Meet the Artists of Dreams of the Penny Gods: Ted James

Today’s profile features Ted James, who is a company member with Halcyon Theatre. Ted is an actor, playwright, filmmaker, and producer based in Chicago. His video production work is also great, and you’ve probably seen some of it on some major networks. He’s genuinely very cool; everyone thinks so. Read below to hear his reflections of the upcoming production of Dreams of the Penny Gods by Callie Kimball:

Q: What’s your name, and what’s your role in Dreams of the Penny Gods?

Ted James, playing Bobby

Q: What fascinates you about this play?

I think every adult has thought about whether or not they are bringing forward bad habits from their family. This play shows us a family that is at that crossroads. Will they continue their cycle of abuse, chemical dependency and racism? Or will they leave that behind? Do children who are abused need to grow up to be abusers? Of course not. But why do some break out? Is it courage? Free will? Fate? How can one take horrible upbringings and use that as fuel to grow compassion while others just become the next generation of monsters? And what happens when the abused start to believe that they deserve abuse? Can one confuse abuse with a way of loving? These are the fascinating and very real issues that this play explores. This play does not take it easy. It throws the audience straight into this mess of family and forces everyone to think.

Q: What drew you to your character in the play?

The character of Bobby is incredibly complex. He’s a vicious monster and suddenly sweet. He does violent things but says beautiful truths.

In preparing the role, any time the text concerned me, we put it on its feet and it just simply worked. The complexity of this character is organic, robust, and quite thrilling as an actor.

The big challenge is that Bobby is a dichotomy with a hairpin trigger. The need to slip instantly back and forth between these raw emotions is like running an acting gauntlet. There are just so many opportunities to screw up and leave the performance flat or dishonest. The only solution I know is to do the hard work and get inside the character fully. It’s fast, fast, fast. And so you need to get inside and trust it and just let it rip.

The last role I played with Halcyon was Gregers in Ibsen’s The Wild Duck. So being challenged at this company is something that is familiar to me. Halcyon does not hide from difficult material. I find that thrilling.

Q: What’s one aspect of the design that you look forward to seeing come to life onstage?

The audience is living inside a storage facility with the characters. The set continues behind the audiences. It’s not a cutout. And you’re close to the actors; at times they surround you. The design is extremely intimate and will serve to heighten to tension between the family members in the play. I’m thrilled to see it take form and to get to live in it on stage with the audience.

Q: Why should people come see this show?

This is a world premiere production of a powerful new play. Our director, Jenn Adams, has an attention to detail is this production that is rare and completely specific. We didn’t just need to know how people sound in Maine, we needed to know how they sound in Biddeford, Maine. That’s just a tiny example of the precision that’s being put into this production. Be that specific a few thousand times and you end up with a special show.


Podcast: Lisa Portes

  • Posted on: 20 April 2016
  • By: Tony

In 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 min)

intro music Whispering Through by Asura



Interview with Callie Kimball (audio)

  • Posted on: 5 April 2016
  • By: Tony

We're trying out a new longform podcast format for some of our interviews. In 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 min)


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


intro music Whispering Through by Asura

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

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.

Read below to learn more about the world premiere of Dreams of the Penny Gods before it opens!

Here’s a shot of her virtually attending rehearsal earlier in the process with our fearless director, Jenn Adams! (Photo by Caity-Shea Violette)


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!

Meet the Artists of Dreams of the Penny Gods: Jenn Adams

Jenn Adams is a woman of many talents- she's the Director of Community Engagement and Special Events of Halcyon Theatre (not to mention a Co-Founder), an accomplished singer and actor, mom and wife, and director of our upcoming production of Dreams of the Penny Gods.  Trust us, she's a person you want on your team. She's our second featured artist in this series, and you can check out our first post with Caity-Shea Violette here if you missed it!

Q: What's your name, and what's your role in Dreams of the Penny Gods?

My name is Jenn Adams, and I am the director for Dreams of the Penny Gods

Q: What fascinates you about this play?

I love the psychological look at a really dysfunctional family, and I love the fact that they are from Maine, my home state, because people have this perception of Maine being this quaint place filled with people lying in the ocean eating lobster, and we have just as much complexity as other humans! I also love the look at a girl on the brink of maturity who still has the imagination to believe that she can create magic to make the world a better place.

Q: What drew you to your position as director of this play?

I was just really excited to bring Callie's script, and this family, to life.

Q: What's one aspect of the design that you look forward to seeing come to life onstage?

I can't wait to see the hammock be used, and to hopefully see storage units that Bug can crawl and climb in.

Q: Why should people come see this show?

There are people and places all around us that we would never imagine. You may drive by a building that you think is normal, and there could be a family hiding in it, or someone who you think is just a normal employee could be hiding a deep dark secret! This is a chance to open your imagination to what could be hiding out in places you least expect them!

