Friday photo rescue

Four Jeff-Nominated performances, from 2008/2009:

Jon Steinhagen in Plaza Suite:

Nora Fiffer in The Autumn Garden:

Nathaniel Swift in Blue Surge:

Laura Coover in Blue Surge:

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.

The Autumn Garden: a story in images

In the last two days, I’ve written posts about video scenes from the show and an audio interview with me, so I thought I’d continue the media trend this morning by sharing some of the wonderful photographs we have to help us tell the story of The Autumn Garden.

Chuck Spencer and Millie Hurley in The Autumn Garden

Chuck Spencer and Millie Hurley in The Autumn Garden

Our photographer Scott Cooper, who has a beautiful post about our show on his blog Archetype Images, took all the images you see here (and all the images in our Flickr slide show).

Stephen Dale, Julie Partyka and Judith Hoppe in The Autumn Garden

Stephen Dale, Julie Partyka and Judith Hoppe in The Autumn Garden

The photos we use are primarily for the press – ideally, we like to give them five or six good photos for them to use in print and online with reviews and articles. They need to showcase the actors, engage the audience, and tell a story.

Scott knows this script well, and he was able to join us for a rehearsal to watch a run through and get to know the actors. He had clear ideas of the moments he wanted to capture and the stories he wanted to tell.

Millie Hurley, Julie Daley and John Fenner Mays in The Autumn Garden

Millie Hurley, Julie Daley and John Fenner Mays in The Autumn Garden

Watch scenes from The Autumn Garden

click image to watch video

click image to watch video

The sleek, newly redesigned STAGE Channel has two video clips of scenes from The Autumn Garden – click on the image above to watch Ned Crossman and General Griggs examine their lives, or the image below to watch Nick Denery try to convince Constance Tuckerman to pose for a new portrait.

Click image to watch video

click image to watch video

A conversation with the director

If you haven’t discovered Theatre in Chicago‘s podcast interviews, you’ve missed a lot of great conversations with Chicago’s best artists. And now’s a great time to discover them – I sat down for my first interview last week, and it was posted yesterday.

It’s a 30 minute or so conversation that wanders around through our current Jeff Recommended production of The Autumn Garden, the upcoming second half of our Celebration Series, Eclipse’s elaborate and chaotic process of choosing a playwright for the season, and how the fact that the theater burnt down in my first show with Eclipse convinced me that this was the theatre company for me.

Autumn Garden Previews start Wednesday

We have a full run through tonight – our final rehearsal before the actors move in to the Greenhouse Theater this weekend. We’ve been working and running each act individually over the last few nights, and I’m looking forward to putting the pieces back together again tonight.

The Autumn Garden is filled with stories that weave in and out and over one another, and each story is thick with detail and truth.

Nora Fiffer and Stephen Dale in The Autumn Garden

Nora Fiffer and Stephen Dale in The Autumn Garden

The young adopted niece from German-occupied France longs to return home but accepts an arranged marriage with a wealthy young gay man who needs to marry to retain his family’s social standing. The veteran of two World Wars rallies his energy for one final battle for his own personal freedom while his childish wife fights to keep her world from collapsing. The struggling owner of a summer resort, one short generation removed from the wealth and status of her family’s past, searches for answers to her life’s emptiness in the opportunity she missed when the man she loved left twenty years ago. Or the other side of that story: the self-centered artist who returns to his childhood home to insinuate himself into the lives of the people he left twenty years ago …

And this only scratches the surface – the brilliance of this script is the richness of each individual story and the beauty of the whole.

We have preview performances next Wednesday, Thursday and Friday – tickets are only $5 for industry folks (which includes blog readers; just ask the box office for the “industry” discount when you call them at 773-404-7336). The previews are our last opportunities to explore and play with these stories and make sure they’re all being told clearly, so we’d love to hear what you think as we get ready for Opening Night next Saturday.

Ten years older

In 2000, Eclipse Theatre Company chose Lillian Hellman as our featured playwright. We explored the roots of the Hubbard family in Another Part of the Forest, Hellman’s political voice in Watch on the Rhine, and her adaptation of Jean Anouilh’s The Lark.

The Autumn Garden was, of course, on the short list of plays under consideration that season. It was a script that many of us felt a strong connection to, and one that I felt a strong itch to direct. But I knew I wasn’t ready to tell the stories of mature relationships and self-reflection that Hellman weaves together in this beautiful play. I wasn’t the only one: I remember a few ensemble members saying that it would be a great choice – if only we were ten years older.

And now here we are, almost ten years later, with the opportunity to continue our journey with Lillian Hellman. We’re all a little older, a little more mature, and a little more ready to tell this story.