Encore! A Deleted Scene From the Circle

Ensemble member and From the Circle storyteller Audrey Bertaux-Skeirik shares the wonderful story of Gluskabe a Native American legend that didn’t quite make it into From the Circle: Remembering the Earth through Folktales.

Here’s a little secret. There was never a script (per se) for From the Circle: Remembering the Earth Through Folktakes. Instead, there were stories, from books, from oral tradition, from memory, from personal experience, and even from science we extracted these stories that were used in the performance. Throughout the rehearsal processes we tested out a multitude of stories that, over time, came and went, were shortened, lengthened, cut and pasted, exchanged for different versions, and ultimately fourteen stories made it to the stage.
But what about the stories that didn’t make it to the stage? Here is one that almost made it in, but ultimately was cut from the show the week before we opened.

A large statue of Gluskabe beside the town hall of Parrsboro, Nova Scotia


When the Creator finished making the world, he dusted off his hands and from those sprinkles of dust Gluskabe formed himself. Gluskabe sat up and walked around and the Creator exclaimed how wonderful Gluskabe was!
“I am wonderful because you sprinkled me!” said Gluskabe
Then the Creator and Gluskabe walk over the whole world, exclaiming on its beauty and wonder!

It is a delightfully simple story about creation, appreciation, and wonder. But why did we remove this story? Ultimately we found that these elements were already in other stories we were telling, and although the story was interesting and engaging, it led the show to linger, rather than propelling it forward.
Gluskabe shows up in many folk tales and has a multitude of adventures, so if this deleted scene caught your attention, you may want to read more Gluskabe stories!

More Resources

Ms. Ritchey Goes to Washington

Artistic Director Julie Ritchey waxes poetic about her friend and countryman Abraham Lincoln as she examines how stories continue to shape our nation.

I have to admit that I am a little bit obsessed with Abraham Lincoln. So when I found myself in Washington DC for a whirlwind weekend at AATE’s theatre leadership institute, my first stop after leaving the airport was the National Mall for a quick visit to the Lincoln Memorial.

After living in the world of From the Circle: Remembering the Earth through Folktales for the last several months, I’ve definitely had folktales on the brain. To be there, at the National Mall, looking at all the monuments got me thinking about our American folktales – and not just Johnny Appleseed and Paul Bunyon, but the stories – some true, some legend – of the history of our country and, by association, what it means to be an American. Although I generally don’t consider myself to be overly patriotic, it’s hard to walk down the National Mall, looking at the monuments, memorials, and vibrant fall leaves and not feel a little bit like Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

I had only visited DC twice before, and had forgotten the inscription above the statue of Lincoln that reads “In this temple, as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever.” The phrase resonated with me like a folktale, a story that we all carry a piece of and a relationship to – a sort of celebration of collective memory. That all the people, all the events of human history are broken up into little pieces, little stories, and carried in the hearts of the people.

I read the Gettysburg Address, the Second Inaugural Address, and watched as people took their photographs in front of the giant statue of Abe himself. Then, to enjoy the beautiful day in that beautiful place, I turned around to sit on the steps and write. The reflecting pool was completely torn up, crawling with bulldozers and workers in hard hats. At first I was disappointed – it was certainly a less majestic view of the Mall, with dirt and plastic fence in place of that long, smooth stretch of water. But then it took on a kind of poetry, with Abraham Lincoln in his marble chair, overlooking a giant rebuilding project.

With the protests, the wars, the upcoming elections, we are all in the middle of a Great Rebuilding. We do not know how it will end, or how history will tell the story in the generations to come. But someday, many years from now, these stories will be forever enshrined in the hearts of the people for whom we are working to rebuild this union.

Something Incredible

“From The Circle” is in rehearsal at the Dank Haus. I am outside in the hall with another actor, crouched low over a small music player. We are trying to hear each note and find a “sticking place” for this song in our brains, because if we are going to sing in harmony in from of strangers, this song needs to be very deeply stuck. So we listen and hum along, slowly, slowly beginning to learn our respective parts. Finally, another actor pulls out his guitar, we set a key, and dive into the piece in earnest. And I am so glad to be singing.

orpheus, filament theatre ensemble, jack novak, bouffons, dj puzzle

Sympathy for the Bouffon

So… those creepy clown things in ORPHEUS: Featuring DJ Puzzle as Fate…  Who are they? What are they thinking?  Where do they come from?  Well, here to answer all your questions is Filament’s literary manager and Bouffon Extraordinare, Jack Novak.  And now that you have all the inside scoop, come see Jack for yourself in ORPHEUS on Fridays and Saturdays through May 29. Click HERE for more information.

orpheus, filament theatre ensemble, jack novak, bouffons, dj puzzle

Jack Novak (left) and his fellow Bouffons

In ORPHEUS: Featuring DJ Puzzle as Fate, we have stripped away many of the myth’s traditional elements. As substitute for the destructive forces of the story – the serpent which kills Eurydice, Hades, and the Maenads who ultimately tear Orpheus apart – we have put in place three bouffons. In our production, these disfigured and slightly mysterious beings are denizens of the underworld, who come to the club to wreak havoc on Orpheus, his bride, and the world of light.

For those less familiar with the intricate pedagogies of physical theatre, the bouffon, in its most contemporary sense, is a term devised by French actor and teacher Jacques Lecoq. I’m not qualified, nor do I have the time or patience, to write out a background on Lecoq here, but I would recommend a quick trip to Wikipedia if you’ve never heard of him. However, to give you a basic idea, bouffon is one of Lecoq’s dramatic territories – a sort of archetype, like clown or Commedia. Some precursors to Lecoq’s concept of the bouffon include the court jesters of the European monarchs – who were given the privilege of freely criticizing or mocking the people of the court, to provide entertainment or insight, like the fools of Shakespeare’s plays – as well as the satyrs of Greek mythology and the grotesquely parodic satyr plays of ancient Greek and Roman theatre (and coincidentally, one version of the Orpheus myth tells of Eurydice getting bitten by the venomous serpent while fleeing a satyr). Similarly to the satyrs and royal fools, the bouffon’s central characteristic is its instinct to mock everything around it. Lecoq writes in The Moving Body, (his book on his methods of instruction) “Their function was not to make fun of a particular individual, but more generally of everyone, of society as a whole. Bouffons enjoy themselves, for their whole life is spent having fun imitating aspects of human life. Their great delight is to make war, fight, tear out each other’s guts.” Yes, the bouffon relishes in destruction as well as basic mockery, and in our production, the bouffons do a lot of damage – we mangle a beautiful flower, we tear apart a star-crossed love, and we dismember the greatest musician of all time. It is this destructive quality of the bouffon that often puts the word “evil” in the audience member’s mind, and with good reason, but I question – are the bouffons really evil?

My Orpheus cast-mates and I had generally sparse experience with the concept of bouffon, and even our fantastic director & Filament Associate Artistic Director, Omen Sade, who commands a deep understanding of physical theatre (the phrase “master comic” has been bandied about here and there), admitted to us from the beginning that his knowledge of bouffon, specifically, only went so far as he had read about it. So we embarked on a journey of experimentation, and what we ended up with is really a unique fusion of Commedia-style mask work, clown, grotesque, and Mime, all overlaid with the philosophy of the bouffon as we understood it. I did come into this process with a little bit of physical theatre training – a lot of Mime, some red nose clown, neutral mask, a smidge of Commedia – but my only knowledge of bouffon was

Bouffons in Rehearsal

a brief mention on the last day of a clown workshop with Giovanni Fusetti (a Lecoq-trained pedagogue himself). He had a group of us do a very basic exercise, in which we clustered onstage and went from audience member to audience member, singling each out by pointing and laughing cruelly. On our first day of Orpheus workshops, Omen had us play out part of the story in extreme grotesque parody. So I started to construct an understanding of the bouffon psychology, and one of the most immediately distinct things about playing this way was how much fun it could be. Lecoq writes, “No one is more of a child than the bouffon and no one is more of a bouffon than a child.” The parody that the bouffon creates is not highly intellectual – there’s no elegantly constructed satire here – it is more like the playground antics of a group of children, and opening myself up to that experience invoked a kind of pre-adolescent delight. What makes the bouffon really hard to watch, though, is that they bring this type of play to the realm of tragedy. So, in contrast to the fun one has inhabiting the bouffon, is the experience of looking up to the audience, expecting to see them laughing along with you, and seeing instead looks of disgust.

