[These plays] are about the need to talk, the need to listen, the need for theatre, and the need to be in the same room together … It is also my hope that they are about the need to know, in some small and even some bigger ways, that we are not alone.
— Richard Nelson
As TimeLine prepares to open The Apple Family Plays today, I’m delighted to finally be able to introduce you to the Apple Family.
Playwright Richard Nelson has created something unlike anything else I can recall in the American theater. Starting in 2010, he began crafting one play each year over the course of four years, using the same characters and one setting, a home in Rhinebeck, New York. Each play is set on the day it premiered: the 2010 midterm election, the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the 2012 presidential election, and the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination.
The Apple Family Plays are simple in structure—a family gathers around a dining room table. But as The New York Times noted, they locate, “as no other works of theater have, the intersection of public events and private lives … how world events are refracted and reflected in our own living and dining rooms in ways we’re not always aware.”
Richard has said that these plays “are about the need to talk, the need to listen, the need for theatre, and the need to be in the same room together … It is also my hope that they are about the need to know, in some small and even some bigger ways, that we are not alone.”
This lovely sentiment gets at the heart of TimeLine’s mission and why we started this theatre in 1997. We always aim to ignite discussion about how the past and present connect—on both a personal and political level.
We’ve chosen to present the plays that are set on election days—That Hopey Changey Thing in 2010 and Sorry in 2012—as the family discussion shifts between issues of national and personal importance, like so many of us find ourselves doing on a daily basis. You have the opportunity to see either or both plays, in whichever order you choose. There may be advantages to seeing them in sequential order, and I believe that the more time you spend with the Apples, the richer the experience can be. But each play stands on its own as a provocative and stirring event.
I had the immense pleasure of seeing all four plays over two days, in order, at New York’s Public Theater in 2013. Among the many things I marveled at was the dynamic among the cast. Most had played their roles over multiple years as the plays were developed and premiered, and the history and genuine bond among them was palpable.
TimeLine is putting much of our own family on stage together. Five TimeLine Company Members in the cast is more than any previous production in our 18-year history! And we’re thrilled to welcome the extraordinary Mike Nussbaum to TimeLine for the first time, all under the direction of our long-time colleague, TimeLine Associate Artist Louis Contey.
In the fourth and final installment of the Apple Family Plays (Regular Singing) the series concludes with the character of Barbara turning to the audience and saying: “And so we live. Sometimes we come together. Something brings us together. And some days we are alone. But it’s those days together that remind us why we live. Or, maybe it is—how. How—we live.”
After years of admiring Richard Nelson’s ambitious creation, we’re honored to come together in TimeLine’s theater and the Apple’s dining room. I hope you will join us, and I look forward to the conversation that ensues.
Today we conclude our interviews with the six-actor cast of Danny Casolaro Died For You. (Check out the previous five: Kyle Hatley, Mark Richard, Demetrios Troy, Philip Earl Johnson and Dennis William Grimes.) You have until December 21 to see their work together before the show closes! To wrap up the series here’s Jamie Vann, who returns to TimeLine, having previously appeared in The Farnsworth Invention, to portray six dramatically different characters in this play:
1 — Tell us the story of when you first knew you wanted to become an actor. I remember being in a school play in probably the 1st grade, and I remember being shy and not wanting to have to speak or really do anything during the play. The big scene in the play was where those of us who played the nameless villagers built a wall onstage with those red cardboard bricks that they sometimes have in elementary schools. And the lead character tore down the wall in an “I’ll save you!” moment at the end. And that character was played by a kid in my class named Stan. And the audience cheered when he burst through the wall. I remember standing onstage next to him and seeing the crowd, and I think I probably decided then and there that I wanted to be Stan.
2 — What had you heard about Danny Casolaro or any of these conspiracy theories before working on this play? I’ve heard about the October Surprise and I had definitely heard about the John Hinckley stuff that is mentioned. I was very into presidential assassinations when I was in school. In junior high, I took a summer course that focused on the U.S. presidential assassinations and ever since then, I’ve been fascinated by the stories that have surrounded them. Almost all of them have big conspiracy theories around them. The Lincoln assassination was actually part of a larger conspiracy, with no theory, but actual fact. Because of that historical truth, there is credence given to every theory about conspiracies to assassinate the President of the United States.
