Director Shana Cooper is known for her visceral takes on classic plays. Her work with frequent collaborator and choreographer Erika Chong Shuch on Shakespeare’s plays utilizes movement to inject each production with a physical muscularity that matches their use of language. We chatted with Cooper to discuss The Lady from the Sea and returning to the Court stage.

What drew you to Ibsen’s The Lady from the Sea

This is a play that’s been with me for about ten years. I first directed a staged reading of it in 2009 at Oregon Shakespeare Festival and I haven’t been able to shake it since. It’s haunted me. The thing that’s really remained with me about it is the visceral way Ibsen captures the nature of struggling with who you are and discovering a different sense of self over the course of your life. That idea of self-discovery and exploration is terrifying and exhilarating, and in this play, Ibsen carves a vivid expression of the dramatic storm of what it feels like to wrestle with your identity, and the role that free will can play in us authentically embracing our truest self, as well as the complexity and contradictions of desires and needs that exist within us. 

How are those ideas informing your approach to his work? 

One of my goals with Shakespeare is an interest in how to make these plays as muscular physically and emotionally as they are linguistically, and that’s one of my goals with this production, too. I have an extraordinary choreographer, Erika Chung Shuch, who’s a longtime collaborator with me. My hope is that as a company we can come up with a physicality to express these ineffable urges that the play deals with. My dream is that it’s a marriage of Ibsen’s brilliant dramaturgy, character, and language as well as a physical life that gets at the deeper yearnings buckling under the text that are hard to express. I hope it feels like we are expressing something new. 

What was the inspiration for this new translation by Richard Nelson, and how is it different than previous versions of this play?  

The Lady from the Sea is one of Ibsen’s least known works, which is part of why it’s so thrilling that Court originally programmed it, and the gift they are giving us by continuing with that journey after our pandemic shutdown. Because it is rarely produced, there are very few translations, and as far as I know there hasn’t been a contemporary American translation that expresses the hearts and souls of these characters with the clarity and humanity that Richard Nelson has uncovered. Through Richard Nelson’s luminous translation, we can not only understand but feel deeply the drama that pulses underneath these characters as they wrestle with their identities as individuals and within the most important relationships in their lives. Beyond transforming our experience of working on The Lady from the Sea, Richard’s translation is making a vital contribution to the American canon of Ibsen translations and finally making one of Ibsen’s more mysterious journeys, accessible to us all. 

What do you hope that audiences take away from The Lady from the Sea

My hope is that this play is an invitation to look at our own lives and life choices and identity and maybe view this idea of cracking open questions about our spirituality and our identity as a real possibility. The thing that’s brilliant about this play is that it’s quite true-to-life to me. The play is an invitation for us to reflect back on our lives in terms of how the small and large choices we make are at play with and against our free will. I want to tell a story that young, modern women in particular can connect to and be thrilled by and learn from and have exciting conversations inspired by it. They’re on my mind. 

The Lady from the Sea was cancelled following the final dress rehearsal on March 11, 2020 due to the global pandemic. What does it mean to you to be (re)mounting this show now? 

Ibsen, like all great writers, is a dreamer. And the man dreams big. This quote is from a letter Ibsen wrote early in his career, an ambitious vision for humanity, “People want only special revolutions, in externals, in politics, and so on. But that’s just tinkering. What really is called for is a revolution of the human mind…”  

The remarkable thing about The Lady from the Sea is that you can actually see that revolution beginning. In small but profound ways in the actions and choices of many of the characters, who begin the play in a crisis of their own making, and then actually manage to change, not only how they think, but their choices and actions in life and in love. As we return to this project after almost two years of essential reckonings within ourselves and our society, I think the question of what we do with this tremendous force of “free-will” that is central to Ibsen’s work is going to have fresh and more urgent meaning to artists and audiences who have learned by living through a pandemic just how harrowing it can be to feel lost in a storm of questions about who we are and what our role in the world can or should be. And perhaps most importantly what we can do “of our own free will” to find the lighthouse that will guide us home.

I believe, as Ibsen seems to suggest in The Lady from the Sea, that by living in that place of the deep and raw discomfort of not knowing and wrestling with the mysteries of free-will and how that can help us to access our truest selves, we may discover a rare capacity for change. And thus begins the revolution of the human mind…


Previews to The Lady from the Sea directed by Shana Cooper begin February 25. Learn more →

Photo of the cast of The Lady from the Sea by Michael Brosilow.

