Monday, November 29, 2010

Jeremy - Ismene

With the new Season about to start rehearsals, and The Ismene Project on the horizon, I sat down with the Ismene script and reread the forward that I wrote so many years ago.

Ismene was a very special play for me to write. It was the very first show that I had ever written where everything just felt right. I would wake up at 5am just to get to a computer and keep writing. The Dream Theatre style suddenly became so clear to me that I began creating the exercises and rehearsal process that we still use to this day. Everything just lined up... It was also the first of my Greek plays. And to tell you the truth- I only wrote it as a Greek play because I thought it was funny... I hated Greek theatre! Oh my God did I hate it. the teachers that had introduced it to me made me believe that it was the driest, most awful thing imaginable. All I even remembered about what I had learned were the weird rules of Greek theatre. Messengers always show up late, violence happens off stage, blah blah blah. I thought it would be funny if the rules of Greek Theatre were also the rules of life. That a Chorus would not be another character, but almost a disease that took control of people's minds. It was all so odd and funny to me. I also felt that my play SISTER 121, which I thought would be the greatest play I would ever write, had failed me so much because I hadn't made the villain something that the Audience could get behind. The villain in that piece was socialism. I had just returned from Russia and had learned so much about the socialist effect on the arts and the people, plus I had studied the effects of Mao's cultural revolution, that I was drawn to write about it. I was twenty five... I failed... But with Ismene, I would learn from my mistakes. I won't go into the villain in Ismene because it would be wrong of me to do so. So many people have found their own villain in the piece that I don't ever want to replace their villain with mine. For Ismene conquers all villains. She overcomes whatever it is that you need for her to. She was my perfect heroine and savior from one of my greatest failures. (I'd have a much worse failure a year later, but I'm not ready to talk about that yet. Maybe in another 9 years.)

Now I am 36. I'll be 37 when Ismene simultaneously opens in so many different cities and countries. It is part of The Ismene Project. A project that is so close to the hearts of the wonderful directors, producers and actors that I am humbled by the magnitude of it. I even had a conversation with one of the directors where she said that I most likely don't even understand just what that show does for women. I didn't know what to say. My first thought was, how in the Hell can you say that? Of course I know what that show does to people, I wrote it! But that was just stupid... I have a new answer now. You're absolutely right. I don't know what Ismene does for you. But I do know what she did for me. And I do know that all villains, who or whatever they are, must be destroyed.

Ismene Forward September 2003:

Originally this play was to be a retelling of Antigone. I had high hopes of transforming the classic myth into a new story. In this version, Antigone triumphs over Creon’s decree, not by disobeying it or through self-sacrifice, but by following it to the letter. By not only letting Polynices rot outside the gates of Thebes, but by bringing all to see his corpse and tell them his story. By doing this, the people of Thebes would, almost unconsciously, transform the land around his body into a great shrine, far greater than any state burial could provide. I had thoughts of the roses that are left each morning at the door of a murdered director’s Apartment in Moscow. The Teddy Bears and candles alongside the highway. All the places where we come to mourn, hold vigils, and how often they never take place in the cemetery. But, as always happens with any idea that you fall in love with, things got weird. First of all, Antigone was not the heroine for that kind of story. Anouilh describes her in his play as a girl who does not think, only feels. Does not reason, but acts. This girl had no place in my play. Since Sophocles wrote her tragedy 2,500 years ago, Antigone has always been treated as a symbolic champion for The Laws of God over the Laws of the State. It is a story about morals that cannot be questioned. Arguments that cannot be won. Reason that relies on mystical beliefs whether you speak of the will of the gods or the will of the state. They are the same thing. They both rely on human sacrifice whether for good of god or the good of the people. Sacrifice, death, and tragedy, for a god who claims to need blood in order to grow and the life of its children in order to exist? No, Antigone was not the right heroine. But who in the story spoke of reason? Who in the story spoke of life? Who in the story spoke of love and joy? Who spoke of the past as a tragedy and the future as a place of hope? Ismene. So when Antigone dies, HaemonIsmene was written. It is a story of a young girl who has seen too much death and has been forced to take part in a world of misery for far too long. It is a story that deals with the good of man above everything else. A story where we fight for our right to live out our own lives as we choose and not as a plaything of mysticism and prophecy.

