Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Review Roundup: CHRISTMAS IN BABYLON

compiled by Carson Roufus

For the last month, we've been talking up the McShanes and the O'Rourkes -- two families hailing from Babylon, Long Island who have finally taken the Studio Theatre stage for the world premiere of CHRISTMAS IN BABYLON. We've felt for a long time that this was a holiday hit in the making... and now that we're out of our first week, we've learned that critics and audience members both agree!

Terry, Denise and daughter Abby McShane are a typical family in North Babylon, Long Island: blue-collar, lower-middle-class, and prone to sarcastic banter as their chief form of communication. Out of the blue, Terry is contacted by his ex-fiancee, Kathleen, a former Babylonian with a booming self-help empire. It's a collision more than 25 years in the making. And the holidays have only just begun…

We've compiled many of our great critical reviews below, so you can get a glimpse of what you're in for if you join us at the Studio Theatre. To get your tickets, visit us in person at 158 N Broadway, call 414.291.7800, or visit our online box office. Happy holidays!


Jim Higgins, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Terry McShane (Tom Klubertanz) and Kelly O'Rourke
(Eva Nimmer) meet in a Babylon coffeeshop.
Photos by Paul Ruffolo.
A surprising visitor fuels the anxious comedy of 'Christmas in Babylon'"

"Like the Great Bambino, Tom Klubertanz is fascinating to watch as Terry, whether he's flailing or homering."

"Underneath the sarcastic banter (and in MacDonald Kerr's case, facial expressions so good that words aren't needed), playwright DeVita, director C. Michael Wright and the cast are dealing with a painfully touchy subject in American life."

Tea Krulos, Shepherd Express

Mary MacDonald Kerr, Tom Klubertanz,
and Sara Zientek as Denise, Terry, and Abby McShane
 in CHRISTMAS IN BABYLON.
"Milwaukee Chamber Theatre's World Premiere 'Christmas in Babylon'"

"It’s a nice mix of comedy and some tender sarcastic but sweet family moments. Christmas in Babylon delivers a solid and funny performance from the entire cast. It shows that family should stick together through thick and thin, even (and maybe especially) if you drive each other up a wall."

Kelsey Lawler, Broadway World Milwaukee

"CHRISTMAS IN BABYLON Unpacks Family Dynamics With Comedy At The Milwaukee Chamber Theatre"

"While the McShanes can be abrasive and crass, the O'Rourkes swoop in as couple of calm, accomplished, well-spoken women; though, not surprisingly, even these two have their own baggage - and lots of it. Luckily for audiences, all that baggage is unpacked with humor aplenty."

"Zientek has the audience chortling in anticipation of her antics the moment she bursts upon the scene."

Matthew Perta, ShowBiz Chicago

Terry (Tom Klubertanz) confronts Kelly (Eva Nimmer, L)
and Kathleen O'Rourke (Laura Gray).
"Milwaukee Chamber Theatre's 'Christmas in Babylon' is a Yuletide gem'

"DeVita’s brilliant observations on the fragilities of family are vividly brought to life by a first-rate cast that makes us laugh, cry and think."

"Christmas in Babylon is uproarious and heartwarming, a delicious treat for the holidays, ready to be unwrapped and enjoyed."

Dominique Paul Noth, Urban Milwaukee
"'Babylon' Is Funny As Hell"

"This is truly an actors’ play – and each has several moments to prove that accolade."

"Eva Nimmer, as the accidental cause of all the confusion, is stunningly whole and unflappable in a first act that requires perfect control and response, something quite difficult for an actress but executed well here. Sara Zientek plays the counter-weight, a foul-mouthed eternal adolescent always on the verge of hysteria."

Adam Rogan, Milwaukee Magazine

"World Premiere Review: 'Christmas in Babylon' Isn't Your Typical Holiday Play"

"Like all good fiction, Christmas in Babylon makes its audience look at the things we see every day but never notice — like how sometimes it’s best to talk it out in the car, or how absurdly difficult it is to make small talk in a coffee shop."

Monday, November 12, 2018

Meet the McShanes and O'Rourkes!

compiled by Bridget Erangey

In CHRISTMAS IN BABYLON, our world premiere holiday comedy by James DeVita, we meet two families originating from North Babylon, Long Island: The McShanes, and the O'Rourkes. Over the course of the story, we get to know the five members of these families pretty well -- but it can't hurt to make introductions early!