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Banner Photo of Dexter Zollicoffer by Michael Brosilow

In March 2020, when the pandemic shuttered Court’s production of The Lady from the Sea on the eve of its first preview performance, Artistic Director Charles Newell made a virtue out of the necessity of delay. He invited Tony Award-winning playwright Richard Nelson to undertake a new translation of Ibsen’s classic text. Here, Nelson shares his reflections on the art of translation and the reasons Ibsen’s work resonates with American audiences.

You were writing this translation during the pandemic. Did anything about the play resonate artistically while you were living in quarantine?

I don’t think so, and I’ll tell you why. For whatever reason, the time from March 2020 through the next sixteen months were probably the most productive writing time of my life. The amount I produced that I’m very proud of is huge. Part of that was Lady from the Sea, but there are many, many other things I did. I found myself happily, just happily focused on just my desk, and not on any other thing, during that time. I didn’t feel anything but the pleasure of just spending my time with my own work, and, in this case, which is the real value for me of these translations, the pleasure I felt was to spend time really close to a writer I greatly admire, Mr. Ibsen. 

You have called Ibsen “the poet of everyday language.” Could you talk about what you aimed to achieve with this new translation? 

First of all, Ibsen is a great humanist, and so always at the heart of his plays are not ideas, but characters. It is the human complexity that motivates him, and he is a great psychological thinker and writer. So that means, when doing a translation, you want to put people on the stage. You don’t want to put characters on the stage, you don’t want to put ideas on stage, you need to put people on the stage. An audience must feel comfortable that what’s in front of them are people behaving in a way that they, the audience, know people actually to behave. The translator’s goal is to have that comfort of people saying things on stage that seem like reasonably right, obvious, clear things to say, as opposed to saying things that are more arch or more formal. That’s where I begin. You want to feel that real people are in front of you. 

Henrik Ibsen

Now on top of that, Ibsen is a poet. He uses imagery. So as a translator you want to find a way for that poetry to exist within the normal life, real life, or verisimilitude of life that is on the stage. It’s important to figure that out. I greatly admire Ibsen because he can make that leap—a leap which, as a writer, I try all the time to make in my own work but I don’t think without anything like his success—that leap of somehow thrusting a poetic situation, or a poetic character, into a story. Not just a poetic landscape—which he does in this play with the sea—but in terms of the Stranger. Bringing on a character like that who is so inexplicable—who forces an audience to wonder how much is real and how much is psychological—that’s a real gamble. That’s the exciting challenge of translating Ibsen—not just to recreate life, not just to make an audience feel that they are seeing life in front of themselves, but then to have that life be articulated or nuanced in a way to have a kind of poetry evolve and rise up as well. That’s the challenge.

Do you see translation as separate from playwriting, or is it the same act?

Well, it is not the same act, but it is not separate either. No, the two are very connected. Translating is a great way to learn playwriting, or a great way to continue to evolve your craft, because you are constantly—if you are translating Ibsen or Chekhov—dealing with extraordinary writers. And seeing how those writers do things is really helpful, I find, for my own work. When I did teach playwriting, I would always tell my students, when they were writing something, “Have you read this play, this play or this play? Because that would be helpful to you.” And also, it puts you as a playwright in a much greater tradition than just what’s happened in the last three years, but in a tradition going back three hundred years, or more. Translating is very useful, and it’s a fun change of pace, because unlike with a play, you are not faced with a blank page. The first draft of a play, every day you come to it, you don’t know what’s going to happen. You might have an outline, you might have lots of notes, but you just don’t know for sure where it will go. Whereas with translating, you might get a phone call in the middle of working on sentence, but you can take the call because the sentence will still be there when you get back. It’s all part of the writer’s life. There is craft involved in both playwriting and translating, but that craft is very, very similar. 

Are your goals the same when translating and when writing a new play?

Absolutely. The goals for me in playwriting and in the plays I translate are character-based, character-centered, humanistic goals. Theatre is inherently made and built to put a live person in front of another live person. That’s the basis of all theatre. Theatre is the only artistic form that uses the entire live human being as its expression. It’s the only one that does this. We speak, we move, we are alive, and so the human being is the very heart and center of what a play is, what a theatre event is. And those plays that embrace the complexity of what it means to be a person, to be a human being on earth, are the plays that I think are the most interesting to me, and in the end, that are the greatest.

Why do Ibsen’s plays resonate so powerfully today? 

