The new theatre season is in the works for Bailiwick Chicago, and it will definitely be worth checking out. This is a whole new way of doing theatre. The other night I had a chance to talk to Kate and Kevin, Julie, Eric and Abby-
About “Show Us Your Love” One-Act Musical Review-
Kate Garassino, General Manager,and Director: “I put the show together with the help of Julie (Burt Nichols, Project Manager). I took nine shows that we’re interested in producing; took little snippets of scenes and songs that I thought were appropriate and then just kind of weaved it together. The review will give you an idea of what each show is about. I picked specifically songs that I thought reflected each show; to pique somebody’s interest, so that they could make an educated guess about their favorite when they voted at the end. People have been really positive about enjoying the process.”
Eric Martin, Marketing Manager, and Cast Member: “The show we’re in right now is a good excuse for people who want to sort of get acclimated to the theatre; maybe for those who aren’t avid theatre goers. And this is a great place to do it. It’s in a bar. It’s in a very relaxed atmosphere. It’s a little more than an hour long, and it moves from show to show. So there’s no intense plot line that you have to try to follow. It’s great for people who just want to get a taste of theatre, and get to know it. And that’s the sort of thing that Bailiwick Chicago is looking to reach out and grab hold of- the needs of people, many are not being met in the community right now, and that need to be met such as people who don’t go to theatre all the time, but who would kind of like to stick their toe in so to provide something that they can do-to come and to get a taste of Chicago theatre and have a really great time and you know, we picked a really great neighborhood for this show, so this is just an example of why they would want to come in.”
Kevin Mayes, Executive Director: “It’s also a great way of exposing people to shows they never heard of. We have at least three shows, if not four, that many people I’ve talked to have never heard of before. They’re like, ‘Wow. What was that show?’ Or maybe they’ve heard of the show but they’ve never heard of that song. It begins a conversation. I say, “Oh, you liked that one. What did you like about it? We’re not asking audiences to choose our season but it’s definitely influenced our discussions internally. It will influence our decision making. ”
Julie Burt Nichols, Project Manager: “People are coming up to me after the show and asking, ‘What are the results? What’s in the lead? Are you going to make an announcement? Is there going to be a winner at the end?’”
Kate: “Shows that we thought really highly of have gotten some low results and we learned something about that. If you asked us what our theme was for this season, the one theme that I feel that we could speak to is that we’re passionate about every project. The people we choose are passionate. You can’t be in theatre if you’re not passionate.“
About the new Bailiwick Chicago-
Kate: “We’re a little different from a standard theatre company. A lot of them are ensemble based or there’s an artistic director or an executive director; Kevin is the executive director, I’m the general manager, but at the same time, we call ourselves a collective which gives a lot of people an equal footing. In some aspects, of course, there is some leadership in decision making, but the company as a whole operates with a very collective mindset. We work together on submitting scripts and projects that we’re passionate about. We all try to work together to make sure that everyone is positive and supportive of the project. It’s not just one person making the decision.
And I think that’s really the difference between the old and the new Bailiwick. We were artistic associates of the old Bailiwick and from that legacy, we’ve retained the concept and the mission and we’ve re-invented it; made it right for the period of time and for the artists that we are now. We’re a little more contemporary. The resources are there. Our collective is very unique and diverse and different and the members come from very different walks of life; different ages, and different places in their lives. We also have artistic associates who are connected with other companies, who perform in shows, and we encourage all of our artists to go out there and work with other companies and then to come back, and share that.”
Julie: “The response that we’ve just gotten from people; nine times out of ten, when I tell people that I’m involved with Bailiwick Chicago, they’re like, ‘Oh my God, they do repertory. They’re back?’ And I’m like, “Yes. We’re back- better than ever. Come and see our show. It’s great.” The community has really responded well. They’re glad to see this reinvention and they’re really jumping on board with us, so it makes us all feel really proud. It’s going to take a lot of work in terms of promoting the shows that we’re doing and the ideas that we have. The social networking is a huge factor. We’re doing Facebook. We’re doing Twitter. We have our website constantly being updated all the time and we’re really reaching out to that younger audience because we really want them to grow with us. We have a great energy in our group.”
