The Evolving Expression of Live Theater – by Joe Keefe

October 29, 2018 § Leave a comment

Stunning, delicate, explosive, intimate, touching, immersive, passionate, funny, lovely – these are the characteristics of live theater and when done well, there is simply no substitute for the immediacy and power of a good old show. As a theater artist somewhere in my sixth decade, I continue to be amazed at theater’s ability to evolve through its primary asset: the actor.

A Chorus Line, now running at our Metropolis, is a modern staple of musical theater with a history too profound to easily describe. Yet this legendary show, this face on theater’s Mount Rushmore, continues to evolve and refresh with each new iteration as the show both invites and demands the very best from each generation of actors.

Sheila – the lovely yet world-weary vamp – and Val – the steamy self-made woman – are rivals at the audition, each vying for attention both for their talents and their attributes. These are talented professionals, wary of each other, a simmering duel forming one of the many subplots of a very tense day. In many versions of A Chorus Line, this rivalry becomes openly antagonistic, as each dancer tries to upstage the other.

And then theater evolves.

In a closing dress rehearsal, I was honored to experience an entirely new moment of this show. At the end of the audition as Sheila (Kara Schoenhofer) has been dismissed and is walking to collect her bag, she passes Val (Mollyanne Moon). In the past, the look passing between the dancers would have been daggers or icicles. These two brilliant actors evolved the moment, eyes welling with tears as the rivals ache for each other, the rivalry ending for now, the loss each will feel without the other’s presence.

It is a moment of wonder, of newness, of aching loveliness – a moment of pure theater, an evolution that advances the work and the art form. This is just one example of transformative power in this show and there are many more: Diana’s (Jessica Miret) battle for righteousness, Cassies’ (Casiena Raether) quest for acceptance, and Paul’s (Luke Halpern) search for himself and many more – the show overflows with funny, dramatic, touching and exquisite expressions.

Robin Hughes, a Director of colossal talent, provides both guidance and freedom for actors to finds these moments, to discover fresh forms of connections in the context of an established, venerable production. Excellent direction leads to an awakening of possibilities which the actors not only pursue but also thrive within. Theater continues to transform, to advance, to dazzle us with its immediacy.

It is my honor to be a part of this ongoing evolution.

chorusline2.jpg

 

Please contact me with your thoughts and ideas:

Joe Keefe

Artistic & Executive Director, Metropolis Performing Arts Centre

jkeefe@metropolisarts.com

Advertisements

A Chorus Line’s Mark: Ben F. Locke

October 25, 2018 § Leave a comment

c line81I’ve never really considered myself a “good” theatre person. I honestly don’t know many musicals or plays other than the ones I was in or had to read about in school. I knew bits and pieces of musicals here and there and was familiar with certain songs but overall I was pretty clueless.

When I heard about Metropolis doing A Chorus Line, I HAD to be in it because I love to dance. All I knew about A Chorus Line was that it was a dance show and the opening number song. I didn’t know that’s where “Dance Ten Looks Three” or “At The Ballet” or “What I Did For Love” were all in this show. I always feel so behind or out of the loop.

However, one thing I always appreciate about not knowing, is that I get to experience shows for the first time. I didn’t come in knowing the jokes or knowing my character or feeling like I knew all about the show. So I did my research. I watched the documentary, I read the book and I watched the movie and watched whatever clips I could find on YouTube. With this show in particular, it really hit home.

Being an actor is not easy. I felt a lot of connections to Mark because like him, I too felt like I am just breaking into this business. I’m hopeful but still naive in so many ways. Even weeks into our run, I’m still discovering new things about my character and other people’s characters. When you’re on stage for basically the entire show, it’s hard to see the same show twice. Every time we get a chance to go backstage, we’ll always talk about some new thing we did, some funny thing we saw someone else do that we’ll later find out they’ve been doing for weeks or we’ll have a new moment where we just see someone new, connect with them in a different way or at a different time. I think you have to go into this show that way. You can’t go in knowing that you’re going to get cast or that you’re not going to get cast. You can’t go in knowing where the jokes are or exactly how you’re going to react. Every performance has to be fresh and vulnerable which is scary.

c line170

Luckily, I have the most amazing and supportive cast. This would be an extremely hard show to do if you didn’t have that safe environment created by the cast and team to be vulnerable, to try new things and to feel safe to fail or cry or mess up choreography. I am so thankful for this show. It’s allowed me to be vulnerable and reminded me just how scary this career is but how brave I am to pursue it. It’s also reminded me every performer is doing their best. We have to be there for each other.

Yes, in a way we’re competition. We’re all competing for the same roles but more importantly, we can walk into this competition together. Every night, when Zach chooses his 4 girls and 4 guys, I am grateful that I am one of the chosen but it never ceases to also give me a pinch of sadness for my other fellow actors who did not make the cut.