We live in very ambiguous times right now, and Ibsen very much speaks to that. He is always trying to find the clashes between ideas, because for him no one idea is correct, it always has to be in conflict with another idea. He sets his plays within a societal framework, raising issues of how does one live in the society that we live in. In this play, he asks “What does it mean to be free?” Ellida wonders, “Do I matter? Is there a purpose to my life? Who am I?” These are the most existential questions we have in our lives. The struggle we see between Ellida and Wangel is an essential state of being for Ibsen. He makes the point that this is the world we are in—a world where people feel a lack of meaning, a lack of freedom, a lack of purpose. This is the way the world functions, he is saying, unless we fight it. And it’s a fight that has to keep continuing being fought, over and over and over again. 

Is there a moment, a scene, or an element in this play that is precious to you as a writer?

If you look at how Chekhov and Ibsen, and Shakespeare too, how they begin their plays, you see their mastery of opening moments. In TheLady from the Sea, it’s like Ibsen had a little joke to himself. We see a guy untying something knotted in his hands, it’s a mess. He has a problem: “How am I going to untie this thing?” 

What a wonderful, witty little way of saying, basically, we are going to be untying a problem in the next two hours. And then you have that flag that goes up. And you see how the putting up of the flag carries so much exposition—explaining who the characters are, who’s feeling what, what’s going on, how things are misunderstood. That flag is pretty brilliant. Just pretty darn brilliant. In terms of pure craft, my hat’s off.


Previews to Richard Nelson's new translation of The Lady from the Sea begin February 25. Learn more →

Photo of Dexter Zellicoffer by Michael Brosilow.

