WBEZ | House Theatre of Chicago http://www.wbez.org/tags/house-theatre-chicago Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Houdini, House Theatre, and the underwater escape magic of Dennis Watkins http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-10-12/houdini-house-theatre-and-underwater-escape-magic-dennis-watkins-93 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-October/2011-10-12/DSC_5434 copy (2).jpg" alt="" /><p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://www.wbez.org/sites/default/files/blog/insert-image/2011-October/2011-10-12/DSC_5434%20copy%20%282%29.jpg" style="width: 350px; height: 431px; margin: 8px; float: left;" title="">“There are a lot of preconceived notions people have of magicians, whether that be bunny rabbits and top hats or incredibly cheesy, campy, bad-jokes, [and] pony-tail-wearing guys.”</p><p><a href="http://denniswatkins.net/">Dennis Watkins</a>, a founding House Theatre of Chicago member, is none of the these.</p><p>He’s not the doddering gent with the rabbit—and he’s not a humorless punk like TV star Criss Angel.</p><p>Watkins, 33, was raised to have a healthy respect for old-style magic: his grandfather was a magician, and so was his uncle. He started going to magicians’ conventions in his home state of Texas as a young kid, and began entering competitions as a teenager.</p><p>That immersion shows in his easygoing, witty, and highly entertaining work. <a href="http://thehousetheatre.com/">The House’s <em>Magic Parlour</em> has been running at the Chopin on Friday nights </a>for more than a year, getting rock-solid houses most every week.</p><p>And in January, the House remounts its first show, <em>Death and Harry Houdini</em>, which stars Watkins as the legendary magician. As in the show’s 2003 remount, he’ll be performing Houdini’s famous escape from the water torture cell, first done in 1912.</p><p>That feat wasn’t in <em>Houdini</em>'s 2001 incarnation. “We didn’t have the money,” says Watkins. “Nor did Live Bait Theatre want a bunch of kids right out of college, performing their first play, to bring in a bunch of water!”</p><p>Starting Friday, <a href="http://navypier.com/halloween/houdini.html">Watkins’s water-escape trick will also be showcased at Navy Pier</a> through Halloween, at an outdoor stage near the west end.</p><p>How’s it been, coming back to a complex trick—he’s totally immersed headfirst in a glass tank of water, his feet shackled outside it—that he hasn’t done in eight years? “It’s a little rough!” Watkins says. “I did that thing last when I was about 25. And everything I’ve been hearing since then, that things aren’t as physically easy when you’re in your 30s—they’re right about that! And we’re using a different water torture cell that’s much, much smaller.”</p><p>“It’s roughly two feet wide, so just about shoulder width, and about 5 feet, 10 inches tall. I’m 5’ 10”, so when my feet are locked to the outside and I drop down into it, my head is roughly at the bottom of the tank. It’s much more difficult to do. But I think the smaller tank will have a really cool effect for the audience, because it’s really claustrophobic. In the old tank, the audience could see that I could stretch my arm out to the bottom of the tank, stretch my arms out to the sides. This one, there’s no room for that.”</p><p style="text-align: center;">&nbsp;<iframe allowfullscreen="" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/Tprb--HUc9Y" width="403" frameborder="0" height="302" scrolling="no"></iframe></p><p>“When you go underwater, you know, people in the audience hold their breath until they can’t anymore.” The trick is “of another time,” Watkins adds. “But I don’t think the theater of it has changed—people watch with the same anticipation, there’s something really visceral about it.”</p><p>Watkins often speaks in terms of theater, not magic tricks—and part of the appeal of <em>The Magic Parlour</em> is that he brings audience members onstage a lot.</p><p>“It moves the show from an outline of tricks to something more improvisational and alive,” he says.</p><p>How does he pick?</p><p>“I tend to walk around the space before the show and watch people and pick a handful I think will be good," he points out. "You miss sometimes, though. You get people who are obnoxious or really want a lot of attention, or people who’ve gotten up there and you realize they’ve had a few more glasses of wine than you would have liked them to have. All those things are worth it, though.”