Chicago’s Premiere Storefront Theatre

Wrap Up, Part I: A Time to Look Back by Nic Dimond

Yo, ho, ho – Happy Holidays, peoples! ‘Tis the season for frozen extremities, festive sweaters and year-end retrospective blog posts!

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2009 was a stunningly successful year for Strawdog. It started off with our Cherry Orchard – a production that almost never happened. We had designs on, ahem, another play which, um, did not work out. For more details please check out TimeOut’s extensive “While-you’re-at-it-would-you-like-to-give-me-a-paper-cut-and-pour-some-lemon-juice-in-it?” coverage of the fictional knife fight between me and PJ Powers… So, we turned to a recipe we had enjoyed before: Chekhov + Curt Columbus + Kimberly Senior + Strawdog = Delicious! Our earlier production of Three Sisters had left such a great taste in our mouths that this was actually a pretty easy decision. I could also say “Look how relevant it was – we were starting a recession incited by toxic assets in the form of bad mortgages, and look at these Russians losing the family farm!” But the more I think about it, the more I know that the great stories – like the ones told by our man Anton – will always be relevant, no matter what our world is going through. That’s part of what makes them great.

And then we stumbled across this little ditty called Red Noses. It’s a script that I’d been excited by for years, and I had been searching for the right director. And then we stumbled across this little hit-maker named Matt Hawkins. And the rest is medieval plague comedy infused with 1980’s pop tunes history! What an unlikely success. That script is out-of-control bloated, and while I knew for a fact that Matt was an accomplished, formidable artist, a couple of years ago he was still a relatively unproven young director. Through our immersion in that world, we ended up learning important things about truth and style in storytelling, and we added a significant new voice to our company by asking Matt to join Kimberly Senior and Shade Murray as our resident directors.

These shows both logged more sell-outs than any other productions in Strawdog history, and shattered box office records for attendance and income. I mean, consider the extremes that these plays represent – Russian naturalism in February and theological slapstick with a Whitesnake cover in April? Back to back sold-out runs? Seriously? But the coolest thing is that I CAN SEE THE THREADS THAT CONNECT THESE SUCCESSES. When we are at our best we are equal parts playful and cruel, with no bullshit, no gimmicks, no tricks up our sleeves, and it doesn’t matter if we are telling a story about an aristocratic family in decline or a French pope – we are the most interested in depth of exploration: stripped down, then fleshed out. Really keeping our eyes on the prize and getting to the bottom of it, that’s the most satisfying for us.

We carried that momentum into the fall with our production of St Crispin’s Day. We immersed ourselves in a feudal French swamp as we explored low comedy with high stakes, and the results were impressive. That kind of show requires a “one half science, and the other half soul” type approach, and we loved that challenge. “How do I execute this Bugs Bunny bit while making sure it comes from a true place of terror?” The answer? Precision. Clarity of intent, precision of execution.

Speaking of precision (righteous segue, reason #138 that I’m a star in the blogosphere!) have you checked out our Late Night offerings lately? Over the past 5 years, our Hugen Hall has grown from a half dozen people with PBRs and guitars doing open mics into a legitimate subculture destination. Where else can you get an evening of original radio-style plays on Friday and the insane debauchery of Theatre Wars on Saturday? Not to brag, but we are really one of the only theaters our size with a bar, and we take more advantage of it than anyone else I know. There’s something that happens in that room sometimes, y’all – I mean, these days I’m a crotchety old bastard, and even I have experienced a fistful of ephemeral “you-had-to-be-there” moments. The Hit Factory. The Game Show Show and Stuff. Live music every Sunday night. Our closing night puppet shows. While there’s always room to grow, I’m proud as hell of what we’ve done with that line of programming, and I hope that you’ve had a chance to break some off for yourself over the past year. If not, no worries – we’ll make more.

1 Comment(s)

  1. Comment by *michaela* on December 11, 2009 8:50 pm

    Nicely put boss!
    I’d also like to point out that our 4 newest ensemble members were brought on after their integral participation in this season and the family feels fuller because of them. Thank you 2009 for a great time, now let’s do it again in 2010.

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