WBEZ | John Conroy http://www.wbez.org/tags/john-conroy Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Torture and theater: Peas in a pod http://www.wbez.org/blogs/onstagebackstage/2012-05/torture-and-theater-peas-pod-99194 <p><p>Torture and theater always have gotten along like two peas in a pod. Take miracle plays, for example, the plays from the High Middle Ages that portray the lives of early Christian saints, with particular emphasis on the gruesome splendors of their martyrdoms. If a saint was skinned alive or spit-roasted over charcoal or vivisected, it gave the Medieval Special Effects Department a chance to shine, and the peasants loved it. From Jesus on down, where would Christianity be without torture?</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/5.%20Martyrdom%20of%20St.%20Apollonia.JPG" style="height: 402px; width: 300px; float: left;" title="The martyrdom of St. Apollonia"></div><p>Shakespeare didn't shy away from torture, either. Just consider old Gloucester having his eyes gouged out in <em>King Lear</em> or Richard II enjoying life in a cesspool—literally—or Lavinia being raped and maimed in <em>Titus Andronicus</em>. And Shakespeare showed tasteful restraint compared to some of his Elizabethan and Jacobean contemporaries.</p><p>For these early dramatic authors, there was absolutely no moral ambiguity about torture, which was legal, accepted and understood as something the powerful could and would use if they saw the need. Besides, it made for a good show, encompassing dramatic conflict and lurid physical action as it did.</p><p>But contemporary theater also is fascinated by torture, well aware that torture still is practiced by many nations (including our own) and non-governmental forces (you know, rebels and the like) even though torture is outlawed by numerous international agreements as well as the constitutions of most nations staking claim to being "civilized." What fascinates contemporary theater is precisely what Medieval, Elizabethan and Jacobean theater didn't question: the moral ambiguity of it.</p><p>This is exactly the territory award-winning journalist-turned-playwright John Conroy has carved out for himself in <em>My Kind of Town</em>, a play based on the ongoing Chicago police torture scandal without actually being either a history play or a documentary drama. Fictionalized from the facts uncovered by Conroy himself more than any other individual, <em>My Kind of Town</em> isn't concerned with the guilt or innocence of Jon Burge or Richard M. Daley, or with the guilt or innocence of the central police torture victim. Rather, it's concerned—as is most contemporary drama about torture—with what kind of person becomes a torturer and who the tortured are, and if torture ever is justified.</p><p>In the play, the wife of the accused detective talks about the sort of person who "is basically good" and the sort of person who "is basically evil" and sometimes it isn't as easy as it should be to tell the difference. Take the ambiguity of the colonel in <em>A Few Good Men</em> (the role played by Jack Nicholson in the film version), who sees himself as a patriot and a frontline defender of America's freedom. The detective in Conroy's play sees himself the same way, and so does his wife for a long time.</p><p>In generally equal numbers, we have as many plays in which the torturer is vicious as plays in which the tortured is vicious. They reflect real-world situations. Answer this one yourself: Is torture acceptable if it leads to information that saves hundreds or even thousands of lives? Should we uphold statutes against torture and allow terrorism to flourish?</p><p>In the last 25 years, some of our most influential playwrights have explored the issues and personalities of torture, among them Nobel Laureate Harold Pinter (<em>One for the Road</em>, 1984), Ariel Dorfman (<em>Death and the Maiden</em>, 1990), Martin McDonagh (<em>The Pillowman</em>, 2003) and Sarah Kane (<em>Cleansed</em>, 1998). More immediately, there have been numerous theater works about real-world torture scenarios in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and Bosnia.</p><p>Far beyond the context of theater, torture is an issue that will not go away. Almost everywhere it exists, it happens because higher-ups actively condone it or willfully remain in ignorance about it. Torture simply is not sustainable without complicity, and even theater does not always focus on this fundamental fact, although <em>My Kind of Town</em> makes it a central premise.</p><p>To the best of my knowledge, other animals do not torture each other. They attack, maim and kill each other in many ways and for various reasons, but they do not instinctively use pain, or the threat of it, as an instrument of compulsion. Torture, it seems, is found only among the human species, a blessing of sentience and abstract thinking.