Below, we've presented condensed character descriptions taken straight from DeVita's script, along with headshots of the actors portraying them and costume renderings by Kimberly O'Callaghan. Enjoy this sneak peek at these two families -- and get ready to learn a whole lot more about them in the show itself!


TERRY McSHANE (Tom Klubertanz) 
Late-40s to early 50s, living in a lower middle-class home, and fluent in sarcastic banter. Terry is a born storyteller, whose humor is that of the slightly oppressed Everyman: nervous, insecure -- a sort of  blue-collar Woody Allen. Married to Denise McShane.



DENISE McSHANE (Mary MacDonald Kerr)
Mid-40s to early 50s, blunt and unsentimental, Denise is the kind of person who would give her literal last dime to someone in need, but would never let them know it. Over the years, Denise has gone from tolerating Terry, to being his straight man.



ABBY McSHANE (Sara Zientek)
Mid-20s, slightly awkward, and is consistently overwhelmed -- mostly self-generated. She has suffered from varying degrees of anxiety issues much of her adult life and, at her best, manages it with an ironic and self-deprecating humor. At her worst, it can get the best of her and she needs to either figuratively or literally escape from wherever she is.


KELLY O'ROURKE (Eva Nimmer)
Late-20s, very polite, and quite charming. She is finishing up her residency to become a doctor. She is very at home in the world of medical-speak, not so much in small talk. A child of two divorces, Kelly did not have an easy childhood. Perhaps she's overcompensated as an adult.


KATHLEEN O'ROURKE (Laura Gray)
Late-40s, an educated and classy woman who has left the streets of her youth far behind and spent a lifetime denying she ever walked them. She is an author and inspirational speaker in the world of 'self-help'. When speaking at her seminars, we can sense that perhaps she is working on her own life publicly, coaching herself through the medium of her audience.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

DeVita and Wright Reunite for CHRISTMAS IN BABYLON


by Matthew Reddin

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s upcoming production of the holiday comedy CHRISTMAS IN BABYLON isn’t just a world premiere. It’s also a reunion for the creative partnership of MCT artistic director C. Michael Wright and James DeVita, a Spring Green-based writer, actor and director.

For more than 25 years, Michael and Jim have been friends and colleagues in the Wisconsin theatre community, dating all the way back to the 90s, when Michael directed WAITING FOR VERN, a one-man show starring Jim that was the playwright’s first produced work for the stage. Michael returns to the director’s chair again for BABYLON, and both artists are excited to work together once again on this project more than four years in the making.

As the duo prepared for their first day of rehearsals, I sat down to chat with them about their history together, and what audiences can expect from this world premiere production. This interview has been edited and condensed.

CHRISTMAS IN BABYLON playwright
James DeVita.
MCT: Can you tell me a little bit about how you met, and how you ended up working on WAITING FOR VERN together?

Michael Wright: I can’t remember how we met. Can you?

James DeVita: I had heard that this actor from New York had come to town. I saw you and I remember saying “Who is that guy?” I don’t know how we got to be friends after that.

M: I think it was bonding during MOOT – a production we did at Milwaukee Rep in ’92. We already knew each other, but the two of us shared a dressing room at the Rep. That’s where we really bonded.

J: It’s funny because – I had been a closet writer for years, since I think sixth grade, and I’d never showed anybody anything I’d ever written. But I had been working on a one-person show quietly by myself. I knew Michael was a director too, and I trusted his aesthetic as an actor and as a person.

I was scared, ‘cause the first time you show somebody something you write – even new plays like BABYLON, it’s still tough. And Michael took a look at WAITING FOR VERN and he just tore it apart. We met in a little bar and he started giving me notes, and he had all these red marks on the script.

M: Because I loved it! I saw the potential.

J: It actually made me feel really good. You were the first person that actually – you thought there was merit in it, therefore it deserves criticism. It gave me a lot of confidence.

And here we are, 26 years later. And since then, I’ve written three novels and 16 plays and it all started in a dressing room.

MCT: Can you tell me a little about the play itself?

J: It was called WAITING FOR VERN, and not only did he help me develop it, but then directed me in it, and we formed a little theatre company for a very short-lived time, as young actors in town do. Collision Theatre Ensemble. Which is a great name.

