Friday photo rescue

Blues for an Alabama Sky, from the current Pearl Cleage season (this is from a tech rehearsal a few days before the show opened).

Blues for an Alabama Sky by Pearl Cleage

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Ethnicity in Theatre

Last summer Time Out Chicago had a feature article discussing the race barrier in Chicago. Prior to the articles publication Eclipse had already announced their 2007 season playwright, African American writer Pearl Cleage. A mostly white theater company producing an entire season of theater by an African American playwright. Could this work? Eclipse has had success with the first two production Blues for an Alabama Sky brought home 5 Jeff citations alone. Since the article several Chicago theatres have followed suit, whether it was the Time Out article or the plan was in the works prior to publication. Steppenwolf added 6 new ensemble members, 4 out of 6 are African American, in addition to the daring color blind casting used in their current production of The Crucible. Did Time Out strike a nerve with Chicago theatre companies or did they just recently become aware of the color barrier?

Read on to see what prolific African American playwrights think about the subject:

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Recurring Characters

As I have been reading through several of Cleage’s novels, starting with What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day and recently finishing Babylon Sisters. I was amazed and slightly caught off guard when characters from prior novels kept recurring. Crazy and I Wish I Had a Red Dress use a prominent character in both novels. Additionally, Some Things I Thought I’d Never Do and Babylon Sisters are set in the same time and place but centralize on different characters, additionally characters from Some Things appear in Babylon. Even more so, you can find some of the same characters reappearing in all four books! Then I was even more pleased that Cleage feels it to be completely natural for many of her characters to live in the same world. Cleage comments on her recurring characters below.

“I struggled with whether it was fair to work with the same characters. You have all these arbitrary rules as a writer, like it’s cheating if you go back to the same characters. But I finally realized I don’t believe any of it. If there’s a story there, it should be told. I feel that there is a third Idlewild book, I think it has to do with the little girl, Aretha, who was in the first book. I think that she has a story to tell. I think that black women readers particularly enjoy encountering the same character. I like Valerie Wilson Wesley’s books because I like her character Tamara Hayle. As a reader I like to go through time with these characters. But as a writer the challenge is not to repeat yourself, to let each book stand on its own.”

-Cleage in an interview

I completely agree with Cleage’s comment “As a reader I like to go through time with these characters”. Though there are instances in which it is nice for the character’s lives post-novel to be left up to the imagination, as in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7). The manner in which Cleage approaches it feels like running into an old friend on the street, an unexpected, yet pleasant surprise.

Watch the acceptance speeches from the Jeff Awards

In case you weren’t at the Park West for the 34th annual Jeff Awards a few weeks ago, our friends at stagechannel have put together a compilation of all the acceptance speeches throughout the evening.

First up is Alfred Kemp, who barely had a chance to settle in before getting called up on stage to accept a Supporting Actor Citation for playing Guy in Blues for an Alabama Sky.

Scroll through the list on the right to watch all the speeches – Charlette Speigner, Michelle Courvais and Steven Fedoruk all take the podium for their roles in Blues for an Alabama Sky and Boy Gets Girl, and Artistic Director Anish Jethmalani echoes Pearl Cleage herself in accepting the Citation for Outstanding Production.

34th annual Jeff Awards

Congratulations to everyone who was honored with nominations and Citations from the Joseph Jefferson Committee this past Monday night, and especially to those we were fortunate enough to have the chance to work with – Eclipse finished the evening with five Citation Awards: 

Outstanding Production: Blues for an Alabama Sky

Outstanding Direction: Steven Fedoruk, Blues for an Alabama Sky

Oustanding Performance by an Actress: Michelle Courvais, Boy Gets Girl

Outstanding Performance by a Supporting Actor: Alfred Kemp, Blues for an Alabama Sky

Outstanding Performance by a Supporting Actress: Charlette Speigner, Blues for an Alabama Sky

Also nominated and deserving much recognition were Steve Scott (Outstanding Direction for Boy Gets Girl) and TayLar (Outstanding Performance by an Actress for Blues for an Alabama Sky).

Congrats to all, and thanks to friends, family and fans for supporting us.

Post-show discussion – Friday, March 23

The first post-show discussion of the 2007 season set the bar pretty high – playwright Pearl Cleage took center stage and answered questions from the audience after the show ended. It was an honor to have her with us, and an exciting night for me, for the actors, and for the audience.

Pearl talked about the importance of hopes and dreams for characters throughout her plays and novels, the characters’ names (“Angel” is intentionally ironic; “Guy” is not), the ways in which feminism informs her writing, and a lot more.

The most interesting answer of the night came in response to a question about the title – what Blues for an Alabama Sky means and where it comes from. The answer was a story – a night when she was driving to a production of Flyin’ West at the Alabama Shakespeare Theater in Montogomery while knowing that the Ku Klux Klan was marching on a street nearby. Looking out the car window at the starry night sky, the title of this play came to her, she said, as a way to express the contradictions of that beautiful and flawed state. Those contradictions play out in the character of Leland, and his impact on the world the other characters inhabit drives this beautiful and heart-breaking story.

Pearl Cleage Day

I must have missed the official announcement, but today was definitely Pearl Cleage Day in Chicago. We spent the day traveling the city with the wonderful playwright and novelist, celebrating and discussing her works. The day really began last night, when Pearl joined us for a post-show discussion after Blues for an Alabama Sky. The celebration continued today with a symposium, featuring scenes from her plays and a discussion with Pearl and Ron OJ Parson, director of Flyin’ West, which is playing right now at the Court Theatre, and which I just got back from, but only after a post-show discussion with Pearl after their performance. Sorry for the run-on sentence, but it was a busy day. And I didn’t even mention Borders.

I’ll have some posts and pictures from the day up soon – it’s late now, and I’ve got to rest up for the Total Eclipse tomorrow – for now here’s a picture of us (Frances, Anish, Pearl, myself, and Kevin) after the Flyin’ West discussion.

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Special thanks to Greg Hollimon, who was brilliant as Wil in Flyin’ West and nice enough to take this picture for us (using my PDA, which doesn’t really take very good pictures).