</p><p>“I guess I do like to fool people,” says Watkins. “But more than that, I like to surprise people. I don’t enjoy frustrating people—I enjoy knocking their imaginations off-track a bit. The reason that the older, classical material still really works is that magic is less about the logic and the science and the puzzle of it and much more about imagination and surprise. If there’s anything magicians should be focused on, it’s creating an atmosphere where people can live in make-believe land and feel like a kid for a couple seconds.”</p></p> Wed, 12 Oct 2011 14:59:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-10-12/houdini-house-theatre-and-underwater-escape-magic-dennis-watkins-93 Getting nosy with Shawn Pfautsch as Cyrano http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-09-21/getting-nosy-shawn-pfautsch-cyrano-92261 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-September/2011-09-21/cyrano.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>“Every night before the show we do a fight call, we do a music call, and then we do a nose-color call, where I get worked on for about 15 minutes.”</p><p><img alt="" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-September/2011-09-21/cyrano2.jpg" style="width: 500px; height: 315px; " title=""></p><p>You never really think about the ramifications of noses until, well, you have to. Shawn Pfautsch, 33, is now playing the nasally well-endowed, and challenged, Cyrano in <a href="http://thehousetheatre.com/">House Theatre’s swashbuckling adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s 1897 classic</a>. He had to think about noses. A few days at the beach, for example, wreaked havoc on the match between Pfautsch’s real face and fake schnoz. Hence the nightly color adjustments.</p><p>“In rehearsals, I wore a store-bought practice nose,” Pfautsch says. “We had to make sure that none of the fight choreography or any of my various and sundry stage business would get in the way. And we wanted to make sure I could breathe out of it, because those swordfights are strenuous and I didn’t want to get to the end of a fight and pass out.”</p><p><img alt="" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-September/2011-09-21/cyrano.jpg" style="margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px; margin-top: 10px; margin-bottom: 10px; float: right; width: 266px; height: 400px; " title="">“We were very particular in what we wanted,” he adds, “and Ora [Jewell-Busche, who does makeup at Lyric Opera] was amazing at giving us that. We wanted something that looked like an extension of my own nose, we wanted something that wouldn’t fall off. We went through three or four iterations till we found one that was the length we wanted. She builds a new nose for me every week.”</p><p>“I suppose if I were a Method actor,” Pfautsch says, “I would have put one on and gone to a bar to see what people would say to me.” He’s not, I guess, and he didn’t—but I would have paid to be a fly on the wall there.</p><p>Pfautsch—a House founding member who went to school at Southern Methodist University with <em>Cyrano</em> <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/city-room-blog/peter-pans-matt-hawkins-takes-flight#">director Matt Hawkins</a>—says that his character’s simultaneously confident/insecure mindset is “a natural place for me. I think it’s one reason Matt cast me in the role.”</p><p>Still, Pfautsch adds, “I was a little bit apprehensive about what Cyrano’s ‘panache’ is and what that means. Matt and Stacy [Stoltz, Hawkins’s real-life wife—and Cyrano’s love interest, Roxane] both assured me from the beginning, ‘Don’t worry about inventing what that is, because you have panache.’ But it’s still always something in the back of my head.”</p><p>Pfautsch’s portrayal balances arrogance and sweetness on a knife’s edge, a balance that wasn’t easy to attain—especially in the crucial first scene, which concludes with what he calls Cyrano’s “fight and write” feat. “We went through about a dozen iterations of that scene!” he says. “We started with this jovial, ‘I have status so I don’t need to raise my voice’ version of Cyrano. But late in the process, in previews, we decided to juice that first scene and make him a much more—for lack of a better word—‘loud’ presence.”</p><p>After <em>Cyrano</em> closes, Pfautsch says, “I have my storefront-theater dance card punched until May.” First up, in November, is a reprise of his mandolin-strumming role in <a href="http://www.the-hypocrites.com/2011-12season">the Hypocrites’ remount of <em>Pirates of Penzance</em></a>.