Original Article: https://www.conversationswithedtracy.com/de-usuris/
March came in like a lion and out like a wolf in Chicago - a Loyola Wolf, that is! The Ramblers are headed to the NCAA Final Four this weekend. Buckle up for a BIG game on Saturday!
JOIN THE CONVERSATION THIS WEEK: Griffin Theatre Company's Founder & Artistic Director William Massolia talks about LETTERS HOME & GHOSTS OF WAR which will be playing in rotating repertory at The Den Theatre. Read Dana Tretta's PicksInSix Q & A about preparing for her role as Gilda Radner in the hit show BUNNY BUNNY at the Mercury Theater ... and check out our PicksInSix Reviews for Goodman Theatre’s An Enemy of the People and Court Theatre's Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.
WHAT'S COMING UP: Writers TheatreSMART PEOPLE through June 10th ... A Red Orchid 33 TO NOTHING April 5th through May 27th ... Drury Lane SOUTH PACIFIC April 5 through June 17th ... Firebrand NINE TO FIVE April 7th through May 20th ... Raven Theatre - THE GENTLEMAN CALLER through May 27th Drury Lane SOUTH PACIFIC April 5 through June 17th ... Marriott Lincolnshire OKLAHOMA April 11th through June 10th ... Kokandy - GRAND HOTEL April 15th through May 27th ... Porchlight MEMPHIS April 19th through June 3rd ... Chicago Shakespeare Theater MACBETH in THE YARD April 25th through June 24th ... Shattered Globe HOW TO USE A KNIFE April 26th – June 9th at Theater Wit ... Marriott Lincolnshire OKLAHOMA April 11th through June 10th
Celebrate spring with Paul Marinaro and Friends! A Jazz Party Benefit at Green Mill on April 7th. There is always a great lineup at Winter's Jazz Club. Elaine Dame will be at Winter's April 5th and at the Appellation Jazz Brunch on April 8th. Beckie Menzie and Tom Michael are performing at Davenport’s Cabaret every Saturday in April (7, 14, 21, & 28) at 8 p.m. in A "JIM" of a Show. Hershey Felder returns to Chicago April 11th - May 15th with “Our Great Tchaikovsky” at Steppenwolf's Upstairs Theatre. Monday Night Live at Petterino's with Denise McGowan Tracy & Beckie Menzie. Safe Travels!
AROUND & ABOUT
Thanks to our sponsor Regus Chicago, the market leader in office space, for helping to make our programs possible.
For William Massolia, Griffin Theatre Company's Founder and Artistic Director, the last ten years touring LETTERS HOME has been an extraordinary journey that has elevated his understanding of the commitment of our military and the family members who support them. That journey continues in April when LETTERS HOME returns for a run at The Den Theatre in rotating repertory with GHOSTS OF WAR, a new one-man show based on the book by Ryan Smithson.
After viewing a documentary in 2004, Massolia made the decision to create a theatrical piece based on Iraq and Afghanistan letters. Following a successful 2007 Chicago run, LETTERS HOME went on the road and has been seen by an audience of over 100,000 in 100 cities across the country with the cast and production team participating in post-performance discussions with family members, students and veterans organizations.
Massolia’s new production, GHOSTS OF WAR, is based on the true story of Ryan Smithson, who joined the Army Reserve at 17 and was deployed to Iraq two years later as an Army Engineer. Smithson’s acclaimed 2010 memoir became a bestseller in Youth Adult Military and praised as an unforgettable story of the realities of war. Massolia worked with Smithson to develop the one-man show for its upcoming Chicago premiere at The Den Theatre.
William Massolia joined the conversation on March 23rd to talk about the development process and the profound impact of these real life stories of service and sacrifice. PODCAST
The human side … “I really thought that the letters exposed the real humanity that lies within the war as seen through the eyes of the men and women fighting it. And that's really what I wanted to tell in the play … to expose the human side of it.”
