Connecting Before, During and After Pandemic

July 9, 2020 § Leave a comment

Two words: Community Engagement. Here at Metropolis, it’s somewhat of our sweet spot. 

You may immediately imagine a (pre-pandemic) lobby full of patrons talking before a show or a full theater laughing together, but there are so many other ways in which we bring people together. 

In fact, part of our School of Performing Arts is dedicated to community engagement, and it’s not new. For over 10 years, we’ve had a relationship with Clearbrook – a local organization committed to being a leader in creating innovative opportunities, services and supports for people with disabilities.

It’s a relationship we’ve maintained even through “shelter at home” orders with weekly Zoom lessons and even a Zoom performance showcase. Screen Shot 2020-06-17 at 4.56.45 PMAs we’ve all experienced, necessary precautions taken in light of the pandemic can be very isolating over time. Maintaining social interaction, along with challenging oneself to learn something new, is key to positive mental health. 

I am so grateful for our school staff and community collaborators who re-imagined traditional classes in an online format that kept students engaged, built connections and encouraged learning. 

With the Arlington Heights Senior Center, we are currently hosting Acting Through Life, Crescendo Chorus as well as group Intro to Ukulele lessons – all online! Not only have our students met new friends, but many were excited to learn Zoom for the first time, enabling them to further connect with friends and family.  As one student said “Being in this class makes me feel alive.”

I want to mention Flourish in the Footlights which runs October to April in collaboration with Arlington Pediatric Therapy and Friends of Children in Therapy. It’s a group theater class for individuals with special needs ages 13 and older that fully produces a show on our stage. Students create the script and feature songs with lyrics re-written to match the story. 

Here’s what “flourish” parents, Chris and Greg Buchberger, had to say “Our two adult children with special needs have been a part of the Flourish in the Footlights program since it began 18 years ago, and we can’t imagine life without it. The program is the highlight of their year every year and they have benefitted from it in countless ways, as have we.”

And really, that’s at the heart of what we do and what we believe. That the arts and arts education benefits everyone, in ways we cannot begin to measure. It connects us to one another through our emotions, by our shared experiences and in our vulnerability. This has never been felt more deeply than during this time. 

I hope we can continue to provide support and relief for you as you have for us.

Sincerely,
Brookes

P.S. Have an idea for an online class for a small or private group? Interested in an online workshop for your school or scout troop this Fall? Contact Abby Vombrack by email or call her at 847.607.1676.

Phase 4 Metropolis

July 2, 2020 § Leave a comment

“If art doesn’t make us better, then what on earth is it for?” -Alice Walker

The creative energy emanating from Metropolis team members is wonderful and powerful – so many talented people grappling with unknowns, testing ideas, trying fresh concepts and, suddenly, one problem is solved. And then another. And another. 

We are now preparing to re-commence full operations on July 31st with a series of concerts, comedy events and a school production throughout August. The State of Illinois has provided guidelines for re-opening theaters and cinemas – 50 person limit for now. 

50 seats is less than 20% of our total capacity within the theatre, posing a financial challenge to our organization. We are committed to presenting great shows, employing local artists and bringing the Metropolis community together, even with our current constraints. 

We are likely to be one of a very few number of performing arts centres in the area with programming. Since April, Metropolis has been creating procedures that ensure the safety of our patrons, our artists as well as our staff. We’ve purchased new touchless equipment, reconfigured our space for social distancing and upgraded our HVAC filters. Additionally, we’ve had the benefit of watching and learning from the best practices of our downtown Arlington Heights businesses.

Every week we receive messages from patrons, donors, school families and friends sharing how much they miss our Metropolis, how they look forward to the day we can share a show, a song and a laugh again. 

We are building August programming with local bands, comedians and a school production. Look for our announcement of the updated line up on our newly-installed marquee and our new website in late July.

We would be remiss in not acknowledging the generous support of our donors – those who have contributed generously throughout the years as well as those more recently donating back the value of their theater ticket. 

Thank you so much. We look forward to seeing you soon!

