and don’t stuff myself to self-loathing.

Accomplishing a big goal can be just as enjoyable (and without self-loathing). Focus on one big goal at a time.*  And break down your goal into smaller steps; write out the steps if there are more than you can count on one hand! For instance, when I’m creating my new reel, I might break it down to the following:

  1. Decide which clips I want to use and in what order.
  2. Gather all of the clips into one place on my computer.
  3. Work through the clips, deciding which parts to use for the reel, and add them accordingly for a very rough cut.
  4. Edit the clips and transitions to a rough cut
  5. Add opening and closing pictures/videos
  6. Add titles
  7. Review the rough cut to the final version
  8. Upload the reel to my website and my casting profiles as desired.
  9. Publicize my new reel through twitter or facebook, etc.

Writing these steps out will also help you foresee issues or think of additional steps that might be needed. For instance, maybe I thought I had all of my clips I decided to use (in Step 1), but I realized I have two only on DVD. So I have to create an extra step – 1.5 – to figure out how to get my DVD videos onto my computer. (FYI: I used Handbrake. No Mac the Ripper required!)

Without breaking down (and writing out!) these steps, “make new reel” on my weekly goals list is such a big undertaking that I probably won’t get anything related to it done. And it can get pretty disheartening to see “MAKE NEW REEL” on your list every single week.

I love Costco & often consider getting a giant $30 teddy bear…but he’d have to pay rent.

I love Costco & often consider getting a giant $30 teddy bear, but at his size he’d have to pay rent.

So learn from my discouragement!

Focus on a single big goal, like editing a new reel or creating a new habit, and break it down into steps, just like eating a Costco pumpkin pie. I like my pieces toasted and with whipped cream. Mmmmm…accomplishing a goal and eating pie without stress: delicious!

In case you want more, here are two articles from NerdFitness:

*Caveat: If you find that the project needs a lot of time between stages, like paint needing to dry between coats, you can have another project to switch to…but only if you REALLY get bored.

The original post from June 13, 2013. 

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