What the letters tell us … “Most of the letters touch on the fact that people would rather be home than fighting in a war. Very few of the letters that I've found, to be honest with you, touched on questioning the job at all. They knew they were there to do what they had to do and a lot of them enlisted after 911, so, they knew what they were getting in to. Some of the letters do comment on them knowing that people don't feel exactly comfortable with what they're doing there, but they have to sort of remove that because they can't let that cloud their judgment or cloud what their job is there because if they start to question it, then they could put themselves in harm's way or put somebody else in harm's way. So, it touches on that a little bit, but not too much because when people are writing letters home, they want to know about what's going on with the family. They want to tell people how much they miss them. They want to let them know that they're fine.”
A universal theme… “I'm not sure if any of the letters reflect them knowing there was an end in sight. I think they were more focused on what their job at hand was. It obviously would be hard for them to predict, if they were deployed in 2004, I don't think they could predict that we'd still be there in 2010. … a lot of the letters reflect wanting to help the Iraqi people. That a fairly universal theme throughout.”
About the cast … “There are 10 actors … nine of the actors portray servicemen and servicewomen. …each of those nine actors portray one individual and you will hear a series of the letters over the course of an entire deployment. … one actress portrays four different mothers and the letters are about four different issues that surround the war.”
A broad spectrum of individuals … “I have to be honest, when I first created the show, I didn't know anybody in the military, not a single person. I was moved by what I saw on the documentary and thought, ‘Oh, this is something I want to create.’ But at this point, 10 years later, after meeting hundreds of veterans, I feel I have a pretty good understanding of what, these men and women go through and what they expect from us. I don't think a lot of them really want the thanks so much as they just want people to understand who they are and why they chose that life. … I think the show sheds a light on that, whether you agree with it or not is certainly up to you. But I think that I've learned that the military is made up of a broad spectrum of individuals with a lot of different ideologies and mindsets. I think what binds them together is that they all have a strong love of this country and they wanted to do something that is probably bigger than just themselves.”
On the book “Ghosts of War” … “Ryan (Smithson) wrote it after he came back from his deployment …enrolled in college … took a creative writing class and his professor told him he should write about his deployment. And he was like, ‘I don't want to talk about that or write about that.’ And, finally, he got up enough courage and wrote one piece and when he turned it in, his professor said, ‘Oh, well now you know, everybody's going to read their pieces out loud to everybody in the class.’ So, he had to go up in front of the class and read it out loud to everybody. He hadn't even told his wife this story and now he's going to read it to a bunch of strangers. But he did that and it became the basis for the book because with the encouragement of his professor, he started to write more pieces and then basically put the book together.”
About the stage version … “He's been quite involved in the production. …it follows his deployment and then coming home and readjusting to civilian life. … he talks a lot about the reasons he enlisted and what you have to go through in basic training … about loss … what's great about the book is he's not the Navy Seal and ‘Lone Survivor’. … he's just this regular guy doing his job.”
Presented in rotating repertory at the Den Theatre April 6th through May 6th …“Each show is performed three times a week …Thursday and Friday will be the alternating nights for the two shows. On Saturday and Sunday, the two shows are flipped.”
Commentary has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Photos Courtesy of Griffin Theatre Company
GRIFFIN THEATRE COMPANY
LETTERS HOME & GHOSTS OF WAR
In Rotating Repertory
April 6th through May 6th
1331 N. Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, IL 60622
Box Office: 773-697-3830
COMING UP: Bill Dyszel brings his award-winning show THE INTERNET ATE MY BRAIN to the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, Arlington Heights on Saturday, March 31, 2018 at 7:30 p.m. For tickets and information, visit: bit.ly/BillDyszel or call: 847.577.2121
Read more about the show in our Q & A feature originally published May 4, 2017 in advance of Dyszel's appearance at Davenport's in Chicago.
BILL DYSZEL - THE INTERNET ATE MY BRAIN
Ever feel like you want to throw your cell phone away, but then realize you need to call someone to tell them where you are? Was the last time you ended an argument with a Google search around lunchtime today? How many pairs of shoes did Amazon send to you before you actually wore them? More...
