Just north of Wrigley Field, from the windows of your red-line train creeping downtown, a dark void in the urban night from the 22 bus on Clark: cemeteries. No doubt you've passed by them a million times if you call the north side your stomping ground. Here's a nice story in The Chicago Reader of Bob Wells, the man who takes care of the grounds of Wunder's Cemetery. Not nearly as flashy or as well-financed as Graceland Cemetery on the other side of Irving Park road, Wunder's has a bargain bin charm you wanna root for.
Thursday, August 30, 2007
A couple takes on Killing Women:
The Chicago Reader
Then we've got: some fancy moving pictures up on the Stage Channel if you can't get yer butt in to see it.
Last weekend to see the show if you wanna. Do you wanna? Do you? (do you?)
Posted by Marisa Wegrzyn at 1:35 AM
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Here's an article in the Chicago Reader regarding reviews of developmental workshops like Steppenwolf's First Look Repertory of New Work.
I had the good fortune of working in the First Look Rep as a playwright in 2006. It was a blast. It was kinda like summer camp. And the audiences who sign up for First Look 101 and sit in on some of the readings and rehearsals become groupies and fans of the whole process. I thought it would make me nervous as hell walking around in my playwriting underwear in front of complete strangers, but I took a shine to it. There aren't any other developmental workshops that offer such transparency of process to an audience and a full production for a playwright (albeit with reduced production values and a limited run). But what it lacks in set, it makes up for in casting and direction -- these are top tier Chicago directors and actors who work on these things, and the 'Wolf charges some moneys for an audience to get a first look.
I went into First Look under the assumption my play wouldn't be reviewed. It was a developmental workshop free from the pressure of critical consumption, I was told. It really took a load off. Steppenwolf doesn't bill any of the plays in their First Look as "World Premiers", but that's a whole 'nother can o' worms in theatre business-speak.
Well, Chris Jones reviewed the shows, and he reviewed my play favorably. I know a couple theatres wanted to read my play based on that favorable review. Beyond that, I don't know what effect the review had other than giving me a little street cred on the mean streets of Theatreopolis. Kate Fodor's 100 Saints You Should Know, which was reviewed less favorably in the same article, is opening soon Off Broadway at Playwrights Horizons. And thank goodness for that, because it's a good, heartfelt play that I'm thrilled is enjoying a full go at another theatre.
The realm of critical appraisal in developmental workshops is a sticky thing. You want to give a play and a playwright a chance to mess around in a full production. Now you can do this reviews or not -- just, sometimes thinking you won't get reviewed will lessen the chance for an anxiety induced rupture of a major artery in the neck. A bad review of something "in-progress" could potentially make producers want to pick it up as much as they'd want to pick up a pee-soaked rag. A good review could launch it. Or a review, good or bad, could do nothing. You never know. It's like a really crappy Choose Your Own Adventure book.
Posted by Marisa Wegrzyn at 11:18 PM
Monday, August 27, 2007
I have been spending too much time building my Yahoo avatar for my Fantasy Fertbow league. Here I am hanging out on the moon with my pet velociraptor Gordy:
Posted by Marisa Wegrzyn at 1:28 PM
Saturday, August 25, 2007
Yesterday's finger-crossing was for naught -- no A/C again at last night's performance. The entire block that Chicago Dramatists is on is still scrapping by on reduced electricity after Thursday night's storm. Even the Subway sandwich shop on the corner had to close down, and when a Subway shop has to close, you know shit has hit the fan. Good thing we got plenty of fans to distribute the shit-spray. Everybody brought in whatever fans they had to imitate some adequate ventilation in the theatre. It's a little warm and stuffy, but thankfully not god-awful... The audience is game for the heat when we explain the situation. It could be worse (somehow?) Then again, I'm not the one acting under the hot lights. Had to reschedule our photo shoot since we don't have seven of our lighting instruments. So yeah. Whaddyagonnado, eh? Be mad at ComEd? ... well, yeah, that sounds productive.
I gave Charlie a lift home after the show. Somewhere along Ashland there was the smell of donuts but not a Dunkin' Donuts in sight. Weird. It's possible I was having an olfactory hallucination fueled by wishful thinking, but it inspired an important "Would you rather?" scenario:
Go through life emitting an overwhelming scent of Donuts
Cry fruit punch Kool-Aid?
note on the donut question:
- We're talking like a really strong scent of Donuts. Every time you enter a room somebody is going to say "Does it smell like Donuts in here? It fucking smells like fucking Donuts in here"
- Let's assume that you never become immune to the scent yourself. It may mess up the way food tastes since you're always smelling donuts.
