Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Walking in San Francisco

Spending the end of 2008 rejuvenating and getting inspired for the New Year in my home state of California. The Bay Area. Full of different emotions for me. So much has happened here. It is my past, it was my home. I had to leave in order to see it.

As I prepare for Anna Deavere Smith's FIRES IN THE MIRROR I am devouring Smith's TALK TO ME about her travels through media and politics. Smith studied and lived in San Francisco and as I walk those familiar hills, the energy charges through me. But then I also look around to try to find those who do not look like me. I am surprised by the lack of color. I see mostly a sea of White among the Asian population. My old friend Chris tells me we are in the Western Addition. "Yeah the blacks were pushed out, once again." I read up on it and find the Fillmore District after WWII indeed was a cultural center for San Fran's African-American community. But then read about the changing demographic. And the "return of the middle class." I wonder why "urban renewal" means more whites and less people of color. I think about economics and code words like "bad neighborhood." I think of Oakland and turf wars. It's complex and unsettling. I look to myself to see where I fall in this.

It's scary to look. Afraid of what I may find. I am nervous about diving into FIRES IN THE MIRROR and those strong, uncomfortable words. To put that out there: our complicated relationship with race, with class, and with difference. Our American identity. The melting pot that has yet to melt. The melting pot that seems only to continue to separate.

I remember something. I open up the intro to FIRES IN THE MIRROR and read Ms. Smith's words: "I think there is a gap between those who are heard and those who speak. Those who really speak in their own communities, to their own people, are not heard as frequently as those who speak on a regular basis with authority. The media most often goes to experts to speak about difference. My sense is that American character lives not in one place or the other, but in the gaps between the places, and in our struggle to be together in our differences. It lives not in what has been fully articulated, not in the smooth-sounding words, but in the very moment that the smooth-sounding words fail us. It is alive right now. We might not like what we see, but in order to change it, we have to see it clearly."

I keep walking. I keep listening. I keep looking.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Scarlet Ibis - video poem

This video poem of Susan Hahn's The Scarlet Ibis is by Kristin Reeves who designed the video projections for 16th Street Theater's production that premiered July 2008. She captures the essence of the text, movement, music, metaphor, video and dramatic arc all within 6.5 minutes. I am in awe. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

What audience members said about KITA

Thanks to our audiences for sharing their thoughts on KITA Y FERNANDA. It means so much to us to hear from you!

"We all enjoyed the show immensely. Both my girlfriends speak Spanish and really appreciated seeing a show that they both could relate to in such a personal way. They recognized songs and personal echos from their own pasts.

I especially liked the fact that it was centered around that amazing rally in downtown Chicago. I remember that day so vividly. Maria was working across the street at LaSalle bank that day and she totally blew off her job and got swept away in the crowds and the passion of that day! She will never forget the feeling either. I wish she had seen the show."
-- Marilyn

"Ann, Congrats on Kita y Fernanda! Well done. I enjoyed the show very much. The whole production touched me and left me with a wonderful warm feeling inside. Thanks!"
-- Ivan

"Funny story: On the drive home, Matthew was talking about how all of the actors deserved Jeff nominations. Without playing favorites, I said I was particularly impressed by the two women who played double characters. Matthew said, "OK, I know that the actress who played Fernanda's mom also played Kita's tough friend... but who played the "Valley Girl" friend?" And I said, "The same woman who played Kita's mom."

"What?!" he shouted, eyes bugging out and hair on end. (Seriously, his hair stood up.) "No way!"

I laughed...

Kudos to all of you."
-- David

"Hi Ann,

Mark and I both very much enjoyed the show. We discussed it the entire walk home.

I thought the play was well written. The playwright commented after the show what a great job you did as director. I hadn't considered how much a director shapes a performance. (What about a question/answer/discussion some time before or after a play?) Mark and I both thought the actors were all great, and I was amazed how the "mothers" played the friends with such skill. Some friends of ours, also in attendance last night, didn't even realize they were the same actresses. Lastly, even though I don't speak Spanish most of the time I could pick up on the emotion and a lot of the story during the "Spanish-only" moments. When a few audience members responded to the Spanish-only moments I felt disappointed I didn't know what was being said. I so admire - and am envious of - those who are multi-lingual.

Thanks, Ann. I hope your first year was a success. We plan to get subscription passes for next year."
-- Sara

Kita y Fernanada is a perfect ending to a great inaugural season. We enjoyed the show thoroughly last night in so many ways. And the acting was stellar. Wow! Congratulations!"