If you are a keen social observer like Bill Dyszel, there is a good chance that you already know how amazingly dependent we are on the internet, that highway of information and practical applications that make life so easy we often forget to actually live it in real time. Dyszel, an accomplished opera singer who has written and is performing The Internet Ate My Brain at Davenport's Piano Bar and Cabaret on May 14th, is an expert on the topic. He is the author of a growing list of 20 books that includes Microsoft Outlook for Dummies, the popular series of self-help manuals that age like a fine wine with every new version. As we found out in our Q & A this week, in between the finer points of making our lives more efficient in his real job, Dyszel has developed his own special brand of musical commentary about the way we live our lives in the social media age.
We also found out that Bill Dyszel's manic, fresh and inventive style is perfectly suited for the intimate stage at Davenport's. The multimedia show, with musical director Beckie Menzie, is loaded with masterful parodies on a range of comic viewpoints about Amazon, Google, WebMD and a particularly hilarious take on selfies. Dyszel's New York performance was named a Top Ten show by Theater Pizzazz and won a coveted nomination for the Broadway World NY Cabaret Award for Best Musical Comedy.
We caught up with Bill Dyszel to pose a few questions in advance of the Davenport's appearance.
Q & A with Bill Dyszel
ET: Is it safe to say that you straddle two very different worlds: by day, the mild-mannered reporter who dissects complex software upgrades so the rest of us don’t have to, and, by night, a kinetic, hilarious, dialed-up and tuned-in cabaret performer whose laser-sharp musical parodies and original material hit at the heart of our Internet-based world? Or, is there another Bill Dyszel that we do not see as often?
BD: There’s also the content marketing guy who creates lots of business communications material that sells stuff to big companies. It’s not as funny, but it pays better. Now and again there’s also an opera singer, a task that is much less serious than it often looks.
ET: How did the book writing project begin?
BD: I wrote for lots of computer magazines in the heyday of titles like PC Magazine and Computer Shopper, mostly doing product reviews, etc. I reviewed Microsoft Outlook in its first release, and kept covering it ever since.
ET: How much of a program like Outlook does an average person use? There are some obvious priorities, but talk about a couple of features that you were surprised more people don’t use.
BD: I doubt that most people use more than 10 percent of what’s in there. Part of that is because Microsoft used to add flashy new features every 2 to 3 years as a competitive practice. Some of those features stayed in the product, no matter whether they were widely adopted. Most people don’t use the task list much, but it’s a great way to stay on top of all the little chores we all need to do every day. I like the Notes feature, which is where you can keep random scribblings of things you’d like to remember. Microsoft wants people to use One Note for that, but I think the Outlook version is more helpful because it’s right there with your email.
ET: There does not appear to be a lot of IT in the opera world. How has your opera career influenced your musical interests now and what prompted the transition to the very unique and original style you have developed?
BD: It’s hard to say what influences what—do I prefer “legit” sounding music because I did opera, or the other way around? Hard to say. I do prefer performing music that incorporates good vocalism. I’ve also always enjoyed classical music comedians like Victor Borge and PDQ Bach, but I like extending that kind of humor to non-musical topics.
ET: You have performed TIAMB multiple times in New York and Skokie. How has the show been adapted to fit in the smaller and more intimate backroom at Davenport’s on May 14th?
BD: The approach is substantially similar, except that in smaller rooms like Davenport’s in Chicago or Don’t Tell Mama in New York, I have to rig my own tech and run my own cues. The show has some lecture/demo qualities, anyway, so it isn’t a problem. The smaller room also makes audience interaction easier, because audience members aren’t so far from the stage.
ET: Do you consider TIAMB a comedy show with music or a cabaret show with comedy?
BD: It’s comedy with music, the comedy comes first.
BD: The show only achieves its goals if the comedic parts land right. The comedic material conveys the meaning of the show.
ET: There is an interactive element to the show. Can you give us an idea about what is in store?