3 — What character do you most enjoy portraying? I actually love playing the different characters. I’m a character actor, so I often get cast in roles where I need to play a bit of an extreme, or something out of the ordinary. It’s the range that I love. I think the far ends of that range are Dr. John and Alan Spar. I really like playing both of them, and I only wish Dr. John had a more time to explore. My favorite reaction is when audience members have thought that multiple actors play my roles. My goal is to make all the characters believable and real, and to commit strongly to them and make them individuals.
4 — What other experiences have you had portraying real people? I’ve had a couple of experiences playing actual historical figures. I played [Richard] Nixon once, and when you play someone that well known there’s always the danger of it just feeling like an impression. Or an impression of someone else’s impression of the person. When you play people who actually existed but aren’t famous, you feel a bit more freedom to make choices. In one instance at Next Theatre, I played one of the scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project building the atomic bomb. At a Q&A after the show one day, a woman in the audience casually mentioned that she was the secretary for Robert Oppenheimer for many years, and it suddenly struck me that I was playing a character that people in the audience may have met in real life. It was incredibly daunting and I found myself wanting to question the choices I had made in rehearsal.
But the truth is, I’m not really portraying that real person. I’m portraying a character in a play that is based on that person. The playwright has made choices in scripting the character that may be based on the real person, but I have to make my choices based on what is in the script and what is necessary for the story we are telling. In Danny Casolaro Died for You, I play two characters who are real people and one other who is “loosely based” on a real person. With Bill Hamilton, I was able to look at him on YouTube and see interviews he has done, but I can’t just imitate the man I see in the interviews. That’s not the character written in the play. The character I play has dramatic intention and plays a role in the story. We don’t do documentaries in the theatre.
5 — How does being in TimeLine’s intimate 99-seat space affect your engagement with the audience? I always love the audience being close. It may sound hokey, but you can feel the attention of the audience when they are that close. You can feel when the audience is holding a collective breath and there is dead silence and no one is moving a muscle, waiting for some moment to resolve onstage. You can feel even the smallest little laugh. With the audience close, it really feels like a shared experience.
6 — This is a fast paced show, with costume changes, food being cooked on stage, changing characters and settings. How do you balance all the moving parts? It is a well-oiled machine backstage, and our crew members are the ones doing the balancing. Between Dennis Grimes and me, we have 19 costume changes during the show, some of which have to be done in less than a minute. We spent a lot of time rehearsing the changes and figuring out how to make the changes work efficiently, so we don’t show up onstage in the wrong thing, or worse yet, in nothing.
7 — What’s your favorite conspiracy thriller movie or TV show? I love The Usual Suspects, because it plays so well into the core of the conspiracy thriller: the willingness to believe.
8 — Of the conspiracies in the show, which one fascinates or concerns you the most? The one that concerns me the most is one that is just touched on late in the show—the idea that government/corporate interests have been financed by and/or profited from the drug trade in the past 40 years. If true, and I think there is little question that it has been true at some point, it has had a profound impact on the culture of the U.S. for generations and is probably the core of the great divide we have seen in the country. Money, prestige, and beautiful women—you either have them, or you don’t.
9 — What’s a fact or quirk about you that could be fodder for conspiracy theorists? My day job is “Slot Machine Designer.” Everyone believes that casino games are rigged. No matter how you explain it, and no matter how much players love the games, they have all these theories on how the games work. Most of those theories are based on some conspiracy between me, casino owners, or the government, to make the games pay or not pay while they are playing. No one wants to believe in randomness. And that is actually a human trait. We look for patterns in the randomness of the world. Seeing a pattern helps us understand the past and predict the future. Randomness doesn’t help us understand the world, so we reject it. And that is why a lot of conspiracy theories catch on, because people want to see the connectedness between things. And when you start down that path, you can begin to think everything is connected and conspiring against you ….