M: We did it at a theatre festival at the Todd Wehr for one night only, and then it was really well-received so we kept working on it. Then we formed the company and this was our inaugural production. I stage managed it both times because we were so low-budget.

J: I toured it to Oshkosh, Mount Pleasant – it’s the sort of play you can just do with a stage and a chair.

M: He was waiting for Vern, but Vern never showed up.

J: That’s the conceit. I’m waiting for the other actor to do a two-person show, and he never shows up.

M: We did two productions. WAITING FOR VERN and then we did THE LONELY PLANET by Steven Dietz, that I was in and John Kishline directed. There was another play that you were working on...

J: AFTER HOURS.

M: We did a reading of that in the Stiemke, I remember. So that was our short-lived two years as a theatre company.

MCT: Talk a little about your history with MCT, before you met Michael.

J: I cut my teeth at the Chamber Theatre. My first show out of school was with the Shaw Festival. I got to work with these great actors – Bill Leech and Dewey McDonald and Ruth Schudson. I graduated in ’87 and Monty put me to work right out of school. I got to do three or four shows a year [with MCT] sometimes.

M: It’s so funny, because here I am at Chamber now, but we never crossed paths back then.

J: Not at Chamber, no.

C. Michael Wright directed Jim Ridge (above)
in James DeVita's DICKENS IN AMERICA
in 2006. They reunited for a production at
American Players Theatre in 2013.
MCT: When was the next time you crossed paths?

M: DICKENS IN AMERICA was the big one. DICKENS IN AMERICA started with – remember, we did it for one night only at American Players Theatre? It was a benefit. And Jim Ridge was still on book, because it was only one night. It was the big theatre outdoors. And it rained. He kept hiding underneath the bridge trying to keep the pages dry.

That was kind of an experiment that blossomed from there. It was so well-received that I decided to mount it in my second season at MCT (in 2006) – the first one where I chose the plays.

Then, years later, we ended up doing it again at APT, in the Touchstone. We kept working on it then too; it was a whole different version.

MCT: What was that experience like – to revisit a play again after years of growing as a writer and director?

M: It was fun.

J: I’ve always felt like... We don’t work together for a long time, but then when we do it’s like old friends from home. There’s no getting re-acquainted, we just dig right in again. I’ve always felt comfortable with Michael as my “editor-director-developer.”

M: You’ve always been so good about taking criticism. You’re one of the few people I know who relishes feedback.

J: Yeah, I kind of need it. My best work blossoms when I have really good feedback.

M: The one wonderful thing I remember about doing DICKENS IN AMERICA the third time, back at APT, was that Jim Ridge and I did a lot of sitting around and talking about who we are now, because we were really comfortable with the piece itself. And then I would write to Jim (DeVita) saying “What if we added, or elaborated on Dickens’ thoughts at that age – feeling like he’s at the end of his career?” Because the stakes are higher, suddenly. And that was kind of fun. To keep going “Who are we now? What’s changed for us?”

J: It’s funny: I find the things I’m writing now are changing, because of where I am now in my life. I’m revisiting my youth, I’m trying to find things from my past.

That’s fuel for every kind of writer and artist: the youth that you left behind if you left to go somewhere else. The life I left behind to do the life I have now has always fascinated me. It’s not a judgment. They’re just very different.

MCT: CHRISTMAS IN BABYLON is set in Long Island, where you grew up. Can you tell me a little bit about that show, and how you came to write it?

M: This is by far the funniest thing you’ve written, I think. Don’t you?

J: Yeah, definitely. I mean, there’s always been humor in the other stuff, but as I started working on it, I definitely decided “I’m going to write a comedy.”

Part of it is – I read tons of plays and see tons of plays, and there’s not a lot of comedies being written. And understandably so. The world is on fire, and I am not negating that at all.

But I miss comedies. I miss laughing. And without being dismissive of anything in the world – how can we laugh at some of this stuff again?

James DeVita (back left) and C. Michael
Wright (back right) with the cast of
CHRISTMAS IN BABYLON.
MCT: How did you and Michael decide to collaborate on this production? I know you presented the play at Forward Theater Company in a different form first.

J: Yeah, I started working on the play in Milwaukee when I was doing AN ILIAD here with Milwaukee Rep, and then I submitted it to Forward Theater’s new play development series, with the title BABYLON. We had a reading for about 200 people and it was really nice.