BD: One goal of the show is to provide an experience that couldn’t be duplicated online. Much of that revolves around allowing audience members to interact with each other, face-to-face, in a way that they can’t online. I don’t want a performance that could be replaced by an online video. There are billions of those. This is about the unique value of live performance and live events involving live, in-person interaction.
ET: Conservatively, you have written over 100 songs and song parodies. What are two or three elements of a good parody?
BD: In my view, a good parody adds a new layer of meaning of the original material while also exposing an unexpected resemblance with the topic of the parody. I like to retain as much of the language and structure of the original material as I can, while creating a new meaning with the result. There is a tendency for people to write parodies so that they don’t have to write music. Sometimes that works, but I prefer parodies that honor the original material in some way. Those yield a much richer and compelling result.
ET: When you are doing your show, what are the three most important rules to follow?
1. Relax—if the performer is having fun, the audience will, too.
2. Respect the audience—The interactive segments allow audience members to express their opinions, and they should feel safe and respected in doing so.
3. Check your fly.
ET: Any other careers we have failed to mention?
BD: I’ve done enough odd little things than I can’t remember them all—radio announcer, improv actor, Navy officer, filmmaker…That should probably be another show sometime.
ET: Thank you for your service. What’s up next?
BD: I don’t think this piece is completely mature yet, it’s always growing. I may push more on developing the blog at TheIntenetAteMyBrain.com and expand that to see where it goes. With any luck, the blog and the show could feed into each other.
Two new CONVERSATIONS this week and a favorite program From The Archive. First, an in-depth look at leadership and the launch this weekend of the new Spertus Institute series "Critical Conversations" with President and CEO, Dr. Hal M. Lewis. Next, we delve into the backstory with photographer Michael Brosilow, whose extensive archive includes the last 32 years at Steppenwolf and scores of other theaters and productions, large and small, in and out of Chicago.
COMING UP - Goodman Theatre AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE through April 15th ... Northlight Theatre THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE through April 22nd ... Court Theatre GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER March 15th - April 15th... Writers Theatre SMART PEOPLE March 21st through June 10th ... Drury Lane SOUTH PACIFIC April 5 through June 17th ... Chicago Shakespeare Theater MACBETH in THE YARD April 25th through June 24th.
CRITICAL CONVERSATIONS "Episode 1: Can We Talk?" Spertus Institute March 18th 4:30 p.m.
TUNE IN, TAPE IT BUT DON'T MISS!: WTTW Chicago premiere of Angela Ingersoll's GET HAPPY Sunday, March 18th at 5:30 p.m. Angela Ingersoll Live in Concert SCHEDULE
Celebrate spring with a great lineup at Winter's Jazz Club. Catch Elaine Dame at Winter's on April on April 5th and at the Appellation Jazz Brunch on April 8th. It's TannerTime tonight at Perry's and at Pete Miller's in Evanston on March 28th with Jeannie Tanner and Stacy McMichael. Great to see Paul Marinaro and Friends! A Jazz Party Benefit at Green Mill. Check out the rest of the schedule at the Green Mill including Paper Machete where the manically hilarious Bill Larkin can often be found. Steve Biosatt's and SWAY Chicago at The Drake March 16th and Monday Night Live at Petterino's with Denise McGowan Tracy & Beckie Menzie will be back after a week off on March 25th.
Thanks to our sponsor Regus Chicago, the market leader in office space, for helping to make our programs possible.
The genesis of the idea for Critical Conversations, the spirited new Spertus Instituteseries debuting March 18th, was framed by another series of critical conversations between President & CEO Dr. Hal M. Lewis and former trustee, the late Eric Joss. They envisioned a series that would bring together strongly divergent perspectives on hot-button issues of the day under the Spertus philosophy that, above all, the conversations strive not to change opinions, but to enhance understanding of individual viewpoints with civility and respect for one another.