"Seriously, Ann. I've always admired your work but hadn't been able to see much of it for a while. Kita was just wonderful. Yes, you did have some fabulous actors with whom to work, but your wonderful work was evident and on display, as well. I've been seeing a lot of shows lately in prep for leaving town and although some of them have been good, yours was the one that restored my faith and reminded me why I LOVE theatre so much. And the friends I brought along agree whole-heartedly."
-- Adrianne

"Dear Ann,

Just wanted to let you know my wife and I attended Kita Y Fernanda and once again we were very impressed. I think what I liked most was that the two characters don’t reconnect in the end—that no matter how much we are tempted to want it, they don’t come together, they don’t face each other. In my own experience, it is always so hard when you can’t give the audience what they want, when you have to deny them that happy ending, because the world of the play itself denies it. I felt so sad and yet so satisfied by the ending, because it was utterly courageous in sticking to the truth of the play.

Congratulations on a successful first season, and thanks for bringing theatre into the neighborhood."


"KITA Y FERNANDA is really lovely. I was very engaged and moved."
-- Russ

"Dear Ann,
Harlan and I are bursting with pride for all you have done at 16th Street. We not only loved KITA Y FERNANDA and your direction last night, but you have started a new equity theater in an area that will now easily have access to local theater."


Thanks for your note! I just knew it would be a hit!!
My friends and I enjoyed the show so very much! The acting was awesome and so realistic, and the story so heartfelt.

You are a very gifted director. Thank you for the wonderful season of plays and for bringing your art to Berwyn! You've enhanced our lives! Looking forward to seeing next year's plays!"


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Illinois State Representative Lisa Hernandez at KITA

Illinois State Representative Lisa Hernandez was in the house for Tanya Saracho's KITA Y FERNANDA on Saturday October 18 for the 8:00 PM show. She spoke to the cast after about Tanya Saracho's powerful play which puts the human touch on the immigration issue.

Pictured: Stephanie Diaz, Suzette Mayobre, Amanda Lopez (understudy) and State Representative Lisa Hernandez after KITA Y FERNANDA running thru Oct 25 at 16th Street Theater (708) 795-6704

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

"I experienced communion that night."

This is an excerpt from my friend and fellow Artistic Director, playwright David Alan Moore:

"In many ways, that play was as far removed from my own experience as it could possibly get. Much of the dialogue was in Spanish (I speak French and English). It explored the immigrant experience (my family has been in America for many generations). It examined the challenges facing women (I know a lot of women, but...).

Yet, despite all of these differences, I understood what was happening on that tiny stage, in that darkened room. I knew what those characters were feeling, I looked through a window into a small part of their souls, and I knew that the people around me also saw through that same window - and saw themselves reflected. As audience members and as actors, we laughed together, we grew silent together, we were moved together. Together, we considered the meaning of both our own, unique experiences and our common, shared experiences.

We sat by ourselves, inside our own skins, wrestling with our own reactions to what we saw onstage. At the same time, we sat together, enveloped by a sense of community and common exploration. And as we applauded at the curtain call, I hope we all felt, in some small ways, less alone. Felt that our lives, as separate and distinct as they can be sometimes, had touched the lives of others - briefly, perhaps, but in a way that also left a mark.

That, I believe, is the value of live theatre. That, I believe, is what makes theatre different from literature and film and television. That, I believe, is why the ensemble and board of Stage Left Theatre and of companies across the city devote so much of their own time, energy and resources to the act of sharing stories, person to person.

We make theatre and we see theatre so that all of us - me, my suddenly unemployed friend, my friends who just got married, my friends who just had their first baby (and are finally getting out of the house!), and my friend fighting breast cancer - can gather in one place to laugh and to weep and to ponder together. To live together. In communion."

Beautifully said, David.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Filmer's gringa notebook...

WARNING! Another language is spoken in this play. And it’s not Irish!

Working on this play with Tanya and the cast has made me think about language, culture and isolation. Below are excerpts from the notebooks I have kept during this process. Enjoy!

“The greatest distance between people is not space but culture.”
-- Jamake Highwater
Stephanie Diaz, who also hails from the Bay Area, gave me the book Drink Cultura by Jose Antonio Burciaga. The above quote is in the book. Chapter One is titled “Chief Wachuseh”. Say that out-loud. Go ahead.

I took 3 years of French at Westmont High.
When I hear another language, whether it is Polish or German, Italian or Spanish, or even American Sign Language, I wish I knew what was being said. I long for understanding, communication. But maybe I just hate being left out.
Sidenote: My senior year my boyfriend Rick criticized me for taking choir instead of French IV. Now I work in the language of theater.