To read Jamie’s biography, visit our website …
There are just two more weeks of performances for Danny Casolaro Died For You! And before this show’s brilliant six-actor cast leaves our stage on December 21, we have two more interviews to share. (You can catch up with our previous posts featuring Kyle Hatley, Mark Richard, Demetrios Troy and Philip Earl Johnson.) Today’s is with Dennis William Grimes, who returns to TimeLine after previously appearing in The Pitmen Painters, Frost/Nixon and Pravda:
1 — When did you first know you wanted to be an actor? I was 15 and I spent more of my time in the theatre in high school than I did at home, or anywhere else for that matter. I had no question that working in the theatre would be my life; it felt like magic and still does.
2 — What has been your favorite moment working on this show? The first time we had electric silence after the final Thomas monologue, felt like we knocked it out of the park.
3 — If Danny came to you, would you believe him? I think I would. I see the inter-connectivity of the government and these private contractors. As a society we don’t confront the fact that we ask our government to do things in an effort to keep us “safe” without asking what that means or what that will cost us.
4 — What do you think happened to Danny Casolaro? I don’t know really, but I think that he extended himself too far without enough personal and professional protection.
5 — Danny stumbles on to a government conspiracy and finds he has to make choices about how far he’ll go for answers. What would you do if you had been in Danny’s position? How far would you go for the truth? Well, I’ll start with the notion that the truth is elusive. We have to weigh costs and try to go with what you have when you have it. Like playing spades; sometimes you “Shoot the Moon,” but for the most part you play out the hands one trick at a time, taking a percentage.
6 — Do you trust the government? That’s a big question. I think the better question is: Do we trust our electorate? We often don’t take enough responsibility for our own governance. We expect someone else to fight for us.
7 — What character do you most enjoy portraying, and why? I love playing Jeff Beagle the most. His points are very direct, but at the same time, there is a lot of flexibility in how he can react to the situation, which allows the audience to have an ambiguous relationship to him. It allows me to have a different relationship with the audience every night.
8 — Would you want to be friends with your character in real life? No, these guys don’t make friends.
9 — What’s your favorite moment in the play? I love it when I bring up Clark Clifford, and someone in the audience acknowledges the name and begins to put things together.
10 — Does being in TimeLine’s intimate 99-seat space affect your engagement with the audience? Not really, it’s kinda what we do in town. Often, playing to the bigger rooms feel strange.
11 — This is a fast paced show, with costume changes, food being cooked on stage, changing characters and settings. How do you balance all the moving parts? I don’t think, I just go. Thinking too much can throw off the balance. We just trust the team and do one thing after another and no further.
12 — What’s your favorite conspiracy thriller movie or TV show? House of Cards, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but mostly, Rubicon! AMC bring it back!!
13 — Is there a conspiracy in the world that is most interesting to you? I still think what happened in Chile with President Salvadore Allende is an event that most Americans are not only ignorant of, but desperately need to know about in order to understand why the world looks at our country with great skepticism.
14 — Of the conspiracies in the show, which one fascinates or concerns you the most? BCCI. That global financing is still around. Capital will always flow. You can’t stop or change the world by trying to clamp down on that part, it will just go to the dark places.
15 — What’s a fact or quirk about you that could be fodder for conspiracy theorists? I have moved a great deal, and know a lot about how things work.
To read Dennis’s biography, visit our website …
Next up in our series of interviews with the remarkable six-actor cast of Danny Casolaro Died For You: Philip Earl Johnson. (Catch up so far with these interviews with Kyle Hatley, Mark Richard and Demetrios Troy.) Phil is making his TimeLine debut in this show, portraying multiple roles, including the sinister Robert Nichols.
1 — When did you first know you wanted to become an actor? I smashed a tomato in my face in the second grade. That was it.
2 — What is the strangest thing a role has required you to do? In Dance of Death by August Strindberg at Writers Theatre, I had to passionately pick up my scene partner and kiss her neck and then rip out her throat. Up to that point, I was a completely nice and helpful guy. Completely out of the blue.