</p></p> Wed, 16 May 2012 08:36:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/onstagebackstage/2012-05/torture-and-theater-peas-pod-99194 Which hits harder, writing or performance? http://www.wbez.org/blogs/onstagebackstage/2012-05/which-hits-harder-writing-or-performance-99180 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/town.jpg" title=""></p><p><a href="http://www.wbez.org/john-conroy-chicago-police-torture-take-centerstage-99121">In our conversation yesterday about <em>My Kind of Town</em></a>, Steve Edwards raised the question why the staged version of Chicago’s police torture scandal affected audiences so much more, and more viscerally, than written accounts of the scandal.&nbsp; There’s the physical presence of theater, of course, in which characters are embodied by real humans who breathe and sweat and pick bits of lint off their clothing, and whether these characters are foul-mouthed criminals or sadistic cops, we can’t help but recognize them as fellow members of our species.&nbsp; And there’s a play’s ability to tell two stories simultaneously and allow the audience to draw parallels and infer equivalences that might not otherwise have occurred to them; while a newspaper story that tries to tell two stories simultaneously will be either a muddle or an exercise in pedantry: first look at this, now look at this, now look back again.<br><br>But there’s a more contemporary reason why encountering the Burge torture case onstage (however concealed) is more powerful than encountering it in newsprint.&nbsp; That’s the technological change which has rendered newspapers nearly obsolete while simultaneously making performances more widely accessible than ever before.<br><br>What is there today that everybody reads the way “everybody” (a wide swath of people of a particular age and social class across the city) read the Chicago <em>Reader</em> in the 1980s?&nbsp; Nothing.&nbsp; Everybody picked up the <em>Reader</em> to get the movie and music listings, if for no other reason, and perhaps the 17th time the cover story was about police torture even the most determinedly obtuse reader might have felt compelled to take a look.&nbsp; But that sort of consensus forum no longer exists, and the consensus fora of the future have yet to make themselves known.&nbsp; So John Conroy’s fine reporting may be being emulated right now by a writer with another terrific (or horrific) story to tell –but only the 12 people who read her blog will know about it.<br><br>Whereas theater, long the most local of art forms, can now be shared worldwide if there’s someone around with a video camera.&nbsp; Actors’ Equity will prevent broadcast for profit of a show in which its members work, but union rules may not cover free broadcast of a matter of significance.&nbsp; If the Metropolitan Opera can present its operas on movie screens, then Chicago theaters can probably share their own creativity with anyone with an Internet connection.<br><br>So there are two questions: why staged work feels so much more intense than written work, and which is more likely to get the kind of widespread concentrated attention that finally brought the police torture scandal to Mayor Daley’s doorstep.&nbsp; The answer to the first question is unchanged from the days of Greek theater (catharsis, anyone?), but the answer to the second is very much in flux.&nbsp; If the theater now has the potential to become the Living Newspaper the WPA people dreamed of, then maybe the media landscape isn’t the howling wilderness we fear.&nbsp;</p></p> Tue, 15 May 2012 15:38:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/onstagebackstage/2012-05/which-hits-harder-writing-or-performance-99180 Daily Rehearsal: Is it a comedy exodus if just one comic leaves? http://www.wbez.org/blogs/onstagebackstage/2012-05/daily-rehearsal-it-comedy-exodus-if-just-one-comic-leaves-99153 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/cameron esposito copy.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><span style="font-size:14px;"><span style="font-family:georgia,serif;"><strong>1. <a href="http://chicago.zanies.com/">Zanies</a></strong></span></span><a href="http://chicago.zanies.com/"> </a>highlights for May and June: John Roy, Larry Reeb, Pat McGann, Dobie Maxwell, Mike Vecchione, Tim Walkoe, Fortune Feimster and Andy Woodhull.</p><p><span style="font-size:14px;"><span style="font-family:georgia,serif;"><strong>2. John Conroy</strong></span></span> was on the <em>Afternoon Shift</em> <a href="http://www.wbez.org/john-conroy-chicago-police-torture-take-centerstage-99121">yesterday</a>, talking about being a journalist-turned-playwright.</p><p><span style="font-size:14px;"><span style="font-family:georgia,serif;"><strong>3. If you are a huge Jane Austen fan</strong></span></span>, or have a desire to date educated women, head to <a href="http://www.lifelinetheatre.com">Lifeline</a>'s 29th Anniversary Benefit, entitled&nbsp;“An Austen Soiree: Readings, Music and Games of Jane’s World.”&nbsp;"It's an evening that captures the spirit of Jane Austen's world, in a setting reminiscent of a Regency country house. Ladies and gentlemen of the time will be in attendance, as guests enjoy games, dancing and music of the period. There will be Regency-inspired dining as well as delectable wines, small beers and fine whiskeys. Also command performances from favorite Austen novels, an exciting live auction and our Speculation Raffle. It’s an evening of fun for Janeites and Non-Janeites alike. And all for a very good cause." Wednesday June 6 at the Woman's Club of Evanston. There's also a raffle.