- In addition to tears, your natural eyeball secretion is Kool-Aid: you may have an ever-present blood-shot look as it's fruit punch Kool-Aid that moistens your eyeball when you blink.
Posted by Marisa Wegrzyn at 10:54 AM
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
"The hardest part of being a writer is not the long hours of learning the craft, but learning how to survive the dark nights of the soul." –Charles BaxterI’m ready to talk about this now and then I'll be done with it. If you haven’t read it yet, here’s the Chris Jones piece in the Chicago Tribune.
Critics are an important part of the theatre ecosystem. Critics do not exist to give hand-jobs to theatre artists. They are there for the ticket-buying audience, and if there are adequate pull-quotes, for the marketing machine, but that's a by-product. There are good critics and there are bad critics; they are human beings who are nudged by personal prejudice and, sometimes, wicked snark. Critics are also, hopefully, educated, well-informed, and thoughtful theatre-lovers. And sometimes theatre criticism is actually (gasp!) helpful to the audience, the artist, and the archives.
Then there are critics who are not helpful. Like, really really not helpful at all. Like really go-fuck-yourself on a light-pole at the corner of Clark & Belmont not helpful. No doubt writers/actors/directors have a love-hate relationship with critics.
I read reviews of other people’s work and I read reviews of my plays. When writers say “I don’t read reviews” I say hogwash, ya bullshitter. And those who really really don’t read their reviews probably should, if only to know why people are overcompensating with faux cheerfulness when they run into you on the street after a string of bad reviews. It’s irresponsible to be ignorant of what’s being published about your work. On the other hand, are you being responsible to your writing and art to avoid a review? Maybe, if you’re insecure about your writing in the first place.
Here’s the rub for any theatre artist who claims reviews don’t matter: in an industry where monetary rewards are slim to none, the reward is: 1) the audience and the work itself, 2) the people you meet and enjoy working with, and... – oh crap – 3) praise (and maybe a hand-job).
And if you're an artist who doesn't agree with # 3, I'm not calling you a liar... but I am skeptical.
So when a critic, who has the power to dole praise in a large public forum, decides to break a mop handle in your asshole instead, it hurts. A lot. And if the initial torque doesn’t get you, the splinters will. (Jesus am I really talking about splinters in assholes? I need an editor.)
I don’t think anybody could forecast the critical whomping of The Butcher of Baraboo in NYC. It wasn’t a bad production – it wasn’t perfect – but it wasn’t bad. I was fortunate to be working with some high-profile talent who were also lovely people -- maybe that high-profile-ness opened the play up for a clobbering I may or may not have gotten a little further off the beaten path. Or maybe the critics just really hated it. I don’t know. Being in the thick of it, it’s difficult to get a handle of the why’s and how’s, and the assumptions that people are making who haven’t seen the NY production are disconcerting. I’m not a director nor am I a critic. I'm not taking blame nor am I dishing it out. My Polaroid perspective is going to take a couple years to develop. All I know is what I felt, and what I felt is that the big brother NYC critics held me down on the floor, dangled a warm bubbly loogie over my face, and instead of sucking it back between their lips, let it drop between my eyes.
I went from the highest of highs on a wine-soaked opening night to as low as a young, vulnerable, hungover Midwestern gal could plummet, just short of wallowing in broken crack vials in a Harlem gutter. I was stuck in NYC for the week following the reviews. No ticket back to Chicago, not yet. I went to my agent’s office to talk about the reviews. Those in the office who had seen the production were shocked by the vitriol of the critical notices. There was a stunned sense of “are you okay?”, as if I had crawled bruised and bloody from a twenty-car pile-up. I’m not fucking kidding when I say getting mugged at gunpoint on the streets of Chicago in 2004 was easier than the cold critical reception in NYC. There were production elements I thought might be tagged as flaws. But to read the reviews, you might think these essays of ire were revenge for the time I killed a critic’s brother.
From this point, to quote novelist Charles Baxter in his essay from Letters to a Fiction Writer on the subject of rejection, “I fell down very far into several intellectual and spiritual and emotional abysses, many of them inter-connected.”
I may have had one whiskey-soaked conversation with a bartender calling a certain critic at a certain newspaper a “scummy fuck.” I walked around the streets of New York with a great pressure behind my eyeballs, sat on subway trains that flew past my destination, and wondered what the hell just happened to me. I wanted to get in fights. I looked into purchasing brass knuckles. Who was I kidding? I’m a 5’5” blonde chick who bruises easily. Mostly, I kept it all to myself and I wanted to go home.