I am gringa.
My father immigrated to the US from England after WWII. He never became a citizen of this country, though he has lived here ever since. He had two daughters born here. He now lives in a public housing high rise in Sacramento, CA. His neighbors are mostly all Ukranians. He complains all the time he has no one to talk to. They don’t speak English. He doesn’t speak Russian. Do svidaniya.

Poquito espanol.
I am frustrated that I cannot know everything! That I may never learn Spanish even though my sister married a Ruiz and my daughter is leaning Spanish in preschool. Do I resent them from achieving what I have not? Do I berate those that don’t speak “my language”? Whose job is it to reach out to whom?

I learned to count to 10 in Espanol on Sesame Street.
I am nervous to speak the little Spanish I do know. Do I order Mexican food in Spanish. Side order of frijoles y arroz por favor? Am I a phony? Trying too hard? Will I be made fun of? I don’t want to butcher the pronunciation.
Forget it. I’ll just say rice and beans.

“Speak only in our secret English language.”
Just learn the language?! Between making a living and raising a family, how does one have time to learn a language? It is more than just words and sentence structure, no? It is culture. One of my closest friends has lived in Berlin since 2001. He tells me communicating in German has opened up a new way of thinking for him. His next experiment was to learn Spanish by way of German. The experiment failed.

Culture Barriers
In a hipster diner in Humboldt Park. A group of six hungry construction workers walk in. They are working in the ‘hood. They speak English. They are American. Yet they look over the menu as if it is in another language. They snicker a bit about home fries, seitan meat, and organic tofu.
I give one of the men a bite of my vegetarian pastrami sandwich. He says, “That’s not bad.”
No Literal Translation
Must I be threatened? Can another language be a beautiful mysterious thing? Like poetry. Like dance. I realize art has no literal translation. I will try to let these “foreign words” wash over me and let my mind and thoughts and feelings travel where they may.

Will I understand it?
Do I understand the moon and the stars?
I only want to see myself up on stage. Why? I am with myself all day.
There is so much I have yet to comprehend. Does this paralyze me or inspire me to learn more? I long for the latter.
“But, Tanya, I don’t understand!”
“Does that make you feel isolated?” she replies.
“Well… yes. Yes. I do feel isolated,” I respond defensively.
“Silvia and Concha. They also feel isolated.”

Oh… It’s not all about me. I am beginning to understand…

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A conversation with Tanya Saracho by Amanda Lopez

Amanda Lopez: What has been one of your most rewarding experiences so far as a playwright, and what has made it so?

Tanya Saracho: Every year keeps getting better and better. Technically as a writer, I've been enjoying rewrites more. That's something that's been quite rewarding because I feel like I'm more in control of the craft. More in control of the story that way and that's kind of exciting to me. And in the social aspect, I think I get addicted to having people come up to me after they see the show and say, "that's my story." "That's my sister up there. That's my mom." Or "oh, I feel that way about Americans too." "Eso es lo que yo pienso de los Mexicanos." It's so important for me to reflect our lives, our stories. To represent us in complicated and fully dimensional ways. It's imperative we see the riches in our culture, in our gender, but also the barnacles and the flaws. That's what makes us interesting and worth hearing about.

AL: Is there anything or anyone specific who inspires you to write?

TS: I love real people. Sitting in a waiting room, on a bus, at the airport, overhearing a conversation at a cafe- that's inspiring to me. What I mean is that it inspires me to write something down, it prompts an essence and oftentimes a character. I love listening how real people talk. I love hearing how my family talks. Well, mostly they argue, but it can become quite cathartic to write it down. To sift through it on paper. My family and friends are my ultimate source of inspiration: Con ellos tengo material para largo!

I do have heroes that I look up to, of course, my former teacher Maria Irene Fornes, Sandra Cisneros (whose classic "The House on Mango Street" I'm adapting for Steppenwolf), Zora Neale Hurston, Caryl Churchill and (my most beloved) Achy Obejas for their literary brilliance. I love artists like Frida Kahlo for how she navigated her art and the struggle with her health, that's something very close to my body. I love Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz for being complicated and so accomplished in such a dark time in our history. Marta Carrasco, the Spanish eminence who is a genius with her body; I think in another life, I'd have liked to have been as capable of the sublime with my body as she is in this lifetime.

I just realized my list only includes women. That was not on purpose by the way, but it's interesting to see who my influences have been. Very interesting to me.

AL: After seeing Kita y Fernanda, what do you hope that people will come away with?