Joe Keefe                                                       Brookes Ebetsch
Executive Artistic Director                            Executive Operations Director

MAMMA MIA! UPDATE

June 16, 2020 § Leave a comment

On Friday we made the announcement that we would be making the difficult decision to cancel our production of Mamma Mia!

In this time of deep uncertainty, social change and pandemic, for the physical and mental well-being of our cast, crew and staff we have made the difficult decision to cancel our summer production of Mamma Mia!. Our box office will reach out individually to all ticket holders within the next two weeks.

It was our intention with pursuing Mamma Mia! during this time to:

  • Provide another excellent production for our audiences
  • Adapt to changing circumstances and seek mechanisms to modify productions under new conditions
  • Provide artistic outlets and income to Chicagoland’s community of artists

The decision to cancel was not an easy one, as it affects so many people – actors and audience members alike. Despite our most creative approaches, the show presented insurmountable challenges for the safety of our cast in our current phase of Restore Illinois. 

Cancelling Mamma Mia! does not mean we are giving up on programming this Summer. We are committed to providing other entertainment in the coming weeks – allowing for current best practices to be in place while still providing a great experience to our patrons who are ready for a night out. 

We hope you’ll contact us with any questions or concerns. Our deepest thanks go to you, our most loyal Metropolis subscribers and patrons, during these challenging times. 

Brookes Ebetsch & Joe Keefe
Executive Directors

The Art of the Thrill

May 28, 2020 § Leave a comment

Introduction: During these challenging times, I will be sharing a range of ideas, dreams, essays and mostly-true tales stemming from the six decades (so far) of this wonderful career in the theater. I hope you enjoy.

– Joe Keefe

The Art of the Thrill

“Life is on the wire. The rest is just waiting.” Karl Wallenda

Theater exists because of the powerful human need to be thrilled, awed, stunned, awakened. These moments of excitement in theater connect us to our deepest human emotions. The dramatic reversal of fortune, good versus evil, love and hate – these are moments onstage that reflect real events in our lives. We become involved with the characters onstage, each on their own high wire, and we hope for them; we hate for them; we revel in their struggles because we all strive for good or great things in our own lives. 

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One of the climactic moments in Little Shop of Horrors occurs when Seymour (the nerd with a heart of gold) realizes that Audrey ll (the giant carnivorous shrub) is demanding much, much more than Seymour can give. This is a delicate, awkward, bizarre, thrilling and life-altering moment when Seymour will be tested beyond his limits. While the circumstances are unusual, to say the least, we’ve all been tested in some similar way. As we root for Seymour, we’re also rooting for ourselves. 

Theater artists craft these sorts of thrills for a living. Our calling is to bring you up to the wire, onto the trapeze, to the edge of the high dive, so we can all experience what living really means. Theater artists are thrill-makers and thrill-seekers at the same time. The soaring hope, a fateful choice, love gone wrong and right and wrong again – these are thrills we’ve all had and they return to us when we’re taken up high or down low in the shared experience of a great stage moment.

a-chorus-line-fontI was a senior in high school when the first national tour of A Chorus Line came to Chicago. I’d been acting professionally for about a decade already and viewed theater as my lifelong profession. ACL had been on Broadway for 18 months and my theater gang had already burned through several original cast albums. We lined up for tickets to the second-night performance at the old Shubert Theatre. 

No matter that I’d already done more than a few shows, this show was stunning, shattering, thrilling beyond comprehension. It confirmed every choice, it affirmed every idea I had about the creation of performing art. In a word, I was once again thrilled and determined that my life would be creating more of these thrills. As we approach the precious moments when we will be able to gather again, I look forward to many, many more of those necessary, wonderful, life-affirming thrills. 

Stay warm and well. We’ll see you soon. 

– Joe Keefe

An Assortment of Treasures

May 21, 2020 § Leave a comment

Introduction: During these challenging times, I will be sharing a range of ideas, dreams, essays and mostly-true tales stemming from the six decades (so far) of this wonderful career in the theater. I hope you enjoy.

– Joe Keefe

An Assortment of Treasures

“How do you pick the shows?” 