</p><p><span style="font-size:14px;"><span style="font-family:georgia,serif;"><strong>4. <a href="http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-vphziYQHjHM/T614yD9PzSI/AAAAAAAAAkE/co2Tw2bRRKY/s1600/tml+ad.jpg">This poster</a></strong></span></span> for <em>Too Much Light</em> is really kind of creepy but I want to know more? So, all in all, effective strategy.&nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: center; "><span style="font-size:14px;"><span style="font-family:georgia,serif;"><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/89soA8EFcac" width="560"></iframe></span></span></p><p><span style="font-size:14px;"><span style="font-family:georgia,serif;"><strong>5. Cameron Esposito</strong></span></span> is leaving Chicago; another one bites the dust. Described <a href="http://www.avclub.com/chicago/articles/cameron-esposito,74011/">by Matt Byrne as</a> "arguably the best stand-up comic in Chicago, but not for long", Esposito namechecks without namechecking <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/bez/2012-04/can-chicago-create-sustainable-professional-comedy-industry-rival-coasts-97970">WBEZ's recent conversation about comedy in Chicago</a>&nbsp;(in lieu of the news that <em>The Onion</em> was moving here)&nbsp;in her exit interview:</p><blockquote><p>"They were saying: 'I hope that means there will be more of a focus on Chicago comedy,' and that’s not true. Tha’s [sic] what makes stand-ups who have come out of here so great, nobody has paid any attention to them, they’ve had to demand attention and get good.</p><p>It’s perfect here, a little bit. It’s frustrating. It doesn’t feel good all the time, but it’s like the perfect temperature."</p></blockquote><p>Questions? Tips? Email <a href="mailto:kdries@wbez.org">kdries@wbez.org</a>.</p></p> Tue, 15 May 2012 10:30:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/onstagebackstage/2012-05/daily-rehearsal-it-comedy-exodus-if-just-one-comic-leaves-99153 New report looks at the financial implications of wrongful convictions in the state http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-06-20/new-report-looks-financial-implications-wrongful-convictions-state-88052 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/segment/photo/2011-June/2011-06-20/Detective Getty File.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>A wrongful conviction is a horrible cost to the person who goes to prison for a crime they did not commit. But they're also a huge burden for taxpayers. That’s according to a new report out from the <a href="http://www.bettergov.org/" target="_blank">Better Government Association</a> and the <a href="http://www.law.northwestern.edu/cwc/" target="_blank">Center on Wrongful Convictions</a>.<br> <br> According to the report <a href="http://www.bettergov.org/investigations/wrongful_convictions_1.aspx" target="_blank">"The High Costs of Wrongful Convictions</a>", at least 85 people in Illinois have been wrongfully convicted of a violent crime over the past two decades. That’s cost taxpayers over $200 million. Meanwhile, the BGA says the people who actually committed these crimes continues their unlawful ways, committing at least 14 murders, 11 sexual assaults and 10 kidnappings.<br> <br> John Conroy is a senior investigator with the Better Government Association, and he joined <em>Eight Forty-Eight</em> to explain more about the findings in the report.<br> <br> <br> <strong>More on wrongful convictions:</strong><br> When Professor Alec Klein took over as director of the Medill Innocence Project, his instincts as a former <em>Washington Post </em>reporter kicked into gear. The Northwestern University professor teamed up with six undergraduate students and a private investigator to examine the case of convicted murderer Donald Watkins. His first-degree murder conviction never sat well with a veteran court reporter from the criminal courthouse at 26<sup>th</sup> and California. Based largely on her expressed concern, Klein and his team poured over public and medical records; they interviewed Watkins, experts, family members and witnesses. After a 10-week investigation, they uncovered information that raises questions about the conviction.<br> <br> <em>Eight Forty-Eight</em> continued its conversation with the Medill Innocence Project, talking with students from the program. Klein was joined by seniors Jared Hoffman, Lara Takenaga, Taylor Soppe and Alex Campbell. Their classmates, seniors Caitlin Kearney and Monica Kim, were unable to participate in the discussion.</p><p><audio class="mejs mediaelement-formatter-identified-1332483524-1" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/sites/default/files/Innocence Web Extra FINAL.mp3">&nbsp;</audio></p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Mon, 20 Jun 2011 13:45:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-06-20/new-report-looks-financial-implications-wrongful-convictions-state-88052