Meet the Artists of Dreams of the Penny Gods: Caity-Shea Violette

Caity-Shea is the Director of Access and Special Programs and a company member at Halcyon. She’s incredibly smart and strong, and she’s lending her amazing acting talents to the upcoming production of Dreams of the Penny Gods.Caity-Shea's hair transformation from mermaid blue to brown for "Dreams of the Penny Gods"

Check out her amazing hair transformation from mermaid to her character Bug, and read her thoughts below on the show!

Q: What’s your name, and what’s your role in Dreams of the Penny Gods?
My name is Caity-Shea Violette and I will be playing the role of "Bug" in Dreams of the Penny Gods.

Q: What fascinates you about this play?
What really intrigued me about this play was how artfully and subtly the family dynamic is layered. Not only does it dive into the raw depths of generational trauma and toxic family systems, but it equally explores the vulnerabilities of each character and the intentions behind their actions. It's almost like watching a classic monster movie in reverse.

Q: What drew you to your character in the play?
I feel like I really started to understand Bug when I realized that her vulnerable, unguarded heart was not simply a lack of coping skills, but also an act of bravery. I think there's a certain amount of an instinctual recoiling and protecting when we're hurt, but when someone is able to survive bitterness without allowing it to distort their understanding of tenderness, I think it demonstrates a tremendous amount of resiliency.

Q: What’s one aspect of the design that you look forward to seeing come to life onstage?
This show has a ridiculous amount of cool technical elements. I get to hang out in a hammock, wear a party hat, be onstage for sunsets and sunrises, try to bring on armageddon with household items, and I think I read a rehearsal report that asked for "Kid Rock on a cassette tape". So we're getting really spoiled. We have an amazing team of designers and just added a staff production manager now that we have our new space and it's made all the difference.

Q: Why should people come see this show?
The playwright Callie Kimball has created this world of casual violence and audacious hope, like a pendulum swinging between the desperate need to be right or to be loved, that it will keep audiences on the edge of their seats and growing alongside them.


Learning a Maine Dialect

Driving through Biddeford, ME

As someone based in Chicago from the Midwest, I can pick out a native Chicagoan’s voice in crowd pretty quickly. Other dialects like a standard Southern accent or a surfer’s Californian dialect are also pretty easy to pick out.

However, Halcyon’s next show Dreams of the Penny Gods takes place in a small town in Maine. Before starting to work on this show, I had no concept of what a Maine dialect should sound like. I assumed like a New Englander, but I’d never been to Maine, so I genuinely wasn’t sure. Lucky for the production, I’m not the dialect coach—plus, both the director, Jenn Adams, and the playwright, Callie Kimball, have roots in Maine (Callie lives there now)!

Halcyon Theatre brought Kendra Kargenian onto the production team as dialect coach to help the actors sound like Maine natives.

(Side note—does anyone know what people from Maine are called? Maine-ers? Maine-iacs? Maine-ians? Google was no help. Extra credit if you comment with the correct answer.)

The dialect coach, Kendra Kargenian, provided video and audio resources for the actors so they could rehearse with the right accent. Check out this clip of a restaurant in Biddeford, Maine to hear some real Maine residents.

HBO’s “Olive Kittridge” mini-series was also set in Maine. Click here for the trailer to hear Frances McDormand’s clipped Maine dialect.

But do you hear the difference? It’s not as nasal as what you tend to hear in the Midwest. Kendra explained that “the dialect lives in the front of the mouth with lots of space in the back. The tongue stays down in the back…”

Try Kendra’s tip on how to get into this accent: “A great way to get into the posture of this dialect is to open your mouth, make a letter C with your hand, and place it next to your ear. Your thumb will rest on your jaw, the index finger’s knuckle will rest in front of your ear, & your index finger will rest under/on the cheekbone. Once you have this position, let your mouth explore the space! Let your tongue move where it might not normally in your mouth. Let the sound come from some place different than you normally do...”

There’s also “the famous Maine ‘R,’” as Jenn calls it. “Instead of saying ‘car,’ you say ‘cah.’” Like a Boston accent, but “sing-songy-er and flatter… like there is a sort of Irish lilt to the way the Maine sound is…”

When you get to the Box Office, order your concessions in a Maine accent, and tell them Claire sent you. I’ll make sure you get a high five.

pictured at top: Driving through Biddeford, ME, photo by Jenn Adams.

2016 Introductory Speech from Night of Flight

  • Posted on: 27 January 2016
  • By: Fin.Coe

(Associate Artistic Director Fin Coe here.  This past Friday was our fourth annual Night of Flight gala.  It was a wonderful night of dancing, dining, and celebrating our honorees, Coya Paz and Chay Yew.  Here's the text of the introductory speech I gave to start the evening off)

Halcyon is a theatre unlike most theatres in Chicago, or anywhere else for that matter.  We strive to not only be a part of the theatrical community, but to add to it and improve it, to contribute positive social change to the artistic conversation.  For the last decade, we’ve pushed boundaries and bucked trends, producing plays you don’t often see by people you don’t often hear about.  We curated and produced six Alcyone Festivals of plays written exclusively by women, created countless performance opportunities for emerging local talent, fostered outside artists, provided acting and writing development in our Compass Labs and Nest Labs, and built relationships with progressive artists and companies within Chicago and outside of it.