For an Artistic Director, this is a regular question with more answers than you can imagine. The technical aspects are pretty simple: licensing companies provide perusal catalogues, selections must serve the theater’s mission, production needs must match capabilities and then there’s a few dozen decades of personal experience to tap. Of the many tasks fulfilled by an AD, leading the selection of a theater’s shows is the most exciting undertaking possible, both critically important and completely rewarding. 

While technical considerations are crucial, the artistic aspects of shows – theatrical possibilities – are the foundation for each selection. A theater becomes known for the shows it produces and the quality of those productions and the shows in our upcoming season wonderfully embody the characteristics we seek. For this blog, I thought I’d examine one of our selections and share the reasons we pursued it. 

Little Shop of Horrors

Funny, outrageous, campy and feisty – Little Shop is the little cult show that succeeded against all odds. Its artistic appeal is apparent: a classic love story set in skid row, an otherworld antagonist, a powerful allegory of the price of success, all this supported by wonderful characters and excellent music. While these qualities add up to an excellent selection, emotionally connecting to each work of art aligns the show with our mission. 

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My relationship with Little Shop goes back to my young teen years when I saw the original Roger Corman film at the Wilmette Theatre in the early 1970s. The movie was jaw-dropping: a bizarre and gritty film noir that smacked you on the side of the head. (Jack Nicholson’s comically sadistic dentist still gives me the shakes.) The 1982 off-Broadway smash hit transformed the film’s cynicism and low-grade violence into quasi-campy-comedy, keeping an edge to the story while balancing excellent music and comedy against the grit. 

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The next set of relationships with Little Shop begins with the cast of the 1986 Frank Oz fortunesturnaroundsmash movie hit. I’ve worked with several cast members: Jim Belushi (Second City cast mate who once pushed me offstage), John Candy (bless him), Rick Moranis (improv set where Rick said almost nothing and got every laugh imaginable). And I used to get kicked out of the Murray family kitchen with some regularity – of course, most of the Murray boys did too. 

Selecting shows for a season is like going into an old fashioned bakery. Everywhere you turn there is something wonderful, the next option even better than the last. Composing each season brings together a dozen brains for storming in a series of “how about and what if” meetings. These sessions are coordinated by our excellent Lead Artistic Associate Robin Hughes and supported by the great Production Manager Bill Franz. After all the ideas are white-boarded and every possibility explored, when the coffee has evaporated and every availability checked, the final composition resides with the AD. It’s a joy beyond description. 

Stay warm and well. I look forward to seeing you soon. 

Joe Keefe  

A New Season

May 14, 2020 § Leave a comment

Introduction: During these challenging times, I will be sharing a range of ideas, dreams, essays and mostly-true tales stemming from the six decades (so far) of this wonderful career in the theater. I hope you enjoy.

– Joe Keefe

A New Season

In the world of theater, Spring is the harbinger of many things: warmer temperatures, longer days, May flowers and the announcement of our upcoming season! This last item – revealing the titles of the upcoming year of productions – is Christmas morning for theater people. You get to unwrap each show, put on the music, check out the script and imagine what role you might play. As area theaters reveal their seasons, the presents multiply exponentially with more and more acting roles, singing parts, featured dances along with boundless opportunities and challenges for Directors, Choreographers, Musical Directors, Designers and too many more people to list.

At our Metropolis, the presents are wonderful. 20SeasonTease2

Little Shop horizontal APLittle Shop of Horrors – our season opens in September with this cult international hit. It’s the old story: nerd falls in love with girl, demonic space-alien-shrub tempts nerd with untold powers, hideous dangers arise and love songs are belted in every direction. Little Shop is part hilarious, part treacherous and all things romantic redemption. 

Baskerville horizontalAPBaskerville – this retelling of Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic thriller juggles a range of theatrical components: starling humor, eerie suspense, breathless pace and always rising tension. Holmes and Watson rush to the rescue, determined to solve the mystery of the deadly hound before it can consume the last heir of estate Baskerville. 