3 — What has been your favorite moment working on this show so far? Working with all the artists involved with this production. From day one to the present it has been a joy. A great group! Everyone involved from top to bottom.
4 — If Danny came to you, would you believe him? I would believe him, because I am a trusting person who gives people the benefit of the doubt.
5 — Danny stumbles on to a government conspiracy and finds he has to make choices about how far he’ll go for answers. What would you do in Danny’s position? How far would you go for the truth? I would not have done what Danny did. But I’m not a journalist. He did what he had to do. The truth is important but reality is relative. The two go hand in hand. One must weigh out how they work together in every aspect of one’s life and then make decisions. I wasn’t there. I don’t judge him, but I don’t think what he did was prudent.
6 — Do you trust the government? I trust the government to be the government. Yes. Do I trust that it wouldn’t hurt me if forces aligned? I trust that it would be the government.
7 — You portray multiple characters. Which one do you most enjoy playing, and why? I like playing Bob Nichols. He has ultimate power in the scenes. At least he believes he does. Which is all he needs.
8 — Would you want to be friends him in real life? I would love to hang out with Bob Nichols. He isn’t a killer because he likes to kill. He is a business man. But I would definitely not want to do business with him. But to go fishing with him. Hell yeah!!
9 — What other experiences have you had portraying real people? I played Jesus at Court Theatre. He’s famous. The thing about famous people is, everyone has an opinion about them already. Don’t fight that. But I do think you have to challenge it. My Jesus liked ice cream.
10 — What’s your favorite moment in this play? The very last line: “You can get the fuck out of my house.”
11 — How does being in TimeLine’s intimate 99-seat space affect your engagement with the audience? I wish it were closer. The closer the better. It’s like a challenge for the audience to stay close and involved.
12 — Is there a conspiracy in the world that is most intriguing to you? JFK
13 — Of the conspiracies in the show, which one fascinates or concerns you the most? The conspiracy that they aren’t really criminals. That they are just doing their jobs. But clearly selfishness and greed play a major role. They are no longer serving the people. The conspiracy that the politicians at that level are innocent. When they are not. However. Decisions must be made.
14 — What’s a fact or quirk about you that could be fodder for conspiracy theorists? There are certain windows I rarely look in, but am regularly looking out. And I do not plan to change that regardless.
Join us today, Sunday, December 7, 2014, for a special post-show performance and event featuring Phil, MooNiE the MagNif’Cent, and a conversation about the history and relationship between vaudeville and “legit” theatre. To read his biography, visit our website …
It’s Day 3 of our series of interviews with the astounding six-actor cast of Danny Casolaro Died For You before they depart the TimeLine stage on December 21. So far you can also read interviews with Kyle Hatley and Mark Richard. Now here’s Demetrios Troy, who appeared in TimeLine’s Blood and Gifts in 2013 and returns in this production as Thomas Vacarro, the cousin who encourages Danny as he pursues his quest.
1 — Tell us the story of when you first knew you wanted to become an actor Circa the early 1990s, in Chicago’s Northwest suburbs at an elementary school called St. Zachary’s, I was passed up for the role of the Lion in The Wizard of Oz. It was decided by our music teacher that all the roles would go to 8th graders.
Dressed in my sky blue button down dress shirt, dark navy blue pants and black dress shoes, I stood in front of the call board and took the news as best as I could. I tried to hide my disappointment, shuffling my feet to “home” room, but it was hard for me to suppress amongst the joyful elation of fellow students who were cast.
Six weeks later, I sat in my old school desk sneaking my hand underneath the lid to grab at some Skittles I had sneaked into school, listening to Sister Sara demonstrate the finer points of cursive handwriting, when I heard my name over the PA system. “Demetrios Troy report to the music room immediately.” My face contorted in confusion as I rose to the teasing “ohhhhhhhh’s” of my fellow students.
Walking down the quiet hallways flanked by blue lockers I flipped through the rolodex of mischievous antics I performed behind the back of my music teacher. She couldn’t have had anything on me. I was nothing but stealthy and tactful. Unsure of the circumstances I took a breath and entered the music room.
