(Pictured L to R: Colin Douglas, Regina Victor, Kerry Reid)
(Editor’s Note: These interviews were conducted in May 2020, prior to the murder of George Floyd and the protests that followed, so it is not included in the discussion of current events.)
Since the closing of theaters due to COVID-19, it’s become more evident that it takes a whole community to bring theater to life—from the artists, actors, and designers, to the administrators, to the stagehands, to the audience, and even the press. We asked some Chicago critics for their thoughts on the current state of theater, what they’ve been up to since the closings, and what plays they enjoyed before the houses went dark. This is part one of a two-part blog series.
With regards to theater, what are you missing or longing for most during this time of self-isolation and dark houses?
Kerry Reid, Chicago Reader: I think it’s the same thing I’m missing about everything else: being around other people, sharing stories in person.
Regina Victor, Rescripted: An exchange of ideas. I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a creative critic during this time and I think our job is to help people imagine new possibilities for the field of theater. We can do this by generating artist responses or offering our own possibilities after years of witness.
Colin Douglas, Chicago Theatre and Concert Reviews: Seeing and hearing the talents of so many wonderful Chicagoland actors, directors, musicians and tech artists. In addition, as an older individual with underlying conditions, I’m also frustrated by not being able to leave the house, take the Metra into the city, enjoy a meal at one of Chicago’s fine restaurants and then socialize with other audience members at a new production.
How are you finding stories to review at this time?
Kerry Reid: Well, there are a lot of groups with streaming content, both archival and newly produced by remote, and there are lots of people teaching classes, so I’ve been writing about those so far.
Regina Victor: We are looking at streaming but mainly we have been covering relief efforts, and plan to start highlighting our existing artistic community until we begin to see what the future of production looks like!
Colin Douglas: I’m not—pure and simple.
What were the most memorable plays from this abbreviated season?
KR: James Ijames’ Kill Move Paradise at TimeLine. Caryl Churchills Top Girls with Remy Bumppo at Theater Wit. Her Honor Jane Byrne at Lookingglass—a play that very much speaks to the segregation and tangled roots of racial and economic injustice in Chicago. The remount of Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare’s An Iliad with Court at the Oriental Institute, starring Timothy Edward Kane. Liliana Padilla’s How to Defend Yourself at Victory Gardens, and Mara Nelson-Greenberg’s Do You Feel Anger? at A Red Orchid Theatre.
RV: Sheepdog at Shattered Globe, School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play at the Goodman Theatre, graveyard shift at the Goodman Theatre (bias alert: I assistant directed), Stick Fly at Writers Theatre, Roan @ the Gates at American Blues Theater, How to Defend Yourself at Victory Gardens, Roe at the Goodman, Bug at Steppenwolf, The Leopard Play at Steep, and The Tasters at Rivendell.
CD: I loved the two adaptations and productions of Emma, both CST’s musical and Lifeline’s dramatic version. Mlima’s Tale by Griffin Theatre was exciting and thoughtful. Paramount’s gorgeous Secret of My Success was Broadway caliber, in my estimation. It was a welcome delight to see Shear Madness again, this time at Mercury Theatre. Kill Move Paradise was an exceptional script and so gritty and emotionally deep. And I’ll never forget Windy City Playhouse’s immersive production of The Boys in the Band. I’d love to see it again!
How has the Chicago theater community delighted or surprised you during this long intermission?
KR: I am in awe of how quickly people shifted to providing online opportunities, especially for children and families. But really, all the people and educators who are trying to figure out how to keep passion for their subject matter, in the arts and elsewhere, going strong over Zoom and other digital platforms are heroic to me. And I am also inspired by companies that are shifting to making masks and doing other services for the community.
RV: The amount of mutual aid popping up such as the Chicago Artists Relief Fund! I love that so much and would like to see more of it.
CD: It’s inspiring to see how so many artists have adapted their art to online instruction and video performances. It’s also heartening to see and hear about theater folk helping others.
What has changed about your life/lifestyle now that you’ve been at home instead of going to the theater?
KR: I sit around and brood a lot. What else? I mean, I did that anyway, but now it feels more justified.
RV: I take care of myself more because I have to, and I really hope that part doesn’t change. I used to work 12-16 hour days between a day job and rehearsal, and now I work an eight hour day which is what I’ve always wanted.
CD: I’ve had the time to read a few more books. I’ve kept up with more articles on Playbill.com and Broadway World. I chat with theater friends to be sure they’re okay and to inspire each other to do more things to keep motivated and busy.
If you’re like these critics and also missing theater, check out the streaming options happening now in the BTD!
Friend Colin Douglas on Facebook.
Special thanks to James Juliano and SHOUT Marketing & Media Relations for their contribution to this post.