Kate: “Julie is great about getting out there and making sure that it happens.”
Kevin: “Bailiwick Chicago, which is the theatre company here, started late last year, and it started as a result of Bailiwick Repertory, which was open for almost 30 years, and closed its doors in September of last year. We’re a group of actors and directors and playwrights and musicians and production people, and artists, and all kinds of different folks who decided we wanted to start a theatre company from the ashes of the old theatre company. We were all involved (in the old company) in some role or another. None of us had any names, titles, or anything like that.”
Kate: “We met each other in Bailiwick Repertory and we all felt very connected to each other, and then those small connections were brought into a circle and the large connections were made, and we formed this wonderful company. And that, I think, is what makes us impassioned. Why do I do this while I dive for props in a dumpster? It’s because I don’t know anything else. I don’t know anything else but to show theatre that people believe in, and to surround myself with artists who challenge me, who make me want to be a better person, who make me think harder about my craft. We all have to have a place to go home to. I think that this has always been that place for us in some way.”
Eric: “As a collective, we all talk about the decisions, especially about the shows that we might do in the future. Now, the end decision always has to come down to one person, just because of the politics of business, but the process of the decision is made as a group. We have meetings once a month and talk about the shows we want to submit as collective members and then we will all talk about the shows. We’ll all go home and listen to the music, read the script, and we’ll talk about what we like about it, what we don’t like about it, how we think it stays with or progresses our mission; making sure that it stays really relevant to what we’re trying to do as a company. It’s very much a communal discussion, and a collaborative process. Once we’ve all we’ve all gotten a chance to voice our opinions and to vote, then Kevin takes all of that and makes a decision and runs it by all of us. And we usually all agree on it, but if not, he’ll obviously do what is best for the company. It’s a very collaborative and just a tight knit experience.”
Kevin: “We’ve gotten overwhelming support from the old Bailiwick Repertory audience; the directors and the board. Everybody is supporting us and cheering us on. And, well, I think part of it is the work that we’re doing. We share all of the old members but it was their decision whether they wanted to subscribe to the new season, and pretty much most of them have. When we started this theatre company back in June, we decided to keep it transient for a little while, (the play venues change) until we could figure out where we want to be. The members of the collective and the associates, for the most part, are all volunteering their time to get through this first year. The intent is to do some shows, try to build a donor base, and a new audience base and hopefully, raise enough money over the course of the season so that in our second season, we can start paying for a production/management team. We want to build from the success that we have over time. Right now, every single one of us is dependent on making a living in some other form, and we dream about the day when we don’t have to.”
Kate: “But it’s definitely worth it. It is definitely worth it.”
About building relationships & the 2010 Season-
Kevin Mayes: “One of the things that we try to put in place is that for every major production that we do, we’re trying to partner with another arts organization artistically. We’re doing Elton John and Tim Rice’s “Aida” this summer which we’re producing at the American Theatre Company’s space, and our artistic partner on that is the modern dance company, “Deeply Rooted”; an African American dance company that performs at the Harris Theatre downtown. They’re doing all the choreography, and collaborating with us on the artistic concept of the show to help develop it. We’ve got a really unique production as opposed to a big Broadway spectacular, which is what it was when it first came out. We’re trying to find something that’s new and different and innovative and brings a new kind of audience to the table. We’ve actually found that we have more people interested in appearing with us than we have projects.
Chicago audiences have a huge number of options to choose from, so to some degree we’re all competing for eyeballs. We’re competing with television. We’re competing with movies. We’re competing with the internet. And we’re competing with all of the many many theatres and dance companies and improv groups and comedy groups and cabarets and everything else that’s going on every single night. And so I think that there are a lot of folks interested in seeing whether they can develop an audience by collaborating with other groups as well as create something new artistically that they couldn’t do just within their own organization.
