Arthur Miller Project

 millerproject

 

The Arthur Miller Project – An Exploration

by Paige Listerud

In fall, at the start of the 2009-2010 Season, it became quite apparent that the Chicago theater community was responding to the economic crisis and the shifting political tone of Washington with works that depicted hardship, deprivation, and introspection over the meaning of American identity.

Profiles Theatre produced Neil LaBute’s response to 9/11, The Mercy Seat; Eclipse Theatre brought back the political corruption of the Grant Administration with Romulus Linney’s Democracy; Brain Surgeon Theatre reconstructed a cramped Depression Era tenement with their world premiere 1512 West Studebaker Place; Northlight Theatre will take their turn at the Clifford Odets’ classic Awake and Sing this January; eta Creative Arts Foundation examined the American Dream through African American eyes with Sam Kelley’s Pill Hill; while These Shining Lives, produced by Rivendell Theatre Ensemble and The Artistic Home’s production of Lillian Hellman’s Days To Come touched on the dynamics of American labor.

Into the mix, it seemed striking that not just one or two, but seven productions of Arthur Miller’s work emerged on the roster for the 2009-2010-theater season. In a world-class theater city like Chicago, one is accustomed to seeing plenty of Shakespeare, Chekhov, Shaw, and even a production of The Crucible each season. But this time, it was clear that something was in the air. True, almost half of the productions are from Eclipse Theatre’s seasonal selection; but to see so much attention by individual theaters devoted to the playwright known for his piercing examination of the American mythos signaled both a return to basics and an interrogation into who we are and where we are going.

Here at ChicagoTheaterBlog, we took this as an excellent opportunity to create dialog about Miller’s work; to ask what still remains vital and provocative about the issues his plays bring up. And, of course, to get more people out to the theater, talking about theater and participating with their theater community. To this end, we’ve embarked on our first videotaped interview, with more to come. Our goal is to interview directors, actors, and scholars regarding the Arthur Miller productions of this season and to give you a chance to respond to our findings. We hope that our coverage of Miller’s works through our “Arthur Miller Project” will prompt you to engage in the exciting exchange that live theater can bring and is so accessible to us in this great city.

Arthur Miller Plays in the Chicago 2009-2010 Theater Season

Aug 31 All My Sons at Timeline Theatre (our review)

Oct 6 Death of a Salesman at Raven Theatre (our review)

Mar 25 Resurrection Blues at Eclipse Theatre

Mar 27 The Crucible produced by Infamous Commonwealth Theatre (at Raven Theatre)

July 8 After the Fall at Eclipse Theatre

July 24 Incident At Vichy at Redtwist Theatre

Sept 2 A Memory of Two Mondays at Eclipse Theatre


 Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman

 

Raven Theatre’s artistic director Michael Menendian, talks with Paige Listerud regarding their critically successful production of Death of a Salesman

The Laramie Project Epilogue – My experience

 

Matthew Shepard (Dec 1,1976-Oct 12,1998) , Adam Lederer Matthew Shepard
(Dec 1 1976 – Oct 12, 1998)

An Ingenious New Project:

An International Performance of

The Laramie Project Epilogue

by Barry Eitel

On Monday, October 12th, I witnessed a mixed group of Loyola and Northwestern students perform a staged reading of Tectonic Theatre Project’s newest effort—The Laramie Project Epilogue. The modest audience consisted of faculty and students of both universities as well as a few theatre professionals. In an innovative new take on theatre, however, we were one part of a giant machine. The coolest aspect of the whole evening was the fact that our group of performers and audience were electronically linked to 150 other theatres across the globe. On the anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s brutal death in 1998, thousands of people experienced Tectonic’s moving new piece and participated in a live dialogue with the creators and each other, a massive theatrical experiment.