-Jeremy Menekseoglu

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Bil - Return to the Audience State

It's not too late. Go see this one.
Now that "The Devilish Children" is over and construction workers have replaced theatrical types inside the Dream Theatre, my state of being shifts.  My technical status has gone from "Is Too Busy For Anything At All" to "Has Time To See Theatre."  I will once again don my audience hat, which by a lucky coincidence is also a woolly winter hat.

I'm taking a break from my apartment's endless cleaning session to go see "Halfshut" at the Rorschach (the official home of The Right Brain Project).  This will be the second play I've watched in about three months.  The other one was "Seven Snakes" from the Mammals, which has sadly (for you) closed already.

I'm well aware that acting in a show, while certainly a strong enough excuse not to see any other shows, is not exactly a reason not to.  There's been quite a slate this year and I've missed a lot.  One can always make time to see shows, I just dropped the ball.  So, believe me, I am going to step up my efforts to make that time.  Starting tonight.  Sorry (again) to everyone whose show I missed this year.  I'll try not to let it happen again.


Yeah. So. I strongly encourage you to go see "Halfshut" while you still can. The way they bring an audience in...very different from what we do at Dream Theatre, and yet very much the same. Very cool. Super-engaging show for twenty-somethings.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Bil - Postmortem & Preseason

There's a certain sense of relief when a show comes down and the striking of the set is finally complete.  When it's done, you feel like a piece of you gets left behind, but in fact the opposite is true – you've got memories you never had before, you've skills developed that could only have been forged during that particular show that you can then take with you to your next projects, and the nostalgia really only lasts until you're working on the next one.  Right now, we're all mostly in that whistful place between the end of strike and the start of the next rehearsal process.

"The Devilish Children & the Civilizing Process" had possibly the biggest set Dream Theatre Company has ever created, in terms of square acreage and quantity of wood, so striking the set was no particularly easy task.  Couple that with our melancholy the fact that we'd rather have not seen that show go because it was so fun, and then add the tasks of tearing down all the stuff we'd done in the lobby and removing all the equipment and tools that were stashed underneath the stairs and in the secret ticket booth, and that gives us one massive job for a ragtag bunch of not-even-close-to-professional contractors who know plenty about acting but very little about construction.

Technically, the strike isn't even done yet.  We still have yet to remove the audience seats from their risers.  The reason we needed to get everything – literally, EVERYTHING – out of the way is so the real (actual-professional) contractors can come in and gut the place for some very serious construction inside our theatre.  It's going to be quite the job, and they need space to work.  But oh, wait till you see our place early next year...

Wait till you see us.

Oh yes – season tickets are available.  Great way to save money on some kick-ass theatre for next year, and they make great gifts...I assume.  See the website for details.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Annelise (as understudy) - auf wiedersehen

Well, kinder, we've come to the end.  Tonight - after Santa saved our devilish children one last time - we cleaned our faces, packed our makeup, and took apart the set board by board.  By 11:30 our ghostly children's theater (not to mention our home for the past two months) was no more.  It may have just been me, but our German accents on the ride home (the typical after-effect of each performance and rehearsal) had a nostalgic timbre.

Earlier this week, Bil asked me to write a post about the experience of working on understudying Conrad.  Now, it doesn't seem fitting to write about the process of creating Conrad because at this point he's lived a life; he started as an idea, became real, did a lot of growing up (with a few awkward spells), bounced onto the stage, and (tonight) away from me. 

I do, however, want to talk about one aspect of working on Conrad: the ensemble.  Most of the work that went into the role was learning how to read, communicate with, and trust the other Devilish Children, even though I hadn't been with them in a while. The true delight about working on Conrad - the reason why I'm lucky to have done so - was how readily the other actors drew me into their clan.  When I stepped into the opening tableaux every night, it was with the certainty that Cruel Paul would back me up and Polly would hold my hand.

The ensemble is why, though I miss the show already, I can't be sad that it's over. This wonderful, intelligent, talented group of people made the show great.  And it's this ensemble that will continue to make shows great into next season and beyond.  In clearing away our set, we made a our space plastic - distinguished it as a room once again ready to be filled with our collective dreams.