Producers horizontalAPThe Producers – a modern comedy classic, the legendary Mel Brooks produces every laugh imaginable while poking fun at all things possible. A washed up Broadway producer teams up with a buttoned up bookkeeper in a foolproof scheme to cash in on the worst show ever produced. To assure the catastrophe and collect on the oversold show, the team carefully selects the wrong Writer, the wrong Director, the wrong Actors but disaster still looms – where did they go right?!  This toe-tapping, boot-clicking musical will make your abdominals stronger through the limitless laughs. 

My Way horizontal APMy Way – Old Blue Eyes, the Chairman of the Board, Francis Albert. Frank Sinatra not only had one of the best voices of the last century, he was one of the greatest showmen who ever trod a board. My Way is not just an homage to Frank, it’s also a compendium of some of the greatest songs of many decades. Fly Me to the Moon, I’ve Got You Under My Skin, My Way – these are just some of the staggering, swaggering Sinatra hits featured in this tribute to a generation of great music. 

The world around us evolves every day with breaking news, surprises and a few shocks. At our Metropolis, we’re adapting all manners of procedure to manage the changes, building a warm and safe space for our patrons, staff and our performing artists. We announce this wonderful new season in the expectation that we’ll see you soon, as conditions improve and when we can join again in the many celebrations of the unmatched experiences of very-live theater. 

Stay warm and well. I look forward to seeing you soon.  

Joe Keefe

Historical Perseverance

May 7, 2020 § Leave a comment

Introduction: During these challenging times, I will be sharing a range of ideas, dreams, essays and mostly-true tales stemming from the six decades (so far) of this wonderful career in the theater. I hope you enjoy.

– Joe Keefe

Historical Perseverance

“The slogan press on has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” 

This quote is attributed to Calvin Coolidge but can also be applied as the operating maxim of the theater industry. In our world of performing art, the rule that the show must go on merges with today’s directive: the show WILL go on. As I pen this essay, our Metropolis crew is busy preparing every facet of operations to be ready for our next show, the upcoming concerts, our classes and events.

Throughout the history of civilization, theater has adapted to evolving conditions and circumstances with a dedication bordering on the bizarre. Ancient Athenian theater – open air performances in huge arenas – persisted through storms, wars and the occasional plague.

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The Globe Theatre, home to most of Shakespeare’s great works, was destroyed during a production of All Is True. Rumor has it that the show continued outside the venue as it burned to the ground. One patron’s cloak was set on fire but was quickly doused as audience members poured ale on him. 

Both World Wars involved the stubborn necessity of theater as shows were performed unnamed (2)open-air in ghettos, convened in private homes and amid the rubble of destroyed cities. The show will go on. 

As we confront the changes in today’s world, I marvel at the creativity of our artists. It is both startling and delightful to hear the brainstorming of our artists to adapt to new challenges. Early this week, a video conference erupted in laughter and applause as solutions to a hugging sequence were brainstormed. 

unnamedTheater, the live and shared experience of drama, comedy, romance, tragedy and music, is already evolving to meet the new days ahead. In the six decades of my wonderful career, the next decades promise to be even more rewarding. 

 

Stay warm and well. We’ll see you SOON. The show will go on!

 

Joe Keefe

The Headshot

April 30, 2020 § Leave a comment

Introduction: During these challenging times, I will be sharing a range of ideas, dreams, essays and mostly-true tales stemming from the six decades (so far) of this wonderful career in the theater. I hope you enjoy.

– Joe Keefe

The Headshot

An actor’s headshot is not just a pretty picture, it’s the artist’s business card. That critical photo must convey a vast range of qualities: talent, ability, character and versatility. A well-crafted headshot gets the actor into consideration, where you can get a shot at the role. A bad headshot can get you fired before you’re hired.

This isn’t to say that a casting crew depends entirely on an inanimate photo to make critical decisions, quite the contrary, but a good photo shows awareness of craft and professionalism whereas a bad photo doesn’t. The care an actor takes with their headshot is an indication of the concern they will demonstrate toward the show. 

Here’s one of my headshots from the early ‘80s (1980s, not. 1880s):

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Yes, I know what you’re all thinking: “Who knew he was so cute?” I used to rent advertising space on that forehead and I still have those suspenders. 

