09 December, 2018

Preview of 'A Midsummer Night’s Dream' at Chicago Shakespeare


Cast members Melisa Soledad Pereyra, T.R. Knight, Alexandra Silber and Sam Kebede and took time out of rehearsal to share their excitement about the production, and why this production of Shakespeare’s audience favorite “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” will have the whole theater laughing and dancing. Performances begin on December 6 in the Courtyard Theater at CST’s home on Navy Pier.

30 November, 2018

'Poem 1246' by Rumi

The minute I heard my first love story

I started looking for you, not knowing

how blind that was.



Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere.

They’re in each other all along.

© Nick Bantock

25 November, 2018

Questions from Book Tour - Part 6

At the JCC of West Bloomfield, MI - where it all began
1. How would you urge the reader to learn to approach life as you do, in relishing the mundane and the ordinary?

By recognizing that absolutely nothing is mundane or ordinary.

But also:
     Pause.
     Breathe.
     Look in people’s eyes.
     Ask thoughtful questions and really listen to the answers.
     Practice gratitude.



2. As you stress in the book, death is something none of us an avoid. Have many people reached out to you with their own stories?


Absolutely. I think that has been the most overwhelming and rewarding part. Why write a book about grief and your own boring, excessively ordinary life if not to connect to others about theirs; and thus discover that nothing is boring, and no one is ordinary at all.

It is an old maxim, but you get what you give in this one glorious life. By leading with authenticity and vulnerability, by exposing your inner-most soft places (and merely exposing, not flooding or forcing your experience down someone’s unwilling throat!)  we allowing others to behold them, at their own capacity and tempo. Calm exposure invites  one to ask the age old human question: “you too?” And that exercise welcomes people to truly connect with one another.

I am so grateful to all [including you, dear interviewer, whose name I do not have the honor of knowing—I am so truly sorry for your loss—] who have been courageous enough to share their stories with me. It has been the greatest reward of this entire process.



3. Why did you begin the book with the list of things you'd tell your 17-year-old self?

The beginning of each of the five “sections,” as well as the Epilogue begin with a return of the adult Alexandra voice, speaking directly to the reader about events from the present day that are in direct relation to the events of my/her father’s death. They are “echoes” if you will that resonate in the present, informed by the past. After those introductory section chapters, we continue with the narrative of 2001.

First, I chose to speak to my 17-year-old self, because that was the last time I was truly innocent to the events chronicled in the book—the age of my personal “BC,” some of the advice is witty and typical stuff we as adults all realize we were idiots about bak then (“buy Frizz ease”), and some is very weighty (“go on all the walks with him and tell him all the things.”)

Second, it was important to me to create a structure that calmed the reader instantly by establishing that the narrator of this book was Alexandra Silber: contemporary adult who “turned out okay” and maybe a little bit more than “fine.” While, in contrast, the protagonist of this tale is an 18-year-old “Al” who has not yet acquired the perspective and wisdom of the narrator, she is just experiencing the events in real time.

The  “things you'd tell my 17-year-old self” was a clear way to establish that there was going to be an ongoing interchange between Al and Alexandra (if you will) throughout this book, and creates for the reader a subconscious understanding that our protagonist is not yet fully processed, while our narrator, is. Those two “characters” just happen to be the same person—17 years apart.






4. Concerning everyone who helped you through this tragedy, are you still in contact with them? What have been their reactions to the book?

All of them. ‘Grey’ is a hugely successful theatrical designer. ‘Kent’ is changing the world working for a State Senator and just had a baby. Lilly is still my best friend and plays oboe all over the world. I saw her last month at the Metropolitan opera playing Strauss at American Ballet Theater.

They are, all, triumphs of human beings.

Lilly!

17 November, 2018

Coulda-been-ku 19



19. 

I was impulsive. 
One cannot force love to bloom
in smothered soils. 




04 November, 2018

Ask Al: FAQs Part 6

1. You’ve premiered a great many of new and original works. What is the best thing about premiering a new theatrical work to an audience?