TS: Oh, I don't know. Questions like this make me nervous sometimes because I don't think about an effect or even a message when I write. I just hope people love these women as much as I do. That they get a glimpse of what it's like to live on the border, both physical and imagined. I hope this sheds some light on the invisible people. I hope I've put at least four faces on the whole topic of immigration and that an audience realizes the whole thing is much more complicated than a bit of legislation. I don't know. I hope they snap their fingers when they hear "Los Garibaldi."

AL: If you could go back in time and talk to yourself 10 years ago, what advise would you give yourself?

TS: Become an accountant, Tanya!

It's funny, I talk to myself a lot and I write myself letters. So every so often I find written mantras and declarations to myself in this form or that. Not long ago, I found my high school yearbook while I went home to McAllen for the holidays and on the "Senior Hall of Fame" pages I read my answer to the prompt, "Where will you be in 10 years?" Well, I was very detailed with how I answered, I said: "I will be walking home in the snow from a rehearsal of my latest play, happy and satisfied." Reading it made me smile because it has actually panned out that way. Of course, back then I thought walking home in the snow was super romantic, having grown up in the desert; turns out it's not as romantic as I'd cracked it up to be, but the whole thing still made me smile. I mean... it made me smile that I was a little psychic. I AM happy and satisfied ten years later.

AL: And....Chivas o América???

TS: Chivas. We lived in Guadalajara for a time, so if I had to pick... escojeria a Las Chivas

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Going back in time to... 1990

1990... the year of 21 Jump Street and Edward Scissorhands.

Jessica is looking through this magazine at one point during the play.

Oh... johnny depp. what a treat.

so sassy.

Scenic design for KITA Y FERNANDA

Scenic design by Ian Zywica

The separation, all under one roof but isolated, is a great way to see the play, so the three platforms work well to accomplish this.

The three drops represent the Mexican flag itself in shape, color.
Our musings on the set: Think these are not literal flags but are abstract flags, Tanya said like a watermark. I really like that. We like that the three drops represent the Mexican flag itself in shape and idea. Maybe use color as the element that draws us together and then apart? Red and white are the what unites us. Red also is female and red is blood. Blue and green are the separators. Blue separates the US and Green separates Mexico.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Conversation with Elizabeth Berg

by Maggie Carlin

First thing I really would like to ask, after reading and seeing your play is what inspires you to write?

I really believe that writers are born, not made. Some people love horseback riding or baseball, it is what each person feels most comfortable doing, and for me that is writing. That has been true since I was a kid.

In the play, Nan as a child has these dreams and as she gets older she has felt like she has lost these dreams. I know you started writing when you were a child and found yourself discouraged and for a while became a nurse. Do you feel like in a way that was modeled after you?

Wow, I really never thought of it that way. You know, when I was a child, I was so positive that I was going be a famous writer. I used to tell my Dad that I was going to be rich and buy him a Cadillac. And you do, you just let it go. As I got older I just thought too much. I believed you had to be a man even though I knew people responded to my work.

So what brought you back to writing?

Well, I have two daughters and when they were 9 and 4 I really knew that I wanted to be able to spend more time with them. I was working as a nurse back then and I thought about what I could do to be at home and still bring in some income, which we needed. So I started writing! I started out working for magazines and did that for 10 years then I moved on to novels. It just kind of happened that way.

What made you chose to adapt your novels into plays?

I love plays! It is my favorite thing to do, to go see a play. For me, when I’m writing I feel like I’m acting. It just seemed like the most logical step for me. It’s funny because if I had to pick one of my novels to adapt it would not be The Pull of the Moon. But a friend of mine really encouraged me to do it. I guess it’s because people respond to this story.

What was the hardest thing about adapting this novel into a play?

Understanding that the vehicle is different. Half of what I wrote was lost. You need to pick the essential and emotional parts but still be able to link them together in flowing manner that is true to the piece.

How are you hoping your audience responds to this play?

Tears and laughter! I guess that’s the easy answer. Beyond that I’m hoping for some identification. It feels so good to identify with people and know you’re not the only person going through it.

Is there anyone you would like to thank?