The reason I was stuck in NYC was my family was flying to town to see the show. So they came and I tried to be, well, a decent human being. But they had read the reviews too and knew me well enough to know I was miserable. They gave me some space to be grumpy. I’m thankful they let me be while the black bile percolated in my gut. It’s true that I had “womanly pains” on one of those mornings, but it was a great excuse to stay in bed at the hotel and watch a 5 hour marathon of “Celebrity Fit Club” on VH1.
Here were some of the responses to my situation. They are from well-meaning people who I respect and admire:
-reviews don’t matter
-critics don’t know anything
-some of those critics are angry men with small penises
-you’re young… you’ll get over it
It really doesn’t matter how young, how inexperienced I may be. I can’t digest a current situation in retrospect until retrospect takes its sweet time rolling around. I know, you’re trying to make me feel better. Thank you. I appreciate the thought. You’re going to have to let me sting for a couple weeks (or month) and let me sit on my inflatable donut while the splinters work their way out of my asshole.
I returned to Chicago. I was STILL grumpy but getting better. I met with Ed Sobel at Steppenwolf to talk about what happened in NYC and he made a new commission official. It meant a whole lot that he had my back and didn’t want me to feel discouraged by my jaunt in NYC. This was followed by some news that Actors Theatre of Louisville and Yale Rep wanted to do some work with me, and of course, getting back in the swing of things with my friends at Theatre Seven and our production.
You gotta keep moving, like a sleeping fish or a sleeping dolphin or I can’t remember what aquatic animals need to keep moving when they’re asleep or they suffocate and die – I don’t feel like going to Wikipedia for a definitive answer – but holy crap, you can learn a lot from fish! I have to keep moving despite the ocean of attention and critical scrutiny.
At my lunch interview with Chris Jones, he asked me whether or not this whole experience made me…well I can’t remember exactly the term he used…but if it made me doubtful of things, or my career, or what I was doing. Well… No. And yes. But mostly no. I’m surprised I have a career at all. I'm unbelievably lucky.
What was so wonderful (now, I know, in retrospect) about working on my play Diversey Harbor with Theatre Seven is that there were no expectations of what it would or could be. Nobody knew who we were. Diversey Harbor was a melancholy monologue play I wrote in my pajamas, and we were just another small company renting another storefront theatre; I was busy cleaning the theatre’s bathrooms and pushing the “GO” button on the light-board. Critics came to review it and it was a warm and welcome reception into the Chicago theatre community. If only it happened that way every time.
I’m uncomfortable with personal interviews so I tried to turn the tables and get some info out of Chris Jones regarding criticism. He said, “Everything you write has a human cost. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write it.”
All right. Fair enough.
At dinner tonight, my sister, who graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, told me: “Never talk to journalists.”
Really? (pause) ... even if they buy me lunch?
I don’t think all this is going to change things too much. I only know one way to write, and it’s programmed like binary code into the joints of my typing fingers. I’m grateful that people care about me and what I’m doing; if they didn’t, I’d just be another cantankerous 5’5” blonde chick with brass knuckles.
Posted by Marisa Wegrzyn at 10:31 PM
Sunday, August 19, 2007
I joined a Fantasy Football league and if anyone can give me tips on what football dudes to pick that would be really great because otherwise I'm going to be destroyed and I want to be awesome. I should be worried about more important things right now like, for example, paying my rent, but right now it's really important to me that I kick major ass in a Fantasy Football league for the sake of my virtual self-esteem. The draft is September 3. Please help The Pink Chainsaws sprint victoriously into the endzone.
I've been eating an unfortunate amount of fast food lately coming back from the theatre. There's a Wendy's at Ashland and Clybourn that's partially burned-down, but its drive-thru is still open. Kinda sketchy, but sometimes you just gotta buy a spicy chicken sandwich from a burnt-down Wendy's at 1am.
Posted by Marisa Wegrzyn at 11:28 PM
Saturday, August 18, 2007
(any color in this photo is due to Justin Wardell's cool-ass lighting and color-blast instruments. The only paint we used on set was black & white)
Opening night didn't feel like an opening night. Maybe it's because some of us had been working 14 hour days and a few sleepless nights to get the show built. Tonight felt like another run... with strangers in the audience.
Posted by Marisa Wegrzyn at 1:56 AM
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
For those out-of-towners and/or non-Chicago Tribune readers, theatre critic Chris Jones wrote an article about me in Sunday's Arts & Entertainment section: Surviving a Theatrical Butchering. I haven't talked much about my New York experience or my response to those reviews on this blog, but now that this article is out, why not toss you a little something-something? It requires a longer post that I don't have time for right now, but give me a couple days, and you'll get some DVD bonus features with commentary and a blooper reel. Warning: I also talked to Christopher Piatt at Time Out Chicago. It'll be on newsstands sometime this week, I think, so it's a double-dose of Wegrzyn in the print media. I don't know what he's going to write. I hope I didn't say anything totally stupid. I can't remember.