Jeremy, Anna, Mishelle, Chad, Judith, Bil, Rachel, John, and Kristi: auf wiedersehen. Until we see again.

Bil - Away We Go

Tonight is the final performance of The Devilish Children & the Civilizing Process.  There are some definite plans for next year, but of course everything is still in question-mark status, so nothing's been officially announced, but if you come to the show tonight, you can see the preliminary photos for the 2011 season!

Show promotion aside, I really would like to share this one last performance with as many people as I can.  Not for monetary purposes, mind you, and not for fame's sake, but because I believe with all my soul that this show is a rare delight, and when I think of all the people in Chicago and the surrounding areas who would love this show but either don't know about it or had their own schedule conflicts or just couldn't make it for whatever reason, I get a little sad.  Live theatre is such a wonderful art form, and you can only get it while it's playing.  You can't experience a live performance by reading about it later.  You can't just wait a couple months and then put it on your Netflix queue.  It's not on Hulu the next day.  You have to catch it while it lasts, and when it's gone, it's gone forever.  Photos may remain, and people may talk about it, but it's only present and real if you're there in the audience.

The Devilish Children and the Civilizing Process is also a rarity in that the cast has bonded so well.  Seriously, for a ten-person production to be so drama-free is almost unheard of, especially given there was a wedding in the middle of the rehearsal process.  You can see the connectedness and the chemistry of the actors onstage (and in the lobby), and it's actually not a false front.  Appearing to be best of friends is not always an indication that two actors like each other; in some famous cases, it's a clever mask for a bitter, bitter rivalry.  But not here.

I'm gonna miss this one.  I really am.  One last time, then life moves on.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Bil - Three To Go

And then there were three...

Seriously, we only have three shows.  Tickets are still available.  We are right up at the end of the run of this show, and still things are new and different each night.  Nothing routine about it.

I'm not sure why it didn't occur to me during the actual rehearsal process, but there is quite a lot of inspirational material in the music video for Lena's "99 Luftballons" - including (but not limited to) attractive 80's hair, massive explosions, and, of course, red balloons. Our show has none of these things, but we do have German accents, a gramophone, and a healthy dose of dismemberment - fuse these elements we have with our child-like desire for that which we do not, and I can assure you our show tonight will be nothing short of miraculous.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Bil - Final Weekend Blues

The final weekend blues ain't so bad. It's been one fantastic run, with one fantastic cast. Our show is top-notch, and audience reactions have been as rewarding as they've ever been for any show I've ever done. (If you've already seen the show, by the way, THANK YOU FROM THE BOTTOM OF MY HEART!)  I'm really gonna miss this one after it's gone.

But instead of thinking about that, I'll think about our four remaining performances. There's still time to create unnecessary drama and break apart the amazing cast unity this run has enjoyed.  No more hippy-dippy being respectful of other people's feelings, I'm gonna stir up some trouble for no good reason at all.

Actually, there are better ways of having fun, and one of them is karaoke.  Come see the show this weekend and invite us out to sing with you.  We have no scruples and no self-esteem; we will play with anyone who shows interest.  Also, we'll tell you about our amazing 2011 season!  Perhaps we'll even show you some pre-publicity photos...

See you at the theatre!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Bil - Don't Worry

Everyone can agree that seeing live theatre is different from seeing a movie. The first and most important difference is that in live theatre, you aren't forced to watch commercials for a beverage you've already purchased.

The second difference, which is even more important, is that a live show differs from night to night. A lot of theatre companies try desperately to keep each performance exactly the same, but that's not our goal at Dream Theatre.  Our goal is to continually adjust to each and every audience, so that every performance is not only completely unique, but specifically crafted for a given crowd of people.

Obviously, there are advantages to seeing a show at the beginning or at the end of the run.  The run of a show is a living, breathing, evolving, thing – kind of like The Blob.  At the beginning of the run, for example, there is a rawness and a roughness that kind of forces the cast to look more to the audience to tell us what you want.  This gives you, the audience, the opportunity to help shape what you're seeing as you're seeing it.  That's pretty freakin' cool.

