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Podcast: Anne Garcia-Romero

Anne Garcia-Romero photo

In this episode, Halcyon Theatre artistic director Tony Adams talks with playwright and scholar Anne Garcia-Romero. She's a resident playwright at Chicago Dramatists, a professor at Notre Dame, and author of the fantastic book, The Fornes Frame: Contemporary Latina Playwrights and the Legacy of Maria Irene Fornes

She talks about balancing being an artist and a scholar, studying with María Irene Fornés, how teaching frees her up to focus on playwriting, how she ended up getting both an MFA and a PhD,  what she's learned over her career, and more.

The Fornes Frame can be picked up from The University of Arizona Press or on amazon, if not at your local bookstore. I highly recommend it. 

(66 minutes)

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Her website is annegarciaromero.com

More links:

The Fornés Institure

The Latina/o Theatre Commons

Chicago Dramatists

More info on Halcyon Theatre at halcyontheatre.org

intro music Whispering Through by Asura

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Halcyon Applauds the work of #NotInOurHouse

We at Halcyon have been trying to process the recent (and continuing) current events regarding harassment and the endangerment of Chicago artists. It is important to note that these instances are not happening more often than before; they are simply coming to light with more consistency, and being addressed out in the open. We applaud the Chicago theatrical community’s response, and the hard work being done by ‪#‎NotInOurHouse‬, and especially wish to advocate for continuing this vital conversation.

The issues facing theatre artists in our community are not limited to any one theater or any one person; nor are they always so prominent or so well­ documented. It is important for theatres all across the city to continue educating ourselves and examining ourselves, individually and together as a community. This is how we can keep the discussion going and ensure real, lasting change for all, especially for those least able to advocate for and protect themselves. Continue the discussion; continue the transformation; continue letting the light in. “Sunlight is the best disinfectant”.

Tony Adams, Artistic Director
Jenn Adams, Director of Community Engagement
Laura Stephenson, Company Manager
Kelly Opalko, Production Manager
Fin Coe, Associate Artistic Director

Podcast: Lisa Portes

Lisa Portes photoIn this episode, Halcyon Theatre artistic director Tony Adams talks with Lisa Portes. A director and educator, she serves as the head of MFA Directing program at The Theatre School at DePaul University and is artistic director of Chicago Playworks for Young Audiences. She is also a founding member of the Latina/o Theatre Commons, and one of the producers of last year's Carnaval.

She talks about her path as a director, her process, and more.

(58 minutes)

intro music Whispering Through by Asura

Podcast: Callie Kimball

Callie Kimball photoIn this debut episode of Moment to Moment, artistic director Tony Adams talks with Callie Kimball, playwright of our current production Dreams of the Penny Gods. She talks about her work, life as a playwright, what keeps her going, weathering rejection and more. 

(48 Minutes)

Callie's play Dreams of the Penny Gods plays at Halcyon Theatre through May 1, 2016. halcyontheatre.org/pennygods

Links:

http://calliekimball.com

halcyontheatre.org

intro music Whispering Through by Asura

Meet the Artists of Dreams of the Penny Gods: Callie Kimball

by Claire Reinhart

Callie Kimball has been here in Chicago during the lead up to the opening of her play, Dreams of the Penny Gods. She’s been a welcome face in the room, and we’re so happy she’s been here! Callie is an accomplished playwright- her plays have been produced and developed at Team Awesome Robot, Halcyon Theatre, Lark Play Development Center, Drama League, The Brick Theater, Project Y Theatre, Absolute Theatre, Washington Shakespeare Company, The Kennedy Center, Mad Horse Theatre, and elsewhere. Her full bio is here if you want to learn more (which you definitely should- she's awesome)! She graciously took the time to answer a few questions about the show and her process.

Q: Tell us about some things that helped inspire this piece.

This play was inspired partly by the monsters in Beowulf. I find it fascinating that Grendel even has a mother, and doubly fascinating that she's also a monster. I asked myself who would count as monsters in today's world, and it has to be someone who has killed a child. Then I was reading some of the testimony from the Casey Anthony trial, and it astounded me how that family had set up a whole infrastructure of lies and tacit agreements that, when viewed from the outside, were completely unsupportable and ridiculous, but that worked for them. So in this play I'm exploring how a criminal family behaves, and how they provoke emotional collusions and physical collisions of a higher order. Can someone from such a family ever escape? And if they escape, where do they run to?

Q: Why is it important to the story that this play is set in Maine?