Killing Women is in tech. Lots of hauling stuff in a truck, out of a truck, painting, bathing in paint fumes, holding flats so Charlie could secure them with screws so they don't fall over and smash actors. I'm sore. I have paint in my hair. It's fun. I need Advil. Maybe Tylenol PM. Maybe a couple Tylenol PM, my liver can handle it. Bed now. We'll talk later. Zzzzzzz.
(P.S. If you're interesting in seeing the show, you might want to get tickets sooner rather than later. Our opening weekend is nearing a sell-out (Saturday Aug 18 is sold out), and we only run three weekends. Short but sweet. I'd be sad if you wanted to come and couldn't get a seat. End of advertisement
P.P.S. Tonight when I was walking to my apartment from my car, I saw a woman walking her dog while driving her car. She was driving like 4 mph and she held the leash out the window and her beagle was walking next to the car. How fucking lazy do you have to be to walk your dog like that?
P.P.P. S. Okay, Zzzzzzz's for reals)
Posted by Marisa Wegrzyn at 1:01 AM
Friday, August 10, 2007
Killing Women photo shoot in the can. This pic is indicative of what we're trying to do with color: blacks-whites-greys with a dab of color here and there. Brian stayed dead for a good 45 minutes. He's got mad cadaver skills. And we didn't even get (much) blood all over Johnny Knight's studio. Woo!
Posted by Marisa Wegrzyn at 2:34 PM
Monday, August 06, 2007
Posted by Marisa Wegrzyn at 8:06 PM
Friday, August 03, 2007
Here's what woke me up last night:
That is a brown bat hanging from the blinds in my apartment.
Around 1:30AM I was in bed, drifting in that half awake/half asleep phase, when something fluttered near my head. In the half light of my dark bedroom, I could see something zooming around. My first thought was "Whatthefuckisthat?" Then I thought it was a big moth. Then a bird. Then the thing zoomed by me again and I ran out of my bedroom with a pillow over my head and shut myself in the bathroom.
After standing a minute in my bathroom, cradling my pillow and whimpering, I cracked open the door. The thing was now flying around the living room. A bat!
Lots of bats in urban areas, apparently. And I live near a cemetery so no doubt there's spooky-ass Transylvania shit flying around. I have rickety, gap-toothed window screens, so it's not impossible that a bat could've found its way in. What really makes me uneasy thinking that it came into my apartment looking for bugs.
I opened the bathroom door. Nothing flying around anymore. I tip toe slowly through the living room, eyes scanning the high places. He's gotta be somewhere! All's quiet in the bedroom and kitchen - but in the dark kitchen I can see something on the blinds.
WARNING: blinds may be used as resting place for bats when they are done scaring the shit out of you
I've never had to deal with a bat in my apartment. It never occurred to me that a bat would ever find his way into my apartment. Frankly, I don't give much thought to bats period.
I opened up the screens in the living room and in the other kitchen window and crossed my fingers he'd find his own way out. Or he would send out an echolocation Evite to his bat-friends letting him know he found a great apartment with lots of bugs in the windowsills. Or I would leave the screens open and wake up in the morning to find squirrels in my apartment.
I worried that the flash from my camera would startle the bat and he would attack me. Then I remembered bats are blind. Then I remembered, no they're not, that's a common misconception and he would attack me. I took the picture anyway, and he didn't seem to mind.
I left the bat hanging in the kitchen and I went back to my bedroom and shut the door. I also put down a towel to block the gap between the door and the floor because what if the bat decided to give up flying? (You get a license to be a little stupid when a wild animal dive bombs you in your sleep. I also named the bat Slugger).
This morning, I exited my bedroom with much caution and scouted around my apartment. No sign of the bat. Phew! I hope you're well, bat friend. And if you're not well, I hope I don't find your little body rotting behind my furniture.
Posted by Marisa Wegrzyn at 12:34 PM
Thursday, August 02, 2007
I would like to welcome the person who found my blog searching "Women pooping on men." (He/she turned up this post). I get plenty of searches from people looking for photos of chainsaw accidents (sorry, none yet. Keep checking back). I'm a big darn disappointment to subversive internet culture. I feel like. . . a failure? Please accept my warmest apologies, and enjoy this video of non-fatal yet no doubt painful trampoline accidents, you sick sick bastards.
Posted by Marisa Wegrzyn at 8:13 PM