In my experience, there is absolutely nothing that can compare to being present at the birth of a new work. I think the most profound experience I had with that was Arlington by Polly Pen and Victor Lodato— a solo (with a pianist/vocalist played brilliantly by Ben Moss) piece, told in direct-address about a woman waiting for her husband to return from fighting in a war that I debuted at Inner Voices in 2012, that went on to a fully realized production in 2014 at the Vineyard. It was one of the most challenging, confrontational, exhilarating experiences of my life in any arena. To be inside the creative crucible at the birth of a new work that felt so relevant, contemporary and important, crafting it daily with the creators, was the absolute honor of my life.

The world we live in deserves, craves, and needs new stories. Sometimes difficult, sometimes hopeful, stories.



2. Are there some specific works of art that have gotten you through tough times?

A  real mixed bag here but here we go:

  • The Magician’s Nephew
  • The Secret Garden
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  • It’s Called a Breakup Cuz It’s Broken
  • The works of Marcus Aurelius
  • Far From the Tree
  • Braving the Wilderness
I find children’s literature to be particularly soothing in times of crisis—perhaps because when I was a child, my life was in a state of low, sonorous, but constant crisis. I identified with the protagonist children in the stories above because I recognized their conditions—not necessarily the exact conditions, but close. I identified with The Magician’s Nephew because the protagonist wants nothing more than to retrieve a magical apple to make his dying mother well again. I wanted that for my father.
    Similarly,  The Secret Garden’s Mary Lennox saw the power of nature heal her chronically ill cousin back to health.
    By the time my father had passed away I was sharing my days with Harry Potter, who, in The Prisoner of Azkaban, thinks he sees his dead father perform an act of heroism in a time turning spell, only to learn the profound lesson that he did not in fact see his father—he saw himself. And Harry this performs the act of heroism because, having seen the image of himself perform the act, he now knows he is capable. That image has never left me.

It’s sardonic, brutal, best-friend-holding-your-shoulders bracing. It’s hilarious, painful and real: It’s Called a Breakup Cuz It’s Broken was given to me like a Holy Bible of how to break up by a friend from college passing through New York after her own horrendous breakup, at the dawn of one of mine. It’s not great deep literature but it’s fantastic. And crucial? It really, truly: helped!

Deep stuff? When I get gloomy and need perspective:

The works of Marcus Aurelius
Far From the Tree
Braving the Wilderness



3. How do you feel you've grown artistically since your career began?


Deeper Fuller Richer Better.

I give fewer f*cks about the stuff that doesn’t really matter (praise, awards, fame, followers), and a lot more f*cks about the stuff that does.

Calmer.
More in touch with my truth and thus The Truth.
It’s less about me and more about how I can serve.

Teaching changed everything.



4. Where do you see yourself artistically in 5 years?

I would love to see each of my artistic “arms” lengthening and broadening.

I’d love to be consistently working as an actor and theatrical writer— contributing to the theatre.

I’d love to continue to relinquish my singing baggage and sing with greater ease, less drama, more joy, more clarity, and feel freer inside my technique so that there isn’t a single sound I don’t feel confident making.

I’d love to write more books. I’d love to see my books dramatized for the screen and play and active role in manifesting their creation.

Overall: I intend to continue to create and make works that matter to me personally as well as socially. I want to continue to learn new things and sharpen old knives. I intend to make personal, profound, universal, connective, and relevant work that matters to humanity on any scale.

I intend to keep walking my talk.

© Emil Cohen

30 October, 2018

' The White Room' by Charles Simic

The obvious is difficult
To prove. Many prefer
The hidden. I did, too.
I listened to the trees.

They had a secret
Which they were about to
Make known to me,
And then didn’t.

Summer came. Each tree
On my street had its own
Scheherazade. My nights
Were a part of their wild

Storytelling. We were
Entering dark houses,
More and more dark houses
Hushed and abandoned.

There was someone with eyes closed
On the upper floors.
The thought of it, and the wonder,
Kept me sleepless.

The truth is bald and cold,
Said the woman
Who always wore white.
She didn’t leave her room much.