A funny thing about working on a devised physical theatre piece like this one is that the traditional rehearsal process gets flipped. Instead of starting with text work and extended thought about motive, objective, subtext, etc., we constructed this story from the outside in – beginning with isolated physical bits, slowly fitting them together into an arc, and finally examining the internal specifics of the characters. As such, it wasn’t really until a couple weeks ago that someone actually asked, “why do the bouffons want to destroy Orpheus?” We had taken the goal of destroying Orpheus for given, and hadn’t completely examined how the bouffons fit precisely into our telling of the story. We did have design concepts from our costume designer, Mieka van der Ploeg, which characterized the bouffons in this club world as a gang of neo-punk nihilists (and a particularly astute parallel pointed out by one of my cast mates is the group of nihilists in The Big Lebowski). That wasn’t something we really excavated until this late point in the process, but it is immanently clear that bouffons, when placed in the same space with non-bouffons, become societal outcasts, which fits beautifully with the nihilist archetype. Meanwhile, Orpheus is the very epicenter of society, of light, of love, of music. Omen noted a parallel between our bouffon and Dante’s vision of Satan – in the Inferno, Hell is the crater formed by Satan’s epic fall from grace, and Satan sits at its center, which is the very point of greatest distance from God’s love. To draw another parallel, for Dante, God’s love was embodied by the sun, and Orpheus is the son of Apollo – the Greek god of the sun. The bouffon, particularly our lead bouffon, (essentially Hades) played by Lindsey Dorcus, are people who are devoid of love, like Dante’s Satan. When they look in on club Dionysus, and see the Nymphs in their joyous revelry, and see Orpheus wrapping up the crowd in ecstatic worship, they do not understand it. In fact, it is so far from their understanding that, to them, it is completely stupid, and they are compelled to show the crowd how idiotic it all is. In particular, they want to show everyone that Orpheus is a fool, which ultimately means reducing him to ruin. Here’s another Lecoq quote: “In their rituals, bouffons do not invoke heavenly powers, they spit on them! They invoke earthy forces; they are on the side of the devil and the underworld.” One of the objectives our bouffons enter this story with, aside from destroying Orpheus, is to turn club Dionysus into club Underworld. You’ll have to see for yourself if they succeed.

Jack in Rehearsal

Will the bouffons disgust you? Probably a little bit, but they might also fascinate you, and as we’ve been getting new audiences into the club, the bouffon have, I believe, managed to bring some guests to their side, if only for a moment. There’s even a laugh here and there. Are the bouffons evil? If evil means malevolence, destruction for the sake of destruction, ill will born of irrational hatred, then I would say no. They simply have no way of interacting with society other than to mock it. Lecoq, again, probably never intended this kind of realist speculation, but as an actor I ultimately decided (and again, this came at the very end of the process – during previews, in fact) that I needed to understand a little more about my bouffon’s origin. I won’t divulge too much, as it’s mostly irrelevant, but I asked myself how a person in the real world might come to have such an aversion to society, and I thought of someone who has been confronted by extreme loss – the death of a loved one – and who is thenceforth unable to understand joy in the world. When Orpheus sings his song of loss to the denizens of the underworld, my bouffon experiences empathy for one brief moment, as he realizes he, too, has felt the pain of such a loss. So, hate the bouffons all you want – spit on them, be disgusted by them, heckle them (and expect us to heckle you back) – but please, don’t call them evil. Have some sympathy for the bouffon.

building the set, community supported theatre, filament

Community Supported Theatre

building the set, community supported theatre, filament

Putting it together.

We of the Filament Theatre Ensemble are thrilled to introduce you to the Filament Marketplace, our new alternative to traditional ticket sales.

As part of our commitment to community, imagination, and sustainability, the Filament Theatre Ensemble is re-imagining our ticketing system for our 2011 spring productions. As a company, we were inspired by the model of Community Supported Agriculture and wondered what that would look like translated into the world of theatre.

When you buy a ticket to one of our shows, your money is going directly towards that production’s budget or our season operating budget. You are giving us the funds to provide costumes, sets, pay rent, and compensate our artists. By exploring a model of Community Supported Theatre, we hope to illuminate this transaction – eliminating the middle man, this mysterious “ticket” – and show you dollar for dollar where your money is going.

Yes, you choose where your money goes. You want to support the artists? Sponsor a costume? Help us pay our rent? With our wide range of sponsorship prices (from $5 to $35), you can not only specifically choose where to allocate your sponsorship, but you can also select how much money you wish to invest.

The Filament Theatre Ensemble values transparency in all areas of the company. We are striving be transparent in all our financial exchanges with our audiences as well.

Through our Community Supported Theatre system, you will be able to sponsor a specific item from the show, or sponsor towards meeting a budget goal such as actor stipends, rent, etc. For each item you choose to sponsor, we invite you to come see the product of your investment! Sponsor two items? Two people come see. And so on.

The cost is broken down with our real budget numbers. We are so grateful for your patronage and for your financial sponsorship – we want you to know exactly where your money is going.

Producing a play is a community effort, one that is supported on all sides from artists, administrators, and audiences, and we are thrilled to move towards a ticketing model that honors and celebrates that community.

Don’t hesitate to ask us if you have any questions!  We are eager to test this new system, and your questions and feedback will be a huge asset in helping us grow and learn.

The Folks at the Filament Theatre Ensemble

Click here to visit the Filament Marketplace!

Show Information:
From the Circle: Remembering the Earth Through Folktales
September 30-November 13
Fri. and Sat. at 8:00pm and Sun. at 2:00pm

All performances are at The Den Theatre
1333 N. Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago

Coming Home

Ensemble member Carolyn Faye Kramer recently returned to Chicago after five months studying in Israel.  Here she shares her experiences abroad – and jumping right back into life with Filament.  See Carolyn as the title role in Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice, coming to the Lacuna Artist Lofts April 20-May 29.

Remember when you were little and you would try and sit at the bottom of a pool? Cross legged, blowing bubbles through your nose, pushing your arms up against the forces of not-gravity in order to keep yourself planted. In this space, if you open your eyes, the whole world is blue. And if you listen to the words of your best friend as she passes you a cup of imaginary tea, it sounds like a strange, muffled, far away, almost-but-not-quite song.  Your hair lifts off your neck, the stinging of the chlorine subsides, and you can see things as they must be seen from the eyes of a fish (a fish who happens to live its life in a swimming pool). Coming up from your tea party, your eyes burn from the shock of the chlorine, and your shoulders are cold from the wind, and you are so relieved to be taking in this familiar atmosphere: air!

Coming home to Filament was an experience similar to that of coming up for air.

