Columbia College Theatre Department Presents "The Shipment"
Remaining performances are:
Wednesday, March 21 at 7:30 pm
Thursday, March 22 at 7:30 pm
Friday, March 23 at 7:30 pm
Saturday, March 24 at 2:00 pm
For more information on how you can see "The Shipment," please visit http://www.colum.edu/Theater_Center/main-productions/the-shipment.php.
Student Play Staged at Stage 773
By Greg Baldino
If there's one thing that drives stories more than almost anything else, it's secrets. As author Jim Thompson once said, there's only one story and it's that things are not as they seem. When the military policy of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" was implemented, it created a wave of secrecy, personal and political, that changed lives and relationships on the homefront and the frontlines even as the policy was being repealed. It's those secrets and their ramifications that underpin playwriting student Allison Bodnar Jaros' new play Honor of the Son, a staged reading of which will be held on December 12 at Stage 773.
The story came to her less than a year ago, when she had previously only written short works. "I had just finished a class at Chicago Dramatists, and I had an idea in my head about a mother and son play that dealt with homosexuality. And I sort of just went off of that. I talked to a couple of people, I let it sit in my head for a while, and then I met Cold Basement Dramatics and it turned out they were doing staged readings for full length plays. I sort of just jumped on it, and decided, "Hey, this is something I feel is relevant right now with [the repeal of] "Don't Ask Don't Tell." It's something we've experienced in our generation that has changed; from something that was instated in 1996 to now, it's been over 10 years and it's finally gone out. So I wanted to focus on Middle America and watch that shift from having that instated to having it removed, and how it affected a single family."
It's a subject rich for character exploration, and for Allison it's an exercise in developing character through visuals. Not an easy thing as with live theater, a playwright doesn't always know or have a say in who will bring flesh to their voice. " [With character appearance] I try and go more for the feel they can give the audience, I'll try to make it really specific to where costume can kind of be creative in its own way, to where they could give off the feeling of being seductive and yet fragile or hurtful and yet vulnerable. I would love to collaborate with costume departments and say 'Hey, what do you see this character wearing, where can you take their clothes and costumes where I never even thought?'"
It's her attention to detail that keys in to one of Allison's strongest techniques as a writer: Observation. "If I just sat in a room and watched TV all day I'd write plays like TV shows and that doesn't work. It's being out with people; it's perceiving what they're saying and what's underneath it and trying to translate that for the stage so that your dialogue is more than just words." Fortunately, as she explains, her writing method of "Everywhere and All the Time" allows her to get down ideas and experiences when they strike her, although her preferred time and place is a bit more intimate. "My best time to write is probably when I'm in bed, after my day is done. I always have a notebook next to my bed and I'll just scribble out until I fall asleep on top of my notebook. I feel like at that point you've settled everything, you're mind's really set on being creative because you're about to dream."
Like many students at Columbia, Allison has been a prolific and devoted writer well before sitting in to her first college class. She nurtured her craft and passions with short stories, novels, and plays, the latter of which got her into Steppenwolf via a mutual contact. "I think working with Steppenwolf and some of the other theaters you see how much energy is on stage and the collaboration that's there makes you want to write a damn good script so that people will want to work with you. There are so many different aspects to all the different mediums, but stage has a live energy—that's the awesome moment when you see your words come to life and the immediate reaction, and it's really rewarding."
Among her influences, she cites playwrights Traci Letts, Eugene O'Neill, and Suzan-Lori Parks; the latter "because of the sheer amount of work she's done—365 days of 365 plays. That alone is highly impressive, just knowing that she had the discipline to sit down every day and write some kind of material for the stage. And I'm always growing and looking for new playwrights, it's why I love school: they make me read more of them."
Where she finds the time to read is anyone's guess, as Allison's out of school projects include work with Steppenwolf Theatre, Words onStage Theater Collective, Urban Theater Company, and the Center for Community Arts partnership. In addition, she's also the creator of the Chicago Dramatists Playwrights Mentorship Program, which will offer professional mentorships for playwrights 18-26 years of age.
With so much going on, Allison is just as enthusiastic about her academic career, having just recently transferred from the School of the Art Institute. "I actually love Columbia and I'm really glad I transferred. Of the other schools I've been to, they were very much Be experimental, and try all these different art forms, even if it's not writing, and go do sculpting and go do that, and I felt like I was being pulled away from what I really wanted to focus on. Which was writing and really learning the craft of writing. Here at Columbia it's amazingly experimental but also concise. It works with my brain where you've got to learn how to read it like a writer, and not just scroll through it, but ask why? and how did they do it? Because as writers we want to give people the opportunity to connect with the piece, and push ourselves to the next level."
A staged reading of Honor of the Son will be held at Stage 773 located at 1225 W. Belmont on December 12 at 7pm.
Find out more about Allison Bodnar Jaros at: http://www.allisonbodnarjaros.com/biography
An Interview with Lisa Schlesinger
by Greg Baldino
Baldino: A lot of writers draw on art beyond their own medium as an influence. You've mentioned that you're a fan of Hip Hop. How has it influenced you as an artist? Given the vocal nature of playwriting, are there any other aural influences on how you write?