It’s a hard question generally, right? Why should I come all the way in from the suburbs just to see your show? I can’t say this is why you should just come to see a Bailiwick Chicago show. But I think I can say why you want to come and see “Show Us Your Love” or why you should come see “Bloom”, or why you should come see “Aida”. I think we have, with each of our projects, something unique that no one else is doing, something that’s very compelling, something that’s very very exciting. Does every show speak to every audience? No. “Aida”, on the other hand… I think, there are many reasons why we think people from the suburbs, and tourists who are coming in from outside Chicago, as well as just the broader population ought to come and see it. One, is that this is the first time the show’s been produced in Chicago since the national tour. No other theatre company has tackled it. Number two is we have already cast it with 20 amazing performers …as well as the unique approach of incorporating modern dance; not your typical Broadway dance but Modern dance, which is very expressive, very body oriented, storytelling through the physical form. Then the third reason is we have a whole new concept and approach that we’re tackling the show with. It’s going to be a great entertaining, fun, exciting, exhilarating evening with some amazing talent. We think folks ought to come out and see it because nobody else is doing anything like that in terms of that particular show.”
Kate: “I think that we’ve been really conscious about our audience. Bailiwick before, had a very specific audience. With Bailiwick Chicago, I think that we’ve really picked projects that are going to touch many different demographics. Some of them, people might not think seeing but they might have seen an advertisement for a show when they were at “Aida”. And they were maybe impassioned by the quality and the product that we present. So that might make them think about going to see something. I think that we all want to just share different stories and different lifestyles of every walk of life for people so they can experience it. I think that sharing these different things with people in a comfortable and artistic, and a creative way is something that a lot of theatre companies don’t do. People do one type of playwright, or one constant theme.”
Eric: “A lot of times you see such great theatre but it’s from a company or from the same actors that you see all the time, and you know what you’re going to get from them. I think with one of the Bailiwick shows, you’re going to be really surprised by some of the new talent. You’re going to get to see some of the people who are really going to have a voice in the theatre community and start to shape Chicago theatre.”
About connecting with the audience-
Abby E. Sammons, Artisitc Associate, and Cast Member: “I feel very blessed. I’m six months here in Chicago; I’m originally from St. Louis, and I feel like I’ve really found my theatre home with Bailiwick Chicago; very talented people who are completely full of heart, and that’s who I want to surround myself with. As far as the show goes, yes, it’s a little taste of a lot of different shows and it gives you such a well rounded version of what is to come, what we could produce, and why you should come see it. It’s just a taste, and it’s an hour long, with no intermission, so I feel that people can sit through that and not get antsy. We keep it moving. And we interact with people. It’s a very personable experience. As you see, the house is only 70-75 people, so it’s a very intimate theatre.
And we enjoy interacting with the audience. I feel like I’m to a point where I can choose the people I would like to be around. And I always want to be around people with good heart. Of course, people who are talented, but people who have good heart. I feel like this company is full of that. It’s all heart. It’s all about giving something to the community, giving something new, allowing them to see something they’ve never seen before which is exciting. And that’s why I think I love it so much.”
Eric: “For me, the difference between Bailiwick Chicago and other theatre companies that I’ve worked for is sort of the difference between a franchise restaurant and a boutique restaurant. You go to McDonald’s, and you get the food that you need, and it’s very good and you enjoy it very much. But you go to a boutique restaurant and maybe you get to know the waiter, and they can tell you in the food, and you really get a sense of someone caring about you. And that’s really what it’s been like being an actor with this company. They take time to get to know you and to develop the personal relationship with you, to build the foundation for the future. They’re with you; not just, ‘Thank you for your talent, goodbye’. They’re really ready to foster a relationship with you that could last for years and years. And then maybe you can bring some support from other nonprofits that maybe you have in your life- one of Bailiwick Chicago’s goals is to partner with other nonprofits. It’s all about building relationships, really. It’s just a big network of relationships.