There are so many people who have been behind me and helped me throughout this. I really want to thank the actors, and director Kevin Fox, and Ann Filmer for teaching me how to be a playwright.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

encouragement from MiLkBabY

i send this message to encourage you...

encourage you that the world is not a machine...

encourage you to leave the house, be with other human beings, and share

encourage you to fly out of your skin and be with a bird, a lady, and a magician @ 7:30 (before the MiLkBabY show @9:30) and see THE SCARLET IBIS
directed by Ann Filmer, music by Barry Bennett, and video by Kristin Reeves.

i encourage you to make a small statement to our friend , laurie, that even if the monetary amount raised at the MiLkBabY show seems inconsequential in the long run; that a group of hUmaNs came together to celebrate her healing...

it sounds bit new agey, but i am a ROCKER at heart and can sort of get away with it!
i shouldn't have to encourage you to have an awesome time, but i am.
on top of everything else, i feel a real rebirth in the MiLkBabY beast
with Davidly's visit and the show we have planned for you on FRI AUG 1ST is
the kind of shows that MILkBabY want to keep doing in the future.
We would love to have you come out and be a part of it with us...

summing up for ED in vienna...

MiLkBabY + DavidLy (from berlin)

6420 W 16th Street ** Berwyn
9:30pm sharp ... all ages ... $5
have a fever dream with us....


Monday, July 28, 2008

Audience responds to THE SCARLET IBIS

Hi, Ann,
Well. You were right. I have never seen anything like IBIS. And it was such an interesting experience, watching it. I started out feeling overwhelmed. As a lover of poetry, of it's (usually) necessary intimacy between page and reader, or poet and listener, I didn't know what to pay attention to. But then I settled down and let it happen and got comfortable and just really really enjoyed it. It was moving and funny and truly magical. It made me want to get the poems and read them, which I did.
I am so proud to be associated with a theater doing things that are so artful and different and risky and satisfying.
Thank you for all you to bring such richness to your community.


Just wanted to reiterate that your staging of the poetry was brilliant -- very David Lynch -- and all three actors were superb.


Hi Ann,

just wanted to say congratulations again for doing such a beautiful thing. I am so impressed.

As I was saying when we spoke after the show, I felt grateful to you for carving out a space and time in the world where the kind of communication and experience that happens through poetry and dreams got to have a little play in waking life. And I think you did succeed in allowing the witness to relate to the images, actions and words with as much room for personal experience as we have in the arenas of dreams and poetry. I think you succeeded in embodying ephemeral important things without limiting their expansiveness or possibility very much at all, which is a wonderful thing.

I also feel like you did what my favorite absurdist theater does, which is to represent dynamics that are recognizable to us, without any context or detail of situation. I felt like the bird and the woman and especially their relationship to each other in the second half was archetypal, and wordlessly familiar... and didn't need any time or location of description to be deeply understood. very yay. :)"

And I felt the same about seeing you. I thought, 'gosh that lady shines'. It was really fun to see you again, and nice to be there on that night. I liked that you had so many women in attendance who you've worked with/are going to be working with this season... that was cool. :) I'll definitely be out to see more of your work!

With love,


Thursday, July 24, 2008

A conversation with Susan Hahn

The Poet.
A conversation with Susan Hahn
by Gina Tarullo

“I felt like the bird had come into my life and kept informing me as to what to do next.”
- Susan Hahn, on writing The Scarlet Ibis

You are an experienced poet and this is not your first play. How would you describe The Scarlet Ibis in relation to your body of work?

Susan Hahn: Of all the books I’ve written, The Scarlet Ibis was a complete surprise. I never intended to write it.

It probably – as oddly as it sounds – is my most personal book. And if someone had said to me, “Someday, Susan, you’re going to write a book about a bird and a lady and a magician and it’s going to be your most personal book of poetry,” I would have just looked at them and said, “That’s nuts.”

How did the idea for the book come about?

SH: It happened exactly like it is in the play: I saw a picture of a scarlet ibis in a book and I became enamored by its beauty… I am not a person who goes and looks at birds. I’m not a birdwatcher. I had bought this book Earth From Above – it’s a gorgeous book, and because I loved it so much, I bought the version for children. It was in the children’s version that I saw the scarlet ibis. I remember opening it up and thinking there was something about the bird that just insisted on its appearance.

I decided that I would find out more about the scarlet ibis and consequently, I started doing some research. It became unbelievable to me what I was learning in terms of this bird – the wealth of information and the possibilities to write poems. I always felt like the bird was leading me somewhere.

I never, never imagined writing The Scarlet Ibis until I saw that picture in the book. It was almost like something was happening to me that I wish for every poet – that the muse comes to visit them in such a way that it almost carries them. I really have not had an experience like that – where the intention for the book appeared out of nowhere. It was a very odd, very magical experience. That’s why I added the [bird and lady] tricks.

Had you always intended for this book to be produced for the theater? How did you come to know it could work as a performance?

SH: I had asked one rather accomplished poet to do cover copy for the book and he said no –that he didn’t do that anymore – but he gave me a greater gift because he asked, “Do you realize what a theatrical piece this is?”