It sounds like a tall order amid the current news cycle and polarized opinions on topics ranging from gun control to immigration. So, to succeed to the level of their expectations, Lewis and Joss agreed that they would strive to present opposing views in a moderated format, one that both informed the audience on a range of opinions and promotes the ability to listen and respectfully engage, qualities that have been fractured in the non-stop political discussions in the media, among family members and throughout our day to day interactions.
Generously endowed by Joss following his passing in 2016 and in collaboration with his family, Lewis and the Spertus leadership team have crafted the first in the multi-year series, appropriately titled: “Episode 1: Can We Talk?” The event will be presented on Sunday, March 18th in the Feinberg Theater of Spertus Institute at 610 South Michigan Avenue in Chicago. The program pairs progressive Jennifer Granholm, former Democratic governor of Michigan and conservative Mike Huckabee, former Republican governor from Arkansas. The discussion will be moderated by Frank Sesno, former CNN Washington Bureau Chief and Anchor.
In our conversation on March 5th, Lewis talked enthusiastically about the series as an essential element of the mission of the organization, founded in 1924. Lewis has been a member of the faculty and administration since 2003, and appointed President and CEO in 2008. It was during that period of change that the award-winning new facility was going up and, the economy was on its way down. Things were not good, as Lewis vividly recalls, citing public knowledge of the dire financial situation that Spertus was facing at the time – a startling wake-up call shared with scores of aspiring nonprofit institutions, many of whom ceased to exist as a result.
It was in this climate that Lewis began to inspire everyone involved to practice the principles of leadership they profess to teach and develop a new foundation of support in the Jewish community. Over the next several years, Spertus would dramatically stabilize and, today, continue to enhance their reputation as a both a cutting-edge academic center and a thought leader in the dialogue of important issues of the day.
It is all part of our in-depth look at what leadership qualities are necessary for organizations in our society, how the new series will venture beyond the headlines to the core issues and what is ahead for Spertus Institute as they transition to new executive leadership in June 2018 with the appointment of Dr. Hal Lewis as the Institute’s Chancellor. PODCAST
Succession planning ... “I had a position in the administration and a faculty appointment. After 10 years as the chief executive, I will be stepping down from the presidency and the Board has asked me to retain a part-time position as Chancellor to help effectuate a smooth transition. This is part of a long term, more than three-year succession plan where I have worked with my board, my executive committee, and my successor to lay the ground work for as seamless a transition as possible. ... the late Peter Drucker, the great teacher of leadership, used to say: "There is no success without a successor." ... in the ancient world, and in contemporary events, the sign of an effective leader, and by extension, the sign of an effective organization, is one that doesn't take transitioning or succession planning for granted.”
Characteristics of effective leadership ... “first and foremost, tenacity. There are simply too many curves that come our way. ... part of what we do as leaders is identify challenges — sometimes the obvious ones, and sometimes the ones we had not yet imagined — and respond to that. ... a key to effective leadership is surrounding yourself with people who bring to the table different world views, different perspectives and different skill sets than you yourself have. ... the old notion of a renaissance leader — the person who had all the answers, who could do it all, who knew it all — is simply a myth. I am not sure it ever existed, but it certainly doesn't apply in a very fast-paced, rapidly-changing 21st century environment. ... you better not be conflict averse because surrounding yourself by different points of view means there are going to be multiple perspectives. ... the telltale sign of effective leadership is a humility that you bring to the experience. Humility does not mean weakness. It does not mean indecisiveness. It means a willingness to say: 'I think I am right, but I might be wrong.'"