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Fry won Best Solo Performance for THE BELLE OF AMHERST.[/caption] We wanted to learn more about what drew director Sean Graney (The Belle of Amherst, The Mystery of Irma Vep) to Agatha Christie’s famous murder mystery, so we sat down with him before a rehearsal to pick his brain.  Discussing his return to Court and Chicago, Graney shared that one impetus for pitching The Mousetrap to Artistic Director Charles Newell was the opportunity to work with actor Kate Fry (The Belle of Amherst) again. “I think it’s a great role for her,” he shared, talking about the heroine at the center of The Mousetrap. “It’s a well-written role for a woman by a woman, and I thought that this piece would be a great fit for Court audiences.”  Fry is joined by an all-star cast including David Cerda, Allen Gilmore, Alex Goodrich, Erik Hellman, Tina Muñoz Pandya, Lyonel Reneau, and Carolyn Ann Hoerdemann. “I’m surprised at the depth of character development that the actors are bringing out,” Graney reflects. “I’ve always felt that the play is meaningful and relevant, but it’s still surprising to see just how deep the cast is delving into this world and the characters.” That depth, in part, is thanks to Christie’s writing, which Graney describes as “deep,” “funny,” and “super-duper smart.” It’s also spurred on by Graney’s approach in the room. The Mousetrap is sort of dismissed as a frivolous mystery,” he explains. “But on top of the mystery, it tells a story about a bunch of people who are living lies and how the lies keep them from being able to connect to each other.”  While other productions foreground the play’s plot, Graney wants to do more than just tell a “really cool, well-crafted murder mystery.” Instead, he says, “what’s more important to me is this theme about lies keeping us in isolation. I’m not sure what themes are at the heart of other productions, but I’m telling a dramatic story with a mystery on top of it.” What does he hope audiences will gain from his take on this classic piece of theatre? “What an audience leaves with is whatever magnetizes in their brain while they’re experiencing this production,” he acknowledges. “Maybe people will try to be more truthful with each other. I hope they all have a good time.” And with the cast and team he’s assembled, it’s no mystery whether or not audiences will enjoy this spirited take on an old favorite.
Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap runs through February 16, 2020. 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If the set is literal, realistically depicting a location we recognize, we expect real-time, characters, and behavior in the performance. If the set is abstracted in some way, we expect some aspect of the performance will also not be “real.” So, before we can create the world, the production team needs to define the nature of the storytelling, which will then steer the set into a direction. In any case, we typically start with literal research about the locations in the play. We also look at images created by other visual artists inspired by themes, periods, or contexts that are addressed in the play. The inspiration for the world can come from any of that research, in addition to personal experience. There are usually many ideas resulting from the understanding gained through the research. So, we typically look at a number of options. Once we select a direction, refinement of that idea happens to support the action of the play.    Over a number of years, the work we've done with director Charlie Newell tends to explore non-literal ways of representing the world. It is our experience that this empowers the audience to apply their own experiences and thoughts about the world rather than us telling them every detail. It inspires engagement rather than “watching.”   Did your approach change when starting to think about Oedipus Rex?     We followed our typical process of literal research (classic Greek architecture, altars, entrances/stairs, Greek theatres, shrines, etc.) and also performed visual image research that captured a sense of a place of power. That led us to light artist James Turrell and his work ended up serving as direct inspiration for the world we created. What was atypical in the process was that all of the artists working on the entire three-play Greek cycle being produced by Court were part of the design conversations. This collaboration added an unusual richness to the conversation with more perspectives and ideas in the hopper.   What are some of your overarching goals for Oedipus' scenic design?    We wanted to establish a place of power (in literal terms, we are just outside the seat of power in Thebes). We also knew that we wanted to create a space to support the telling of the story of Oedipus, not a representation of the literal location of the action in the play. We wanted a space that can transform with light in order to be able to go on the incredible emotional journey of the play. We wanted to set up the concept of the Chorus supporting the emotional journey of Oedipus, not a chorus of Thebes townsfolk. And, we wanted a space that will empower dynamic movement, as that is an important aspect of how we will tell the story.   How much of your work has been informed by the rest of The Oedipus Trilogy?   It has been strongly informed by the input of the artists working on the other two plays in the cycle, as they were part of the design conversations. And, we thought about how the environments of the different plays should relate conceptually. We thought about how to connect the end of Oedipus with the beginning of Gospel at Colonus in terms of the journey of Oedipus.  So, there are conceptual connections but not literal mirroring of the worlds.   What's been the most challenging/rewarding aspect of designing the set for Oedipus?     A challenge in creating a world for this story of Oedipus is how to create a space that has the scope and scale that enables the range of emotion and human journey that the story creates.  