It’s not that we’ve “given a voice” to the underrepresented or the marginalized, but rather that we’ve consciously and uncompromisingly given those voices a place to be heard, and have helped to turn the spotlight onto a broader spectrum of artists.

We are a company of actors, directors, writers, technicians, dramaturgs, designers, dancers, photographers, activists, puppeteers, entrepreneurs, teachers, musicians, and other sundry vocations.  There is more to our company than you’d expect, and we aim to show that that’s also the case with our city, and its theatrical possibilities.  Our programming, our casting, our staffing, all serve our mission: To make the stage as diverse as the city of Chicago.

I am honored to be a part of the work that we do, and to apply myself to the mission that we work towards, and I thank you all for coming out tonight to support that mission.

Special Events for In Love and Warcraft

  • Posted on: 19 August 2015
  • By: Tony

Siobhan Reddy-Best as Evie in In Love and Warcraft, photo by Tom McGrath.

Plate and Play Thursdays
On Thursday nights beginning August 20, Halcyon is partnering with three neighborhood restaurants for a pre-show meal package for audience members of In Love and Warcraft; Ruk Sushi & Thai, Semiramis Lebanese Cuisine and Tortugas Cantina. Find out more.

Tortugas Cantina
A gem in Albany Park bringing authentic Latin American food, drink and entertainment
3224 West Lawrence Avenue, Chicago, IL 60625

Semiramis Lebanese Cuisine
Everything we serve is made from scratch daily, using only the freshest ingredients.
4639-41 N Kedzie Ave, Chicago, IL 60625

Ruk Sushi & Thai
Our menu is inspired by Thai and Japanese cusine offering the best of both worlds. It doesn't matter if it's pad thai, tom yum, curry or sushi, we have a dish to suit almost any taste.
4700 N. Kimball Ave, Chicago, IL 60625

Cosplay night - Friday, August 28The characters of In Love and Warcraft use cosplay to bring to life their Warcraft avatars - and to show how they really see themselves.  Come dressed in your favourite cosplay outfit (no genre restrictions, no judgement, but bear in mind that we don't have great climate control in the theater) and share in a geek-friendly good time.

Panel Discussion - Saturday August 29 at 5pm
There will be a panel discussion featuring Sex Therapist Constance Sheehan, on the topic of sex communication, sexuality and internet role playing games. Additional panelists TBA.

Constance Sheehan, Ph.D., L.C.S.W., received a Master of Clinical Social Work at New York University and Ph.D. at Loyola University Chicago. She completed an Interdisciplinary Fellowship in Palliative Care at the Bronx VA and subsequently completed post-graduate studies at: NYU’s International Trauma Studies Program; Ackerman Institute for the Family; Harvard Medical School’s Mind/Body Medicine program as well as Harvard’s Positive Psychology in Mind/Body Medicine. She trained at Loyola Medical Center in Sexual Dysfunction Clinic.

Constance has a long-standing interest in yoga and mindfulness and it’s integration in psychotherapeutic approaches and is a certified yoga instructor in restorative yoga, and yoga for depression and yoga for homeless youth. She is fully teacher trained in Mindful Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) through UMASS Medical Center. She has had extensive training in Restorative Justice and is a certified Circle Keeper. Constance was Clinical Faculty for nine years at The Family Institute at Northwestern University where she taught Sex Therapy and Integration of Family of Origin an Systems and remains the founding director of The Mental Health Human Rights Clinic in the Counseling Program at Northwestern. She is full time Clinical Faculty at DePaul University Department of Social Work. She also teaches Human Rights at University of Chicago SSA, and Clinical courses at Loyola University Chicago MSW program. She has a private practice in Evanston, IL.

Understudy Performance - Saturday Sept. 5th at 8pm.
Understudies Krystal Ortiz (Evie), Alexandra Gonzalez (Kitty) Ian Michael Smith (Raul) and Ted Kitterman (Ryan) will perform in the show alongside Allyce Torres (Female) and Michael Turrentine (Male)

Game Day - New Works Edition
Saturday, September 12 from 3-7pm. Tickets are $30 for Games and advance admission to the 8pm performance, $20 for advance admission to the show only.

To celebrate the Chicago premiere of In Love and Warcraft, Halcyon's Game Day fundraiser this year celebrates new board/card/tabletop games being developed here in town! Come hang out with Halcyon on Saturday, September 12th (3pm-7pm), and play a wide range of boardgames, with an emphasis on new and developing games designed locally. A number of designers, including The Nerdologues and Ironrise Games, will be on-hand to teach their games in exchange for your valuable playtesting feedback. Food and drink are included in the price of admission, as is a ticket to see In Love and Warcraft after the gaming event wraps up. Join us for an epic day of eating, drinking, gaming, and theatre.

pictured at top: Siobhan Reddy-Best (Evie), photo by Tom McGrath.

Arthur Chu On In Love and Warcraft

  • Posted on: 15 August 2015
  • By: Tony

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 my Dungeons 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.