Renaissance teams vs. natural leaders ... “most effective leaders today will speak, even if they do not use these exact words, in terms of a renaissance team, not a renaissance leader. That is the notion of multiple people around the table of discourse, who bring those diverse perspectives, as opposed to the mythology that any one individual embodies all of those. There is a notion, that fortunately we don't see much in contemporary studies of leadership, but that was once popular, the idea, of a natural leader: "She’s a natural at this...” or "He's a natural at this...” and I think that is a dangerous concept. I do think that there are some people who are, at the beginning, more comfortable public speaking, more comfortable being the center of attention, more comfortable attempting to articulate a vision and then influencing others. But the problem with the concept of a natural leader is that it is immediately exclusive or exclusionary. If 'So and so is a natural leader', that means the rest of us are not natural leaders and it is a quick jump to say we are not leaders. Plato first talked about this in the notion of the philosopher king in which he said quite clearly there are some who are predisposed to leading and the rest of us are predisposed to following. This is a terrible concept when you play it out because what was the 'natural leader'? The natural leader was a code word for saying: "male”. So, no women could be natural leaders in that antiquated context. Natural leaders were often people who had the money or the connections or the heritage to assume positions of leadership. I find it a concept that is rife with potential negatives. ... I believe that leadership, for all of us, is about behavior. It is not about rank or title or position in the org chart. Which means it can be learned. I do not mean to suggest that it does not come easier for some people than others, but if one wants to lead, we can teach certain key concepts of leadership and, most importantly, give individuals the chance to do what leadership theorists talk about: practicing leadership.”
Critical Conversations ... “We looked around at the world in which we find ourselves — in the general world of politics and religion and social relationships — and it became clear, as it is clear to most people today, that we have lost the ability, to have robust conversations in a civil manner. This is true not just in the halls of Congress. It is true at our Thanksgiving tables, at our Friday evening dinner tables, at our holiday family gatherings and when we get together with friends and neighbors. ... we wanted to bring to the Spertus stage real partisans on a variety of hot button issues ranging from gun control to immigration, to environmental issues, to the role in places of government to issues associated with the media and a variety of other issues. ...we believe at Spertus Institute, that we have an obligation to advance this concept of robust debate and civility because that is very much the inherited Jewish tradition that we are committed to teaching about on a graduate level and in our public programs. There is an old quip: 'Two Jews, Three Opinions.' While it is funny, it is also an indicator of a long-term historic commitment to a serious debate over serious issues, issues of passion, of faith, of commitment where we do not ask people to soften their opinions, but we do ask people to be able to listen and respect the perspectives of others and to be challenged by those perspectives. Throughout the literature of the Jewish people for millennia have been examples of point|counterpoint. Our most sacred texts, beginning with the Talmud, is a compilation of debates and disagreements and arguments that are, and this is a critical point, preserved for people to see whether they agree with those opinions or not. … Each one of these arguments are preserved on the page for scholars and students in general to read, study, challenge, be challenged by and to learn from. And so we thought this is perfect. We live in a world in which civility and respect for differences of opinion is critical and we are the heirs to a tradition that has for a long time embraced this notion of tolerance, respect, and, serious disagreement all wrapped up into one. Hence, Critical Conversations. ... On stage Sunday, March 18th will be two former state governors — Jennifer Granholm, Democratic of Michigan, and Mike Huckabee, Republican of Arkansas — moderated by Frank Sesno, the former Washington Bureau Chief of CNN — a more partisan panel I don't think we could have assembled — to talk about some of these real core issues in America. Both speakers have pledged their commitment to our vision of robust dialogue with civility and a willingness to hear and learn from the other side. ... "I do not have any illusions that anybody will walk into that theater Sunday with one set of opinions and walk out with an entirely different set of opinions. That is ludicrous. What I would hope is that somebody may walk out and say, I have not changed my mind, but I must say I learned something about the position on the other side that I never knew before that is worth considering.”
Commentary has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
Episode 1: Can We Talk?
Sunday, March 18th 4:30 p.m.
610 South Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60605
On any given day in the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun Times or countless other publications in print or online, you will see powerful images by photographer Michael Brosilow. These are not breaking news photos, but they are breaking stories in a theatrical world that Brosilow has been a part of for over 32 years, capturing the rich textures, brilliant colors and the extraordinary personalities who create the work that appears on Chicago stages, and many others, across the country. He sees it before we do and his images last long after the play has drifted out of our memory.