So I need your help. I’m trying to select a new headshot from several recent photo sessions. You can email me your advice: jkeefe@metropolisarts.com. Here are the selections with a bit of description:

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This first one is titled “What does a Hemingway?” The answer: “Twice a Faulkner.” Probably not my best look.Here’s the next option:

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This one is called “The Old Testament”. It takes me back to the start of my career, right after that big flood. Here’s one more for your consideration:

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This one is “Joe Bi Wan Kenobi”. I didn’t want to “force” this one but it turned out okay. 

Clearly, I may be getting a bit stir-crazy and my creative outlets seem to be taking bizarre turns. But the craft work continues. 

While we’re on this hiatus, many initiatives are able to grow and prosper. We’re about ready to announce our upcoming season; I’m digging deep into an array of new show possibilities and I continue to work on a bit of original material for future use at our wonderful Metropolis. 

Our Presented Works Department is exploring dozens of new options in the areas of concerts, comedy, short-run dramatic shows, and many related concepts. We’re just beginning conceptual design phases for the 20/21 season and I’ll share some of those exciting developments in the coming weeks. 

So let me know which headshot you think I should use. I’ll tabulate the votes, select the right shot and then hire myself for an upcoming show. 

Stay warm. Stay well and I look forward to seeing you very soon. 

Joe Keefe

 

Producing the Impossible

April 23, 2020 § Leave a comment

Introduction: During these challenging times, I will be sharing a range of ideas, dreams, essays and mostly-true tales stemming from the six decades (so far) of this wonderful career in the theater. I hope you enjoy.
– Joe Keefe

Producing the Impossible

In the early 1980s, I was cast in a play being produced by a brand-new theater company – a company now quite famous. As casting occurred at a rental space, I did not yet see the actual theater. I was contacted with the good news, provided a script and schedule and the address was provided – a building on Lincoln Avenue with which I was not familiar. On an early spring rehearsal Tuesday night, I CTAed my way to the correct block and looked up and down for the right address. The address didn’t exist.]

Continuing my trek, I deduced that a building – an A frame three flat – did exist at the address on my sheet but that it had no markings or numbers on the exterior. What the building did have was several large red CONDEMNED stickers on its facade along with notices from the city that under no circumstances should the building be occupied. I turned on my heel, making my way back to the El when the side door of the building burst open and a large, red-headed man waved at me to come over.

“Yeah!” He yelled. “Rehearsal is in here.”

Rehearsal. In a rickety three flat that wasn’t just abandoned, the building was condemned. I didn’t hesitate, after all Actors act, and I made a path down the cluttered passageway and into the building. Red Head introduced himself. 

“I’m Scott. This is our theater. What do you think?”

The first floor had been entirely gutted, cleared of most everything except support beams. Coffee-can lights were suspended from the ceiling, aimed at an open area that might be the stage. An assortment of chairs were positioned on elevated scrap-wood platforms where the front door of the building should have been. The chipped plaster walls had been painted a series of blues from several unmatched buckets, the floor creaked with every step. There were two huge ragged holes in the stage floor – you could see down into the crawl space.

I stepped over a bundle of extension cords to get a better look around. Red Head noted the cables, pointing to a hole in the wall where the extension cords entered the building.

“Yeah, we rent our electricity from the bar next door. Bathrooms too. So, what do you think?”

I told him, seriously, that I loved it. And I did. Theater is based on adventure, courage, a pioneering spirit and this theater was going to be exactly those things.

“Some of the guys live upstairs. We don’t have any more space so you can’t move in. Rehearsal starts in 20 minutes.” Red Head walked to the door as he talked. “Going next door for a second. You want a beer?”

I almost cried.

Yes, the building was condemned. I was breaking the law just by being inside it. Yes, the floor had holes in it. Mice likely owned the basement and the lights were light-years away from being up to code. But this theater was working on it. All of it. They were fixing the building as they were building the stage. They were rehearsing a great show, and readying many more, while renting electricity and borrowing bathrooms.