In October of 2010, I made my way to Pardes Hanna, Israel, jumped in, and swam at the bottom of that pool for five months. Everything in this new place was stirring and strange to me: the sounds, the tastes, the rich red color of the dirt and the shape of the trees (the best of which looked like Jurassic Period heads of broccolini). At night, bats would furiously wing their way through the cover of the branches. My favorite houses were the ones without roofs that solitarily stood in abandoned fields or orange groves – peeling cement blocks that nature had decided to take back, so that trees and vines grew wild through their windows and up towards the sky. Strangers invite you into their homes for Friday night dinners and offer you cup after cup of nana tea, a kind of mint that grows wild in virtually everyone’s backyard. For the first two months, whenever I opened my mouth to speak a word of Hebrew, I would immediately begin to speak in Spanish (a language that I had not explored since high school).

Before I arrived in Israel, I decided to study dance, movement, and performance at a school called Artness, and so spent most of my time in a

Movement at Artness

sun filled studio, finding strength I did not know that I had, and experiencing the biggest moments of frustration in my life so far; “Don’t explain to me what you are doing with your face. Use your body.” So, each day I would enter the studio and try, try, try, to steer away from the form of expression to which I was most accustomed. Soon afterwards, I came to realize that my words were not something I could rely on either: when I chose to use them, so much of their significance was lost in the translation of things. What I did have was my body. So I learned to swim – metaphorically, that is.

To say that landing in Logan airport in late February was a bit disorienting would be a great understatement. As soon as I returned to the States, I experienced reverse culture shock in a major way. Starbucks and shopping malls, and business men reading English newspapers – English newspapers! For the first time in months, I could read the news – I suddenly went from sounding out street signs, to communicating with the world around me in a way that I had taken for granted my whole life. Furthermore, the in-flight movie on my way home was Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. This is not to say that these things do not exist in Israel – shopping malls, coffee chains, and consumerism of all kinds – but, I had been living in such a way that I did not interact with them nearly as much as I do here. I was in class for most of my time and living very simply the rest– with few belongings, attachments, and little spare cash to spend on anything other than bus and train fare – in what could be described as a green, bohemian, “Artness” sort of atmosphere.

Making new friends.

What’s more, I had not “acted” since the summer. Fears and doubts peeked their way between my ribs and up under my collar bones, but I swallowed them as best I could. I was scared. Towards the end of my time abroad, I would speak with my family over the phone and find myself feeling like English was my second language. What if I had forgotten? By this, I mean everything: how to interact with English speakers; how to be in a rehearsal process; how to approach a script; how to return to everything I had loved and worked towards before I left. My shape had changed. I knew this. If I were a cookie (surely snicker-doodle), I would not fit into the same shaped cookie-cutter as I did before. So, how would things be different? How would I be different in this new, but familiar space?

What I did not anticipate, was just how much returning to Filament would be like returning home to a family. It is simply the truth, as cheesy as it may sound. And I do not say things that I do not mean. It was as relieving, joyful, and necessary as coming up for that first gulp of air. Filament is a group of the most open hearted, positive, kind, capable, energetic, spirited, passionately and limitlessly creative individuals that I have ever met. Again, this is just the truth. The first meeting of the Eurydice and Orpheus design teams, production teams and casts, was a pancake-breakfast-potluck party, held at the “Crow’s Nest” – artistic director, Julie Ritchey’s, second story apartment that has a Neverland-esque whimsicality to it, rocking between ancient Pirate Ship and the Lost Boys’ Home Under the Ground, with as much over arching greenery as would be imagined if J. M. Barrie had decided on a house above the  ground instead. Twenty-five people tucked their way into the living room, on couches, floor cushions, chairs and laps.

That afternoon went on to be the warmest welcome back to Filament and the Chicago theatre scene that I could have imagined. After everyone had their plates piled with pancakes, syrup, fruit, chocolate chips and the like, introductions were made and designers passed around sketches and shared lap-top slide shows of their plans. A few hours later, Julie, Peter, managing director, Christian Libonati, and I braved the wind and

Photo for "Eurydice"

the chill at North Shore Beach, in order to capture the beaming sun and the storybook-like, cloud-filled sky for Eurydice’s promotional photos. The day concluded with all of us going out for sushi and seeing a show down town (the first play that I had seen since being in Israel!). In the morning was our first rehearsal/read through, followed by more promotional photos (this time in a comparably toasty elevator) and cozy soup and sandwiches at the Birchwood Kitchen, before we all fell asleep at the Crow’s Nest. We woke up from our power-two-hour-nap (unfortunately for Christian, in whose lap I feel asleep on the couch, I woke up in a small puddle of drool), rested and ready for the Ensemble meeting that was called for that evening. Kettle corn, oranges, and tea kept us going into the wee hours of the evening after our meeting “ended”, and we split off into separate teams in order to work on press packets, website content, grants and the like. I arrived home at 3am exhausted, satisfied, and grinning like a ninny. Those two days were epically fun, and I was finally in the right place. I was home.

If it is not quite obvious how much Filament welcomed me under its wing as part of a family, I will break it down:  in those two days we spent virtually all of our waking hours together, shared all our meals, had family nap time, quality bonding time, played (not board games, but theatre games!), helped support each other, and challenged each other to do better work.

Filament’s mission statement emphasizes their commitment to sustainability, asserting, “we strive to make choices that have a long-lasting

Carolyn Faye Kramer as Eurydice

positive impact across a broad spectrum, and not just ‘pieces in isolation.’” This theme of  seeing the whole picture, especially from an environmentally aware perspective, is quite different from the bleak, first impression I had of the United States upon my return, one which highlighted the wasteful, utilitarian, self-serving qualities that are indeed present here. However, I am pleased to report that my culture shock has mostly subsided. With the help of some family, I can see that strip malls, fast food, and unconscious consumption do not occupy the landscape of the States as much as I felt when I first arrived. I also realized that my fears about remembering how to interact with the world as I had known it prior to living abroad were unfounded – Yay! I discovered my voice again, and not only as a theatre artist (my ability to socialize and communicate was not as stunted as I had anticipated it would be – Yay times two!). Filament welcomed me home with support for where I had been and encouragement for where I am now, asking me to share my experience in Israel and honoring the newly shaped cookie (okay, last reference to the metaphor, I promise) that I have become.

Fundraiser, Love, Cabaret, Filament, Underground Lounge, Performance

Thank You!

Fundraiser, Love, Cabaret, Filament, Underground Lounge, PerformanceFilament is thrilled to announce that our current fundraising goals were successfully met!

Both our annual appeal and our cabaret event Love: It’s All Greek To Me! exceeded our projections.

We would like to thank you so much for your support and for you contributions. Because of you, we are off to a great start in 2011, and are now heading into our upcoming productions of Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice and ORPHEUS: Featuring DJ Puzzle as Fate with confidence and excitement!

Annual Appeal

Goal: $2000
Actual: $3155

Fundraising Party

Goal: $1000
Actual: $1402

Filament is also honored to be one of twenty Chicago theatre companies to receive a grant from the Alphawood Foundation’s Theatre Support Initiative. We would like to extend a huge thank you to the Alphawood Foundation, both for supporting Filament and for contributing so much to the Chicago theatre community!

We are deeply grateful for all of your support and encouragement over the years. We are off to a fantastic start, and we look forward to seeing what else 2011 has in store!

Allison Powell

Our Beautiful Friend.

It has been a difficult and tragic week at the Filament Theatre Ensemble, as we mourn the sudden loss of ensemble member Allison Powell.  Allie’s vibrant spirit, creativity, and unmistakable brand of humor profoundly enriched the Filament community, from her one-of-a-kind adaptation of Choose Thine Own Adventure, to her upbeat attitude at every meeting.  We are proud to have had the chance to know and work with such a remarkable woman, and will work hard to continue her legacy in all the work that we do.

Below, the we of the Filament Theatre Ensemble have shared thoughts and memories of Allie, and we would love to invite you to do the same.  Please comment below, or email me at julie [at] filamenttheatre [dot] org.  We send deepest sympathy to Allison’s friends and  family around the world.  There are no words to express our sadness at the loss of our dear, sweet friend and collaborator.