It was quite different in the beginning – very, very different. I wasn’t even sure, to be honest with you, if anyone else was going to find this funny. Because I consider it kind of New York humor. But it was such a relief to hear laughter.

Two of the women were quite underdeveloped in that draft. I worked a lot to develop Denise a little bit more, and Kathleen changed a lot too. And then I submitted it to Michael, and he said he was interested in it for MCT’s Montgomery Davis Play Development Series [in 2017].

M: We worked on it for a good year before that too.

J: Yeah, we kept on going back and forth. I changed quite a bit; lots of cuts. Even with the actors in the room, there was a lot we learned.

And that reading went very well. We got a lot of good feedback, a lot of laughter. I did a revision after that – not as major, which was nice – and then here we are, walking into rehearsal.

MCT: What are you most excited about, as the rehearsal process begins?

J: I’m really interested to see what the cast does with it. I trust actors implicitly. They’re really smart, and actors invariably find things I don’t know are in the play right now. There’s stuff you unconsciously put in the play, but they’ll mine it.

M: We feel pretty confident that what we’ve got is solid. I’m excited about putting it on its feet and giving it physical life. Clothes and music and...

J: Yeah, for me it’s exciting when you start to see something actually move and then it gets off the page.

M: The thing I love about the piece in particular is that it’s funny, but it also deals with a lot of issues we deal with today. Like forgiveness, and acceptance. And the fact that we’re all part of a larger family. You had really started to write a play about the class distinction – once Kathleen leaves, she really wants to be of an upper eschelon. But it ultimately becomes much more about – we are all pretty much the same.

J: Yeah, what you start out writing doesn’t always turn out that way in the end. In this play, Terry’s being challenged to think differently. And he resists it for a long time, or dismisses it, or makes fun of it, or this and that.

I think the world today is being challenged to think differently about everything. And it’s a lot for some people. It gets overwhelming. But if you can allow yourself to think differently about something, you might be able to accept it.

It’d be a great world if we could all figure out how to do that. Myself included.

CHRISTMAS IN BABYLON runs Nov. 21 to Dec. 23 at the Broadway Theatre Center’s Studio Theatre. For tickets, call 414.291.7800 or visit milwaukeechambertheatre.com.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Review Roundup: CHAPATTI

compiled by Carson Roufus

Christian O'Reilly's CHAPATTI tells a poignant, gentle tale of rediscovering the importance of human connection. Over its first week, critics have come to love this powerful story, and the way it's been told by actors James Tasse and Jenny Wanasek, and director Michelle Lopez-Rios.

We've compiled those great reviews below, so you can get a glimpse of what you're in for if you join us at the Studio Theatre. To get your tickets, visit us in person at 158 N Broadway, call 414.291.7800, or visit our online box office.

Jenny Wanasek and James Tasse as Betty and Dan in CHAPATTI.
Anne Siegel, Shepherd Express
"'Chapatti's' Intimate Look at Love and Loneliness"

"The intimate Studio Theatre is an ideal environment for this type of play, since the audience becomes riveted by the characters’ every move."

"Director Michelle Lopez-Rios brings the two characters together slowly, as if in a slow waltz, and each moment they are together charms more than the next."


Dominique Paul Noth, Urban Milwaukee
"Dogs, Cats and the Humans Who Love Them"

"one of the finest acting performances of the season"

"Tasse and Wanasek ... are consummate Milwaukee professionals whose knowledgeable physical and vocal skills are here at their pinnacle under the guidance of director/dialect coach Michelle Lopez-Rios."

"both the playwright and the actors merit your attendance"


Gwen Rice, OnMilwaukee
"Chamber's 'Chapatti' is a warm, heartfelt charmer -- even without its leading dog"

"at the end of this vignette, the audience feels his loss keenly, even though there is no dog ... There is only Dan, played by the remarkable James Tasse"

"Director Lopez-Rios sets a nice pace for the 90-minute show and lets the seriousness of the story seep in, while never allowing the characters to wallow in despair."

"a lovely production of a surprising and heartfelt play which should appeal equally to cat and dog people"

Jim Higgins, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"In Milwaukee Chamber Theatre's 'Chapatti', a lonely man and woman muster courage to connect"

"This show depends on their ability to believably deliver O'Reilly's words, an Irish blend of the lyrical and the blunt, which they do."