In recent years, Brosilow’s distinctive work spans a range of award-winning productions like Steppenwolf’s The Grapes of Wrath and August: Osage County, Court Theatre’s Caroline or Change, world premieres like the Writers Theatre production of Trevor: The Musical and A Red Orchid’s Traitor, and shows large and small from Chicago Shakespeare’s Mary Stuart, The House Theatre’s Hatfield & McCoy to Rivendell’s Cal in Camo.
The self-described photo “geek” in school with a Kodak Instamatic 124, Brosilow was like many other members of the photo club and newspaper staff. He spent countless hours in the dark room on a daily basis and knew even then that he would be a professional photographer. Soon, he established his own studio for portrait and commercial photography in Chicago. Life was good, but times were changing.
Brosilow’s career in theater photography happened not by plan, but by accident. He was invited to a poster shoot for Steppenwolf in 1986 and was then asked to shoot Educating Rita that summer. He accepted on one condition: to shoot the show live during a dress rehearsal. That decision began an association with the iconic Chicago theatre company – and dozens of others – that lasts today.
The affable, laid back Brosilow, admits that there was not a lot of money in theater photography — he did that first Steppenwolf gig for tickets — and credits Debra, his wife of 30 years, for making it possible for him to pursue his calling, which involved running from one job to the next, back to the dark room, then dropping off shots by hand to make publication deadlines to press agents and newspapers. As people naturally moved in and around the Chicago theater scene from company to company, so did Brosilow and his cameras. Then digital came along and everything changed. Today, he has amassed a carefully curated, one-of-a-kind archive of well over a million images, slides and negatives that is in high demand.
Not surprisingly, Brosilow has a textbook memory for Chicago theater and the performing arts community. There is a flash of melancholy when he recalls the brilliant careers of superb talents we have lost like John Mahoney and Martha Lavey and sincere admiration for the directors, designers, actors and theater companies who ply their craft in Chicago. The work of photographers Joe Mazza and Paul Elledge catch his eye and there was a definite trace of impish pride when he told me that he took the first professional headshot of a 14-year-old Michael Shannon.
Through it all, Brosilow still savors the thrill of entering the theater for the first time to shoot a new show, following his instincts for the artistic intent of the show, sizing it up “on the fly” and taking it from there. In his spare time, the avid cyclist took up marathon running at 50 years old, completed his last Chicago marathon in under 3 hours and will be running the Boston marathon for the 7th time in April 2018.
There is much more ahead in our enjoyable February 26th conversation with Michael Brosilow, one of the top professional theater photographers in the country. PODCAST
In the right place at the right time … “What I really like to do is shoot a full run dress rehearsal … usually it is the first dress rehearsal of a show. I am there to shoot the whole run, be it a 90 minute one-act or a 3 ½ hour show … It is like shooting sports … under changing light … you have to pay hyper-attention … to lighting cues … sound cues … I try to bring actors on stage closer together through the camera … running all over the theater trying to create those relationships of the people who are in the scene.”
True to the vision … “One of my primary goals is to have my photographs be true to the look of the show. I almost think it is my primary job. I do not want the picture online or in the newspaper to be an estimation of what this is or “like” it. I want it to be as true to the way the designers intended it and the director blocked it. … It is photojournalism in a lot of ways … documenting the shows.”
The proper perspective … “I am not a big fan of going into the balcony. Occasionally, I will go into the balcony, but I want it to be the viewers point of view. I don’t like to look under tables. I have this thing – if you are photographing a table scene, you want to see what is on top of the table. … Some theaters are a little more difficult. Goodman comes to mind ... an elevated stage and you’ve got to figure out how to look at what is on top of that table when the audience is looking at it from a lower vantage point. … (at Writers Theatre) I am at stage level, maybe I’ll go one row up and I have to shoot a little wider, but even if I am that one row up, I am on my knees … I do not like to distort the perspective. … I like it to look architectural.”