Of course, now we're approaching the end of the run of "The Devilish Children and the Civilizing Process," and the feel is somewhat different.  It's the same show, but there is a polished sophistication to the madness.  The cast has figured out how to take our energy and meld it with the audience's energy to create a very intense sort of super-energy.  We've gotten really good at aiming the blood when we use it.  (That's right, there's blood in this show.)  And we're all a little more trusting, not just of each other but of an audience full of strangers and judges.  The energy of the earlier shows was urgency, and now it's more like demonic mania.

There are six performances left.  Each one will be different.  Which one will you see?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Chad - The Number 14

Much like Judith, this will be my inaugural blog post and not only for Dream Theatre, but in life in general.  And oddly enough, also 2am.
Let me start by saying that nothing cements a family like a near death experience.  My first show with Dream Theatre was in February of this year, a little double feature known as Aelita and Shiny Boxes written by Bil Gaines and Mishelle Apalategui respectively.  I will admit, here and now, for the first time, that while rehearsing, I just didn’t get it; I didn’t understand the Dream Theatre way.  I thought it was an incredibly interesting approach to theatre and I had a lot of fun during rehearsals, but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what the hell Gesture meant, or why my precious Fourth Wall had to be gone.  It was frustrating and under other circumstances I probably would have finished the run and gone on my merry little way, not knowing what I was missing out on.  But then something magical happened.  On opening night one of the actresses injured herself onstage and couldn’t continue the show, so the remaining three actors had to finish the second act minus a crucial character.  The ending, which should have been a duet between myself and my then concussed wife, had to be morphed into a monologue which I delivered straight to the audience.  And that’s how it happened.  I understood.  The audience had become my other actor and I looked to them for the strength to finish, and not only did they give it to me, but they came with me down the aisle, out the door and all the way over to Italy for some romance and olives.  It was a truly horrifying experience and I absolutely loved every second of it.  It’s hard to think that without that experience, I would just be another lowly actor drifting through the eternal doldrums of Chicago theatre without ever experiencing what true theatre can be and without knowing what truly amazing art everyone in this company is capable of. 
I love this Theatre Company so damn much, and am so grateful to Anna and Jeremy for letting me grow and play with these amazing artists.  And I would also like to thank Megan, your glass jaw is the reason I’m a better actor today.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

John Wanders In

I'm John Enright, and I entered the Dream by what seems an odd route, starting in 2003 as an audience member of their shocking Sister 121. I went on to write a multitude of enthusiastic blog posts about the company's productions. Over time I got to know some of the company's talented members.

In 2009 I asked Jeremy Menekseoglu for advice when I wanted to produce my first full length play. He was extremely generous with his time, directing the piece and performing in it too! I found him and other company members a joy to work with.

Now I find myself making an appearance on stage in the company's production of Devilish Children. This is the oddest turn of all, since my acting resume is fairly small, compared to the rest of the cast. But I'm having a blast.

Anna - The Managing Director

AnnaLou Weiler Menekseoglu (Managing Director, Production Design Manager)

Here are things I do for Dream Theatre Company (pretend they are all verbs): act, direct, light, set, paint, costume, prop, make-up, hair, sew, craft, taxes, pay bills, box office manage, press relate, market (really poorly, I’m really, really bad at marketing), liaise with contractors and grantors, ask for money, set up meetings, clean, relieve disasters (floods, etc), comply with laws, meet the neighbors, etc…
Things Dream Theatre Company does for me: art, love, soul, strength, practice meeting people (boost confidence and social skills), make me a leader, make me part of a community, etc…
Before I joined Dream Theatre Company (sometime around 2003 with a short gap and then return) most of my personal and professional energy was spent spinning in circles. I had no focus with plenty of drive and creativity, but if you take a crayon and run around in circles with it, you won’t get much coloring done. Out of necessity I have learned about the Government, the world of Not-For-Profit, and the Chicago Theater Community. Out of desire I have learned how to act in an entirely new and effective style, create theatre and art in many levels. I have grown up, focused my energy and as a direct result have created the most compelling and profound art of my life. Not to mention that the other members of Dream Theatre Company have become my self-chosen family.
My favorite art (some specifics, though I believe that all parts of the art are related, these things changed me):
1.       The Box – Though there were 2 different versions, Joanna’s torture box from SlowAnna in both versions changed my view of torture, education and safety.
2.       The World of Baby Killers, The – The black and white scale of the environment (lights, sets, props, costumes, etc.) of Baby Killers, The gave me new perspective and enlightenment on the cohesiveness that is necessary for a theatrical production to succeed as an art form. Our crew was very small and so was our budget, but with a few well made decisions the aesthetic we created put audience in a world where they themselves felt ‘Dickensian’. Every element of every show I have worked on since then, I think of the cohesiveness of that show.
3.       Ismene – Playing the character Ismene in Ismene transformed me as an actress to a new level of understanding relationship between actor and audience. I will never not be present and aware of audience again since that show. I am unable to turn that awareness off, and though it can sometimes be scary, it is the core of the Dream Theatre style.
4.       Madame Purdie’s corset – That was a discovery in sewing and construction that I reached while making this piece for Black Duckling where I had a moment of great revelation. I CAN MAKE A COSTUME OUT OF ANYTHING!
There is more, but that is all I will share for now.