It could just as easily be set in a small town in Idaho. It’s about people who are living off the grid, who come from poor circumstances and who make poor choices. Which could be anywhere, but my family happens to be from Maine, so it’s a very specific place in my mind, full of blue-collar (or no-collar) people scraping out a living for generations. The generations part of it is important—we see three generations of this family in this play. My family goes back several generations in Maine—they were carpenters, lumberjacks, and lobstermen. Maine seems to have a hold on people’s imaginations as a place of seclusion and natural charm. I wanted to show the dark side of that seclusion, and remind people that it’s not all postcard coastlines up here. There’s a lot of entrepreneurship borne of limited choices, and a lot of families dealing with that legacy of limitation. That said, it’s an hour from Boston, so it feels remote and urban at the same time, a place you could either escape to or escape from.

Q: What makes this play a good fit with Halcyon Theatre?

For one thing, director Jenn Adams is from Standish*, Maine, the next town over from where the play is set! So I think Jenn connected with the material on a level where it felt familiar. In talking with her about the play, I know she “gets” on a deep level who these people are, what fuels their cruelty and desperation, and how matter-of-fact they are when coping with scarcity in their lives.

Q: What makes this play relevant to a modern Chicago audience?

Halcyon’s commitment to putting diverse stories on stage for diverse audiences is inspiring, and I think there’s a lot in this play that people from many walks of life can relate to. When this play was done as my MFA thesis, I was surprised by the number of men who shared with me that the relationship between Kitty and both Bobby and Bug somehow echoes their own relationship with their father. Each family hands down a psychological inheritance, a specific worldview and set of rules for navigating that world, and in this play we get to see what it looks like when a particularly destructive inheritance is exposed and ultimately rejected. It takes strength to break from family. In this play, we see a 13-year-old girl who’s at best ignored and at worst abused, figure out how to grow her mind, find her voice, and keep hope alive in an extremely toxic environment. She uses every tool at her disposal to make sense of the situation she finds herself in. Any time we can see things through a child’s eyes is a chance to see ourselves anew. But for all of Bug’s inherent goodness, she is a product of her environment. It is not insignificant that her first act, upon gaining her freedom, is a criminal one.  

Q: What is one part of this play that you're excited to see come to life?

The fights. The fights are big and glorious. They start with a real or imagined slight that becomes a dance of escalating hurt and cruelty between Bobby and Kitty. This family has ridiculous fights when they run out of words. Half the time the words are lies anyway because the truth is too much to bear. If Bug is the heart of the play, Bobby and Kitty are fists that can’t open. They have a long history of fighting in a certain way, and there’s a moment near the end when Bobby goes “off-script,” when he takes things to a higher level by speaking the unspeakable—the truth—and Kitty is lost in the face of it. If Act One is a storm on the ocean's surface, where death is a possibility, Act Two is the same storm 100 feet below, where death is certain. Kitty and Bobby are like two monsters in the mud. Any time one of them tries to pull themselves out, the other drags them back in. Act One is about what they think they can get away with; Act Two is about what they can't.

Follow the link here for the event information on Dreams of the Penny Gods!

*An earlier version of this interview had Jenn's hometown as Saco, Maine. She's originally from Standish. However her mom, uncle, and two cousins are all based in Saco, Maine currently!

Arthur Chu On In Love and Warcraft

A note from the program for Halcyon's production of In Love and Warcraft

Arthur Chu HeadshotWhenever I need a funny anecdote to tell people about my personal life, I fall back on the story of how myDungeons and Dragons character started dating my wife’s Dungeons and Dragons character before we ourselves began dating in real life.

That was, at least, an in-person “virtual” relationship conducted at a tabletop over game books, dice and pizza on paper plates--although I’ve also had my share of brushes with the kind of online romance In Love and Warcraft deals with.

It’s an unusual story but maybe not as unusual as it seems at first glance--it’s not so different from the fairly common story of actors who play characters who are in love with each other and end up dating in real life. (Disclaimer: I know nothing whatsoever about the cast of this production or whether this applies to them.)

All relationships start on the surface before going deeper. Everything starts off as a fantasy, a possibility--imagining what it would be like to know this person, love this person, have sex with this person, live forever with this person--that we hold at arm’s length for some time in consideration before we plunge into the reality.

After all, isn’t “normal” dating a role-playing game? We dress up nicer than we normally look, we psych ourselves up to be wittier and more interesting than we normally act, we tell little white lies to put ourselves in the best possible light. We sell a fantasy version of ourselves. Just like the role-playing game of a job interview, or Thanksgiving with your parents.

Geeks just tend to take this a little further than most, as geeks are wont to do. I include the geeks who play D&D and World of Warcraft alongside the theatre geeks here--there is, after all, major overlap between the two groups.