“Hi, Demetrios.” She said with a smile.
“Hi.” I said, unsure of how take her.
“As you know, we have The Wizard of Oz coming up in two weeks.”
Yes. I thought. A little miffed since I auditioned.
“Well, I need your help. Veronica who had been cast as the Lion has decided to drop out of the show because she doesn’t feel she can do it. Honestly she’s scared.”
“So, I wanted to know if you’d be willing to join the cast as our Lion.”
Instilled with business sense at a young age I answered her calmly and confidently.
“Sure. I can do that.”
“Great we have rehearsal tonight and out first performance is in two weeks. I’ll see you after to school.”
I left the music room elated and ran down the hallway to Sister Sara’s class hitting all the opened lockers in celebration. Which resulted in an after school detention.
The show ended up being very successful for an elementary school version of The Wizard of Oz. My mother made me a full Lion costume with a tail that could pull a tractor and I performed an exceptional impression of Bert Lahr. At least the best one a 10-year-old could pull off …
So did this experience solidify my choice to become an actor? Well … no. That moment wouldn’t come until high school when I chose to play Nathan Detroit [in Guys and Dolls] instead of playing baseball. This was the time when I knew that the arts would be a big part of my life.
It wasn’t the costume, the applause or the “glory” that made me realize this, but the moment I looked out and saw all those little kids’ faces smiling at me. They believed I was the Lion and it seemed to bring them joy. I made a difference in my own way and I have been chasing that desire ever since ….
2 — What has been your favorite or most unique audience reaction this show? “Are you really eating all that pasta?”
3 — What had you heard about Danny Casolaro or any of these conspiracy theories before working on this play? Nothing about Danny himself, but I did read about Iran/Contra.
4 — What has been your favorite moment working on this show so far? I’d have to say the process as a whole was a real joy because of the people who were brought together to make it possible.
5 — What’s it like backstage? I’m not sure what it’s like backstage during the show, since I hardly ever leave [the stage], but I think it consists of Jamie, Dennis and Phil running around like mad men. Before and after the show there’s plenty of locker room teasing and joking around. I mean … we are all focusing on getting into character ….
To read Demetrios’ biography, visit our website …
We’re continuing our series of interviews with the amazing six-actor cast of Danny Casolaro Died For You before they depart the TimeLine stage on December 21. You can read the first post, “8 questions for Kyle Hatley,” here. Today, TimeLine Associate Artist Mark Richard, who portrays “Dangerman” himself, Michael Riconosciuto.
1 — When did you first know you wanted to become an actor? My grandmother took me to Mary Poppins. Dick Van Dyke jumped through pavement paintings to dance with animated penguins. That looked like a very appealing way to spend adulthood. It interests me in retrospect that while I was conscious that he was “acting,” and that this was a performance and not real, I still thought that he had access to dancing with animated penguins.
2 — What had you heard about Danny Casolaro or any of these conspiracy theories before working on this play? I distinctly remember the news items about Danny’s body being discovered and the sinister questions around various forces trying to insist it was a suicide. I remember the suggestive connections with a journalist who died in Latin America under similar circumstances. But then it all faded from view and I had forgotten it, until the play appeared in my life.
3 — What has been your favorite moment working on this show so far? I can’t pick one moment, but one aspect was the early realization that this group was going to get along really well together, on stage and off. And so it has proved. Jamie Vann is the only member of the cast I had worked with before, so there’s always a first-day-of-school feeling about it when you start. Am I the only one here who doesn’t know everybody else? Will anyone like me? Will they think I’m weird? (No, hard to say, and yes, as it turns out.)
4 — What’s it like backstage? Our stage manager Jinni’s refrain when she’s backstage for too long is, “boys are the worst.” That should give you some idea. Though, frankly, it’s neither as profane nor as odoriferous as coed ensembles I’ve been in. Lots of talk, lots of laughs. And usually a post-show tipple in the dressing room before we all head off into the night. There is a highly responsible but deep appreciation for good whiskey. The most distinctive element of the dressing room is Phil Johnson’s make-up table, which could drive a well-stocked general store out of business.