Four weeks later the building was almost legal. Not quite but close. The cast had come together, led by adventurous Red Head, and we created one brilliant show that ended up running sold-out for almost a year in that dusty, crusty, rusty space. Sure, the lice outbreak was a bit off-putting but we soaped that away in one weekend.
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I’ve produced shows in Broadway theaters, atop moving semi-trailers, on the center island of Shamu’s pool. I’ve produced shows on a 747, in an animal preserve, at the Kennedy Center, the Chicago Theatre, Lincoln Center, too many Vegas showrooms to list, taverns, roadhouses, the Watergate Hotel, mob joints, Navy Pier, and yes, in a few thousand theaters. Every show has its own challenges but the rewards so far outweigh concerns that the problems only make the joys more joyful.

There is no theatrical place on this earth that fosters more joy than our Metropolis. While our space is comparatively small, we’re able to provide big-show production values while maintaining a dynamic, tangible intimacy with our audiences. Out of 329 seats, not one is farther than 60 feet from the edge of our proscenium arch, providing excellent sight lines and the acoustic capabilities are the best in the area. In short, there is nowhere I‘d rather be producing wonderful works of performing art.

Theater is an art of making the impossible possible. Witches cast spells and fly away. Obscure chorus persons become stars. The French Revolution comes back to life and we’re all still waiting for Godot. Making something from nothing is the first fundamental rule of theater and challenges are the fuel for our art. We’re working on that art right now and it will be back bigger, better and more dazzling than ever.

Joe Keefe

Why We Love Theater

April 16, 2020 § Leave a comment

Introduction: During these challenging times, I will be sharing a range of ideas, dreams, essays and mostly-true tales stemming from the six decades (so far) of this wonderful career in the theater. I hope you enjoy.
– Joe Keefe

Why We Love Theater

Theater isn’t for slouches. It makes you work. Audience members are active participants in the creation of each play, musical, revue and showcase. The subconscious, human interaction that occurs between a cast and the audience is actual, palpable and absolutely necessary to each individual work of performance. A lovely song, that tender romantic moment, the suspense of a web of lies: these moments become important and real through the choices of actors and audience. 

Even before the opening curtain, actors and their characters can “feel” the audience, subconsciously sensing reactions and actions, and audience members emotionally connect to the motives, hopes and faults of the characters in each moment. This interaction is the living exchange that makes performances entirely unique, as distinct as snowflakes. Another word for it is: imagination. 

51663267_10156701150960169_5292305491504922624_oThere’s no pause or reset button in a play. There’s no rewind switch in a musical. Dramatic moments rise and soar, comic moments clash, songs swell and echo and evaporate into the darkness. The audience rides these waves of action right along with the characters, connecting to the peaks and valleys that form the rising action of the story. These connections demand a lot of work from both sides – but this is what makes theater what it is: the most human of art forms. Characters make choices – good, bad and otherwise – and there are consequences for those choices. Just like life. 

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The craftwork of live theater encompasses hundreds, thousands of components that build a new world with each show. Sets, costumes, lighting, sound – these elements are crafted to bring you to the deck of an ocean-going ship, a trek across medieval England, the callbacks for a Broadway musical. Direction is provided so that action is clear and motives come forth. And yet, with all these elements at work, live theater allows each audience to make its own decisions, to root for individual characters, too root for the protagonist (or not) and to take in the sights one wants to see. You decide the direction of the show you’re watching. 

If you’ve ever wondered why live theater is so different from movies, TV or digital performances, this is why: in theater, YOU make the choice where your attention goes. You make the personal connection to that character; you decide what to see and how to see it. This action of self-determination in dramatic context is why theater has existed for many millennia. It is why we love what we love: we are allowed, compelled to care. 61332249_10156934729530169_6603511070843731968_oAnd this is why we’re working hard right now, during these challenging times, to make sure that our Metropolis will be more than ready to welcome you back. There is no substitute for basic, necessary, joyful, powerful human interaction. This most human of all art is our mission, our purpose and it’s why we can’t wait to see you again soon. 

Joe Keefe

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