A Chorus Line teaches empathy and we all need to be reminded of this in this business and in this life filled with so much hate, negativity, fear and violence. That’s why I do theatre. I do not need to know every lyric to every musical. I just need to know the lessons they teach me. What’s the point of being a “good theatre person” if you’re not a good person and carrying along those lessons out in the real world? Yes, as Cassie says, I need a job. However, our job is more than what we do onstage, but rather what we do offstage that counts.

c line80

A Chorus Line’s Zach: Brian Kulaga

October 10, 2018 § Leave a comment

c-line153.jpg

On my thirteenth birthday (it might’ve been my fourteenth) my girlfriend at the time bought me “B’Way: The American Musical” CD; a compilation of songs from monumental musicals starting with the theme from Oklahoma! spanning to what was then the very new and revolutionary “Defying Gravity” from Wicked. It was jam packed with classics including Ethel Merman’s brassy rendition of “Anything Goes”, “Don’t For Me Argentina”, “Memory”, and “Good Morning Baltimore”. It was every adolescent-theatre-nerd’s dream. That night, I popped the CD into my navy blue walkman, slipped on my old school headphones, and listened to the entire album. Track 16 was one of the strangest songs I had ever heard; people talking over each other, speaking dance moves in broken patterns over dreamlike music. I turned over the CD case to find the name of the song. It was, you guessed it, “One” from the original cast recording of A Chorus Line.

c line 25

Flash forward a few years and chubby teenage Brian is power walking to the back of the music section at Border’s (remember that place?) to buy the The New Cast Recording of A Chorus Line which had just re-opened on Broadway.  Flash forward another year (and hundreds of car rides with Mom driving while I was scream singing Maggie’s crescendo in “At The Ballet”), and I’m sitting at the Schoenfield Theatre in New York with my high school choir mates, about to watch what had become one of my absolute favorite musicals.

I think the most beautiful thing about A Chorus Line is that you can relate to essentially every single character even if you aren’t a dancer. And, believe me, I am certainly not a dancer. Regardless, it is so easy to get swept into the stories and realize the beauty and complication that is simply growing up and being alive.

Flash forward to today, and I have the beautiful privilege of being a part of this production, along with the even greater privilege of playing Zach. It is magical watching these beautiful stories unfold night after night; re-living those car rides with my mom, singing “Nothing” in the hallways at school with friends, and those nights when I fell asleep listening to “What I Did For Love”.

Thank you to Robin for this role, to Mom for letting me to the soundtrack repeatedly, and to YOU for supporting Metropolis PAC production of A Chorus Line!

c line 18

Uncle Lar: A Chicago Comedy Classic

September 24, 2018 § Leave a comment

photo-4-1 copyChicago has earned a worldwide reputation as the training ground for future comedy stars. While Chicago is renowned as the birthplace of improvisational comedy and has been the training ground for everyone from Bill Murray to Tina Fey and too many more stars to count, it has also been noted as a blast furnace for the stand-up comedy industry. Some of the greatest minds of solo/duo comedy started in tiny clubs dotted across the Chicago area landscape: Bob Newhart, Shelly Berman, Nichols and May, Robin Williams, Richard Pryor and many more artists. History shows that the great Joe E. Lewis virtually invented stand-up comedy in 1930s Chicago.

Comics in the 50s, 60s and 70s performed in nightclubs, on the billboard with singers, musical acts, dancers and novelty acts, as stand-up comedy clubs didn’t exist in that era. In fact, my first professional comedy gigs – as one/third of the comedy trio ridiculously titled Joe Mackburn – were at 1970s coffeehouse/nightclubs like Amazing Grace, The Spot, and Mr. Kelly’s.

In the mid-late 70s, comedy clubs started to pop up: The Comedy Cottage, Chicago Comedy Showcase and the grandfather of them all: Zanies. It was mid-frigid-Chicago-winter and I forget the year but Zanies had been open for about 3 weeks. I chattered through a 9 degrees below zero Thursday night to reach Zanies, my goal to pick up tips (steal) from some of the hot new standups.

The night was transformational, a revelation. The late, great Jim Fay opened with his chaotic audience-interactive set and then John Caponera came on for a short 15 and then. Then. Uncle Lar, Larry Reeb took the stage. Uncle Lar ripped through a comedy set which is nearly beyond description: part vaudeville comic, part incisive hilarity, part what-the-h-was-that? Every moment seemed to build funnier than the last. There are 3 times in my extensive career that I laughed so hard I thought I might pass out: Bob Hope in his late-prime, George Carlin in his mid-prime and Uncle Lar who is always primed.

