Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Notes: And Then They Came For Me

After graduating from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in 2007, there was little doubt I was going to take the Real World by storm.

That was the plan.

Not taking full advantage of my BFA degree in Stage Direction, I've been working for The Man at Top American Hotel Destination as a lowly ticket processor since August of 2007. "There's nothing wrong with living with your parents as a recent college grad," Mrs. Taylor (my grade school Reading teacher) reassured me (yes, I seek spiritual guidance from elementary teachers...I'm cool). "You're building a nest egg for yourself." Oeuf aside, I found mystic solace in Mrs. Taylor's euphemism for "not having a Life outside of your Work."

Attempting to freelance direct in anywhere is tough, but attempting to work as a freelance director in the greater Chicagoland area in the midst of the biggest financial recession since the Great Depression was a whole new bag of sweaty dance belts. Show proposals unanswered, few theatre companies were willing to 1) front the money on a no-name director & 2) let a no-name director work with them. Months tick-tocked by & my ambition began to wane & dust over. With close friends booking gigs, going to grad school, &/or living on their own, all signs pointed to Put Everything You Ever Enjoyed or Loved on Hold: This is Your Real World.

Like any good transition, flash forward to Hanukkah 2008. Uncle Louie ("uncle" in the Jewish father-of-my-college-roommate-&-closest-friend sense) expressed interest in producing James Still's And Then They Came For Me: Remembering the World of Anne Frank somewhere around his neighborhood of suburban Skokie, Illinois. [Read: a very Jewish play in a very Jewish neighborhood. Perfect!]

Playing the role of Pappy in high school, I was quite familiar with the interactive way Mr. Still incorporates live interviews from two Holocaust survivors (who both knew Anne Frank) with live stage performances. Uncle Louie knew I had been trying to work around the city & he saw this as a chance to bring an important show to a place where the majority of audiences would have a direct & meaningful relationship with the subject matter. He would front the production & I would direct. Between all-engulfing inhalations of matzo ball soup & harrowing tales of the ancient Maccabees, I agreed to stage a Spring production at the Skokie Theatre.

Casting wise, we found 6 performers who were all interwoven in one way or another. Nancy Swantek is a close family friend & former grade school choir teacher (spiritual guidance...I told you!). Michael Gardner is a good good friend from undergrad & phenomenal singer. I had the pleasure of directing him in Pippin in 2006. Chelly Brodsky found our ad on Craigslist, but ended up knowing Uncle Louie & every other Jewish friend of mine ("It's a klein welt after all!"). Jordan Margolis, a local attorney & comedic performer in his own right, took the role after an offer from Uncle Louie's wife, Judy. Jonathan Goldman is a talented friend from undergrad whose work I've admired for several years. Finally, there's Chloe Micek, an up-and-coming junior from Loyola Academy, my alma matre.

Rehearsing for only a month, I cannot believe the strides we've taken. Like the Jews' wandering the desert (sans manna and, give or take, 39.8 years), we've traveled from one loaned rehearsal space to the next. We've borrowed props, scraped together costumes, & practically stolen our set from the performance space. But, a little under two years since graduating college, my first show is about to open. The cast is primed. My brother, our rehearsal & performance technician, is beyond on-the-ball. Uncle Louie seems pleased. I'm doing this show because of him. I'm beyond lucky & extremely grateful to be working on this completely humbling piece.

The memory of Eva Schloss & Ed Silverberg's families, as well as the millions of others lost in the Holocaust, will be with us this weekend.


Michelle said...

Mazel Tov! I wish I could be there!!!! I know it's going to be wonderful. :)

Emmanuel said...

Wish you the best!