WBEZ | David Mamet http://www.wbez.org/tags/david-mamet Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Robert Sickinger dies, brought grassroots theater to Chicago http://www.wbez.org/blogs/alison-cuddy/2013-05/robert-sickinger-dies-brought-grassroots-theater-chicago-107108 <p><p>&nbsp;</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/sickinger.jpg" style="height: 374px; width: 620px;" title="(Photo via bobsickinger.com)" /></div><p>When Robert Sickinger came to Chicago in the early 1960s, Chicago had great theater. But most of it - think The Goodman Theater - was largely confined to the Loop.</p><p>Sickinger, who died Thursday at the age of 86, was hired to be the director of the Hull House Theater, on Chicago&rsquo;s North side. When he arrived in 1963, the theater was still at the corner of Broadway Street and Belmont Avenue - the building&rsquo;s an athletic club now.</p><p>Donna Marie Schwan was Sickinger&rsquo;s assistant, and, eventually, his friend.</p><p>She said Sickinger, along with Paul Jans, the new executive director of Hull House, were looking to the past to do something new in theater.</p><p>&ldquo;They were basically trying to do something like what Jane Addams originally had in the community. So he went out in the community and had open auditions. I mean, sort of the original &lsquo;Chicago&rsquo;s Got Talent&rsquo;.&rdquo;</p><p>Those open auditions not only drew people who wouldn&rsquo;t otherwise have the opportunity or venue in which to perform or sing, they were a pipeline to Chicago&rsquo;s talented actors. Through them, Sickinger uncovered talents like actor Mike Nussbaum and Jim Jacobs, who eventually wrote Grease.</p><p>Those are some of the same people who went on to build Chicago&rsquo;s network of neighborhood theaters, to create spaces like Steppenwolf. And that, said Schwan, is how Sickinger transformed the city&rsquo;s theater scene.</p><p>Schwan said &ldquo;He basically brought grassroots theater to Chicago.&rdquo;</p><p>At Hull House, Sickinger developed a reputation for his fresh adaptations of classic plays.</p><p>But he was also known for the number of contemporary works he staged. Playwrights like Edward Albee, Eugene Ionesco, Harold Pinter and LeRoi Jones had Chicago premieres thanks to Sickinger.</p><p>Sickinger&rsquo;s tenure in Chicago was brief. He left for New York in 1969, after things went awry at Hull House. At the time of his death, he and his family were living between New York and Florida.</p><p>But Schwan said Sickinger&rsquo;s influence can still be seen in places like The Goodman Theater.</p><p>&ldquo;Chicago was very formal culturally. And what he did is he said &lsquo;let&rsquo;s bring in these wonderful works, these new works that are being done by our contemporaries, and see what they look like when they do them.&rsquo; And that was a phenomenon.&rdquo;</p><p>Still Schwan thinks his greatest gift was his ability to inspire everyone - theater owners, actors, and regular people like herself.</p><p>&ldquo;What happens when you create that kind of inspiration, where people have that kind of opportunity, it&rsquo;s an energy that is irreplaceable, you can&rsquo;t get that kind of energy going. That&rsquo;s why these tv shows about auditioning and talent are so popular, because people are discovering themselves and what they can do in a way they otherwise would never have had.&rdquo;</p></p> Thu, 09 May 2013 15:58:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/alison-cuddy/2013-05/robert-sickinger-dies-brought-grassroots-theater-chicago-107108 David Mamet’s Chicago roots http://www.wbez.org/series/dynamic-range/david-mamet%E2%80%99s-chicago-roots-105696 <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/david%20mamet%20AP%20small.jpg" style="height: 414px; width: 620px;" title="Playwright David Mamet grew up on Chicago’s South Side. (AP)" /></div><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F80405306&amp;color=ff6600&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>Recently I saw <a href="https://twitter.com/marcatracy/status/238700366554857474">a tweet that referrenced &ldquo;Zosia Mamet&rsquo;s dad&rdquo;</a> &ndash; as in &ldquo;Zosia Mamet&rsquo;s dad David is rebooting &lsquo;Have Gun &ndash; Will Travel.&rsquo; &ldquo;</p><p>No. Just, no. I like her depiction of Shoshanna as much as the next <em>Girls</em> fan, and very much enjoyed the younger Mamet&rsquo;s semi-recurring role as Peggy&rsquo;s lesbian friend on <em>Mad Men</em>, but until Zosia writes <em>Glengarry Glen Ross</em> or <em>The Postman Never Rings Twice</em> she&rsquo;s still David Mamet&rsquo;s daughter to me.</p><p>Anyway, add this to the list of things younger members of the Twitterverse might not know about David Mamet: The Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright grew up in Chicago.