Monday, September 10, 2018

A Sentimental Journey: O'Reilly's CHAPATTI and THE GOOD FATHER


by Mike Fischer

“God, you’re so corny,” says Jane to Tim, as he pleads with her to give their improbable relationship – between a lawyer and a house painter – a chance.

“Why can’t you be . . . be hopeful?  Believe in something good,” Tim responds.

This exchange takes place in THE GOOD FATHER, staged by Milwaukee Chamber Theatre four years ago and written by Christian O’Reilly, the same Irish playwright who gave us CHAPATTI, another two-hander featuring lost and lonely souls searching for common ground.

In THE GOOD FATHER, playwright Christian O'Reilly's unlikely
romance between lawyer Jane (Laura Gray) and house painter
Tim (Jonathan Wainwright) is anything but corny. Photo: Mark Frohna.
When I reviewed THE GOOD FATHER for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, I called attention to that exchange, noting that the play’s unlikely romance was surely enough to make my readers roll their eyes – much as I was tempted to roll mine.

No surprise there. Throughout my fifteen years as a Journal Sentinel critic, I regularly called out plays that struck me as overly sentimental with adjectives like “maudlin” and “saccharine,” “cloying” and “bathetic.” Such plays tug at our heartstrings. But they also manipulatively play on our feelings. And they ultimately don’t ring true, betraying both audience and theatre itself.

Was THE GOOD FATHER actually such a play? And if so, why was I so moved as I left the theater on that long-ago Saturday afternoon in September, having just watched real-life marrieds Jonathan Wainwright and Laura Gray making magic together on stage?

Jane isn’t all wrong to label Tim “corny.” But as I wrote in my review, “that doesn’t mean she’s right. When both the world and the stage are filled with so much ironically cool snark, a quest like Tim’s may indeed seem corny. But such journeys can also be revolutionary.”

Bottom line: Sentiment in a play is a bit like Goldilocks’ porridge. Get the temperature right and it can enhance the dish. Get the temperature wrong and a meal becomes a mess. 

A play that’s too cerebral – or, worse, afraid of its own feelings – can leave an audience cold. A play that’s overheated – in which the sentiments being expressed are as manipulative as the plot – leaves an audience unwilling to credit or invest in the characters. Either way, the audience will be bored.

O’Reilly’s Nimble Dance

As the exchange with which I opened this blog post makes clear, O’Reilly himself is aware that one can easily overegg the pudding; Jane’s skeptical voice is among those playing in his head as he imagines what sort of life this couple might make together.

Tim pleads for love. Jane responds by calling him corny. Tim rebuts by making the case for faith and hope as love’s adjuncts. O’Reilly’s stage direction indicates that Jane reacts with “amused disbelief at his innocence.”

Cut to CHAPATTI, in which it’s the woman – sixty-something Betty – who is the sentimental one, while the similarly aged Dan comes across as the crusty realist. “I’m going to miss you,” Betty says to Dan, midway through the play. “Sure you don’t even know me,” he responds.

Shades of Tim and Jane: Betty believes that people can overcome their isolation; Dan is afraid to try. Betty reaches beyond herself and the beloved cats who keep her company; Dan retreats into the lonely world inhabited by himself and Chapatti, the dog who is his best and only friend.

Content dictates form: CHAPATTI moves between isolating monologues and genuine dialogue, featuring characters who can often only manage to talk to themselves – even as they make tentative efforts to engage each other and commit to the business of living, as two working-class people, stranded in old age and with little apparent reason to carry on.  

And yet they do, during which time we learn that Dan is much more sentimental than he admits –in ways I can’t fairly disclose except to tell you that they involve his past. Meanwhile, we’ll watch Betty ultimately prove herself the more practical and realistic of this duo, in ways I also can’t fairly disclose – except to tell you that they involve her future. 

Is there also a future for this pair? I won’t disclose that, either; you’ll need to come see the play.

Irish Sentiment

O’Reilly’s nimble dance – in a play that flirts with love and death, the sentimental and the cynical, the great mysteries and the everyday – is performed by many Irish playwrights, among whom he is one of the newer and more promising voices. 

Irish playwrights as distinct from each other as Brian Friel, Conor McPherson and Mark O’Rowe – each of whose work has been seen on Milwaukee stages in the past decade – write plays featuring intensely lyrical and confessional monologues. 

Those monologues are emotional but also reflective, filled with feeling but also fiercely intelligent, expressing hope while frequently battling despair. Par for the course, in a country known for spirited and poetic flights of fancy as well as emotional restraint. 

