A look back at 2008

At our first ensemble meeting of the new year, one of the agenda items was to look back at the 2008 season and talk about how we did – what worked, what didn’t, what lessons to take into the second half of the Celebration Series.

We weren’t sure what to expect as we started the Celebration Series in 2008 – this would the first time in ten years that we had produced a season with more than one playwright, and there was some concern about the “departure” from our mission statement. The idea of celebrating our unique relationship with all of our featured playwrights gave us some pretty spectacular gifts in 2008, though:

Bubba Weiler, CeCe Klinger and Stephen Dale in emCandles to the Sun/em

Bubba Weiler, CeCe Klinger and Stephen Dale in Candles to the Sun

In the spring, we got a truly unique opportunity: to be the first professional theatre company – ever – to produce a play written by a young college student named Tom in the mid-1930s. Candles to the Sun disappeared for over almost years, but Tom became a legend in American theatre. This was the perfect (and unexpected) beginning of our journey through the Celebration Series – the chance to reconnect with our roots by exploring the roots of the playwright who brought us all together.

Cheri Chenoweth and Jon Steinhagen in Plaza Suite

Cheri Chenoweth and Jon Steinhagen in Plaza Suite

In the summer, we dove headlong into silliness with a return to the world of Neil Simon. We had consciously avoided the most well-known comedies when we featured Simon in 2003, and we all had a blast discovering what we had been missing – mugging our way through the three stories in Plaza Suite, each one more absurdly funny than the last (and we will get to take one more swing at them; the Chicago Park District has invited us to remount Plaza Suite as part of their 2009 Theater on the Lake lineup). As in 2003, though, it was Simon’s suprisingly compassionate and tragic characters who stuck with us after the laughs died down.

John Fenner Mays and Nora Fiffer in The Autumn Garden

John Fenner Mays and Nora Fiffer in The Autumn Garden

The fall gave us a chance to make up for a missed opportunity – in 1999, we all fell in love with The Autumn Garden, and we all decided we were simply too young to do justice to the mature stories Hellman mixes together in this complicated script. It’s been an itch waiting to be scratched for almost ten years, and a pleasure to finally get back to it.

Along the way, we also dipped our toes in the immense waters of Jean Cocteau’s career, and spent an afternoon with Lanford Wilson‘s fictional family, the Talleys. We dug up pictures from old seasons, we found the old dramaturgy binders, and mostly we had fun rediscovering why we had so much fun with these writers the first time around.

On Monday, we start a new journey – the second year of the Celebration Series, and a return to our 2006 featured playwright, Rebecca Gilman. We presented Blue Surge as a staged reading in 2006, but decided not to include it in our season. But this one has been itching at us too, and we’ll have the next three months or so to scratch that itch.

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