The sun pointed to one or two
Things that had survived
The long night intact,
The simplest things,

Difficult in their obviousness.
They made no noise.
It was the kind of day
People describe as “perfect.”

Gods disguising themselves
As black hairpins? A hand-mirror?
A comb with a tooth missing?
No! That wasn’t it.

Just things as they are,
Unblinking, lying mute
In that bright light,
And the trees waiting for the night.1

©Nick Bantock



1 Charles Simic, “The White Room” from The Book of Gods and Devils. Copyright © 1990 by Charles Simic. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Source: The Book of Gods and Devils (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1990)

29 October, 2018

Questions from Book Tour - Part 5

1. Have you also always been a writer and if not, when did you start writing?

I have always been a voracious reader—ever since childhood. Books were not only my friends, my escape as well as my solace, but they were in every way, my first teachers. There is a private experience a reader has with a book—possibly the most intimate artistic exchange one can have for it is direct dialogue between you and the author. Literature and language were always at the center of my life, and I believe one cannot write meaningfully without also, reading meaningfully.

Coincidentally, I began writing in earnest in the middle of my run of Fiddler on the Roof in London— in the spring of 2007. I discovered something that many a theatrical actor encounters during a long run: that being a ‘performer’ and being a ‘creative being’ are very different things. They have many an overlap, but they are distinct characteristics. I discovered (much to my shock) that I was not, in fact, a performer. I did not feel ignited from within simply telling stories for others, sharing my gifts with the world on the stage. That, actually, was often quite stressful! I was an actor because I loved the creative process— the distinct joy of wrestling a character from the page and filling it with life.

When one is in a very long run, the creativity, at some point, ceases. That is not to say that one doesn’t continue to discover new things every once in a while, shift and change your perspective and interpretation as you shift and change. But the creative process is finished. For a few weeks after this initial discovery, I was in quite a state of despair.

After getting a firm grip on myself I realized I could mope about this fact, or take charge of my creativity and of my contentment, and I would create on my own terms! So I
started by writing a very little irreverent blog (that I still maintain!) titled “London Still.” (The title is snatched from the song by the Australian band The Waifs). I never intended to share my writing with a wider audience, the blog was less a public platform than a location for a personal creative crucible— a place I could create daily.

The blog, quite simply, transformed my life. The act of writing became a quiet place to retreat and make new things that had never existed before and put them into the world.

Now that I am here I don’t intend to stop professionally engaging in either! It has been my honor to enjoy such a varied and ongoing career on the stage, and writing has brought me extraordinary creative pleasure.

We only get one life. Why limit oneself? Why wait for permission? Why tie up our precious days on earth with anxiety and not-good-enoughs and fears? I desire a rich and textured life full of a variety of experiences from the personal to the professional. Is it at times challenging juggling doing multiple things? Certainly. Rewarding? Inexplicably.



2. Even knowing the general background of your memoir, I could never have expected the journey you take the reader on. It's emotional, raw, earnest and witty. Did finding + delivering that balance (serious + comic) take time to craft?

The experience of chronicling memories, particularly traumatic ones, will always take time to craft, a deliberate energy, and a ton of discipline. But did the tone of the book require fine-tuning? Not really. I chronicled the memories much as I experienced them—at one moment poignant and devastating, the next flat-out hilarious or even preposterous, followed by more honest devastation. That is, of course, much how true life ebbs and flows. We laugh through our tears, we cry in moments of joy. There is no one label that could ever fully capture the essence of an event, a period of time or even a single moment. I documented the memories as I recalled them— in all their genre-busting detail.



3. The structure of the book is so layered and complex. Each chapter works as a vignette of a time, place and emotion. How did you make decisions when to write the chapter out as a stage play or a word puzzle, for instance?

If you examine the book intricately, you come to sneakily discover that not only does the overall narrative storytelling style switch genres chapter by chapter, but within the chapters themselves the writing switches its genres like some sort of bizarre, out-of-control improv game. I suppose that is why I used this format.