At Bailiwick Chicago, the theatre going experience is much more personal. For me, my best experiences in Chicago theatre are experiences where I get to talk to the actors before the show, and it’s not waiting in line to get an autograph or waiting in line to talk to them. They come out and they chat with you and maybe they’ll share a drink with you and share some stories. It’s just very casual. And then, you get to see amazing talent onstage and that makes it even more of an experience if they’re able to come out and really socialize and make you feel like you’re really at home. This show really does that a lot because before and after the show, we’re mingling in the crowd. I think it’s a valuable thing that the audience really enjoys.”
Abby: “I agree. I think it’s wonderful to be able to mingle with the audience afterward. You don’t get that experience at a lot of shows. This one is really wonderful because- we can all get a drink after work and share stories. We can talk, we can hear their feedback. We get to know our audience a little bit, what they expect. I think it’s important. It’s very important because it’s really about how you affect them, the audience. You’re taking them on a journey, letting them ride the ride with you- and we’re having a blast up on stage. It’s really important to take your audience with you. If we’re not doing that, we’re not doing our job.”
Eric: “If you want to come and meet the actors, and have that sort of relationship, then you want to come to Bailiwick Chicago. I think it’s so important for both the actor and the audience to have that relationship because it keeps the actor grounded. You have to know your audience. You have to know them, and you have to feel comfortable with them. And the best way to do that is to meet them, just talk to them. You don’t always get an opportunity to do that at other theatres in the city. You get that chance here, and it’s really great. As actors, we get to know who we’re playing to, and to build a relationship with them even before the show starts. And then it’s- so comfortable and so much fun. And I think it works that way with the audience too. They really enjoy it.”
Abby: “We get a lot of different reactions from the audience. We’ve had very vocal audience members where sometimes they’ll even sing along; we’ve heard them sing along. Other audiences are more internal – it’s not that there not having a great time, but it’s just a little bit more internalized. Eric and I have the opportunity to play a part as clowns in the show, and it’s a really telling moment, of what our audience will be like for the rest of the show, because when you’re playing a clown, you absolutely have to play off your audience; that’s exactly what you have to go for because you’re feeding off of them. And you know when to continue, and when not to continue, and if you should leave, and if you should take off your nose, so I feel like that’s our moment of knowing-for me, and I believe it’s the same for Eric, when we know what our audience is like.”
Eric: “There’s a lot of audience interaction with “Barnum” and with “Hair” which is a lot of fun. I love audience interaction.”
Abby: “Me too. I love it when the audience members are not intimidated by that. I think we make it pretty comfortable.”
Eric: “Exactly. It’s comfortable. I’ve been to some theatres where it’s like, ‘We’re going to break the fourth wall…”
Abby: Laughing “…in your face…”
Eric: “…and do this show for you…” More Laughter.
Eric: “…and that can be uncomfortable. But I think this comes from an honest place; it’s not for the sake of doing it, and it’s very comfortable for everyone involved.”
Abby: “The Company absolutely has something to offer everyone. They’re bringing a lot of plays here and a lot of fresh stuff; a lot of new stuff, a lot of new faces- a lot of new goals for the company. And being new to this, that’s what drew me in. I moved to Chicago and started auditioning like crazy and Julie (the producer) and I ran across each other. She said she was a part of this great company that was just starting up. I auditioned and this is it. This is where I’m at.” Laughter.
There’s a lot of laughter going on as the group share the story of Bailiwick Chicago; an energy. More voices on the stairs. The band is warming up. There is magic to be made. During this time, I’ve felt more friend than recorder of stories. There’s definitely heart. And it is about connection- always.
For more information about the upcoming season: http://www.bailiwickchicago.com/