Jeremy - Who in the Hell do I think I am?

A little about me:

I am the Artistic Director and one of the original founders of Dream Theatre Company. I am a playwright, director, actor and designer.

My experience with Dream Theatre:

The company was founded in Moscow in 1998 and then went on a string of insane adventures where the four founding fools of this company realized that even though we had all come together with this idea, we had completely different desires. One wanted to do Shakespeare. One wanted to act in other productions. One wanted to do all original work. One didn't really care which we did. It wasn't until 2003, when Dream Theatre came to Chicago, that, in my mind, it truly began. Or, more appropriately, truly went through a trial by fire to see if it could actually continue. I'm happy to say that the company is still here. That, even though the 3 other founders have gone to follow their own dreams, I'm still here.

Over the years, I discovered a group of artists who feel the way that I do about theatre. And together we've recreated Dream Theatre. Back in Moscow, the 4 founding members came together and had an idea about a new way to bring the joy of  theatre into our lives and then to the audience's, but this new group of company members that we have today are the true founders of this company. They are the reason that Dream Theatre is no longer just an idea.

And we continue to develop our style. We continue to develop ourselves as artists.


Go and see The Devilish Children and The Civilizing Process if you haven't already. Go and see what we do. And when the next show comes out, come see us again. We are constantly changing and constantly growing and constantly finding our voices. In the years to come, dear audience, we hope that you will have been a part of that too.

Jeremy - Unfinished and The Pink Notebook

This season we are bringing a new festival to Dream Theatre. It is called THE PINK NOTEBOOK and will focus on a playwright's unfinished work. The festival will consist of 5, fully directed, pieces of plays that have been "given up on" by a Playwright... The goal is for the Playwright to see "once and for all" if the script is still alive inside them.

I've been looking at some of my Dead Shows wondering what I want to choose. I was depressed to see how many there were...

But what to pick?

Braces Down: (once called The Racist) about a Skinhead and his Black Neighbor who through some terrifying events come to respect, and almost love, one another. (I finished Act One and then it died.)

Lysistrata: About a new take on the play where there are no men and the women are artificially inseminated by this psychotic woman who, since she has all the semen and a huge revolver, that she is the alpha male and do whatever she likes. (It died because I strayed so far away from my original idea of writing a new version of Lysistrata, that I backed myself into a corner.)

The Afterlife of Captain Hook: I use to dream about finishing this one, but one night I just couldn't have the dream anymore...

Army of the Sun: about chimpanzees living in a preserve that decide to reject the human's food and revert back to hunting tribes and cannibalism. It died because one person said "I don't get it." That's a stupid reason to not finish, but at the time, it was enough.

Audience Annihilated: about a theatre where a massacre had taken place during the only performance of a play written by a girl who immediately killed herself, and a group of actors, years later, who decide it would be an amazing idea to put the play up again. They're wrong. (Died because... I don't even remember...)

And so many more... Almost 60...

Is it right to try and resurrect a dead script?

I've always believed that the best way for me to write was to be able to know when to let a script die and not flog it for months and years. If it dies, then it wasn't meant to be. Your ideas aren't dead though- they'll just be incorporated into a better idea.

But! I can remember the joy of falling trough the paper with a lot of these, and I just want to make sure that I did the right thing. Hell- at worst- it'll just be nice to see 10 pages of whatever I choose up on stage for a few final performances before returning to the grave forever.