We strive to enhance, rather than diminish, how far the audience can go in their empathy with this, the most tragic of human journeys. What's something you wish audience members knew about scenic design?   I do not think they need to know much about the technicalities of set design—I just hope they bring their imagination to the theatre and that we can then inspire them to use it fully! Previews to OEDIPUS REX begin November 7. 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["_article_description"]=> string(19) "field_5927045f742d7" ["article_byline"]=> string(0) "" ["_article_byline"]=> string(19) "field_592de516b020a" ["add_feed"]=> string(1) "0" ["_add_feed"]=> string(19) "field_5939a562bed44" ["_yoast_wpseo_primary_category"]=> string(2) "14" ["_yoast_wpseo_primary_subscription-type"]=> string(0) "" ["_yoast_wpseo_primary_production-section"]=> string(3) "231" } ["___content":protected]=> NULL ["_permalink":protected]=> NULL ["_next":protected]=> array(0) { } ["_prev":protected]=> array(0) { } ["_css_class":protected]=> NULL ["id"]=> int(12666) ["ID"]=> int(12666) ["post_author"]=> string(1) "9" ["post_content"]=> string(3238) " For many actors, working on an August Wilson play is a dream come true, a rite of passage, a profound honor. Read on to learn how members of this cast feel about performing Wilson’s work. To Kelvin Roston, Jr. (Hedley), working on August Wilson is akin to working on Shakespeare — it requires a skill set that not every actor has. Roston observes that for black male actors, “we see an August Wilson play and see ourselves, our family members, our friends.” He says that watching Wilson’s plays exposed him to characters like Floyd Barton (Seven Guitars), Youngblood (Jitney), and Hedley (King Hedley II) and made him excited about the prospect of aging into these roles. “August Wilson has written us from the inside, unfiltered. He not only shows who we are, but also the why. It’s very specific; no matter the year it’s set, it remains relevant.” Performing in an August Wilson play has been a lifelong goal of Kierra Bunch (Tonya). “Tackling King Hedley and being a part of this experience is exciting,” she says. “It’s exciting to actually get an opportunity to step into the work of a true visionary and great storyteller of our times. Wilson writes about the human condition and anyone can find their own story in this play.” “We see an August Wilson play and see ourselves, our family members, our friends.” Dexter Zollicoffer (Stool Pigeon) feels that acting in an August Wilson play is an artistic rite of passage. “When working on Wilson, you feel like you’re paying homage to the struggles and joys of being black in America,” he says. Dexter thinks that “by exploring the nuances of this specific community in 1985, it better prepares us for the racial and cultural dynamics at play today.” One of the things that excites Ronald L. Conner (Mister) most about being in this play is the opportunity to showcase an unconventional family bound by blood, friendship, and proximity. “Working on an August Wilson play means an opportunity to give voice to the marginalized, working class of America,” he reflects. “It means I get to tell a universal story through a culturally specific lens.” To Ronald, the themes and issues raised in King Hedley II are quite timely. “Audiences need to see this play now, because it is ‘now!’” Performances of King Hedley II begin September 12! Save your seats → Photo: A.C. Smith, Kelvin Roston, Jr., and TayLar in a promotional photo for KING HEDLEY II. (Mazza)" ["post_date"]=> string(19) "2019-08-12 11:57:06" ["post_excerpt"]=> string(0) "" ["post_parent"]=> int(0) ["post_status"]=> string(7) "publish" ["post_title"]=> string(57) "Working on Wilson: Bringing August Wilson's Words to Life" ["post_type"]=> string(4) "post" ["slug"]=> string(55) "working-on-wilson-bringing-august-wilsons-words-to-life" ["__type":protected]=> NULL ["_edit_lock"]=> string(12) "1565804584:6" ["_edit_last"]=> string(1) "6" ["_thumbnail_id"]=> string(5) "12668" ["_yoast_wpseo_content_score"]=> string(2) "30" ["article_description"]=> string(105) "Several cast members of KING HEDLEY II discuss what it means to be performing in a play by August Wilson." 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["_article_description"]=> string(19) "field_5927045f742d7" ["article_byline"]=> string(0) "" ["_article_byline"]=> string(19) "field_592de516b020a" ["add_feed"]=> string(1) "0" ["_add_feed"]=> string(19) "field_5939a562bed44" } ["___content":protected]=> NULL ["_permalink":protected]=> NULL ["_next":protected]=> array(0) { } ["_prev":protected]=> array(0) { } ["_css_class":protected]=> NULL ["id"]=> int(12439) ["ID"]=> int(12439) ["post_author"]=> string(1) "9" ["post_content"]=> string(3912) "[caption id="attachment_12441" align="alignnone" width="800"] Patrick Mulvey at first rehearsal for THE ADVENTURES OF AUGIE MARCH. Photo by Joe Mazza.[/caption] This Spring, Court’s World Premiere Production of "The Adventures of Augie March" brings a fresh new face to Court’s stage! Actor Patrick Mulvey makes his Court debut in the title role, portraying Augie at various ages and stages of life. Before you see him onstage, read on to learn a little bit more about Patrick, his connections to Chicago, and his excitement for this production! The Adventures of Augie March is set primarily in Chicago, where novelist Saul Bellow spent much of his life, and where playwright David Auburn went to school at the University of Chicago. What’s your connection to the city? Patrick: I was born and raised in Joliet, IL, just 30 minutes south of Chicago. Growing up, my parents and I often came to the city to see shows and go out. After college, when I moved back from living in the UK for a few years, my very first show here was working at the Goodman Theatre on a show that Charlie Newell directed. Incidentally, that show is where I met my wife, and to this day Chicago will always be the place we call home. Why do you think that this is an important, relevant story to be sharing right now? Patrick: Whether it's today, last year, or ten years from now, I don't think there is a person who gets through life without questioning deeply who they are. Not to be morose, but I think we are all going through different stages of are we walking out of the woods, or are we walking further into them? I think anyone who sees this show can identify a parallel to their own journey, even if they haven't trained an eagle in falconry.  