</p><p>Mamet started his life in Hyde Park at 53<sup>rd</sup> and Dorchester and later moved to South Shore. As a teenager he went to high school at Francis Parker in Lincoln Park, and used the city as his own personal playground: &nbsp;</p><blockquote><p><em>In those days, being a young kid in the &lsquo;50s, nobody knew where you went. Your parents didn&rsquo;t know; they didn&rsquo;t care. You just took the &ldquo;L&rdquo; and went to Comisky Park, you took the &ldquo;L&rdquo; and went to Wrigley Field. You just went everywhere, and you would explore the city.</em></p><p><em>I remember as a young kid I would crawl over the girders at the top of the Prudential Building, which wasn&rsquo;t yet complete. We used to crawl up the Museum of Science and Industry, up among the caryatids. We&rsquo;d crawl up to that level 40 feet off the ground and spend the whole day walking around, clinging to the outside.</em></p></blockquote><p>Mamet even has his own memories of Chicago&rsquo;s old Riverview amusement park, which he said &ldquo;always just wreaked of danger and sex,&rdquo; and which Curious City <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/laugh-your-troubles-away-105619">took a look at earlier this week</a>.</p><p>In 2006, Mamet sat down with another Chicagoan reliably full of delicious memories &ndash; WBEZ&rsquo;s own <em>Afternoon Shift</em> host Rick Kogan &ndash; to reminisce about the direct and lingering effect the city had on his life and work. You can hear a snapshot of Mamet shooting the sh*t with his old friend Rick in the audio above.</p><p><a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/dynamic-range"><em>Dynamic Range</em></a>&nbsp;<em>showcases hidden gems unearthed from</em>&nbsp;<a href="https://soundcloud.com/chicago-amplified/a-conversation-with-u-s"><em>Chicago Amplified&rsquo;s</em></a>&nbsp;<em>vast archive of public events and appears on weekends. Rick Kogan and David Mamet spoke at an event presented by Chicago Public Library in October of 2006. Click</em>&nbsp;<em><u><a href="http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/author-series-david-mamet"><em>here</em></a></u></em><em>&nbsp;to hear the event in its entirety.</em></p><p><em>Follow Robin Amer on Twitter</em>&nbsp;<em><a href="https://twitter.com/rsamer">@rsamer</a>.</em></p></p> Sat, 23 Feb 2013 08:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/series/dynamic-range/david-mamet%E2%80%99s-chicago-roots-105696 Brevity is the soul of wit, but . . . http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2012-02-16/brevity-soul-wit-96475 <p><div class="inset"><div class="insetContent"><p><span style="font-size: 10px;">Listen to the Dueling Critics on&nbsp;<em>Eight Forty-Eight</em></span></p><p><audio class="mejs mediaelement-formatter-identified-1332735873-1" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/sites/default/files/120217 Dueling Critics.mp3">&nbsp;</audio></p></div></div><p>We've recently seen a spate of shows running between 75 and 90 minutes, no intermission. At first I greeted this trend with joy: Intermission has always galled me by interrupting the fictive dream, and I'm not averse to being home in time for<em> The Daily Show</em>. But I've started to notice the downside of all this expeditiousness: The plays often seem unfinished, like sketches rather than full-fledged pieces. Perhaps this is the result of our theaters' intense hunger for new work, and the concomitant pressure on playwrights to finish up this thing so they can start on the next thing. But a number of recent openings have demonstrated the drawbacks of this speed-dating version of playwriting.</p><p><em>Hesperia,</em> at <a href="http://writerstheatre.org/">Writers' Theatre</a>, captures its mise-en-scene perfectly, portraying a town dominated by an old-fashioned Evangelical Christianity with respect rather than ridicule while examining its impact on the archetypal strangers who come to town, a pair of porn stars. And playwright Randall Colburn takes care to demonstrate that the impact is mutual, and to probe the fragility of what at first seem to be rock-solid beliefs and principles. Unfortunately, Colburn sets up this situation and then fast-forwards to the conclusion, so that when our pro- and antagonists make their final decisions they seem to have come from nowhere---or, more precisely, to have happened during a scene we'll never see. A friend asked wherther all the dramaturgs in town had gone on strike, but Colburn's work had the benefit of development at <a href="http://chicagodramatists.org/">Chicago Dramatists</a>, whose fine reputation for honing plays is well-deserved. Still, <em>Hesperia</em> managed to come out of the oven without being fully baked.