A public celebration of Allie’s life will be held at the Strand Theatre in Marietta, Georgia at 2:00 on Friday, January 14.

Earl Smith Strand Theatre
117 North Park Square
Marietta, GA 30060
Office: 770-293-0080

For friends and family in the Chicago area, we will be holding a celebration on the same day – Friday January 14 – at 7:00pm, location at the Menomonee Club.

Menomonee Club
1535 N. Dayton Street
Chicago, IL 60642
(312) 664-4631

Please RSVP at info [at] filamenttheatre [dot] org if you would like to attend, so that we can pass that information on to the gracious people at the Menomonee Club.  A broadcast of the celebration in Marietta, GA will be screened at 7:30, with time to talk and share stories and memories. Do not hesitate to contact us with any questions, either through this website or at (773) 270-1660.

On October 18, 2010, a podcast aired featuring Allie and the cast of Choose Thine Own Adventure discussing and promoting the show.  The podcast is available here.  We will continue to gather photos and video of Allie and post them here to share with you.

All of us in Filament are profoundly grateful for her contributions to the company, and will be continuing her legacy with an annual gift to Chicago-based artists in Allison’s name. She recognized the challenges of the lifestyle of the artist, and believed firmly that artists should be monetarily compensated for their work.  We are establishing “Allie’s Gift” to provide individual Chicago artists with funds to grow and support their artistic careers. This gift will be offered annually on Allison’s birthday, April 26. More details will be available here on our website in the coming days.

We love you, Allie.

A Marvelous Adventure Indeed

This snowy day is giving me the perfect excuse to stay inside, sip tea, and be sentimental. It’s hard to believe that, after beginning work on this project seven months ago, Choose Thine Own Adventure has actually closed…

What a joy to live in the topsy-turvy, unpredictable, and generous world of this show for so long! Our amazing cast – Marco Minichiello, Ped Naseri, and Filament ensemble members Omen Sade and Mary Spearen – not only memorized hours worth of material from 24 different plays, but also had the chutzpah to walk on stage every night and literally have NO idea what they were going to do. Our hats are off to you, my friends. You are much braver souls than I. Behind the scenes we were surrounded by an unbelievable design team and support staff – Katie Wenzlick, Amy Gilman, Kristen Ahern, Will Dean, and Agnotti Cowie, who kept that ship of ours steering right on course. And, of course, huge thanks to the Underground Lounge, our home since October, and especially to our new friend Dave, the bartender.

The biggest hugs of all go out to you guys. Yes, you! You reading this right now. For following along on our adventures, supporting us, seeing our show and those of you keeping involved in the goings-on of Filament from afar and out-of-town. As a company, we learn a million and a half new things every day about how to best operate as a business, so your involvement, feedback, attendance, ideas, and support are instrumental in shaping us into the company that we are growing to be. So, from the bottom of our hearts, we express our gratitude for walking down those creaky stairs to the Underground Lounge and spinning that Wheel of Chance. We very much look forward to sharing more evenings of theatre with you.

The bears and the little mice have started their winter hibernation long ago, but do not expect those of us at Filament to tuck ourselves away for these cold months! Believe it or not, we have our first production meeting for Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice and ORPHEUS (Featuring DJ Puzzle as Fate) coming up this Wednesday. This blog (as well as our Facebook, Twitter, and My Theatre Club pages) will be alive and kicking all winter long, keeping you up to date on the development of Orpheus & Eurydice, as well as general fun thoughts and pleasantries from the Filament crew.

Choose Thine Own Adventure was a marvelous adventure indeed. I can’t imagine a better way to kick off our new-and-improved, revamped company. Thank you again, all of you, and we will see you very soon!

Julie Ritchey
Artistic Director

The Producer’s Curse

Actors aren’t the only ones who get opening night jitters.  Managing Director Christian Libonati gives us a look at Choose Thine Own Adventure’s opening night from the eye of a producer – the worry, joys, stresses, and gifts of producing a show and seeing it performed in front of an audience (of reviewers, no less!) for the first time.  Choose Thine Own Adventure resumes performances this weekend after a break for the Thanksgiving holiday; only four chances left to see this hit show!

Christian (front) and the Choose Team on opening night.

We are rapidly approaching the final performances of Choose Thine Own Adventure. As we do, I find myself thinking back almost 2 months to our opening performance. Although I have been Managing Director of Filament for the past four years, it has been three years since I have been able to attend an opening night. The past two years I’ve found myself speeding away from our theater an hour prior to show time to try and make it for a half hour call for another show in which I was simultaneously performing.

But this year on opening night, after the house was open, the tickets had been collected and the audience had found their way to a seat (we over sold opening night, so the place was jammed), I nervously moved to the back of the house to watch the show. As the first sound cue brought on the actors, I had the realization that there was nothing more I could do… this could have created a sense of inner peace, a sense that I had done all that I could do to bring this four year old vision of Choose Thine Own Adventure to life; however, instead all I could do was sit and worry about how the reviewers would react to the show (reviewers and their guests made up almost a third of the audience!). It was hard for me to watch the show, I found myself shaking, pacing, and at one point I even had to sit down on the floor. It wasn’t until maybe two hours after the show had ended that I was able to relax and enjoy our opening night. But I suppose this is the producer’s curse… the great fear and anticipation of what the reviewers will say and how that will affect audience turnout.

Little did I know that the anticipation had only just begun. When I woke up the next day, all I could do was sit at my computer and continually search and refresh: “review: Choose Thine Own Adventure.” What are they going to say??? Will they love it? Hate it? Or, worst of all, feel indifferent to it?

The first review to surface was Around the Town Chicago with Al Bresloff. “Part of what “Adventure” does is make viewing Shakespeare an adventure itself.” I felt a huge sigh of relief. He got right to the heart of the piece. Someone may ask: ‘Why mess with Shakespeare? He doesn’t need your help to write a brilliant play.’ To that I would say: you are absolutely right! Shakespeare’s plays are some of the most remarkable plays ever written; however, he has tragically acquired a bad rap among my generation, so we set out to shake up the lens through which our audience would view Shakespeare, and, well, we wanted to make viewing Shakespeare “an adventure itself.” One down.

Next came Tom William’s review from his website: Chicago Critic, as well as Lawrence Bommer’s review for Steadstyle

Actors Mary and Marco during the pre-show.

Chicago. Mr. Williams identified another one of our goals: to appeal not only to “Shakespeare nerds” but also to “beer drinking rowdies and lovers of hilarious live comedy.” Ironically, the way we are able to connect with all these crowds is by staying as true to the Shakespeare text as possible! As Mr. Bommer graciously said: “They clearly love the author whom they eloquently honor with recitations that can hold their own on Navy Pier or Dearborn Street.” (I’m going to include that little snippet when I invite Barbara Gaines to our show…)

Another fear I had was bringing a bunch of Chicago theatre reviewers (many of whom are not necessarily our target audience where age is concerned) to a dark, seedy, Wrigleyville bar. An atmosphere usually reserved for stand-up comedy and heavy metal bands. But, Neal Ryan Shaw allayed my fears in his write up for New City Stage when he wrote: “…the dingy bar is nearly perfect, in fact, giving us the freedom to interact with the players and even sneak off to the bar for a refill…”

Then there were our four star reviews from Chicago Theater Blog in which Allegra Gallian hailed the show as “an adventure worth choosing” and our Time Out Chicago review by Ryan Dolley. (to my knowledge, the Time Out Chicago review is the one that has inspired the most people to take action and come see the show!).