What’s most exciting to you about playing Augie March in this world-premiere adaptation? Patrick: I spent my last year in high school at Interlochen School of the Arts and I remember being jealous when a fellow classmate got to work on Proof in their scene study. So to be able to originate any role, let alone the title role in a new work of David Auburn's, means a lot.  You’ve most recently worked on film and TV sets. What is the difference between preparing for a series versus preparing for your role as Augie March onstage? Patrick: Well, an hour long television drama is anywhere from 50-70 pages, with the actor getting several takes to refine their performance and tell the story. I love working in film and television because there is a certain energy on set and the unknown about what the finished product will be. And in this show tonight, we perform over 200 pages of script, with no second takes. That brings its own kind of magic. I'll tell you, this ensemble has worked hard and collaborated in an extremely bold way to bring the show to life.  Performances of The Adventures of Augie March begin May 9! Save your seats →  " ["post_date"]=> string(19) "2019-04-29 16:33:47" ["post_excerpt"]=> string(0) "" ["post_parent"]=> int(0) ["post_status"]=> string(7) "publish" ["post_title"]=> string(17) "Meet Augie March!" 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["_article_description"]=> string(19) "field_5927045f742d7" ["article_byline"]=> string(0) "" ["_article_byline"]=> string(19) "field_592de516b020a" ["add_feed"]=> string(1) "0" ["_add_feed"]=> string(19) "field_5939a562bed44" ["post_date_gmt"]=> string(19) "2019-04-29 21:33:47" ["comment_status"]=> string(4) "open" ["ping_status"]=> string(6) "closed" ["post_password"]=> string(0) "" ["post_name"]=> string(16) "meet-augie-march" ["to_ping"]=> string(0) "" ["pinged"]=> string(0) "" ["post_modified"]=> string(19) "2019-04-29 16:34:41" ["post_modified_gmt"]=> string(19) "2019-04-29 21:34:41" ["post_content_filtered"]=> string(0) "" ["guid"]=> string(37) "https://www.courttheatre.org/?p=12439" ["menu_order"]=> int(0) ["post_mime_type"]=> string(0) "" ["comment_count"]=> string(1) "4" ["filter"]=> string(3) "raw" ["status"]=> string(7) "publish" } [6]=> object(Timber\Post)#4102 (51) { ["ImageClass"]=> string(12) "Timber\Image" ["PostClass"]=> string(11) "Timber\Post" ["TermClass"]=> string(11) "Timber\Term" ["object_type"]=> string(4) "post" ["custom"]=> array(13) { ["_edit_lock"]=> string(13) "1612901147:12" ["_edit_last"]=> string(1) "9" ["_thumbnail_id"]=> string(5) "12430" ["_yoast_wpseo_content_score"]=> string(2) "30" ["_yoast_wpseo_primary_category"]=> string(2) "14" ["_yoast_wpseo_primary_subscription-type"]=> string(0) "" ["_yoast_wpseo_primary_production-section"]=> string(3) "147" ["article_description"]=> string(158) "Charles Newell, director of THE ADVENTURES OF AUGIE MARCH, sat down with Pulitzer Prize-winner David Auburn to discuss what drew him to Saul Bellow’s novel." ["_article_description"]=> string(19) "field_5927045f742d7" ["article_byline"]=> string(0) "" ["_article_byline"]=> string(19) "field_592de516b020a" ["add_feed"]=> string(1) "0" ["_add_feed"]=> string(19) "field_5939a562bed44" } ["___content":protected]=> NULL ["_permalink":protected]=> NULL ["_next":protected]=> array(0) { } ["_prev":protected]=> array(0) { } ["_css_class":protected]=> NULL ["id"]=> int(12426) ["ID"]=> int(12426) ["post_author"]=> string(1) "9" ["post_content"]=> string(8130) "[caption id="attachment_12431" align="alignnone" width="800"] Photo of David Auburn and Charles Newell at first rehearsal for THE ADVENTURES OF AUGIE MARCH. Joe Mazza.[/caption] Marilyn F. Vitale Artistic Director Charles Newell sat down with Pulitzer Prize-winner David Auburn to discuss what drew him to Saul Bellow’s novel. The following discussion is curated from their conversation, detailing Auburn’s approach to adapting this towering American classic for the stage. CHARLES NEWELL: When did you first encounter Saul Bellow’s work, particularly this novel, The Adventures of Augie March? DAVID AUBURN: I think Seize the Day was the first Bellow I ever read. I read Herzog before Augie March, but Augie was the one I connected to most strongly, at least as a 20-something person. It’s an accessible novel for a young person; it’s a picaresque tale of a young kid coming-of-age in Chicago, and it traces his life until, very roughly, the time of the book's publication, which is the early 50s. It’s Augie telling his story, and he encounters seemingly everyone in Chicago—it’s the great Chicago novel in many ways, and it’s a very easy book to sort of get lost in, to be swept up in. There’s this vast canvas, and it’s immensely likeable and loveable. CN: Can you explain what it is about the novel that you first thought about when adapting it? DA: Before I proposed it to you, I had a number of impulses. One, just love of the work, and also the feeling that it was overflowing with great roles for actors. There are hundreds of characters in the book, and they’re all indelible, and the language with which they speak is both realistic and earthy and sort of magical and poetic. I think that the idea of that language in actors’ mouths was what excited me. CN: And you’ve chosen select characters from the hundreds that Augie encounters. How did you make the choice of which characters, and how does that help tell the story that you want to tell in the play? DA: One of the hardest things about