AROT and Michael Shannon’s first headshot … “A Red Orchid Theatre is an immensely difficult theater to photograph. I love those guys immensely. … They are as dedicated and as creative as any theater people you will find anywhere, but where they ever got the idea of putting a theater in this space is a mystery. But, I love the challenge of it. When I am photographing the shows … Michael Shannon is right there. I don’t even have to extend my arm … they are that close, which is the most wonderful thing about it. ... I shot Michael Shannon’s first headshot when he was 14 years old. He was a kid who came to my studio on a rainy day with a tee short balled up in his hand. I did a black and white headshot of him. I have seen him his whole career.”
House Theatre and Rivendell … “I have grown up with them from kids from SMU who started a theater, when they were at the Viaduct … Chopin. It is wonderful to see these companies mature. Rivendell’s Tara Mallen, I have known her for a very, very long time. I like their mission. They produce extraordinary work on limited budgets. Both those theaters. It is exciting to see.”
The archive … “On my desk, there are four 4TB hard drives with over a million photographs that are all cataloged. … At any given time, I can call up very easily the best twenty shots of any particular show. I spend a lot of time on my archive. Over time, they have become, historically, very, very valuable. … I can go back 30 years and pull up photographs of John Mahoney or Martha Lavey. — We have, unfortunately, lost a lot of good actors in the past couple of years — I also have a lot of archives of theater companies who are no longer with us. Famous Door and Next Theater are a couple that come to mind.”
Transition to digital, social media and cell phones … “Since I have had my feet in both worlds — in the film world and the digital world — I can’t specifically say where we are going. One of the things we are dealing with is trying to figure that out right now. You go through a period where people are posting everything. People would post 60 pictures of their vacation … (they are) learning to edit themselves … becoming much better photographers. … visually literate.”
Early Days … “When I was 12 years old, I decided to be a photographer. I got a Kodak 124 Instamatic. I am incredibly lucky … people go through their whole life to find their true calling. I am still not sure it was my true calling, but I ran with it. You had to be a sort of a geek to take pictures. … I did all that, the school newspaper, the dark room, you do all that stuff and you were kind of a geek. Kind of a nerd. You had a certain quirk. Nowadays, people have access not only to a camera in their pocket, there is a dark room and a delivery system, too. It is truly a wonderful thing. …This was our dream, to carry a camera with you at all times ... go out onto Michigan Avenue, take a picture and post it immediately. It is a matter of time — a matter of a short time — before the Pulitzer will be won with a camera phone. Somebody will be in the right place at the right time with a camera in their hand.”
The Digital Era … “For me, personally, it has been wonderful. I think that I was born to be a photographer in the digital era. … being from the film era makes me a better digital photographer because there are things that digital photography takes care of easily, but you still have to have the knowledge of it — color temperature, for example. LED lights are at one color temperature ... incandescent lights — as a film photographer, I learned how to deal with that. Because of the difficulty in it, I have been very sensitive to it, to the color of light. … Kodak never made a good film to shoot theater. They made Ektachrome 160 … then came out with 320. It was a terrible film. And that was the only film that they made for color that you can shoot under tungsten light. It was never a big market for them … Comes the digital age … I can control the color temperature immediately. I can white balance whatever I need. It was a revelation.”
Best designers … “Chicago is known as a theater town primarily for its actors and its acting style. What makes Chicago theater really great, in my eyes, and again I am a visual guy, is the designers. We have some of the best designers anywhere in the world — the Todd Rosenthal’s … the Mara Blumenfeld’s — who are constantly challenging themselves and you see it on stage. A lot of people take that for granted. I don’t. I love walking through the doors to see what I’ve gotta deal with. I never want to know beforehand. I love walking through those doors and figuring it out. Right on the fly. Figuring out how I am going to deal with this and taking it from there.”
Edited for length and clarity.
PRODUCTION PHOTOS|Michael Brosilow
CONVERSATIONS with Ed Tracy
Season 3|Episode 3 - March 6, 2018
PODCAST available on iTunes, Libsyn and Stitcher
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