I want to take a step back, and comment on how the reviewers depicted the actors. Each actor was called out in at least one of the reviews for a funny moment they had or for general ease with the text or connecting with the audience; however, my favorite description of an actor was when Omen Sade was referred to as “the show’s second banana.” After reading that, Omen was quick to let me know that if the reviewer had attended a different night and seen a different track of the show, he would have been the first banana.

Finally a week after opening, the Tribune review was posted. As Scrooge says to the ghost of Christmas Future, this was the spirit I feared most of all… What would Nina Metz of the Tribune say?? Well, she had some very nice things to say, and I was thrilled by the review and how she compared our show to “a better episode of 30 rock.”

All of these reviewers saw that opening night performance, but as Ana Klinchynskaya of the Chicago Maroon observed, “How do you write a review for a show that changes every night?” So, I was very excited when she walked into the bar to review a performance in our third week. This review has some of my favorite quotes, and hit on so many of the key, exciting elements we set out to convey. You can imagine my surprise and delight at reading this college reviewer’s sub headline: “Filament Theatre’s Choose Thine Own Adventure improves Othello & others…” This is a student from the University of Chicago who didn’t seem to be a huge Shakespeare fan, but from her experience at the show, she observed: “Filament Theatre breaks down this barrier violently, rowdily, bawdily, and amusingly to create a performance that the audience can both participate in and relate to.” She went on to give us the greatest complement we have yet received, implying that we created this show “just as Shakespeare would’ve wanted it.”

Well, if it’s good enough for Shakespeare, it’s good enough for me! (though I had already made up my mind about the show after the first read thru with the cast. I knew we had a hit! (But I must say, it’s nice when the critics agree!)

Filament Gives Thanks

For this week’s blog Filament would like to give thanks… Below is text that has been provided by the voices of many within the community that is Filament and given to you as a poem of thanks. We have united our voices as one and to you, on this day, we give thanks…

I am thankful for a community of courageous collaborators who are willing to take risks and continue to explore how to connect with today’s audience.

“The telling of a tale links you with everyone who has told it before. There are no new tales, only new tellers in their own way, and if you listen closely you can hear the voice of everyone who ever told the tale.”

-William Brooke

I am thankful for the stories, the people who came before, the teachers, the books, the Chicago community that supports new attempts.

KnowledgeI am grateful for the knowledge…  I am not content to re-create what was successful in Shakespeare’s day, or even what was successful just 10 years ago.

I am thankful for the people who take what they have learned and apply it to our current climate.

I am thankful for the people who are motivated to connect with the community around them, and work toward the greater goal of creating something that is needed…

In my life, this pursuit has brought me to Filament, so, to be concise: I am thankful for Filament.

Though it frequently seems that the world is falling into a dire state, I am continually thankful for the ingenuity and resourcefulness of my artistic community.  We meet a faltering community with imagination and bravery.  We meet apathy with passion and despair with joy.

I am thankful for the ever changing nature of the world, whose winds will always fill the sails of those who believe in good things, and whose waters will always rise up to quench the thirsty. 

I am thankful for the bounty of the Earth, and thankful for those who still fight to protect her against the careless greed of our global systems.

I am thankful for the Sun that allows our plants to grow, and for the farmers who dedicate their lives to scratching in the noble dirt that we may fill our plates. 

I am thankful for all of the astonishing beauty in the world: the way brick catches the setting sun, and the shuffling steps of old women.

Most of all, I am thankful for the love of our families, friends and lovers, without which everything else would seem useless, dull and grey.

I would have to say that I am so thankful for all of the teachers that have helped guide me on my journey as an artist.

I have truly been blessed with so many amazing, wise, thoughtful teachers…

I would like to thank…

…Cookie, my preschool teacher, who shared with me a love of circles and forming them with friends, the magic of rhythm and song, and the power of an ensemble.

…Mrs. Cooney, my elementary school teacher, who taught me that even though my mom was the head of the school, and that I was truly sorry, I should still take responsibility for curiously tangling and cutting the strings of her Newton’s Cradle during recess. If we make a mess (of a teaching tool or our planet’s environment), simply taping the strings back together is not enough.

…the directors of The Guyer Opera House, who taught me that even an ancient theatre in one of the smallest of farm towns in America can house the streets of 19th century London and the little town of Bethlehem on the same splintery stage. Theatre can happen in the most unexpected places.

…Mrs. Chahraur, who taught me during a trip to Ecuador that a shared experience can teach you so much more than a text book ever can.

…Mr. Abineri, my high school Calculus and Physics teacher, who taught me that having the right answer is not the most important thing in life. The creation of a work is worth just as many points as the final product (if not more).

…Patty Flannigan, my high school theatre teacher, who, despite advising me that “if there’s ANYTHING that you love more than theatre, you should do that instead”, is one of the main reasons I am an artist today. Her love of theatre was absolutely contagious.

…Ann Woodworth, who taught me that the lessons of theatre go beyond the stage and into our every day lives.

…and my parents, who showed me that with the support of others, we can truly accomplish anything.

As an artist I am thankful for other artists.
I  am thankful for the artists whose visions overlap just enough with mine to make our artistic home a vibrant one.
As an emerging theatre artist, I have found that having such a home, whether it’s a theatre ensemble like Filament, or an improv group that meets once a week, is invaluable.
Living in a city where many groups like Filament can thrive is also a joy and an inspiration.  I am excited to be alive today when it seems that ideas have more power in their independence than they have ever had.
I hope that independent and original ideas will continue to be heard, and that they will help us to steer our lives, communities, governments, and world in a more informed and constructive way.

I am thankful to be an artist. Making art a player in my day-to-day life continually awakens me, amuses me, and guides me through my path. I do not want to live stagnantly; I want my spirit to never fall asleep.

I have an urge to play in situations where I am constantly challenged, but this can be at times very painful and dark; it goes against our natural grain to be habitual and keep out of dangers way.

I am a chameleon and I can adapt (maybe not always gracefully but always with a fervor) to many different types of situations. In my life I choose to swim upstream, being full aware that most of the time people may not listen or care what I want to create but that is the least important part to me.

Having the ability to create allows me to peek into the many peepholes of the universe. There are so many jewels to be uncovered all around us and I am thankful to be able to do this. I think it brings me closer to my true purpose on this earth and I want to die knowing that I used my hands and voice to create connections where there may not have been any.

I am thankful to be alive at this time in the world because I know that I have wonderful opportunities available to me (I just have to look around), and I am thankful that I am of sound mind and able body to work in and for this world.

When I have been extinguished and made permently into the memory of faded pages I will be thankful to have breathed the same air as the great whales out roaming.

I am thankful for the arms in which I have slept the night, the music that has passed my lips and passed my ears, the very music that has left me smiling and crying all the while we danced.

I am thankful for the conversations that have lasted all through the night.

I am thankful for the tears of joy and pain in the creation of a day.

I am thankful for the blessed earth, the gift to us all.

I am thankful for skies full of stars and fathers and mothers.

I am thankful, for you…

Meeting Shakespeare

This week the Filament Blog asks the question, “What was your first experience with Shakespeare?” Ensemble members and the Choose Thine Own Adventure cast weigh in on middle school plays, boring high school English classes, and Leonardo diCaprio. Sharing all these stories has made us wonder – What was your first encounter with Shakespeare? Comment below and let us know!

CHOOSE runs through Dec. 11!