To be honest, it wasn’t entirely a conscious creative choice, at first, it was a very necessary personal exercise. The flipping of genres and formats was the result of me attempting to personally express the experience of grief as directly and emotionally accurately as possible, and I found couldn’t always do that in traditional prose. Some things cannot always be described—they must be intimated at like a photographic snapshot that is worth “a thousand words” (the use of mazes, cryptogram, and haiku.) Some things are in fact too painful to look at directly or described in the first person (that was often when I used the scenes).

Oddly, the overall effect is very much like grief itself—not just every day, but every minute is a new rush of experience, information, and feeling rushing toward you like a freight train. One has no control over it, one must simply endure and surrender to the “parade.”




4. Throughout writing this book, did you ever feel you were being torn apart emotionally all over again or was it more of a cathartic release?

I’ll answer in the style of WHGP:

Emotions Experienced Whilst Writing a Grief Memoir:

C K F P S M Y V A Z O W J Q T M 
Z O I N S E C U R I T Y V S R I 
E I M M O J W W Q V U L U Q A S 
G N K I A S M S K E W G I I E E 
J O Y N C J J G P R S H N U F R 
G P G Z D I N V P I S N P Y G Y 
E E K Y L M R C D X S I Q X E T 
R L T S B J T O K Y E A H V P G 
I I A G P B E N N J N N O T R W 
H B A T H V S F C Y D L R A O G 
K C Q P I G X U H E A L T F Y L 
A L K U S O D S D P S I R G O G 
E M A H S E N I G E T F K V Y R 
X V J M T Y D O J U M W O B I V 
T R I U M P H N D F O I M U P G 
W J W U N U X E Y T I R A L I H 

ANGER
COMICIRONY
CONFUSION
DESPAIR
DISGUST
ELATION
FEAR
GRATITUDE
GUILT
HILARITY
INSECURITY
JOY
LOVE
MISERY
SADNESS
SHAME
TRIUMPH


28 October, 2018

Response to Violence

On October 28 (the Sunday after the horrible shooting of the Tree of Life Synagogue), genius musical director and performer Ben Moss and I joined Jamie Bernstein at the Center for Jewish History, to raise our voices in song as her father Leonard Bernstein so rightly said is our greatest weapon against violence:

"This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before."

 









27 October, 2018

In response to Pittsburgh

What happened today in Pittsburgh was a hate crime. Hate is hate. No hate crime is WORSE than another. People hate, act out and innocent human beings die at their hands. We have a global, systemic, hate disease.

I‘m aware that Ashkenazi Jews have had (what some might perceive as) the luxury of assimilating, & being able to “pass as white Europeans” for the last 60 years, but today is evidence that hate crimes still occur against Jews—all the time—by people still filled with bigotry.

Hate crimes stir ancient wounds for all oppressed people. There are echos. There are scars. They are very real.

 All we can do is keep fighting. And that means voting.

*

"Poem Without an End”
     by Yehuda Amichai, transl by Chana Bloch

Inside the brand-new museum

there’s an old synagogue.

Inside the synagogue is me.

Inside me my heart.

Inside my heart a museum.

Inside the museum a synagogue,

inside it me,

inside me my heart,

inside my heart a museum



30 September, 2018

I Walked Past a House Where I Lived Once by Yehuda Amichai

I walked past a house where I lived once:

a man and a woman are still together in the whispers there.

Many years have passed with the quiet hum

of the staircase bulb going on

and off and on again.



The keyholes are like little wounds

where all the blood seeped out. And inside,

people pale as death.



I want to stand once again as I did

holding my first love all night long in the doorway.

When we left at dawn, the house

began to fall apart and since then the city and since then

the whole world.



I want to be filled with longing again
till dark burn marks show on my skin.



I want to be written again

in the Book of Life, to be written every single day

till the writing hand hurts.


10 September, 2018

Questions from Book Tour - Part 4

1. What made you feel ready to tell such a personal story [as White Hot Grief Parade] at this particular moment?

     I actually began writing White Hot Grief Parade in 2011— after I published a blog post marking the 10th anniversary of my father’s death. There was something about the milestone, combined with my Broadway debut just weeks before, that made me awaken to the fact that I had indeed “turned out okay.”