CHAPATTI manages to give us both, suggesting the original, much richer and more complex meaning of “sentimental.” As literary critic Janet Todd writes in her book “Sensibility,” the word “sentiment” once suggested “richness in moral reflection” as well as “all that was elevated and aesthetically pleasing in feeling” and “all that appealed to and expressed the finer emotions.”

It’s O’Reilly’s embodiment of this more nuanced sentimentalism that gave me pause four years ago, in refusing Jane’s invitation to dismiss her suitor as “corny.” There’s a similarly textured sentimentalism at work in CHAPATTI.

And sure, I’ll come clean: As this blog post suggests, there’s a comparable sentimentalism that’s intrinsic to who I am, as both a realist and an idealist – a tough-minded theatre critic and a closet romantic who comes to the theater willing to suspend disbelief. 

“I’m not all armour-platin,” Tim tells Jane in THE GOOD FATHER. “I’m all soft shell. All of me. Every bit of me.” I know exactly what he means, which is why Betty’s words to Dan toward the end of CHAPATTI strike home: “What matters is to love. That’s all that matters. What matters is to love.”

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Intern to Intern: MCT's Young Artists Talk the SHERLOCK Experience


by Mariah McGavin

This summer at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, we have three young artists that are part of our production team for SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE CASE OF THE JERSEY LILY: stage management interns Sydney Smith and Krista Kanderski, and costume design assistant Veronica Vickas. All three of them have uniquely awesome career goals, current studies, and future projects, and I was lucky enough to sit down and discuss all of this, plus what their past few weeks at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre have been like!
                              
Mariah McGavin: First of all, what are you currently studying in school, or working on outside of your academics?

Sydney Smith: Right now, I am a theatre major with an emphasis in design and technology at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. I also have a stage management minor and think often about switching the major and minor. 
Krista Kanderski: In the fall, I will be a senior at Marquette University majoring in Sociology and minoring in Theatre Arts; Biology; and Culture, Health & Illness. At the moment, I work at the library on campus, I’m an overhire stagehand at SLWCA, I freelance stage manage on the side, I’m an intern at the Milwaukee Health Department - STI Unit, and in the fall, I’ll be an intern in Congresswoman Gwen Moore’s Milwaukee office.
Veronica Vickas: I am currently attending Carthage College in Kenosha as a Psychology and Costume Design double major. In the fall I will be starting my senior year, which means the start of applying to a million and one different theatres’ costume shops.

MM: How did you get your start in theatre, and what made you decide to pursue it? Do you have any particular inspirations/turning points?

SS: I decided in 8th grade that acting wasn’t really for me, so I switched to doing crew for The Little Mermaid Jr. and have been doing the backstage stuff since. What actually made me decide to pursue theatre was really a combination of things. It was just something I always enjoyed and poured all of my free time into. I had a teacher in high school that really helped me realize that pursing theatre wasn’t some crazy thing that isn’t realistic and basically said: If you like theatre, do it; the worst thing that will happen is you just stop and do something else later. I think another turning point would be stage managing LES MISERABLES my senior year (of high school). That was a really amazing experience, but once I made it to college I found there were a lot of pieces missing from the stage management position at my high school. We would help with build and take on more of an assistant technical director position and then go on to call the show, as opposed to sitting in on rehearsals. 

KK: The stage has always been a large part of my life: I used to act as a young child, dance with the Milwaukee Ballet School, and play in the orchestra, amongst other things. After 12 years of dancing, I walked away in order to gain some freedom and join various high school clubs. During my freshman year, my orchestra stand partner and longtime friend, mentioned that she had the perfect role in the theatre for me. She told me day in and day out about how I needed to simply give stage management a chance, and by the time the spring musical rolled around - I gave in. At intermission, she snuck me into the sound closet to see our high school’s production of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, and I got to discover the magic of an entire backstage world that I had never noticed. The next fall, I joined stage crew, and the year after that I became a stage manager. I have been head over heels ever since.

VV: Theatre and performing has always had a special place in my heart but it was not something I thought could be turned into a viable career option. Despite all the analytic logic I had against being a theatre major, I could not deny something that was so fundamental in shaping me as a person. In making that decision to pursue a career in acting is how I found my true love, which is costume design. It was decidedly the most significant turning point of my theatre career.

MM: How did your relationship with MCT start?