this has been having to forego using so much wonderful stuff, and I have a feeling that a lot of people will say “Why didn’t you include...?” because there are so many wonderful characters. It ultimately became a question of selecting the ones that I thought served the point of each individual episode with the most narrative or dramatic force, and occasionally combining characters in the book into single figures, elements of them into single figures, but I still lie awake at night wondering if I’ve made a mistake in leaving out this episode or wondering how we can get this other bit in, because there are so many wonderful pieces. CN: Let’s talk about the Bellow language. You can spend so much time on a single page just digesting it and understanding it. How did you bring the heightened language into characters’ voices? DA: There are a number of mute or semi- mute characters in the book. So I thought, let’s let these characters very occasionally and strategically voice the insights or the descriptions that Augie is coming to but doesn’t quite have the language to say himself, because he’s young, he's still in formation. His brother Georgie, for example, who’s all but mute, can suddenly speak with the eloquence that Augie himself is kind of reaching for, aspiring to. It’s a device that I’m really excited about. I think it will be thrilling because you feel the complexity of the language, it incorporates it in a way that doesn't make it a roadblock to the dramatic action, and it helps us see how Augie is understanding his circumstances. CN: Going back to the early drafts that you first sent us, take us through a little bit of that journey. Were there moments when the adaptation seemed either unlocked or locked up? DA: It was very hard to begin, because there are no scenes as such in the book. There are countless incidents, but you might have what amounts to a full scene or episode spread out across a hundred pages. If you go looking for a discreet scene that defines the relationship between Simon and Augie, for example, you’re not going to find one. It took a while, but I eventually got a sense of at least the kinds of pieces that should be in the play. I wanted a big piece about Augie’s childhood, a big piece that takes place when he’s in this sort of young adult period and hanging out with students, you want a big piece in Mexico, you want a big piece post-Mexico. At a certain point, having a mental map of what the play could become helped a lot. CN: How about the journey you took to understand Bellow the man, and Bellow the writer? DA: I saw Bellow occasionally when I was in school here, I would see him working around campus. There’s a new biography by Zachery Leader, which is very comprehensive. The material about his childhood is especially useful, since many of the characters in Augie are based at least in some part on people that he knew, and it’s illuminating to know a bit about the real people he supposedly drew from. The book keeps pitting Augie, who is a kind of searcher, against these people of great certainty, these characters who have these sort of monumental worldviews, and are convinced of the direction that their life and other people’s lives should take. Bellow’s real brother was the prototype for the character Simon. The energy in that figure, and Augie's relationship to him, informs the dynamic of the whole book, and of the play—that dilemma of a questing, questioning person being drawn into and resisting, or not, the pull of a very powerful personality. CN: If you could ask Bellow a question when adapting, what would you want to ask him? DA: What does there have to be an eagle for? [Laughs] I'm joking. That's a line from the book. I love the eagle, the outrageousness and craziness and power of that whole sequence. It's key to the book and we wanted to make certain it was central to the play. CN: How do you think Bellow would respond to the stage adaptation of his novel? DA: Bellow did write a play and he liked the theatre, so my hope is he'd be receptive to what we've done. I’ve certainly done it with every intention of being true to his sensibility as I understand it. Performances of The Adventures of Augie March begin May 9! 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We caught up with Angel to ask him about his plans for Court, his love of the arts, and what he enjoys doing in his spare time." ["_article_description"]=> string(19) "field_5927045f742d7" ["article_byline"]=> string(0) "" ["_article_byline"]=> string(19) "field_592de516b020a" ["add_feed"]=> string(1) "0" ["_add_feed"]=> string(19) "field_5939a562bed44" } ["___content":protected]=> NULL ["_permalink":protected]=> NULL ["_next":protected]=> array(0) { } ["_prev":protected]=> array(0) { } ["_css_class":protected]=> NULL ["id"]=> int(11418) ["ID"]=> int(11418) ["post_author"]=> string(1) "9" ["post_content"]=> string(3643) " In September, Angel Ysaguirre joined Court as the new Executive Director. We caught up with Angel to ask him about his plans for Court, his love of the arts, and what he enjoys doing in his spare time. Read on to hear from Angel himself! What drew you to Court Theatre? First, the theatre’s long history of excellent productions. Added to that, it being part of the University of Chicago and its location on the South Side, which has a phenomenal history of such incredible creativity. What are some other arts organizations in the city that you find exciting? The Chicago Cultural Center, which always has such cutting edge art exhibitions by Chicago-based artists for free; Stony Island Arts Bank, which is a beautifully restored building and has incredible collections like the Frankie Knuckles record collection and the Johnson Publishing archives but also beautiful works of contemporary art; Eighth Blackbird, the new music ensemble that displays such fantastic skill and innovation; the Joffrey Ballet, whose productions keep getting more and more beautiful; the Poetry Foundation, which publishes the unparalleled Poetry