Somewhere in the midst of an incoherent ramble, I stopped talking. I had nothing left to say and everything left to say. I was tongue-tied, tired, and four weeks into rehearsing Cyrano for BoHo Theatre, the largest show I had ever directed.
My ramble came courtesy of a question that was asked of me by BoHo marketing director, Chuck Riffenburg during an interview that was (supposed) to be used for marketing purposes. (Look for it on the DVD extras!) Chuck’s question dealt with the amount of theatre being produced in Chicago and wondered, with all the choices that the Chicago theatergoing public had, why someone should come and see Cyrano.
I immediately dug into a word salad, full of themes and platitudes about the importance of Chicago Theatre, it’s aesthetic and how this adaptation of Cyrano seemed to be tailor made for Chicago. (9 actors, playing 20 roles over the span of 15 years) I had just finished reading Richard Christiansen’s fantastic book on the history of Chicago Theatre, A Theatre Of Our Own: A History and Memoir of 1001 Nights In Chicago and I was all hopped up on the idea of Chicago Theatre and what that idea represented: honesty, passion, scrappiness, innovation, intelligence. Cyrano has all these traits, so why not make Cyrano a direct reflection of what it means to make theatre in this city! I was going to honor Boho and Chicago and all those that came before me. With this production of Cyrano, I was going to honor my idea of Chicago Theatre!
Needless to say, I had set myself up for the impossible. Fortunately, before rehearsals began, I had stripped away much of what was largely an incoherent concept that had nothing to do with Cyrano and everything to do with my own desire to do it all. The desire to fit my “idea” of something into a story that wanted nothing to do with such abstractness.
As an actor, you learn that you can’t play an idea. You can only play an action. It’s what good stories for the stage are made of. Show, don’t tell. The ideas, or feelings that come up, are a direct result of the actions played. It wasn’t until a few days after my interview with Chuck that I realized I was still holding on to the idea that Cyrano had to be more than the story on the page. I was trying to control the result, instead of playing the action.
I found the same to be true in my thinking about Chicago Theatre. This almighty idea of “Chicago Theatre”, that at the beginning of this process I felt so responsible to uphold, is actually not an idea at all. It is merely the result of the actions we as artist and theatre goers make as we experience it night after night. Or in Richard Christiansen’s case, 1001 nights.
My belief about what “Chicago Theatre” is, comes from seeing plays performed live on stage in this city. It comes from conversations I’ve had in dressing rooms between acts and after shows with cast-mates and friends. And it comes from the triumphs and failures that I have been a part of both as an audience member and artist. Chicago Theatre is the action, not the result. It’s to be experienced, not conceptualized.
My interview with Chuck ended rather unceremoniously after I went blank. But here I am, on the verge of another ramble, so I’ll stop and attempt to answer his question again.
You should come see Boho’s production of Cyrano because it is about the search for love. Each character in Cyrano goes about that search differently. Some act upon it in a way you may recognize, some you may not. But the collection of actions on that stage, performed by this talented cast, will result in a feeling about the almighty power of love that will be your own. It’s 2018 and we need more love in our lives. So join us in the theatre, let the doors close behind you and escape into a world searching for love. Give over to the struggles and the triumphs of that search. You won’t be disappointed. …And there’s sword fighting. The sword fighting is really cool, too!