SS: My relationship with MCT started with this production!
KK: Growing up in the community, I’ve seen several shows from MCT,and I have also had several friends who were Stage Management Interns. After hearing about how wonderful the team at MCT was to work with from both my friends and Marquette faculty, I applied for the internship, and now here I am.
VV: SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE CASE OF THE JERSEY LILY is the start of my relationship with MCT! The people here are so amazing that I hope it is a relationship that lasts a lifetime. I have to give all the credit to Kim Instenes for introducing me to this lovely bunch.

MM: What have these past couple weeks at MCT been like?

SS: These past weeks have been great! I’m learning a lot about how real professional productions run as opposed to ones in an educational setting. My favorite parts so far I think have been watching the actors develop the show and seeing the pieces of the production fall in place as they find things that work for the show. I also like developing what the show will have to look like when it is in the theatre space, thinking about the pieces we will have to move, and starting to develop paperwork that will help everything run smoothly.
KK: The past couple weeks at MCT have been a blast. It is an absolute joy to be in the room with a group of talented, hilarious, and big-hearted actors, directors, stage managers, designers, etc. It is so lovely to be surrounded by genuinely good people.
VV: As assistant costume designer, I unfortunately do not get to spend most of my time at MCT. When I am there, it is bound to be a wonderful, fun-filled day. My favorite experience has been being able to been part of costume fittings and seeing how having their costume helps the actor further develop their character’s physicality.

MM: What are you looking forward to the most during this experience?

SS: I’m looking forward to getting into tech and seeing how that will run and fall together. I also am looking forward to getting into performances!
KK: During this experience, I am looking forward to making connections and building relationships
VV: I look forward to working with professionals. I already see what a difference there is between college theatre and professional theatre.

MM: What do you hope to gain or take away from this experience?

SS: I hope to gain a better understanding of how professional theatres run and operate, and get more experience designing paperwork that gets used in the run of a show.
KK: I am hoping to gain new stage management skills and paperwork experience that I can apply in my future endeavors.
VV: I hope to take away a deeper understanding of what it means to be a costume designer in the professional theatre world. I wish to learn all the nuances of professional theatre that just cannot be taught, despite the best efforts of my professors.

MM: Do you have any current projects you're working on or about to pursue that you're excited about?

SS: Next season at my University I’ll be doing a lot of design work which I am both excited and terrified by. The one that is coming up most quickly is THE LARAMIE PROJECTwhich I am projection designing in the fall. 
KK: As we wrap up this show, I’ll begin stage managing LITTLE WOMEN, directed by Lenny Banovez, and in January, I’ll begin stage managing IMAGE OF AN UNKNOWN YOUNG WOMAN, directed by Debra Krajec, both at Marquette University.
VV: Currently, I am in the process of costume designing my senior thesis, MARIE ANTOINETTE at Carthage.  I am VERY excited about this project. The script offers rich characters, and a fun eccentric period. This show is just about every costume designer’s dream!

MM: What are your hopes for the future in terms of your career?

SS: I just hope to work in theatre, consistently enough to do it full time, and still live comfortably. Perhaps even become a professor to teach theatre later as well.
Become a stage manager.
KK: I hope to one day join Actors’ Equity as a stage manager and be the Production Manager of a theater. Quite honestly though, my only hope at this point is that I’ll be prepared for what comes next - I’ve got a lot of open doors between theatre and public health, so we’ll see where life takes me.
VV: Ideally I would love to continue work as a costume designer, really to keep exploring the field of costumes as a whole. Then after a few years of being in the field I would love to go back to school and get my master’s in costume design.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Why All the Sherlock Adaptations?

by Mariah McGavin

Ask anyone to describe Sherlock Holmes, and you’ll surely get pieces of the iconic look: a deerstalker hat, greatcoat, pipe, and probably a magnifying glass for good measure. Even if you’ve never read an original Sherlock Holmes story, you’ve probably seen a Halloween costume, a movie or television adaption, or maybe even said “No ****, Sherlock!” (Apologies to our esteemed readers for our language!)

There’s something so familiar about Sherlock Holmes and his ability to solve cases using his incredibly astute skills of observation. No wonder. Holmes has dominated film, television, and literature since 1887.

While under the pen of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself, Sherlock Holmes appeared in 4 novels and 56 short stories. Mr. Holmes was just as popular back then as he is now; when Conan Doyle attempted to kill off Sherlock in 1893, public outcry was so great he resurrected the detective in 1903.