I believe that this festival will be a pretty profound experience for all of my fellow playwrights. So get ready to submit that dead work in a few months!

And then we'll just have to see what happens...

Judith- I'm only three. But I think I understand...

Where to begin...   first of all I must admit that this is my first blog post...ever.  In the history of blogging.  So keep that in mind as you read.    Second of all.  It is 2am.  So there's that.  But I will continue...

It is true...that Dream Theatre has changed my life.    It is also true that no where else in Chicago do you get to be a part of such amazing, innovative, inspiring, creative, imaginative, insert other  incredible adjective here, work.     I first worked with Dream Theater in 2006 on their production of ANTIGONE and I cannot express how much that production and the process behind Dream Theatre productions affected my perception  of acting.    I have had the opportunity, with Dream Theatre, to play roles and explore characters that I know an actress of 27 would not have had the chance to play otherwise in Chicago.    

The current production of THE DEVILISH CHILDREN is no exception.   The raw energy and emotion that I feel coming from the Devilish Children as Little Karl Age 3 is not something that cannot be explained.  It is something that needs to be experienced.   And you know how you can experience it?   Come and see the show.  Experience the Devilish Kinder and the lessons they have for you.   No two audience members have the same experience.     What will yours be?    Will you deserve your Christmas box?

And really what I want to say most of all is thank you Jeremy.  Thank you Anna.   Thank you Dream Theatre.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Bil - An Introduction to Gaines the Actor

"…a glimpse of what Gaines the actor can do." 

"Gaines the actor" is a running joke at Dream Theatre.  It comes from a critic's review of Medea, my first show at Dream Theatre, and the first show in the Pilsen space way back in 2008.  It was a pretentious remark then, and it would still be a pretentious remark today if the review was still online...but alas, it's disappeared into the abyss of online theatre reviews, never to be seen again.

Somehow, the pretentiousness of it has been transferred directly onto me, and the more it gets said, the more it feels like I was the one that said it first.  Soon I will have to start acting pretentiously around them just to maintain my dignity.

Something you may not have known: you can pick up a button with my mug on it for your hoodie or your European-style carry-all if you come see the show that's playing right now!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Bil - No Need To Need

Yep, even cooler than this one.
There's a photo shoot today for the Dream Theatre Company 2011 season.  Remember how cool the 2010 season photo shoot turned out? ☞
Well, this one promises to be even cooler.

And, of course, we have another performance tonight.  We had one of our biggest audiences of the run so far last night, but on Thursday we had one of our smallest audiences of the run.  Aw.  Don't despair, accountants and art lovers, this turned out to be a very good thing.  The show was incredible, and for perhaps the first time the entire cast found the exact balance of being tuned in to ourselves and being attentive to the audience.  We never overpowered them with intensity, and we never underwhelmed them by being too distant.  It's hard to describe, so I'll just say the audience members spoke to us after the show, and I think we have some new permanent fans.

The relationship between audience and actor is one of the most important things in this company's acting style, and Jeremy's scripts tend to present the necessary opportunities to play without the proverbial 4th wall.  It's not about breaking the fourth wall with cheeky winks and outward-turned interruptions of the scene.  It's about letting the audience exist where they are the entire time, and acknowledging their presence when it makes sense.  It's about treating them like gods without praying to them or begging them for favors.  So when we've got a small audience, it actually turns out to be easier when it comes to giving them attention – but it's a tricky balance, because we mustn't make them uncomfortable.

Talk to the doll...if you dare.
We've all got those needy friends who demand our attention, and once they've got it they use it to ask for attention.  You know those people.  I think we've all seen plays, too, where the actors try so hard to act and impress us that we feel obligated to clap at the end and compliment their hard work after the show, when all we really feel is like they've got their hands around our throats and they won't let go.  That's what we try to avoid.  We don't want to be needy actors.  We just want you to enjoy your experience.  It can be as personal as you need it to be.  You can also talk to us for hours and hours after the show if you want.  Mostly, we want you to feel like a human being.

If we fail at that, won't you please let us know?  We should know.  There's no point in letting us carry on like a bunch of idiots.  Leave a comment or e-mail us directly (annainthedarkness at gmail).