Currently in the vanguard of docu-drama, Tectonic first hit major success early this decade with The Laramie Project. After the murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay student at the University of Wisconsin, whose killing is widely considered to be a hate crime, Moisés Kaufman and other members of Tectonic descended on the town of Laramie. They conducted loads of interviews investigating the effect the murder and the ensuing national attention had on the town. Tectonic compiled the interviews, news reports, company member’s personal journals, and other sources into the play. Thrusting issues of hate and community onto the stage like never before, The Laramie Project had a huge effect on audiences. It also cemented Tectonic’s rich docu-drama style that would lead to other successes like Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde and the Pulitzer Prize winning I Am My Own Wife.

Flash forward almost a decade. The Laramie Project is now one of the most widely-produced plays in America, appearing in high schools, colleges, and professional theatres. In 2008, ten years after Matthew Shepard’s murder, Kaufman and Tectonic decided to do it all again, re-analyzing Laramie to see what had changed since their first visit. The results of their second visit comprise The Laramie Project Epilogue, which is far more than a cap topping the previous show. It is a complete play in itself. The new information reveals a different community, one that has grown and changed over time like a living organism.

The Tectonic folks discovered whole new topics to discuss and people to interview in their second visit. They learned about revisionist history that had taken hold: many interviewees believed that the killing was a straight robbery gone awry than a hate crime, a theory perpetuated by a 2004 20/20 report. Many company members were surprised to learn that the fence where Shepard was tied up, beaten, and left for dead had been removed. The epilogue exhibits the vibrant gay community now flowering at the University where Shepard attended 10 years earlier. It also showcases the UW faculty’s struggle to get domestic partner rights. And the play includes discussions with two important people who weren’t interviewed for the first Project, Shepard’s two murderers who are now serving multiple life sentences. Tectonic even felt ripples in the town caused by their previous work—an editorial in the town’s newspaper proclaimed that “Laramie is a Community, Not a Project.” All of this new information gives an interesting perspective that builds on what the first Project explored. The prejudices that Tectonic found 10 years later are far more subtle than the Reverend Fred Phelps picketing Shepard’s funeral. The play also has a much wider scope than the first play and focuses much more on Laramie at large, revealing a town conflicted by attempting to move on while trying to remember the past at the same time.

The goliath event pushed this broader scope idea even more. It was almost like a theatrical response to television—people all over the world watching the same thing at the same time. But after the show, everyone watching could participate in a group discussion. Through Twitter and a live feed, people all over were able to express their feelings and responses, from Midwest high school students to those present at the New York premier. A panel, including Kaufman and Shepard’s mother Judy Shepard, answered a few questions and told their experiences writing the piece. From all the audience responses, it was clear that the mass reading had a profound effect on everyone involved. The giant community Tectonic assembled was definitely the most exciting characteristic of the night. The experiment of forming a world-wide theatre for a few hours was a solid success.

 

Judy Shepard at press-conference after President Obama signs Hate Crimes bill.

Think Fast: Rebecca Gilman, Rondi Reed and Mary Poppin’s walking tour of Avenue Q.

 

  • Audience members were in for an unexpected treat regarding yesterday’s final performance of the Tony award-winning August: Osage County: Rondi Reed, the originator of the role of the boozy Mattie Fae Aiken, returned to play the role for the last time.  Ms. Reed is currently performing the role of Madame Morrible in Wicked, which she returned to later on Sunday for an evening performance.
 
 
  • Oops – the main computer of Broadway in Chicago’s Mary Poppins crashed.  After 45-minutes of unsuccessful IT support, the audience was told the performance would have to be canceled.  Double oops.
 
 

Today in History – 60 years ago: Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” opens on Broadway

aruthurmiller On February 10th, 1949, Arthur Miller‘s classic American play Death of a Salesman opened at Broadway’s Morosco Theater.  This world-premier production of Death of a Salesman, directed by Elia Kazan with Lee J. Cobb starring in the leading role, ran for the astounding length of 742 performances.

Often considered the penultimate American play (and making both Arthur Miller and the character Willy Loman household names), Death of a Salesman went on to win the following awards:

  • 1949 New York Drama Critics’ Circle Best Play
  • 1949 Pulitzer Prize for Drama
  • 1949 Tony Award for Best Play
  • 1984 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Revival
  • 1984 Tony Award for Best Reproduction
  • 1999 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play
  • 1999 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Revival of a Play

arthurmiller2 arthurmiller3 arthurmiller4

Playwright Harold Pinter dead at 78

From Broadway.com:

©2008 Dave M. Benett/Broadway.comNobel Prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter died of cancer on December 24, according to the Associated Press. He was 78.