</p><p>Of course the first impulse of any writer when confronted with what's not working is simply to cut it out. I saw this demonstrated at the old Wisdom Bridge by no less a figure than David Mamet, who offered up a version of <em>Speed-the-Plow</em> so truncated by his own red pencil that the point of the play disappeared. He must have known he had a problem making the female catalyst believable (a problem he's had with women ever since: See <em>Oleanna</em> et seq. ) so he simply cut most of her part, leaving the audience to wonder what the two men on the stage were blathering and scheming about. Mamet did something similar with <em>Race</em> (notwithstanding the intermission). The betrayals and counter-betrayals come so rapidly, and to such an abrupt end, that I was left wondering what actually happened and why.&nbsp; It's fine to take a scalpel to one's work, but simple amputation is rarely sufficient surgery.&nbsp;</p><p>Other shows that could have benefitted from being longer: <a href="http://www.atcweb.org/"><em>Disgraced</em>, at ATC</a>, which sped from cosy domesticity to violent collapse in 80 minutes leaving the audience gasping in its wake; Simon Stephens' <a href="http://griffintheatre.com/"><em>Punk Rock</em> at Griffin</a>; and <a href="http://www.steeptheatre.com/">Love and Money at Steep</a>. The case of Stephens is particularly instructive, because he's had four plays done in Chicago in the past four years. Perhaps the playwright is over-busy, leaping from project to project in an attempt to cobble together a living. He's hardly the first to encounter this dilemma---there was a period when Rebecca Gilman was turning out plays faster than she could finish them---but the result leaves the audience slightly undernourished. Even Conor McPherson, perhaps the premiere English-language playwright of this generation, falls into the trap of declaring a play finished when it's merely through its second draft. <em>Shining City</em>, a neo-realist tale concluding with an unpersuasive ghost-story bang, would have been far stronger if the playwright had waited until the muses brought him a genuine ending.</p><p>Again: This may be the inevitable consequence of contemporary theater economics, a system which also frequently dictates the choice of two- or three-character plays rather than the crowds required by Miller or Shakespeare. But let's try to figure out a way for playwrights to incubate their works a bit longer. That should reduce the likelihood of their laying an egg.&nbsp;</p></p> Thu, 16 Feb 2012 17:52:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2012-02-16/brevity-soul-wit-96475 Douglas resignation: lessons to be learned? http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2012-01-25/douglas-resignation-lessons-be-learned-95780 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2012-January/2012-01-25/mourning becomes electra.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>On Monday, January 23 at the Goodman Theatre opening of David Mamet’s <em>Race</em>, the new artistic director of Remy Bumppo Theatre Company, Nick Sandys, stood side-by-side with his predecessor, Timothy Douglas, both tall and trim and obviously with warm regards towards each other. Sandys, a longtime member of the Remy Bumppo ensemble, succeeded to the artistic director job just days before, following Douglas’s sudden resignation.</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-January/2012-01-25/mourning becomes electra.jpg" style="width: 600px; height: 398px;" title="Remy Bumppo's 'Mourning Becomes Electra' (Photo by Johnny Knight Photography)"></p><p>The change in leadership at Remy Bumppo was the big performing arts news story of last week, magnified by the fact that Douglas had been on the job at Remy Bumppo for only eight months and also by the fact that he is the first African-American to lead a mainstream, mid-sized Chicago theater company. In this context (and perhaps in many others), “mainstream” means non-ethnic specific, which is another way of saying majority white in its audience make-up and roster of artists.</p><p>My colleague, Kelly Kleiman, and I both are writing about Douglas’s resignation this week (<em>Editor's note: Kelly's piece can be read <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2012-01-26/black-and-white-and-read-all-over-95836">here</a></em>) because his decision has many aspects to explore and several possible lessons for other theater companies. In keeping with the Mamet play now at the Goodman Theatre, Kelly will explore the presence (or not) of racial aspects to his decision which, it needs to be noted, was not coerced or requested by the Remy Bumppo board or ensemble.</p><p>In fact, Douglas laid his resignation on the table last November, and the company refused to accept it, working to overcome what Douglas called artistic and cultural differences. Do his words, “artistic” and “cultural,” imply racial nuances? Should readers infer such nuances? See what Kelly has to say.