</p><p>Pfautsch also officially has his writer’s hat back on (his 2007 <em>Hatfield &amp; McCoy</em>, produced by House, was nominated for a Jeff award). He’s one of three playwrights who’ve been asked to adapt <em>Moby-Dick</em> for the stage and to workshop their scripts next spring.</p><p>“I am a huge Melville fan,” he says. “Honestly, what draws me to [<em>Moby-Dick</em>] is that no matter how hard I try to explain the why and how of my interest in it, I get caught in the labyrinth of its depth.” Harpooning the Great White Whale: something Cyrano might have attempted if he’d been a sailor, not a soldier.</p></p> Wed, 21 Sep 2011 14:12:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-09-21/getting-nosy-shawn-pfautsch-cyrano-92261 Look out for a Wienermobile and Alice in Wonderland, this weekend in theater http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-09-01/look-out-wienermobile-and-alice-wonderland-weekend-theater-91396 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-September/2011-09-01/presspicture-full.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><u><strong>Laura Molzahn</strong></u></p><p>“You’ve got to embrace salvation no matter where you find it—even if it comes in the form of a 23-foot-long fiberglass hot dog.”</p><p><img alt="" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-September/2011-09-01/presspicture-full.jpg" style="margin: 10px; float: left; width: 183px; height: 275px;" title="">Words of wisdom from New York writer/comedian Robin Gelfenbien, performing her hour-long one-woman show <em><a href="http://www.wienermobileshow.com/">My Salvation Has a First Name: A Wienermobile Journey</a>&nbsp;</em>during the <strong><a href="http://www.chicagofringe.org/">Chicago Fringe Festival</a></strong> this weekend and next. What’s she seeking salvation from? Bullying and horndogs, from the sound of it. The show, which apparently makes copious use of the frankfurter’s innate inappropriateness, includes songs and video from the former Hotdogger’s travels in an Oscar Mayer propaganda delivery system.</p><p>The <a href="http://www.hccdf.com/"><strong>Harvest Chicago Contemporary Dance Festival</strong> has exploded</a> since its first incarnation last year, with 27 artists/groups performing God knows how many kinds of dance on three different bills Friday through Sunday. Expect some familiar Chicago groups (The MASSIVE, Elements Contemporary Ballet, RE|Dance Group, Aerial Dance Chicago), respected local dancers venturing into choreography (Emma Draves, tapper Laura Chiaramonte), and artists from around the country. Why go to the casino when you can take a chance on dance? Make Rahm happy.</p><p><u><strong>Jonathan Abarbanel</strong></u></p><p>The theatrical spit really hits the fan NEXT week, with more than three dozen shows opening between Sept. 8 and Sept. 30. Things are just a tad quieter this long Labor Day Weekend, but still with a number of special theatrical attractions among which classical literature figures prominently.</p><p><img alt="" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-September/2011-09-01/Alice_001.jpg" style="margin: 10px; float: right; width: 217px; height: 275px;" title="">The House Theatre of Chicago launches its 10th anniversary season with an adaptation of Edmond Rostand's turn-of-the-last century romantic verse drama, Cyrano de Bergerac. Calling their version simply <a href="http://thehousetheatre.com/seasons/x/shows/cyrano"><strong><em>Cyrano</em></strong></a>, it's adapted and directed by company member Matt Hawkins. Since Hawkins also is a skilled stage combat artist, we presume that <em>Cyrano </em>will retain all the swash and buckle of the big-nosed original. The House performs these days at the Chopin Theatre, where <em>Cyrano </em>runs through Oct. 16. Oh, did I mention that they've added original songs? "And on the refrain, I strike!"</p><p>To launch its 32nd season, City Lit Theatre turns to Lewis Carroll via playwright Christopher Hampton's adaptation of <a href="http://www.citylit.org/Now-Playing.htm"><em><strong>Alice's Adventures Underground</strong></em></a>, Carroll's original rendition of what's better-known as Alice in Wonderland. Artistic director Terry McCabe has staged the piece, which continues at City Lit (in Edgewater) through Oct. 9. All I can say is "Oh, my ears and whiskers!"</p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Thu, 01 Sep 2011 09:02:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-09-01/look-out-wienermobile-and-alice-wonderland-weekend-theater-91396