It was a transformational night as Uncle Lar bridged the span between classic comedy delivery and outrageous new material. He teetered across a tightrope of one sharp punchline to the next bizarre setup.

Forty years later, Uncle Lar is even funnier than back in those pioneering days of comedy. I saw him in the spring of this year and again, I nearly passed out from the laughing lack of oxygen. If you’re in need of a jolt of comedy this mid-fall, do not miss the opportunity to see a Chicago Comedy Classic. Uncle Lar will make you glad you made the trip.

Joe+Keefe

Joe Keefe                                                  jkeefe@metropolisarts.com

Joe Keefe: A New Season at Metropolis

September 18, 2018 § Leave a comment

A New Season

It’s the time of year when seasons change, both the weather and our theater, and as we open our 2018/19 productions, let’s take a look back to the shows from last season’s wonderful slate. I hope these observations provide interesting context for our selection process and a view into the workings of professional theater.

Woods11

Into The Woods

The Sondheim classic graced the Metropolis stage with an abundance of talent, energy and wit. Based on an adult’s view of the classic Grimm Fairy Tales, Into the Woods showcased the wry, funny and anguished effects of wishes come true. Production values for this delicate show were powerful across the board.

BoeinBoeing4g Boeing

My nickname for this production was “the little show that could”. Boeing Boeing was hilarious, taut, startling and breathtaking in its leaps from one moment of comic mayhem to the next. Through the laughter, the audience almost got the high-aerobic workout the actors experienced every show. This high-wire 1960s comedy struck many chords with our patrons.

Avenue Qave q151-1

I described Avenue Q as “Sesame Street meets a burlesque show”. While the comedy was broad, adult and non-stop, this production was remarkable by featuring sweet innocence and profound sincerity in its characters. It was a hilarious show but the funny was balanced by genuine characterizations – yes, even puppets have real feelings – and moments of tender pain and joy. Avenue Q proved to be a breakout hit both with our audience and the new patrons who sought out this great show.

Note: These areas – depth of character interpretations and exploration of true moments – are the bedrock of our artistic direction. Blending these qualities with the best production values within our budget, we produce consistently high-quality musicals and plays. Simply put, we are committed to the finest artistic production possible.

Beehive5

Beehive

A powerhouse, finger-snapping, dancing tribute to the great female voices of the 1960s, Beehive generated a buzz louder than we could have imagined. Six dynamic dancing women and a rocking band hovering above the stage crafted a great production of musical theater, attracting record numbers of patrons, and establishing Beehive as one of the most profitable shows in Metropolis history.

A Christmas Carol (Annual)

A Metropolis holiday tradition, we tested a new script during the 16/17 season and determined to return to the more classic version for 17/18. This show proved to be not only a production delight but also a huge hit with our audiences. We are bringing back this Scott Woldman adaptation for the upcoming holiday season.

Theater, like life, is constant evolution with each season blending into the next, the cycle of art starting anew. While we gaze back on the fantastic season behind us, we look forward to the magnificent shows ahead: A Chorus Line, The Mousetrap, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum and Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story. I’ll be writing about these great shows in our next installment. Please contact me with your thoughts, ideas, wishes and wonders.

As always, thanks for your wonderful support.
Joe Keefe
jkeefe@metropolisarts.com

Avenue Q Prop Designer & Dramaturg Linda Scheufler

May 30, 2018 § Leave a comment

Winner of the Tony “Triple Crown” for Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book, Avenue Q is part flesh, part felt and packed with heart.

Before the “Book of Mormon”, there was “Avenue Q”. Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx created humor, songs and outrageousness with grown up puppets in 2003.  Imagine what happened after the next-door neighbors of Sesame Street grew up and moved out on their own. Life after college isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.  Jobs are hard to find, friends look different than before, and grown up temptations pop up everywhere. Idealistic dreams become muddled when reality hits.

Using bright and catchy songs, filled with racy and irreverent language, puppets and humans explore social issues such as racism, self-identity, uncertainties and  the loneliness of living on the streets of New York City.

Although the show addresses humorous adult issues, it is similar to a beloved children’s show; a place where puppets are friends, monsters are good and life lessons are learned on the path to one’s purpose in life.

Untitled

Rehearsal Photo – Avenue Q

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the organization.

On Avenue Q and Growing Up by Cast Member Aaron Lockman

May 29, 2018 § Leave a comment

by Aaron Lockman

My high school was a bit of an aberration in terms of social structure – at least compared to the fictional high schools I saw on TV. In your stereotypical American high school, there is a strict triangle of social hierarchy in place, with the athletics and cheerleaders at the narrow top, and  then working its way down through the normal kids, the speech team, winding down through the anime club, finally landing on the wide base of sad, lonely nerds.

