Sunday, September 18, 2011

Chicago Revue

Today marks my tenth day in Chicago/Evanston. Not gonna lie -- it has been an emotional roller-coaster. My apartment is huge, but consistently empty and in my first full week at Skokie Theatre I worked a whopping nine hours (and I mean "worked" in the loosest of terms). As someone who finds downtime to be a personal version of Hell I kept myself as busy as humanly possible: I got a temporary library card, passed out thirteen resumes, filled out seven applications, had one job interview, saw a play, volunteered at the Chicago Cultural Center, inquired about ushering at several downtown theaters, ventured into the city five times, went to a drag bingo charity event, joined three meet-up groups, and attempted to audit a class at Northwestern University. Despite how full that list seems to be, when I find myself alone in my apartment all I can worry over is, "Now what?"

Over the past week I struggled to find a purpose in my internship. I wasn't given any assignments and my most productive tasks were making one-hundred copies of a photo and Windex-ing a plastic box. I sat in on the production meeting of a show I'm supposed to be working on (premiering in mid-January), which coincidentally involves Gullah culture in its storyline. For those who don't know, the Barrier Islands of Georgia and South Carolina are STEEPED in Gullah-Geechee history. Islands very near my home still keep the traditions, culture, and language alive. Needless to say, I was ecstatic at the notion of researching such a field of interest and familiarity for me. For Skokie Theatre, however, Gullah culture could not be more foreign.

I first learned about this aspect of the upcoming show, "Black Pearl Sings", when my supervisor began listing things she would like me to research in the near future. "You can look at what it was like to be a woman in the 1930s, a woman in prison in the 1930s, and maybe gender differences of the time." I wrote all of this down. "I'll be looking up more on the songs of the era, Texas in the 1930s, and information on the Ghoul-la culture." I had never heard this word before so I leaned over to see how it was spelled.

"Oh! Gullah?" I asked excitedly.

"Gullah?" Nikki repeated. "Is that how you pronounce it?"

"Are you talking about the slave culture from the South?"

"Yes." She sounded completely baffled that I would know such a random piece of knowledge.

"Yeah. That's all over the islands where I'm from. The Gullah-Geechee culture? There's an island near mine where they even still speak the language."

"You've heard about this?"

"Of course. Gone to festivals, been to the island. It's a big thing down there."

Nikki was dumbfounded. "Wow. So do you think you could do some research on this, too??"

"Definitely," I said, already scribbling down the titles of some books I knew would be helpful. "Maybe I could even call some people who I --"

"Yeah, that's great, Georgia." Nikki was already turning towards her computer, tuning me out. "We can discuss that later."

The next few days at the theatre followed this pattern and I was typically dismissed after only three hours of "work." I began to worry that my decision to leave a paying job on Mackinac had been a mistake. However, I looked forward to the weekend when I would see one of the opening performances of Skokie Theater's new show and was to hear a talk-back after the show as well.

When I arrived at the theatre Sunday afternoon, I did my usual fifteen minute game of "Where's my supervisor?" Upon finding her, Nikki asked if I could record the talk-back after the show. Of course I could. It was the first meaningful task I had been given all week! A man named Stephen approached and began asking Nikki the logistics of the talk-back.(And just to bring everyone up to speed -- the show Skokie Theatre is producing at the moment is a brand new musical comedy revue of songs by Stephen Schwartz. For those of you who do not know Stephen Schwartz, he is the composer and lyricist of the musicals 'Wicked', 'Pippin', and 'Godspell' (among a plethora of others), the movie 'Enchanted', and has even contributed a few songs to 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' and 'The Prince of Egypt'. Basically, a musical god who is on par with Stephen Sondheim ('West Side Story', 'Sweeney Todd', etc.))

I stood next to Nikki awkwardly as she continued to talk with this man. The more they talked about how long the talk-back would last the more I wondered absurdly, "Is this Stephen Schwartz?" I laughed because Number One: I would assume Nikki would introduce me to someone as influential to musical theatre as Stephen Schwartz; and Number Two: wouldn't I feel the tingling of some sort of holy presence if I were one foot away from such a musical god? I certainly felt something around him, but I chalked it up to the awkwardness of not being introduced to somebody when they come up to talk to your friend/acquaintance.

While in my seat waiting for the overture to begin I flipped through the program. My heart dropped as I found the "About the Writer" page. There was Stephen Schwartz. There was the man who was less than two feet away from me a mere five minutes ago. I quickly scanned the auditorium. My musical theatre-senses had been correct: I was in the same room as a walking legend.

My irritation at the missed introduction with Stephen Schwartz dissipated momentarily as the musical began. The songs were catchy and heartfelt and I found myself suppressing tears quite often (this could have also been because the musical was about leaving your friends and family behind...fuck you, Schwartz.).

Right before the last song, Nikki came to where I was sitting and asked if I could go into the lobby and make sure I knew how to work her tape recorder. The song was nearly over when I returned to the back of the house. I surveyed the faces of the audience to see if anyone had become as emotional as I felt during the performance. Thankfully there were a few tear-streaked faces. I jumped when my scanning suddenly landed on the man standing just to the side of Nikki. Stephen Schwartz. In the triangle the three of us formed I was now just inches from the man whose song I had been listening to on my way to the theatre that afternoon. I weighed the pros and cons of "losing my balance" just to nudge his arm; just to say, "I touched Stephen Schwartz!" Luckily, the show ended during this debate and Stephen and Nikki quickly moved forward as the audience began to stand in ovation.

The Musical Mastermind gave a short talk about the beginnings and transformation of the show, which had apparently been twenty-two years in the making (with a fifteen year gap, mind you). A few audience members asked questions and then Nikki announced that Stephen had spoken to the Chicago Dramatist Guild the previous night.

The Chicago Dramatist Guild is a group of playwrights (amateur and professional) currently based in Chicago. This was the event Nikki had originally invited me to and then inexplicably UNinvited me to. Me -- someone who Nikki is very aware is interested in playwriting. I drove five hours north to Atlanta one week just to sit in on a session the Atlanta Dramatist Guild meeting was having with the playwright Gary Garrison. At the end of the talk-back Nikki told me to transcribe everything I had recorded and come back to the theatre on Tuesday. She then walked off, chatting excitedly with a theatre student who had been emailing her recently. I think I'm going to see if the Goodman is looking for volunteers.

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