My most memorable Shakespeare casting was as a dancer in a Maui production of Comedy of Errors. It was set in New York’s 1970’s Studio 54 club, complete with drugs, boas, glitter, plenty of polyester and numerous Diana Ross dance numbers. It was hilariously awful and yet fabulous as only a room lit with a mirror ball can be. To this day, every time I hear Amii Stewart’s cover of “Knock On Wood” I expect to see twin Dromios in white bell bottoms dancing on a bar.
-Allison Powell, Business Manager and Adapter of Choose Thine Own Adventure

When I was seven, my mom took me to a production of The Tempest at a local college. The images from that play have stuck with me ever since. I don’t think I knew at that point that Shakespeare was supposed to be “hard” to understand, so I understood the meaning of every moment. That experience fixed Shakespeare in my mind as something thrilling. Seven years later I played Puck in my highschool’s Midsummer. Inhabiting the words and actions of Shakespeare at that moment caught me hook line and sinker and I’ve been caught ever since!
-Omen Sade, Associate Artistic Director and Bernardo in Choose Thine Own Adventure

The first Shakespeare play I was ever in was Much Ado About Nothing. I was twelve years old, and I played Benedick. After that, I thought I knew everything there was to know about Shakespeare and probably annoyed the bajeezus out of all of my friends. That continues to this day.
-Reggie Gowland, Ensemble Member

Village Hypochondriac: “The Queen has demanded a new Will Shakespeare play.”
Will Shakespeare: “But I don’t have one ready. Can’t she just write one herself!”
Village Hypochondriac: “I’ll give her your reply sir!”
Will Shakespeare: “NO no no no”

Thus begins every performance of Instant Shakespeare performed at Renaissance Festivals across the country. After this set up, the actors launch into creating a new Shakespeare play based on one of the classics (the first one I saw was Romeo & Juliet); however Shakespeare would ask the audience for help through the process. Names, circumstances, and insults from the audience filled in this Madlib Shakespeare that would then unfold before the audience full of improvisations in Iambic pentameter and audience involvement. To give an idea of the atmosphere, when the audience was asked for an insult, a jolly portly gentleman holding a huge smoked turkey leg (you know the guy) yelled out: “YOU VOMITUS PENNY PINCHING SCUM!” (That insult has been a part of my family’s vocabulary ever since.) At 6 years old, this was my first exposure to Shakespeare and quickly became something I looked forward to every year when my family attended the Renaissance Festival. From that point on, I knew that there was an underlying joy and playfulness in Shakespeare’s plays, and later when I read my first Shakespeare play in English class (you guessed it… Romeo & Juliet), I was able to connect with the joy and irreverence inspired by Instant Shakespeare.
-Christian Libonati, Managing Director

My first experience with Shakespeare was in 7th grade when we were required to read Romeo and Juliet, I distinctly remember hating the play. I get so angry at how silly the whole thing is, all of it could have been so easily avoided. What made it worse was when our teacher made us sit through the 1968 film version. That was pure torture. It wasnt until my senior year of high school that I would learn to love the bard. I read Macbeth, which to this day, is my favorite Shakespeare play.
-Shayna Kamilar, Production Manager

My first “Shakespeare encounter” occured in 7th grade, and was the result of two simultaneous events. First, as part of our English cirriculum, we were to cover both Romeo and Juliet and Julius Caesar. Second, there was a speech contest which occured each year for 7th graders and encompassed several topics – one of those was dramatic interpretation (in other words, a monologue). I chose Cassius’ monologue from I.ii, which begins “Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world/Like a colossus…” So there I was reading Romeo and Juliet in class, as well as working on a Shakespeare speech for the speech contest. A Shakespeare nerd from the start, you might think. Well, that simply was not the case! I still had glorious dreams of being a professional baseball player, and was riding high on skipping a level of the local leagues due to my great tryout the previous fall. In my free time I was most likely playing video games, sports, or chasing girls – theatre, Shakespeare in particular, was the least of my interests.

The speech contest went well (I scored high, but did not win), and I received high marks in English. I can’t say that some seed was planted at that moment, but I certainly can remember that I felt an affinity for the language (even if I didn’t understand a lot of it). I don’t know when I first really considered acting seriously as a field of study, and eventually a profession, but I do know that every time I have come across an opportunity to study Shakespeare, or work on a Shakespearean production, there has been some unseen pull toward his language. If you went back in time and told my 11 year-old self that he would be an actor, and have an affinity for Shakespeare’s works, he would probably laugh at you, and yet still have some subconscious understanding of that future reality.
-Marco Minichiello, Dromio in Choose Thine Own Adventure

When I was about eight, my grandparents showed me Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet. I was instantly obsessed (I mean, John McEnery’s Queen Mab speech is killer, right?!).  I spent an enormous part of the subsequent months performing the balcony scene in my house, using the staircase landing as the balcony and my four year old sister as Romeo. She had a pretty impressive speech impediment at the time, and to this day I can hear her little voice saying “He jests at scaws that nevew fehwt a wound!” In the two decades since then, my sister has outgrown her speech impediment, but I’m still going strong with my love of the Bard.
-Julie Ritchey, Artistic Director and Director of Choose Thine Own Adventure

When I was just a few years old my mom–who is a theatre teacher at a private school in San Diego–directed a production of Hamlet. My dad guest-starred as the Ghost. I don’t remember very much from the production, but I do have a few blurry images in my head. I certainly liked the sword-fighting (which, I believe, my dad also choreographed). Sword-fighting may have played a big role in drawing me into the theatre–when, as a kid, I had to keep myself entertained while my mom finished a rehearsal, I’d get to play with some of the prop swords that were always lying around.
-Jack Novak, Ensemble Member

I read Othello in high school with my remedial English class and I do not remember if I understood what happened in the play but I remember that I was mad at everybody for not acting the parts out.  How could they just read this stuff without any emotion?

The second most memorable moment was when I read Merchant of Venice unassigned one summer before my senior year of college.  It was the first Shakespeare play I read on my own accord and the first time I understand the story.  I remember the moment I finished the play.  I was sitting in an upstairs part of the library where I worked during the summer and the sun was coming in on my face.  I remember being very hungry and I was poor at the time so I kept myself busy that week with this play.  I needed nourishment and this play supplied it.  I never told anybody about this but I guess I have now.  I really saw this play happening as I read which was the first time visualization had happened throughout an entire Shakespeare play.  I want to re read it now just thinking about this moment.
-Mary Spearen, Development Director and Rosalind in Choose Thine Own Adventure

Shakespeare is to the English language as the moon is to the sky, it is as though the two always belonged together, describing love and the pain that comes with the journey that is the path of life.  I must say that my early experience with the Bard was as an explorer of words, as a creature in love with the texture and smell of old books and the oceans of words upon the shelves. It is from some such exploration that a weathered copy of the Complete Works cast its breath upon my face like some volume of sacred text, calling forth the boy to worship at its soft and faded page. And with its voice taking my hand and softly whispering some reminder of what I was to come to know. I don’t think I fully understood at the time what I was looking at, but I knew right away that it was a very important part of the history of life. I knew even then that it had the power to change lives.
Peter Oyloe, Marketing Director

My first encounter with Shakespeare was more tangible than most, it was not by reading any of his plays or even attending one of them.  At age 10 I visited Stratford-upon-Avon and have fond memories of visiting the various landmarks around the town, my favorite being Anne Hathaway’s cottage.  Here I purchased a beautiful, picture book edition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Upon returning home, I immediately rented the movie edition, read the actual play and thus began a love of “the bard.”
-Kristen Ahern, Costume Designer of Choose Thine Own Adventure

My sister put up a giant poster of Leonardo DiCaprio from Romeo + Juliet behind the fish tank on her wall – when I say giant, I mean takes up half the wall space giant. I was 10. I would sneak into her room and kiss the poster!
-Carolyn Faye Kramer, Ensemble Member