5 — What do you think happened to Danny Casolaro? I find it impossible to believe that he wasn’t killed, though exactly why or by exactly whom, I couldn’t say. Truth is so often either weirder or more banal than one expects based on the known facts.
6 — Do you trust the government? No, but I don’t distrust government in any special way. I distrust human nature in any situation that allows people to wield great power, often anonymously, and without much chance of accountability—whether they are a government, a corporation, or theater producers.
7 — What is your favorite part about playing Michael Riconosciuto? I love the very specific voice and rhythm that Dominic found for him in the writing. I love his combination of grandiosity, insecurity, smarts and emotional immaturity. He’s funny, and pitiable, and infuriating. (At least, to me.)
8 — Would you want to be friends with Michael in real life? Maybe just passing acquaintances.
9 — How does being in an intimate space like TimeLine’s 99-seat theatre affect your engagement with the audience? For me, the way that this show is staged and lit, I actually feel very isolated from the audience, despite how close they are. The lighting is very severe and I’m usually in a very small area of light, not able to see them. And I’m completely absorbed in my feverish personal concerns, not really communicating directly with the audience the way some of the other characters are.
10 — What’s your favorite conspiracy thriller movie or TV show? Here’s a list: North By Northwest, Klute, All the President’s Men, Manchurian Candidate, Seven Days in May, Silkwood, The Conversation and Three Days of the Condor.
To read Mark’s biography, visit our website …
Recently TimeLine, in collaboration with North Grand High School, presented a one-night-only staged reading of My Kind of Town, the play by John Conroy that puts a human face on the police torture scandal that has plagued Chicago for more than three decades; it was directed by Nick Bowling and featured many of the original cast. A presentation of our Living History Education Program, the play reading was followed by a community discussion moderated by North Grand students who participated in a special educational residency in the four days leading up to the reading. Also in attendance were students from Perspectives Charter High School, another Living History participant, as well as members of the North Grand community and TimeLine patrons.
Here are reflections on the event (which took place on Monday, November 10, 2014) from two Living History teaching artists:
How can a piece of art create a community dialogue?
by Ali Delianides, Living History Teaching Artist
When walking into Perspectives Charter High School, we were faced with this question, among many others.
The students had spent the week prior to our arrival reading the My Kind Of Town script and had started learning about this police torture scandal as told through the play that first premiered at TimeLine in the spring of 2012.
We had four days to spend with these students. In those four days, we asked them to harness their inner bravery, read pages from John Conroy’s script, and bring these characters to life. These weren’t the characters that they would see during the reading on Monday night, but their versions of these characters. Like all actors, when faced with a piece of text we do our research into the characters lives, but we also pull from what we know, and the stories these students told spoke volumes as to what they knew about Chicago and what the justice system represented to them.
One of the more fearless students decided to take on the role of mother Rita Jeffries in the scene where her son, the imprisoned Otha, tells her that maybe he is guilty. Toward the end of the scene Rita says Otha’s name a number of times. Each time this student said, “Otha,” his voice and tone changed; it became more constant and fervent. When the scene was finished, I asked, “What were you thinking about when you said those lines?” His response: “I thought of my own mamma and what she would say to me if I was guilty or not of a crime. At the end of the day she always loves me no matter what, I’m her son, and no one is going to hurt her baby.”
Our students were divided in their feelings. Some of them believed that torture was a suitable form of punishment. “I agree with torturing criminals,” one student said. “But what if the ‘criminal’ was falsely charged, and turned out to be innocent?” Mr. Conroy asked on the day he spent in our class. The student stayed silent, then responded, “Well, I guess then we shouldn’t torture.” Another student said, “We should create guidelines depending on the degree of their crime.”
When the students asked the question, “Why make this story into a play?,” John recalled one night during the show’s run at TimeLine when an audience member gasped at the very end of the play. “That’s why,” he said. “As audience members, you are faced with these characters as opposed to just reading about them. Your connection is stronger and therefore the story stays with you.”