Magazine but who also presents an amazing array of poets in their building; finally, my old outfit, Illinois Humanities, because the breadth of Chicagoans who attend their programs is more diverse and authentic than anywhere else I’ve seen. What role do you see Court playing on the South Side of Chicago? Do you have any plans to deepen the connection between Court and the community? Court is fortunate to exist on the South Side, an area that abounds with creativity – including not only some of the world’s most important writers, musicians, dancers, painters and sculptors, but also publishers, academics, community organizers, and public servants. Court is one of only two professional theatre companies on the South Side. As such, I believe that the theatre should significantly contribute to the vitality of the South Side. Court endeavors to become the theatre that is truly of and for the people of the South Side. Describe your office set-up and style. I don’t have a desk, which I guess is surprising to folks. Instead, I have a sofa and a pair of chairs for meetings. Since we mostly work on laptops now and I spend most of my time in meetings or on campus or in the community, I don’t see the need for a desk. I also have a record player, which people also find surprising, but we spend a lot of evenings at the office and having good music after hours is key. I will say that the first record I brought to the office was a Chaka Kahn record, because Chaka is one of the most amazing treasures that the South Side has produced. What’s your favorite way of spending a free evening? If I could, I would spend most of my time reading and listening to music. Other than that, I like to cook, eat with friends, and catch a play or concert here or there. 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" ["_article_description"]=> string(19) "field_5927045f742d7" ["article_byline"]=> string(17) "By Abigail Henkin" ["_article_byline"]=> string(19) "field_592de516b020a" ["add_feed"]=> string(1) "0" ["_add_feed"]=> string(19) "field_5939a562bed44" ["_yoast_wpseo_primary_category"]=> string(2) "14" ["_yoast_wpseo_primary_subscription-type"]=> string(0) "" ["_yoast_wpseo_primary_production-section"]=> string(0) "" } ["___content":protected]=> NULL ["_permalink":protected]=> NULL ["_next":protected]=> array(0) { } ["_prev":protected]=> array(0) { } ["_css_class":protected]=> NULL ["id"]=> int(11351) ["ID"]=> int(11351) ["post_author"]=> string(1) "9" ["post_content"]=> string(3850) "Manual Cinema FRANKENSTEIN We spoke with Manual Cinema about their innovative, interdisciplinary creative process and how it adds new possibilities to a classic story. Read on to discover the experiments that led to the rising of Manual Cinema’s Frankenstein. What creatively attracted you to Frankenstein? We're always looking for stories that make good marriages with our medium of cinematic shadow puppetry. Frankenstein was appealing to us because it's a story about the animation of lifeless matter, which is what we do as puppeteers. It's also a visual story, full of mythic structures and symbols, that can be communicated largely without dialogue. So even though we didn't know initially what our approach was going to be, there were all these really interesting affinities with our work that promised that adapting it to our medium was going to be really rewarding. How did you decide that Court would be the right home for this piece? Charlie Newell simply said to us that if we ever had a project that intersected with classic literature, we should bring it to him. When we brought him Frankenstein he was very enthusiastic, and pretty soon we began speaking about a commission and premiere. One of our Co-Artistic Directors, Drew, was working at Court as a dramaturg in the early years when Manual Cinema was just beginning, so Charlie knew our work from a very early stage. What are the defining questions and relationships of your Frankenstein? At its heart, I think our production of Frankenstein is about creation and abandonment. What does it mean to get so wrapped up in the act of creating something that you destroy yourself, your loved ones, and even the very thing you were trying to create? And then, the flip side of that -- what does it mean to be created and abandoned -- by a parent, by society at large -- and then react against that abandonment with violence? These twin stories are very clearly the stories of Victor and The Creature, but in our interpretation, it's also the relationship between Mary Shelley and her sister Fanny. To explore this relationship across the novel and Mary's biography, the roles of Victor and Mary are shared by one actor (Sarah Fornace), and the roles of The Creature and Fanny are shared by another (Julia VanArsdale Miller), and these two actresses end up telling most of the story. So even though there are a total of nine puppeteers and musicians on stage, the goal is for the production to feel like a two-hander, in which the audience watches the formation -- and then the tragic dissolution -- of a relationship between these two people.   Frankenstein is on stage November 1-December 2, 2018. Want to be the first to see it? Dare to join us on October 31, where we’ll have a frightfully fun Halloween party followed by our final dress rehearsal.

Photo of Sarah Fornace and Julia Miller by Joe Mazza.

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interview

Meet Augie March!

An interview with Patrick Mulvey, who makes his Court debut in the title role, portraying Augie at various ages and stages of life.

Meet Angel Ysaguirre

In September, Angel Ysaguirre joined Court as the new Executive Director. We caught up with Angel to ask him about his plans for Court, his love of the arts, and what he enjoys doing in his spare time.

Q&A: MANUAL CINEMA

We spoke with Manual Cinema about their innovative, interdisciplinary creative process and how it adds new possibilities to a classic story.

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