High school sucks and here is why. I had the greatest English teacher in the world. Did I know or appreciate it at the time, no. Example, in addition to reading poetry, and studying drama, this guy brought us on field trips to the Ruth Page Theatre (now Chicago Shakes) to see incredible productions. As a 15 year old (at least in 1996) there is nothing more uncool than liking Shakespeare. So, I distinctively remember sitting in the front row of a matinee of Comedy of Errors with my arms folded across my chest, slumped into the chair with my coat still on, acting way too cool for school. This was all for show (or at least to keep the bullies at bay). Inside I was dying with excitement. I LOVED every second. The mistaken identities, watching the Dromios get pummeled, the prat falls, the lights, the costumes, the music, the oh so happy ending… it was awesome! Those matinees have a lot to do with how and why I’m an actor today. The coolest part is I’ve now shared the stage with some of those guys I grew up watching and admiring. So to Mr. T. I thank you. Even though there was no way you could have known it then, I was deeply in love (and still am) with the things I was exposed to in your class.
-Ryan Reilly, Ensemble Member

I don’t remember my first encounter with Shakespeare but it must have been much like my first encounter with chocolate. That stalwart and king of sugary treats has always been in my sensory memory just as Shakespeare seems to have always been a part of the ether of my nostalgic subconscious, sweetly satiating the appetite of my intellectual curiosity and theatrical cravings. Over the years I’ve tasted chocolate in a plethora of forms — dark, milk, white, with peanut butter, rice crispies, jalapenos, etc — and have similarly seen Shakespeare’s works in classical theater style, post-modern interpretations, recontextualizations of all sorts, and in Japanese samurai cinema. That’s the deliciously beautiful thing about chocolate and Shakespeare, they go well in almost any form. The reason, I think, is because at some very basic level, they hit us in the pit of our brains, arousing some fantastic and cathartic feeling in our cores, satisfying a primal human desire to feel joy. And although too much chocolate can lead to a number of health concerns, too much Shakespeare only makes me wish the Bard was still around to share the second Twix bar with.
-Ped Naseri, Antonio in Choose Thine Own Adventure

Something Wicked This Way Comes…

This week, we at the Filament Theatre Ensemble would love to invite you, blog readers, to the rockingest Halloween party this side of Stratford-upon-Avon.  For the ridiculously low price of 0.15 ducats (or $15), you get a DJ, a costume contest, a raffle, fantastic prizes, and a special Halloween performance of the show Time Out Chicago describes as “boisterous” and “truly hysterical.”  And to top it all off, this evening of magic will be over at 9:00, leaving you plenty of time to go to your other way less fun Halloween parties.  Details below.  We look forward to seeing you there!

Pre-Game the Smart Way with the

Choose Thine Own Adventure Halloween Bash!!!

Saturday (Oct. 30th) starting at 6p.m.!!!

6p.m. @ The Underground Lounge in Wrigleyville


Costume Contest


Drink Specials

Tickets $15 at www.filamenttheatre.orgtickets
(Psst… Secret Insider Tip… Tickets are only TEN dollars if you come dressed in a Shakespearean themed costume!)

This Price includes BASH & SHOW…


Alice and Me, Filament Theatre, Children's Theatre, Chicago, Monee School District

The Rule of Threes

This week on the Filament blog, artistic director Julie Ritchey looks back at this week (in which the Filament Theatre Ensemble opened three world-premiere plays) and looks forward to tonight (the opening of Choose Thine Own Adventure)!

When it rains it pours, they say, and what an appropriate adage for today! Not only are we edging into autumn with one of those classically cozy rainy Chicago days, but we at Filament are arriving at the end of an epic week of shows. It’s been a unprecedented week here for us. This week has marked the world premiere of THREE Filament shows.

We started the week off with our very first performance of Alice and Me! in Monee, Illinois on Monday. By Friday, the actors had performed the show seven times, reaching over 2100 students in the

Alice and Me, Filament Theatre, Children's Theatre, Chicago, Monee School District

The First Performance of Alice & Me!

Monee school district. I have to take a second to applaud the actors’ energy and focus (especially considering they’d been waking up at 5:30 a.m. five days in a row!) to be able to match the energy of an entire gymnasium of elementary school students. I wish you could have seen them! As Peter put it, it felt more like a rock concert than a play. The kids were so invested in every moment they could hardly even stay still. My favorite moment would have to be when Mary as the Red Queen challenges Alice (played by Melissa Law and Lauren Malara) to a game of croquet and then never lets her have a turn. The kids went wild defending Alice, yelling that it was her turn, that the Queen was cheating, that it wasn’t fair. A baby riot was narrowly averted! It was so refreshing to see an audience so personally invested in a story that they couldn’t help but yell out in defense of one of the characters. That was our hope and it seems to be working. As we move forward we will take what we have learned and continue to refine the experience that we are bringing to these schools. Jack, the playwright and an ensemble member, has really written such a smart and wonderful play – one that connects to an enormous age range on so many different levels. I’m already looking forward to the next booking!

This afternoon, Omen Sade and Mary Spearen are heading up to Wauwatosa, WI to perform the world premiere of Arlecchio for Kids, a complete re-imaging of Omen’s one man show The Odyssey of Arlecchino, which premiered at the Theatre Building Chicago in February.  As I write this, they are midway through the performance!

Our audience for the preview!

And tonight at 8:00, Filament officially kicks off its fifth season with the world premiere of Choose Thine Own Adventure at the Underground Lounge in Wrigleyville. We had our first preview last night, and it couldn’t have been more fun. Since the entire show is contingent on the audience, it has been a pretty non-traditional rehearsal experience, but as you can imagine finally having an audience added that last element that really makes the show what it is. It was such a joy to, for the first time ever, have that last piece of the puzzle in place.

Tonight is our official opening night, and it’s very likely that we will be performing a completely different play than we did last night! I have no idea what the audience will vote for, and therefore no idea what I’ll be watching tonight. Is it 8:00 yet? I can’t wait!

Choose Thine Own Adventure.

Trash Talking With The Bard

It’s tech week for Choose Thine Own Adventure! Yes, tech rehearsals are long and arduous, but thank goodness we have actor Ped Naseri to keep us laughing with his Elizabethan stand-up.  This week in the Filament blog, Ped shares his philosophies about the Bard and Dirty Jokes.

Choose Thine Own Adventure.

The Equation of Comedy

I imagine if William Shakespeare was alive today he’d be a fan of the show Yo Momma. Why? Because of his wit and penchant for insults — two talents you must have in order to win cash maaaahney or become the greatest playwright in the English language. Consider for a moment some of Shakespeare’s zingers (which you can hear during our show!):

“Peace, ye fat-kidneyed rascal!”
“She’s the kitchen wench and all grease.”
“Asses are made to bear and so are you.”
“A witty mother witless else her son.”

If that ain’t old school trash talking, I don’t know what is. (Maybe Chaucer, but he’s pretty lame.) Anyway, what people sometimes forget and high school English teachers downplay for fear of book- banning, is that Shakespeare was really funny and often times went blue. Although way more eloquent, Shakespeare made a lot of dirty jokes. There’s something to think about — how eloquent can a dirty joke be? As it turns out, very much so. Academics call them double entendres, innuendos, or ambiguous puns, but a dick joke by any other name is still as funny.

Choose Thine Own Adventure, Chicago, Theatre, Theater, Shakespeare

Ped Naseri (right) Taunts Omen Sade With a Leek

What I’m driving at is that not only was Shakespeare’s language beautifully poetic, highly elevated and imaginative, it was also freakin’ funny. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s sometimes hard to catch the punch-line (they say that if you have to look up a joke it’s not funny anymore, but let me assure you that lexicons make them even funnier –(thank you Alexander Schmidt!). Nonetheless, it’s easy to get wrapped up in all the other important Shakespeare elements that one can forget just how witty and humorous it can be. In our show, I think we’ve found some creative ways to bring out the comedy in a mash-up, remixed — and for the nerds — a re-contextualized way. And that the audience gets to help decide which direction they want the show to go all adds up to one heck of a bergamask-inducing time.