</p><p>For my part, I’ve chosen to write about a different range of issues and problems, those that can come about with any change in leadership in an organization.</p><p>The first circumstance is that Douglas was hired to succeed the founding artistic director of Remy Bumppo who guided the troupe for 15 years and built its distinctive esthetic. It’s always a particular challenge to replace the founder of a company because often the esthetic has evolved organically, rather than in the form of a written mission or statements of policy. Whenever a troupe must replace a longtime leader, whether the founder or not, it needs to question itself first and ask the basics: who are we? What are we? Why are we the way we are? Is this what we wish to continue to be? How do we work? What sort of change (if any) do we want? Who or what is our base of support? Will they/it stay with us? Where do we want to be in “x” years? What do we seek in a new leader?</p><p>I have heard reports that Remy Bumppo has engaged a consultant to help address precisely such questions now, but it’s unclear whether or not the company conducted a critical self-examination <em>before</em> it began sifting through resumes.</p><p>What came as much bigger surprise, however, was Douglas’s observation (in his resignation letter) that he had been hired without ever having seen a Remy Bumppo production, and without anyone from Remy Bumppo having seen anything he directed. He was hired on the basis of his resume and several interviews. I find this more than a little surprising and a&nbsp;<em>lot</em> absurd. You mustn’t hire a superior resume and a good talker (or even a noble talker or a visionary talker); you need to hire a person to select repertory, interpret it and work with a wide range of artists to create a product for a paying public. Ya’ can’t do that sight unseen.</p><p>I’ve been told by a knowledgeable source that Remy Bumppo brought eight candidates to Chicago for interviews with its search committee. It’s an almost-impossible dereliction of duty to think that&nbsp;<em>none</em> of those eight saw a Remy Bumppo production, so perhaps Timothy Douglas was the odd man out in this regard. But perhaps not. Especially with an ensemble-based company such as Remy Bumppo, it seems obligatory that the final two or three candidates (if not all eight who were interviewed) would be brought in to see a production or at least sit in on a few rehearsals to see how the ensemble worked under its founding director. I’d think it equally obligatory that the head of the search committee, and a representative of the acting ensemble, would have traveled to see productions put up by the finalists.</p><p>There are other decisions that, in hindsight, might be questioned. Douglas, in his very first season, chose to direct all three Remy Bumppo productions himself. Perhaps this was a mistake. Perhaps it would have been better to bring in another director for, say, the middle show of the season so that he, Douglas, could observe how the ensemble might work differently under someone else. It also would have given him greater freedom to see the work of other Chicago-area theater companies and deepen his knowledge of the local artistic community. Even more, if you do it all yourself, there’s nowhere to hide if the critics and audiences don’t cozy up to your efforts. A change of face, a change of pace can be the pause that refreshes.</p><p>Another observer pointed out that Douglas, despite an extraordinary record as a director and theater educator, never had run a theater company before coming to Remy Bumppo. Perhaps surprisingly to some readers, this really isn’t an issue. Douglas had more than enough substantial experience in senior artistic leadership positions to assume the role of Remy Bumppo artistic director. It’s not as if he didn’t know what to do or how to do it. The real question, going back several paragraphs, is this: did he know what the company expected of him in an esthetic or abstract sense? Did the company know what it expected of him in an abstract or esthetic sense?</p><p>At least on some levels, the answers appear to have been “no” and “no.”</p><p>Timothy Douglas has exceptional experience to bring to the table. His separation from Remy Bumppo seems to be a no-fault divorce. Moving forward, it would be a shame not to have his presence in Chicago at least from time to time as a director or theater educator. My conversations with him lead me to think he’d be a damn fine theater critic, too, but he’s gonna’ have to fight Kelly if he wants her job.</p></p> Wed, 25 Jan 2012 15:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2012-01-25/douglas-resignation-lessons-be-learned-95780