I think by having these conversations with the Perspective students, having them portray these characters reminds them that this story is not just an event from the past, but something that pertains to their world and their future. They expressed the desire for change, and they exemplified the drive and bravery to make it happen.
The Chicago in all of us
by Jessamyn Fitzpatrick, Living History Teaching Artist
I’m Chicago, born and raised. Proud of it too, for all my life. Recently I asked a group of high school juniors and seniors what that meant, “to have Chicago in you.” To be a bit tougher, one girl said. To know how to handle yourself in certain neighborhoods. To jaywalk. Everyone agreed that there is something about this city, something about the cold and the grit of it that toughens you up around the edges.
When I first saw John Conroy’s My Kind of Town at TimeLine in 2012, I left the theatre in a state of shock. Never in my 24 years had I heard about Jon Burge or the Area 2 torture scandal. Never had I connected myself to a city that would sanction torture and turn a blind eye to its victims. But it is easy for a young white girl growing up on the North side to ignore the realities of systemic, racialized violence in our law enforcement. I didn’t want to ignore it anymore.
In light of the protests in Ferguson, the public outcry against police violence and the devaluation of black lives, Juliet Hart (director of Timeline’s Living History Education Program) proposed that we do a residency around My Kind of Town. The shooting of Michael Brown is yet another story about an unarmed young black man who is killed without anyone facing prosecution, prompting deep feelings of frustration and disillusionment. Like Oscar Grant. Trayvon Martin. And countless others that our mass media chose not to cover. My Kind of Town centers around the Area 2 police torture scandal in Chicago that took place decades ago, and yet so much of its story is very much a reality lived by many every day.
What better way to honor TimeLine’s commitment to spark dialogue around contemporary issues than to take another look at this play and ask the hard questions it poses about justice and violence. The project itself was ambitious: four days with a group of high school students to introduce them to the play and then empower them to host a community event featuring a staged reading of the play followed by a facilitated dialogue. None of us knew what to expect. The students were unfamiliar with the story, as I had been, and all of us wondered if anyone would even come to the event.
The experience was extraordinary. As so often happens with Living History, I found myself in awe of the insight of these students. We talked about what it meant to have power—which, they agreed—even the best of us were prone to abusing. We talked about police—one student who had lived in Arizona noted: “When I was there I didn’t think badly about cops, but here everyone hates them, so I guess I do, too. It makes sense because there’s a lot more violence here, I guess.”
We talked about what it meant and how it felt to live in a city that had recently been nicknamed “Chi-raq,” and how that image of death and violence bled into our own tolerance for such things.
And I will never forget the day we had John Conroy in the classroom, when I watched them actually connect story to reality as they looked over the images of real-life torture victim Andrew Wilson’s scarred body. They took on a lot in those four days, and still remained hungry for a full dose of the reality behind this production.
The evening of the event was incredible. The play was just as sharp and powerful as a reading as it was when I saw the full production two years ago. The story still gives me chills. We had an incredible experience sharing this story with an auditorium of other students, TimeLine staff and subscribers and a few other individuals from the greater community.
It is not a joy to watch a 17 year old come to terms with the fact that men were systematically tortured by individuals sworn to protect and serve us. There is little pleasure in uncovering just how ugly and cruel we as a society can be. However, when I work with students like the ones at North Grand, I cannot help but feel a profound hope that their horror, their indignation, will put us on a path to somewhere better.
In talking with Ms. Livas (their teacher), Juliet and I came to the understanding that this was to be a way for them to take power and feel the weight of it, for them to have their voices heard in the hopes that, as they grow up, they will not lose those voices, but use them with conviction.
In the end, that is the greatest gift I think a play like this offers—the reminder that we all are part of these stories, and so we all carry the potential to improve upon them for the future. To borrow a phrase from Conroy’s text, “We are all in the room.”
As our North Grand Students reflected at the end of the evening, now, more than ever, it is time that we step up.
TimeLine’s Living History Education Program is an arts integration residency that is closely in tune with the mission of TimeLine. The curriculum is designed to teach theatre skills while fostering the capacity to think creatively, to make connections, and to provide new ways of understanding history and the world around us. For more information, visit our website …