Since then, more than 25,000 books, stories, and articles have been written about Sherlock Holmes. He has appeared in more than 28 films, several television adaptations, and numerous re-imaginings onstage, portrayed by actors such as Benedict Cumberbatch, Basil Rathbone, and Jeremy Brett. And there’s no sign of slowing. Up next: a new installment of the Guy Ritchie-directed film series starring Robert Downey, Jr., set to debut in 2020.


So what’s the deal? It seems no matter the time or place, Sherlock Holmes has managed to sneak his way into every era, every possibility, and every medium. How has he managed to survive all these years after Sir Arthur Conan Doyle first penned him? And why do we as audiences continue to watch him?

Sherlock Holmes finds his roots in the days of serialized magazine prose, where improved work and leisure laws in England called for magazine stories that could be read during train travel or newfound free time. To appeal to readers, Conan Doyle needed to craft a notable character who could be recognized and independently exist in different stories, freeing readers of having to read stories chronologically or to read all of them.

After his introduction in A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of the Four, a barrage of stories in The Strand made Sherlock a hit (of particular note for our production: “A Scandal in Bohemia”). He’s survived long past the days of serialized magazine stories and into the era of film and television – but many think it’s the era of his creation that has ensured his longevity.

Sherlock Holmes appeared in Victorian England, shortly before new technologies changed both the landscape and the attitudes of England itself. Anthony Horowitz, a novelist who wrote The House of Silk, the first Sherlock adventure officially sanctioned by the Conan Doyle estate, says that Sherlock Holmes’ appeal and lasting relevance is due to his being the final reminder of a romanticized old England, where cobblestone streets and the strange villains remind us of “the last gasp of English history before technology takes over.” The Victorian Era is widely regarded as one of England’s most prosperous time periods. Along with improvement in schools, workplaces, and transportation, vast amounts of literature and art were produced, and it was a time of relative peace. Perhaps Sherlock serves as a reminder of these times.

But what about the Sherlock Holmes adaptations that take place away from Victorian England? While Holmes certainly originates and draws inspiration from his source era, he has been more than capable of existing outside of it. Certainly one of the main reasons Sherlock Holmes has been able to exist for so long is, quite simply, himself. Mr. Holmes is fascinating. His somewhat arrogant and rude nature is somehow somewhat both endearing and amusing (especially when he is with his friend and foil, Dr. Watson). And beyond that, Sherlock Holmes has been somewhat of what we might today call a superhero or, at the least, a Renaissance man, especially in the detective world, for over a century. He has an unbelievable intellect; he’s athletic, an accomplished boxer, fencer, and singlestick player. He is a musician. His skills are some of his most remarkable traits.

But beyond Sherlock Holmes’ personality, Leslie Klinger, a Sherlock Holmes scholar, has pointed out Sherlock Holmes has proven a model for detectives and detective story formats. Whether or not we realize it, we see Sherlock Holmes in every detective television show, movie, or story. We eagerly await the return of our favorite detective, who will be thrust into a different situation every episode. Then, no matter what, these detectives will eventually get to the bottom of their cases, even when presented with the seemingly most unsolvable case. And in the next episode, they’ll do it again. You can apply these traits to almost any serialized detective show; Columbo, The Rockford Files, Criminal Minds. While credit must be given to Edgar Allen Poe for the most widely regarded early detective fiction, the archetype and structure of the modern day mystery was popularized by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and lives on in his most enduring creation.

Even when pulled into the modern era (as in Elementary and Sherlock, above),
Holmes remains a fascinating fictional character.


Sherlock Holmes has set an unreachable bar with his intellect, physical ability, and dogged pursuit of truth. And while we know he will always figure out the case, the journey — his chemistry with Watson, his sharp dialogue, and his explanations regarding the minutest details — is just as satisfying as the ending. As Dr. Watson put it in “The Final Problem” (another source story key to MCT’s production), Sherlock Holmes was the “best and the wisest man whom I have ever known.”

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre's production of SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE CASE OF THE JERSEY LILY, by Katie Forgette, runs August 10 to 26 at the Broadway Theatre Center's Cabot Theatre, at 158 N. Broadway. Tickets can be purchased at 414.291.7800 or by visiting milwaukeechambertheatre.com.