I guess that means I should amend my original formula to this: Comedy = tragedy + deez nuts.

Julie Ritchey, Shayna Kamilar, Allison Powell

Allison Asks, What If?

This week, the Filament blog checks in with playwright Allison Powell, as she shares her experience adapting Choose Thine Own Adventure.

Julie Ritchey, Shayna Kamilar, Allison Powell

Allison Powell (right) in a rehearsal.

It’s alive, breathing, bickering, swashbuckling, beer guzzling, heart breakingly wonderful and that was in just the first ten minutes of Saturday night’s rehearsal in the venue. I have never been more excited about a show. Ever. And that’s a big statement because I excite easily.

Choose Thine Own Adventure had been brewing in the collective subconscious of Filament long before I sat down with my copy of the Bard and started piecing the show together. In fact, it was listed on the company’s website as a future production when I initially interviewed to be the Business Manager. I was devastated to hear (Director) Julie say that, for as brilliant of an idea as it was, they had postponed writing. It’s been on the Filament ‘to do’ list for so long that no one can even remember whose idea it was originally, just that everyone was itching for a chance to ask “what if?”

What if Juliet woke up 10 seconds sooner? What if Hamlet was a bit more action and a lot less talk? What if Lear was a better judge of character?

And the biggest ‘what if?’ of all: what if we could make Shakespeare fun again? Give it back to the groundlings as a bawdy, boozy, brazen good time—all the things we love about these plays—and drop all of those pretentious, boring production habits that have become the norm for Shakespeare. Don’t want to see a 3 hour performance of Macbeth set in 1690s Salem, Massachusetts? Me neither. Sill think codpiece jokes are funny? Me too!

I was not a Choose Your Own Adventure virgin going into this. In college I wrote a CYOA play with The Experimental Theatre Company (hi guys!) so I had some idea of how to structure this kind of show.

And the structure’s the thing (Check out this Scene Map!). With Shakespeare, the wealth of zany characters, thorny plot twists and gorgeous language meant never wanting for good material—but when you make a choice (and you’re going to make lots of them!) there is a ripple effect through the plot line, as way leads on to way. So figuring out how one decision in Twelfth Night would naturally lead to a scene from Othello was like a great unraveling. I got to pull at all of these loose threads to see where each one led me, until a bigger picture finally took shape. And if that’s my metaphor, then picture me completely tangled in yarn on a regular basis.

The script is now in its umpteenth revision, with brilliance regularly added to it by the cast and designers. But you get to make the final edit.

Choose Thine Own Adventure, Map

Scene Map for "Choose"

We have no idea what show you’re going to see when you come so we’re as excited as you are. And, mathematically speaking, the likelihood of any show happening twice is less than .00024%. (I calculated that so leave some room for error.) What the numbers are telling us is that each show is a once-in-a-lifetime experience—so you can come back and see it every night and you’ll always see something new. While that’s true of any live performance, it’s especially true of this one. It’s even possible some of the scenes will never be seen! Imagine, all of that writing, rewriting, blocking, memorizing of lines, costumes sewn, props painted and it never gets chosen! That’s a real risk, but we’re willing to take it to give you the opportunity to have this hands-on experience with characters you’ve seen a hundred times (and hopefully a few you’ve never met) in a new world of your choosing.

Here are some rumors I’d like to dispel:

1. I am a Shakespeare scholar.
– As if! Probably no more or less than you. When I got stuck, which was frequent (see ‘yarn’ above) I had the internet at my immediate disposal. Can’t remember a scene that has pirates? Need another reference to a horse? I’d like to particularly thank MIT for their free on-line posting of all of Will’s work.

2. I LOVE Shakespeare.
– Again, probably no more or less than you. Having irreverence towards the text was crucial in this process. But so was loving his words. I have my favorites (most of which found their way into the final draft) and anything I didn’t think would make you either laugh or cry was cut.

3. Two of the actors have webbed toes.
– It’s just not true.

Shakespeare invented the word ‘laughable’! Really! Look it up! So I take that to mean he really wanted his work to make you laugh. We hope in our hands it does. So come early and often, get a drink (or two) and tell us what you’d like to see happen next because we’re as curious as you are.

Designing In Stages

This week, the Filament Blog checks in with two of the Choose Thine Own Adventure Designers: Amy Gilman (set) and Kristen Ahern (costume). See how these brave ladies are tackling the challenges of designing a show with more than twenty possible storylines!

First, Amy Gilman discusses scenic design, unpredictability, and magical forests:

Scenic Designer Amy Gilman

How do you design a show when you don’t know what scenes will actually be performed? Approaching Choose Thine Own Adventure has been different than any other process in which I have been involved. It is an exciting, yet terrifying task. The instant I heard the idea of a Shakespearean Choose Your Own Adventure play I knew I wanted to be involved, though I was more than a little apprehensive that it would be next to impossible to actually pull off. Luckily, Julie Ritchey has taken the show in stride. She has a very ballsy approach, and has just faced the script and challenges head on, bringing the words back to the idea of the gritty, bawdy Shakespearean crowd. How to translate this into scenery has really been paring down to simple items and gestures. Really, in the original productions of Shakespearean plays there weren’t scene changes. If Puck tells you that you’re in a magical forest, you don’t ask wherethe trees are. You take a swig of your ale and wait to see what is happening in the damn magical forest. As a production team we have been trying to take this idea in stride.

An early scenic design concept.

In our process we have been looking at really using the space of the Underground Lounge being careful not to lose the feel that this is a show in a bar. A lot of the scenes involve actors having to make quick shifts to new scenes and grabbing what is around them to make that happen. Like any show, it is never really its own being until an audience arrives. Choose Thine Own Adventure is really taking that idea to the next level. No one really knows what will happen every night, but I know its going to be fun.

Next, costume designer Kristen Ahern shares her perspective on creating new works, collaboration, and embracing those iconic Shakespearean looks.

The process for designing Choose Thine Own Adventure has been unlike any piece I have ever worked on. The script continues to grow and change as it goes through rehearsal, an element that is truly exciting and daunting! The designs play and integral part of this production because of the ways the actors use the physical design elements (both set and

Costume sketches.

costumes) to create each new place and group of characters. Because the costumes are such an integral part of the production, I have asked the actors, director and stage manager to let me know if someone comes up with a brilliant use for a costume piece during rehearsal. I have found that actors have the greatest insight into their characters and can often aid a designer in putting the final touches on a costume that really transform it into a person’s clothes.

Kristen measures actor Ped Naseri.

Creating the costumes for Choose Thine Own Adventure started by reconciling the differences between the different Shakespeare plays and finding the common elements. In the end I chose to focus on the idea that Shakespeare is iconic and so are his characters. This meant keeping the designs true to the original time period while also trying to show different takes on Shakespeare’s plays.

The final element that had to be considered for the design is Filament’s (and my own) dedication to sustainable theatre. Today I start thrifting for modern clothes that can be converted to look period and old linens that can be re-purposed as costumes.

Choose Thine Own Adventure, Chicago, Filament Theatre, Shakespeare

Living the Story

I often view theatre as an allegory for community. I am not speaking of specific play, playwright, or sequence of scenes, but rather the literal act of theatre. In the abstract it stages (quite literally) how life should be lived – with an ongoing effort to understand each other and ourselves; and that such a project is best undertaken with a community of people. After all, theatre is a shared experience; it is a conversation between the audience, the actors, and the characters they portray. Even when an audience seems to simply sit for two hours to watch a story, they are lending a crucial voice, because they are living it. “All the world’s a stage” after all. I think this reality is what has always drawn me to acting, and Shakespeare in particular.