The highly influential and political scribe was awarded the 2005 Nobel Prize for Literature. He was born on October 10, 1930 in the London borough of Hackney. In 1948 he was accepted at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. He published his first poems in 1950 and by 1951 he was accepted at the Central School of Speech and Drama. That same year, he won a place in Anew McMaster’s Irish repertory company, renowned for its performances of Shakespeare. Pinter toured again between 1954 and 1957, using the stage name of David Baron.

He wrote over 30 plays, making his playwriting debut in 1957 with The Room, presented in Bristol. Other early plays were The Birthday Party (1957), The Dumb Waiter (1957) and The Hothouse (1958). His first big breakthrough came in 1959 with The Caretaker. His subsequent plays include The Homecoming, Night School, The Collection, The Lover, The Homecoming, Landscape, Silence, Old Times, No Man’s Land, Betrayal, Family Voices, A Kind of Alaska, One for the Road, Mountain Language, The New World Order, Party Time, Moonlight, Ashes to Ashes, Celebration and Remembrance of Things Past. He also wrote over 20 screenplays, including The Servant, The Go-Between and The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Pinter was also a director, poet and essayist.

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Looking at Pinter’s political views, this via the DailyKos:

The provocative Nobel laureate Harold Pinter died December 24. Although his work in the theater over the course of 32 plays was broadly praised, his political views drew savage attacks, including one from fellow Brit and neo-conservative Christopher Hitchens, who wrote in 2005 that giving the Swedish award “to someone who gave up literature for politics decades ago, and whose politics are primitive and hysterically anti-American and pro-dictatorial, is part of the almost complete degradation of the Nobel racket.”

McCullough on Women Playwrights

Mia McCullough, a playwright for Chicago Dramatists, has written a provocative piece on the website for Chicago Artists Resource, entitled “On Women in Playwriting” about sexism in theatre, and how this shapes the works and output of women playwrights.  It’s really worth a read.

Personally, I believe that this theatre sexism is a reflection misogynist  American culture in general, rather than just theater (to be fair, McCullough is only focusing about the theater world in this article).  My sister, Lisa, who is a lieutenant-colonel in the Army, actually teaches a course for military women on how to assert themselves and be noticed.  She mentioned to me that women are “trained” early to be much more reserved.  Even those women that are leaders in the community unconsciously possess traces of subserviency.  Examples she has given me: when men sit in a chair they spread themselves out, taking over the arm rests, while women sit with their hands inside the armrest, keeping their stature much more restrained and small; in meetings men tend, when speaking, to lean forward and confidently express their opinions, while women keep themselves sitting back in the chair, and can seem apologetic when offering their input, as if they’re interrupting the meeting.  Lisa also repeats McCullough’s observation that women also tend to apologize for silly things that men would never apologize for.

Here’s an excerpt from Mia McCollough’s article:

…. we are, still, programmed to be polite. We apologize for things, and censor ourselves far more than men do; and unfortunately this transfers to our art, and it shouldn’t. Art is not and should never be about politeness. Raw or refined, it should be a true expression of feeling. This will lead to another problem, I expect. When women stop being polite and really delve into the experience of being a woman, a whole lot of unpleasantness tends to rise to the surface.

 

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Politics and Leonard Bernstein…

Bernstein's sex appeal didn't exactly hurt his pop-culture popularity

In the Newsweek article “The Original Cultural Warrior”, Jeremy McCarter looks at the ways that Leonard Bernstein’s music combined forms of low and high art, challenging today’s unfortunate conservative political narrative which crucifies cultural “elitism”.

Money quote:

..consider how, at this year’s Republican convention, Barack Obama was mocked by the multimillionaire former mayor of New York City and prominent opera buff Rudy Giuliani for being “cosmopolitan.”

Check out the entire article here.