… I immediately e-mailed Ann [Filmer] and asked if she would read it as a theatre piece. Suddenly I saw the possibilities. She read it saying she couldn’t get it out of her mind. I knew that was a good sign that she would probably take it to the next level.

16th Street Theater’s production of The Scarlet Ibis incorporates a number of artistic elements, including original music and video. How would you compare this performance to the experience of reading these poems on the page?

This performance of it is like a fully fleshed-out version of the book – it’s so unified, it’s got so many facets to it – it informs the audience so much better.

With the added layer of videography, at first I didn’t quite know where to look. And then I just allowed it in with the music and with the language – and once I embraced it as a whole, then I decided I could look at the entire stage and it’s such a rich experience. As a poet, it’s almost overwhelming to have all that happening; to see the different layers of intention in the language highlighted in such a way.

Would you call this piece autobiographical?

SH: Emotionally, it is. With the publication of The Scarlet Ibis, I think what I did is I took my book Mother in Summer and reinvented it. [Mother in Summer] is a very personal book about losing my mother but I think The Scarlet Ibis takes that subject matter to a much higher level. When I see The Scarlet Ibis, it seems the most accurate way of putting what I wanted to say about the loss. And I am struck by that. I knew that was happening while I was writing the book but I had pushed it out of me and gone on to other things since. And it was only when I saw it staged that it really hit hard.

I think it can be enlarged for anyone about any kind of loss and about how you replace it.
In my case, I had this bird visit me.

The Scarlet Ibis performs July 24 – August 2, 2008 at 16th Street Theater in Berwyn.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Audience responds to SAINTHOOD and CARLOTTA

Dear Ms Filmer,
I was so moved by Arlene Malinowski's Aiming for Sainthood. It was a beautiful piece of writing and the acting was astonishing. I don't gush, but this show left me speechless. Her story, her energy, her honesty was amazing. I will enjoy coming back to 16th Street Theater. Great job by everyone!!

Dear Ann,
Another great evening at 16th Street. A terrific show. Our friends were knocked out by the theater, the show, Arlene, and of course, you. They'll definitely be back.


I just wanted you to know how terrific I thought the play "Aiming for
Sainthood" was!!!
Arlene Malinowski's story and acting is awesome!


Dear Ms. Filmer,

I just wanted to say how much I loved your recent production of Will Dunne’s “The Ascension of Carlotta.” I was talking with my good friend Arlene (Malinowski), and she asked me if I had shared my appreciation with you. I told her that I had wanted to Saturday night but that my courage faltered. Arlene’s mantra—and I love her for this—is that artists love to have their work appreciated by other artists, so I am taking her advice.

I live just down the street on Harlem, and it is nice to finally have a theater in my back yard. And as a working-class boy myself, it was so refreshing to go to a theater dedicated to this kind of work. I had thought that this voice had all but been silenced. (Maybe I am going to the wrong theatres.) Will Dunne’s play presented a range of working-class experiences rather than just presenting a monolithic picture of that experience. It is an insider’s view; I am sure of it. When Romeo—what a great character!—accuses Carlotta of stealing his dream—however small—I felt as if Will Dunne truly knew what he was about. More than anything, I feel, this is the way of things for the children of the working class.

All I wanted to say was, I hope to introduce myself at the next show. I wouldn’t miss Arlene’s show for the world. She also mentioned that you might need people to help out for your summer programming. If you have need of me for anything, please don’t hesitate to write.


Carlo Matos

Monday, July 7, 2008

Talking with solo performer Arlene Malinowski

A conversation with playwright/performer Arlene Malinowski
by Assistant Director Maggie Carlin

Arlene, doing a one-woman show like this is kind of unique. I have to know, how did you come up with this idea and what did you base your ideas off of?

There are two people I have to mention in order to answer this question. The first is Anne Etue. I saw a performance of Tokyo Bound, which Anne Etue directed, and I said, “I want to do that!” Anne became my fairy god mother. Tokyo Bound is a one-woman autobiographical play written and performed by Amy Hill, who was even nominated for an award. So, anyway, I was talking to Anne and telling her about myself and my family and she told me that I had a story to tell and that I needed to tell it. And that’s how I got into autobiography work.

The second person I must mention is Kerry Haynie. He directed my first show and really helped me develop my story. We started out with a sixteen-minute piece and he wanted to know if I could go further and really expand my story. I had been working on some material for about a year but nothing was complete so this forced me to put it together.