I’d like to think that those of us who are drawn to any form of escapism--high art or low art, Shakespeare or Star Wars--are so drawn because we see the fantasy in reality and the reality in fantasy. We know that all the world’s a stage, and we’re unhappy with the roles we’ve been asked to play. We gravitate to “abnormal” environments where we play “artificial” roles that we feel somehow reveal more of our true selves than what we show when we’re at the office or hanging out at the bar. We’ll repurpose any environment we’re given to our own ends, be it elaborate sword-and-sorcery sagas like World of Warcraft or simple iPhone apps like Words with Friends. (My two friends who got together over Words with Friends got married last weekend.)

And yes, a lot of what we do is messed up and unhealthy. But is it that much more unhealthy than what everyone else does?

In Love and Warcraft isn’t the first work of art I’ve seen that explores the messy world of online gaming from an authentic, insider’s perspective--I’d have to give credit for that to Felicia Day’s The Guild. But In Love and Warcraft isn’t really about Warcraft the way The Guild is.

Only one of the major characters is a gamer, and rather than the all-too-common approach of treating Evie’s alienation from the “real world” as a bizarrely fascinating sickness to be studied and cured, our playwright Madhuri Shekhar explores how Evie’s alienation is just one alienation among many.

Evie is a Cyrano de Bergerac, someone intimately familiar with and fascinated by the idea of romance, enough to make a living ghostwriting love letters for other people. But she’s never experienced romance in the flesh, is physically a virgin and is wrestling with her fear of intimacy. She loves the idea of love but is terrified of its physical reality, whether it will or won’t live up to the image she’s built up for it in her mind.

That’s not so unusual in a world where all of us are inundated by book and film and TV romance plots long before we hit puberty. I certainly find her more relatable than her roommate and best friend Kitty, who’s been through the trappings of romance time and time again--especially the sex part, which is the most fun part--but has neither experience with nor desire for a “real relationship.”

Our culture has plenty of people in both situations. Our technology enables us to move as far as we want in either direction. There’s couples on the Internet who spend months or years communicating by emails and chats without ever meeting; there’s people who get smartphone apps so they can swipe right on a person’s photo within five miles of their location for an instant hookup, no questions asked.

Both are valid strategies. Both are ways to choose to expose one part of your life while keeping another protected. Both are masks you can wear, roles you can play. One isn’t any more or less real than the other.

In Love and Warcraft presents the complicated world we live in and the many masks we wear without judgment, asking us simply to empathize with the hard choices the characters make about what to conceal and what to reveal at any moment.

As a gamer I love finally being able to hear terms like “DPS”, “L2P!” and “noob” on a theatrical stage. But ultimately In Love and Warcraft isn’t about games. It just uses one particular, colorful stage and set of masks--the avatars players assume when they enter the mystic land of Azeroth--to illustrate the eternal challenge of one person, in her time, forced to play many parts.

In 2014 Arthur Chu found himself a viral celebrity after winning $400,000 on the game show Jeopardy!, becoming a controversial public figure in the process. Along the way, he caught the attention of the media speaking on the toxicity in online culture and “geek” spaces. He currently writes about his various cultural and political obsessions for The Daily Beast, Salon and other publications.

Director's Note for The War Zone is My Bed

by Dani Snyder-Young

Gaza. Syria. The Ukraine. We live in a time of violence. This summer, I have returned nightly from rehearsing The War Zone is My Bed to watch powerlessly as global tragedies play out across my television screen. I engage with them as a spectator and as a voyeur, sipping a cool drink and eating a small meal in my comfortable family room in my quiet and safe-feeling home a few blocks from here. I have the luxury of turning off the television or changing the channel when the horror of the images gets to be too much.

This play tells the interweaving stories of three couples whose lives are intertwined with the act of representing trauma in times of war. Tragedy may surround them, but they steal moments of pleasure and affirm their humanity; they love and laugh and find joy in being alive together. But a fundamental imbalance of geopolitical power is embedded in each scene—someone has the power to leave and tell the story and someone does not. What does it mean to have the privilege to tell the story?

The goal of this production is to open up a productive conversation about the way we, contemporary American audiences, engage with global traumas as spectators, watching the horrors of war from the safe distance of our television screens, interacting with them as we choose to click on internet links or play out fictionalized narratives in war games. I ask you to look at this work as a provocation, thinking critically about ways we, as the privileged ones who get to watch, are complicit in these characters’ struggles.

When The Stars Align: Writing Heart Shaped Nebula

by Marisela Treviño Orta 

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.

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?

That’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.