I don’t want to say that my high school was completely free of this triangle – we were, after all, a generation raised on John Hughes knockoff movies – but largely, the sheer size of Thornton Academy rendered such a strict caste system unworkable. Instead, a bizarre sort of highly tribal anarchy took over. The jocks, the cheerleaders, the anime club, and the nerds still existed, but each separate tribe just sort of floated along in an uneasy lateral equality, and there was little power that one clique could hold over another. If any Yertle the Turtle figure ever tried to climb on top, they were subjected to what is perhaps a more realistic interpretation of the physical capabilities of turtles than Dr. Seuss’s, and the neat stack of reptiles collapsed into a wet, messy pile.

Of course, each individual clique had its own micro-hierarchies. The clique I found myself in around my sophomore year, the theater geeks (as if you had to guess), valued onstage talent and physical attractiveness above all else. But other factors were considered as well. And familiarity with the musical Avenue Q was one of them.

Ever since my brother and I had stumbled across “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist” while listening to Sirius XM radio in my dad’s car a few years previously, I had been a fan of the Avenue Q soundtrack. And so you can imagine my joy when knowledge of these obscure, raunchy show tunes turned out to be precious social capital in my new surroundings – such an occurrence in the district where I went to middle school was highly unlikely. My new friends and I listened to Avenue Q, talked about Avenue Q, and imagined how we would cast ourselves if the school ever got the balls to do it as our spring musical. We ragged on the Avenue Q School Edition when it came out (rightly so, I’m afraid). We memorized the harmonies and sang them together as we swerved through the suburban sprawl of southern Maine in each other’s cars.

I’m not exactly sure why this musical resonated with us so much. There was the artistry of it, sure, and the previously unheard-of combination of bacchanalian humor, Broadway-style music, and Muppet-like voices. Teenagerdom is a strange, interstitial time when you have the brainpower of an adult but none of the emotional discipline to handle that power – and so this music, that juxtaposed the earnestly childlike with the hilariously adult, probably struck something quite deep. But still – none of us were dealing with the central emotional question in the show, the question of how to exist in a meaningless, post-college world. You can’t wish you could go back to college if you haven’t been to college yet. We just thought it was funny.

In the past couple of years, I hadn’t thought about Avenue Q much until I heard about Metropolis’s audition notice. I was cast in this show roughly a year after graduating from college myself, and I am fascinated by the ways it has changed in my mental absence from it.

Some of the comedy, for instance, has not aged well. The way we talk about racism in this country, for instance, has changed so completely post-Obama and post-Black Lives Matter that the jokes in the song “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” mostly seem awkward now. They’re still quite hilarious, don’t get me wrong (and our cast does a great job with that number), but the song seems to perceive racism primarily as individual people being mean to each other –instead of a systemic issue that is ingrained into every aspect of society. Nowadays, accepting that “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” is just the first step of a much longer and more difficult process, rather than an end unto itself.

The show’s final number, “For Now,” faces a similar problem. There’s a spot in that song where we shout “TRUMP. . . is only for noooooww!” as we sing about the many things in life, good and bad, that are temporary. The original Broadway cast shouted “Bush!” of course, and various casts in between have shouted various political references. Our audience in Arlington Heights always goes crazy for that joke, and I won’t pretend it doesn’t depress me a little. The truth is, we are living in the aftermath of George Bush as we speak – and the damage wrought by Trump’s presidency could take decades to unwind. Politics, sadly, is rarely “For Now.” Things do have lasting consequences. Satire is important, of course, but so is perspective.

Other aspects of the show, however, have only grown in meaning since my high school days. I am now essentially Avenue Q’s target demographic – a broke, twenty-something college grad fumbling for meaning as I try to find my purpose in life. Since my teenage years, I have gained experiences like pining for a same-sex roommate whom I knew could never reciprocate (like Rod), engaging in a swift, ill-advised relationship in order to stave off loneliness that ended up making it worse (like Princeton and Lucy), and having my various dreams crushed over and over again as Kate does.

And the realization the characters get in the final number is something that I’ve been trying to internalize since. . . well, honestly, ever since I started going to therapy last year:

Nothing in your life is too terrible to bounce back from. But also, your life will never be as meaningful or happy as you want it to be. And that’s. . . okay?

Life, I’ve observed, is better when you accept that it’s mostly gonna be a whole lot of medium. And what Avenue Q does so well is making that medium feel miraculous by bringing it into razor-sharp focus. No character really gets what they want. Not everyone is happy or fulfilled by the end. But they have each other, and they have the music, and they have themselves.

There is palpable joy to be found in the tiniest, simplest things. And those are what let you soldier on.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the organization.

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing the in rehearsal category at Metropolis Insider.