I based my ideas on an American Sign Language storytelling style. The characters that I have, their positions, placements and quirks are based on deaf storytelling, which was an easy way to tell my story. There could be no other way to tell my story!

You have kind of already addressed this but who have been your biggest influences over the years and why?

Every storyteller that I have ever seen at the Deaf Club. Oh, and my Dad too. He is an amazing storyteller.

What do you think are you greatest accomplishments thus far?

Holding the vision of being a good daughter, sister, wife and friend. And of course being a good teacher. I have been lucky enough to have a number of careers that have prepared me for the next level and they are all a part of my accomplishments.

You share a lot of personal facts about your life and your families’ lives. How have they reacted to this?

Wow, so many moments are pivotal that people don’t remember! Some things that have meant so much to me, my family will say, “That didn’t happen.” I really believe that reality is truly shaped by who you are and what you see and what’s important to you.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about Theater and the work you’re doing?

I just want to say that the reason I love autobiographical work so much is because as a culture I feel that we don’t know enough about the people around us. We know and connect with the people of “Grey’s Anatomy” or even “Project Runway” but we don’t know our neighbors! Most of us don’t even know the stories of our grandparents! We’re not connecting to each other and in doing so we’re losing ourselves.

I want people to watch my story and think, “I know what that’s like,” not just C.O.D.A.’s (Children Of Deaf Adults) but everyone. I want my story to be a springboard for all of us to share our own stories and make connections.

I really feel that a play is like a molecular structure that can change who you are. I mean, a good play invites you to watch but a GREAT play lets you see the world differently. My goal is to connect the world one story at a time!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Scenic design for AIMING FOR SAINTHOOD

Katie Schweiger's scenic design for AIMING FOR SAINTHOOD. She is building and painting a "false proscenium" to frame Arlene's Malinowski's solo performance. The hanging photos will be abstracted images from Arlene's childhood using the image of Arlene below.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Saintly Arlene

Arlene Malinowski studying up on how to be a saint circa 1967.

I went to a run thru of Arlene's play AIMING FOR SAINTHOOD yesterday at Arlene's place. The script is in great shape and I am just in awe of her storytelling.

She has such a rapport with the audience. Even with just me, Maggie and Ann Boyd sitting there in her kitchen, I was completely pulled into her world.

and man, that woman has some comic timing!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Now, the ramblings of an old man....

This from my friend and artist Fred Burkhart who turns 67 this Sunday. Inspiring words from a man of the earth. Too good to keep to myself. Had to share them with you:

"Recently I've gone to gazing into the sun, about a half hour a day now for the last six months, an ancient practice, safe one hour after sunrise or before sunset, when UV does not exist, as a means of recharging the battery and reducing my need for food, releasing energies to assist in consciousness building and conscious living. The Ancients long ago -- from both East and West -- realized that our energy comes from Breathing and the Sun, and from nothing else. Period. Modern science agrees -- more than 95% of all NUTRIENT required for our bodies comes from the sun and breathing. So why do we require 5% food to sustain us? Because this is what feeds our fears, expectations, apprehensions. Christ was wise enough to point out: "Be not anxious...I have food that ye know not of." But modern day inhabitants of this earth are too busy eating, drinking, drugging and tv-ing to appreciate a method that would reduce all flesh to a combined transparency through which the whole truth might surface.

When I say that I am getting old, it is only young people who tell me, "Ah, Burkhart, old age is all in your mind!" Ha ha... I wonder what these same youth will say in 40 or 50 years, when they too are old. But be assured, my concept of aging is refreshing, not deteriorating: We ALL are the age of this earth from which we are composed, be it a young earth of the religions or the several billions of years old model of the scientists. To realize that we are measured according to a space/time continuum, separated at birth by just few inches from everyone else -- we can still reach out and touch them! -- is to recognize that we are likewise only seconds apart. A relative situation, move closer, move apart, but always remain in the same space'time construct/illusion -- the same age. What I'm saying is we differ only in consciousness, only in our individual images we each carry around of who we are -- our age is always consistent with our earth. I repeat: we are all the precise age of the earth we inhabit. Only a fool would try to argue with eternity or infinity."
---- Fred Burkhart

Happy Birthday Fred

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


I wanted to say how much I loved "The Ascension of Carlotta"! The entire experience was one that I have shared with my neighbors in hopes that they will enjoy our new Theater as well. Everyone involved with the show should be applauded.
--- Kenneth, subscriber

My mom went to see your PLAY this past weekend and she is RAVING about it how wonderful it is to anyone who will listen....so...Way to Go...my mom is a hard to impress...artist...congrats!
--- Rich


Hi, Ann . . .
I read the article in today's Tribune and was so excited and happy for you, the actives at the theater, and Berwyn!
Thank you for making such a wonderful contribution to our community!
My friends and I are so looking forward to seeing the play on Saturday!
--- Mary, subscriber

Kathy and I went last night and had a great time! This is a great opportunity for Berwyn!!!! Try it you will like it!!!
--- Mayor Michael O'Connor, subscriber

Congratulations on the great press (again!) on the show and for 16th Street! The show was really wonderful last night; the cast was spot-on. I enjoyed each performance immensely. The writing was particularly sharp and smart...funny, without being over-the-top. I found the story touching and each character had real depth.