When a child experiences any kind of adversity, the main hope and concern of all responsible adults is that the child “turn out okay.” I can’t speak for everyone, but I felt an extraordinary responsibility to not just be “okay” but to also fulfill my dreams as my father (and mother) also wanted and encouraged for me. And despite all my wonderful experiences in the West End, and across America, when you’re an American little girl dreaming of being an actress, the dream of your life is to be on Broadway. It was a lot of milestones colliding at once.

I starting writing the piece after the blog post came out and it almost tumbled out of me— I finished it in a few short months.

Why share it now, seven years later? I realize now that “turning out okay” is a bare minimum. it is a term of survival, not of actualization or a thriving mentality. I need to reach higher, and deeper within. I needed to more than survive, I need to become myself. Today I stand here not only “okay,” but as fully myself and as deeply at peace as I have ever been. From this place, is where we are ready and able to share our deepest vulnerabilities. They have been processed, they have formed and guided us.


2.   This chapter is directly rooted in musical theatre culture with Sondheim and Into the Woods, but you play with structure throughout the book, introducing chapters written as scenes of a play, chapters written as scenes of a farce, a cryptogram, a maze. What led you to play with form in this way?

If you examine the book intricately you can see that not only does the whole narrative switch genres, but within the scenic work itself the writing switches its genres like some sort of bizarre improv game. I suppose that is why I used this format.  To be honest, it wasn’t entirely a conscious creative choice, at first it was a very necessary personal exercise. The flipping of genres and formats was the result of me attempting to personally express the experience of grief as accurately as possible, and I found couldn’t always do that in traditional prose. Some things cannot always be described—they must be intimated at (the use of mazes, cryptogram and haiku.) Some things are in fact too painful to look at directly or described in first person (that was often when I used the scenes).

Oddly, the overall effect is very much like grief itself—not just every day, but every minute is a new rush of experience, information and feeling rushing toward you like a freight train. One has no control over it, one must simply endure and surrender to the “parade.”


from The Killing Game
3.  Who’s work or what work from the theatre guided your writing these scene chapters?

The farce-like quippiness is pure Michael Frayn and Ken Ludwig.

The ultra-contemporary cinematic scenes are Annie Baker and Scottish playwright David Grieg.

The almost preposterously long stage directions are Eugene Ionesco and Tennessee Williams. (Have you ever read Ionesco’s The Killing Game? The stage directions are as good as—if not a bit better than—the dialogue). 



4.   Have you ever written a play before?

from Antigone
I have. I have (very loosely) adapted two Greek tragedies, and am currently working on a third. The first is an adaptation of Trojan Women (after Euripedes) which had a premier production in 2015 at The Hangar Theater.

The second is after Sophocles’ Antigone—mine is extremly modern in its language and politics, and is just aching for a production at this particularly volatile time across out planet.

I am working on an adaptation on Seven Against Thebes. I love the Greek plays—living in them feels what I think an archeologist must feel like; they remind me of our theatrical and thus, human and emotional, origins. it is both troubling and comforting to know that we have always rumbled with the same mythic queries.

I feel that Antigone is more relevant than ever, and I do hope she can see the theatrical light very soon.


5.       You say you never saw yourself inside Into the Woods. Would you like to play Cinderella if you could? Or would you rather play another role because you feel you’ve explored Cinderella through your personal story?


Honestly, the greatest Into the Woods ache is that I will likely never get to play Little Red—which is the character I feel—and have always felt—the most aligned with. She is the one who faces so much trauma and loss so early in her life. I suppose a part of me will always “be” her.

I would certainly never turn down an opportunity to play Sondheim’s Cinderella, I would be so willing to have her teach me things. But yes, i do feel i ‘ve worked through a great deal of her arc through my own life, and suppose I have much more currently in common with The Witch.

But yes— I have never felt “inside” Into the Woods, it’s a piece I always feel I am seeing from the outside. Perhaps that means I am the Narrator...





04 September, 2018

Coulda-been ku 18

18. 
You were that summers 
northern lights. You cooked.Thank you
for sharing the boat. 



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