Sunday, May 12, 2013


There you are sitting in the center seat, third row back, in an intimate storefront theater located in a neighborhood of Chicago.  POOF!  The live theater production has begun.  But what happened before you got comfy in your seat to watch this new production complete with props, make up, backgrounds, and costumes?  Months, or possibly years, of pre-production work occurred, that's what happened.  Unless you are closely associated with theatrical productions, you may not know what needs to happen before a play even has a prayer of hitting the stage.  'By Reason of Sanity' is currently going through that  process.  I hope to share with you the ups and downs as well as the uncertainty that a playwright goes through before the curtain ever rises.

Blake Levinson, author of 'By Reason of Sanity,' and I met by chance at another production at The Wit Theater.  His energy in chatting about his new play was infectious and the title intrigued me.  He invited me to "a professional reading" of this play.  Not wanting to look ignorant, I readily accepted the invitation, but I had no clue as to how "a professional reading" happened.  High school and college plays were the extent of my on-stage theater experience.  Did a select few sit around a table while the actors read?  Was this a type of audition for the actors?  Did the playwright want feedback?  Was this what usually happened in order to get a play on to the stage?  I truly had no idea and thought maybe there were other theater-lovers out there that don't know either.  So read on to learn what it takes to get a show from just words on paper to living souls acting them out on stage for all to see, hear, feel and judge.

I showed up to the first reading at a small theater in Bucktown, completely open-minded, but blind to the situation.  I walked in to a full house.  Who were all these people?  Regular theater-goers? Critics? Actors?  I'd have to find that out later because, as usual, the Dan Ryan was backed up and I had been running late.  The manager gregariously spoke about Chicago theater and upcoming productions. He then introduced the actors, the director and then the playwright.  The stage was barren.  The actors were dressed in "regular" clothes.  They had no props, just a script to read from while seated across from one another in folding chairs on the stage.  The director was off to the far left of the stage with a music stand to prop the script upon.  That's it.

The reading began.  The director described Act I, Scene 1 and the powerfully intense play came to life.  Throughout the reading, the director continued to describe the visuals we needed to imagine the scene.  'By Reason of Sanity' addressed spousal abuse; both verbal and physical.  It captured the essence of the impact this has on a woman's entire psyche.  This phenomena, as was typified in 'Sanity,' touches all women no matter her race, religion, education, or socioeconomic background.  How each woman deals with the situation varies tremendously.  How the law views how she dealt with it can also be completely variable.  With this play, knowledge was power.  It was also the ability to have empathy and insight.  The two characters, the social worker and her abused client, unknowingly provided that to each other.  Who was really helping whom?

The power of the mind to deal with or suppress situations such as these are frequently not talked about.  'By Reason of Sanity' delved deeply into this issue and touched upon other pertinent aspects which left you riveted to the stage.  We were educated, entertained, and fascinated by the honesty with which 'Sanity' addressed abuse.  Feelings of anger, frustration, embarrassment or even identification with the characters to some level were evident.  But there was also humor in this play.  The characters were complete opposites in most respects.  One was an educated white woman, the other a black woman who lived in less than a desirable situation.  The black woman was abused and was seeing the social worker as ordered by the court.  As we learned more about each of the characters, we came to know them as people in all their complexity.  These two women couldn't have been any more different; and they couldn't have been any more similar. 

During this "professional reading," I didn't need a prop.  I didn't need a background.  I didn't need to see the costumes or the makeup.  The writing and acting were so passionate that all of the other aspects were just ancillary to my imagination.  The "reading" was now over and I breathed deeply, completely awe-struck by what I had felt and experienced.  The audience was then invited to stay and fill out a questionaire so that Mr. Levinson could tweak the script before the second professional reading to take place in about a month's time.  I, of course, had to leave as my meter had run out and I had already contributed way too much money to the city of Chicago and its parking/towing fees.  By the way, there was free parking available...I figured that one out too late!

Fast forward to May.  A chilly May evening and I was at "professional reading" number 2 at the Piven Theater in Evanston; my old stomping grounds.  The setting was similar to the first reading however, there was a social worker presence there.  The validity and usefulness that a play such as this could possibly have in therapy could not be ignored.  As you looked on the stage, the only difference was that we now had a teddy bear as a prop.  We also had two new actors and a different director.  The reading of the play had proceeded just like the first one had, but Mr. Levinson had made a few changes.  The ending was entirely different and a few things were added or omitted based on the feedback that he received from the first reading.  Audience feedback was obviously taken quite seriously.

What happens now?  Mr. Levinson is hoping to find the right director and company to produce his play.  He has also taken the feedback from the second reading to tweak the script that much more.  I'm excited to see what changes he will make!  I hope to be able to tell you about these changes as this is a play that needs to be on stage for all to see.

Now that you know what happens before the curtain rises, stay tuned to find out WHEN the curtain rises!

No comments:

Post a Comment