Schlesinger: Thanks for this great question. I have always thought of playwriting as a form of music and many people say it is closer to music than a novel. It's meant to be seen and heard, although, personally, I love reading plays. When I write a play I listen to the sound of it, the musicality of it, and imagine it on stage as it is happening. I often walk my dining room and read the plays out loud before showing them to anyone. Most of my plays are written in verse—it's free verse but just as rhythmic as other forms of poetry. Yes, I love some Hip Hop but I love many forms of music and it has definitely influenced my work. There was a period where my son, Ion, who is a Hip Hop artist, was working in the house while I was working on my plays. I usually like silence but I found I felt really in sync with him. My work is also influenced by the visual arts: for instance, I adore Joseph Cornell's boxes. . I find them really theatrical. I often go to the Art Institute to look at them. I recently read that he had a dream of designing theatre sets, as well.
Baldino: Writing a fiction set in a historical period requires a delicate balance of poetic license and historical accuracy. When you were setting out to begin work on Celestial Bodies, how did you see that balance, and how did you see it towards the end?
Schlesinger: Celestial Bodies was influenced by a dream I had about a woman dressed in men's clothing at a banquet in the 17th century. She was with her lover presenting new scientific research. I began to research women scientists in the 17th century and women who cross-dressed in history and there was very little out there documented in the history books. I was convinced that there were women and cross-dressers who simply were not documented. I wanted to find a way to revive their stories and my own inquiry was guided by questions: If a 17th century woman was a brilliant scientist what might she do in order to study science? If a woman felt her choices were limited by her gender, what might she do to transcend those limitations? How did the women in the lives of the famous 17th century scientist affect their modes of inquiry and their scientific discoveries? The answers to these questions arrived to me poetically, theatrically, metaphorically. I love questions because they lead to more questions and each character and audience member is invited to continue to wonder, to ask, to seek the answers. It invites activity and imagination, I hope.
Baldino: Unlike with a novel, it's possible to "tweak" a play and make changes to get a more effective result from the performance, which can be considered to be the true end product. When you're listening to the first read through of one of your plays, what are you listening for?
Schlesinger: On a first read, I'm listening to the rhythms of the lines, for the flow of the story and the sensibility of the narrative. I'm also trying to follow character arcs to see that characters travel their stories all the way through to a proportionate end.
Baldino: Writing is a process; it takes time and method as much as it takes inspiration and risks. What were the conventional days of work on the writing of Celestial Bodies like?
Schlesinger: I research for a long time. I read as much as possible. I look at photographs, paintings, artwork, and architecture of the period. I listen to the music. I try to find out the practicalities of everyday life; what people wore; what people ate; where they went shopping. I also have a shoe fetish. I want to know what kind of shoes they wore and how they were made. Then I try to write a first draft quickly, in a matter of weeks, or days if possible. It's different for each play. Then I rewrite forever.
Baldino: While you were working on Celestial Bodies, how did your dual role as a teacher influence on your writing? How differently do you think the writing Bodies might have been if you didn't have your experience teaching playwriting?
Schlesinger: I learn so much from my students and from teaching. Art is so much about imagination and possibility but the craft of creating art is very down to earth: hammer and nails. When I went to playwriting school it was assumed you knew how to write a play. No one taught the tools. I have tried to learn how to communicate and teach the tools: characterization, structure, narrative, dialogue, and story. Beginnings, middles and ends. The beauty and power of language. All of the things Aristotle talks about in The Poetics and more. Lots of this stuff comes naturally because it is in our culture to tell stories and yet all of it requires the discipline of practice. I believe that all of this is process oriented and a collective effort. We don't do anything alone. Part of my practice is teaching others. It is also learning from their practice and from the way they learn. I am so grateful and happy to have students, I learn more from them than they do from me.
Lisa Schlesinger, Playwriting Coordinator. Her plays include Wal-martyrs, Celestial Bodies, Twenty One Positions (with Naomi Wallace and Abed Abu Srour), Same Egg, Manny and Chicken, Rock Ends Ahead, Bow Echo, The Bones of Danny Winston, The Go Back Land, and The Artist of Transparency. She is currently at work on the book for a new opera,Harmonicus Mundi. She has received commissions from the BBC, the Guthrie Theatre, Ensemble Studio Theatre, and Portland Stage Company. She is a recipient of the NEA/TCG Playwrights Residency Award and winner of the BBC International Playwriting Award and received grants and awards from the NEA, CEC Artslink International, the Bush Foundation, the Iowa Arts Council, among others. Her work has been produced in the United States and Europe and translated into several languages. She received her MFAs from the Iowa Writers' Workshop and the Iowa Playwrights' Workshop and taught at the University of Iowa and Coe College before coming to Columbia College Chicago.
Cast & Crew
Lee Bainbridge as Galileo Galilei
Erin O'Brien as Marina Gamba
Robert Curtis as Meat and Fish Man
Sara Linker as Giulia
Director: Will Casey
Costume Designer: Rachel Boylan