I'm amazed at the economy of the set design. It's impressive how much you have going on in this show, but the stage never comes across as crowded, considering the amount of physical space there is. Kudos all around.
--- Maggie, subscriber

Friday, April 25, 2008

Berwyn's theater history from Alexander

Thanks to Alexander for setting the record straight about the history of theater in Berwyn!

"I wanted to say, once again, how much we enjoyed the play Saturday night. I was really affected by the characters and I can't quite get them out of my mind. I felt an empathy with them, and it makes you want to fall in love all the time. The use of music between scenes was very effective and the selections were perfect. I haven't heard "Let's all go to the Lobby" since I was about eight years old at the Ritz Theater.

For your information, the 16th Street Theater is not the first in Berwyn ( I hope you don't get mad at me). The Berwyn Theater (originally the Parthenon) at Ridgeland and Cermak and the Ritz Theater on Roosevelt and Ridgeland were originally legitimate theaters for many years, long before they started showing movies. They even had dressing rooms for all the actors. I guess you can say that 16th Street is the first theater in town in 75 years or the first in the "Modern Era."

There were actually four theaters in town: the Ritz, the Roxy, the Oakwyn and the Berwyn (Parthenon). The Oakwyn was on Roosevelt and Grove and was owned by a friend of our family. My father and uncle's ice cream parlor was right next door (where Homescape is today). The Roxy was in the Depot area on 33rd and Grove (across the street from Salerno's). I don't know if the Oakwyn and the Roxy had live theater. It is possible that they did. For sure the Ritz and the Berwyn ( Parthenon) were legitimate theaters. The Parthenon was built by a friend of my father's named Andrew Karzis. He is the one who built the Aragon Ballroom on the north side.

You know that the Olympic Theater on Cermak and Lombard in Cicero has been remodeled and looks the way it did in the 30's. This was also built as a theater and remained so for many years before movies were shown. This is a beautiful place."
- Alexander Rassogianis

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

You may say I'm a dreamer

Below is my response to Catey Sullivan, a writer whom I very much respect and admire, and a Berwyn resident no less! Thanks Catey for the inspiration! I am hoping this opens up a dialogue. Those of you that have seen the play, feel free to weigh in.

You may first want to read Catey's review of The Ascension of Carlotta in the Windy City Times

IMPORTANT! If you have not seen the play yet, some secrets may be revealed below. You have been warned!


So sad to read you didn't like our play.

Since reading American Theatre's recent issue on criticism I finally feel comfortable having a dialogue about the work I present with professionals whom I respect, such as yourself. So here I am responding to you. This is actually my first time! (And now it will be quite obvious my skill is not as a writer!!)

Romeo is an innocent. He just happens to come from a family of robbers and feels pressured to follow his destiny. But our intention is that it should be clear from the first moment that Romeo is incapable to pull off such an act and hence can't even get the unloaded squirt gun out of his pocket! He is not a robber. He is a dreamer. And a planner.

Alice Kowalski is not quiet or introverted. Instead she is simply a young woman with no dreams. No plans. Going about her life doing what she is supposed to do. Until love and possibility sweeps in and knocks her over and makes her start doing things she has never done before. She has been awakened yet turned inside out by love. Yes, it's irrational. Yes, it's messy. It's love.

So I must defend that nonsense the characters utter. It is due to them being drunk on love.

It starts out as an immature love, where one loves the FEELING of being in love more than seeing the very real human being on the other side of the sheets. But by the end, after they have both been hurt by broken dreams and confronted very real danger, they maybe begin to find a more mature love and more mature dreams. And though they are unsure of where they are headed and how they will get there, they choose to commit to the journey. Ah, a semi-happy ending. If anything, I would call it an urban fairy tale.

I chose to open our first season with The Ascension of Carlotta because to me it is about dreams and destiny and finding oneself. I am intrigued by the robbery theme too. Stealing is an act perpretrated by humans and animals alike. We have all stolen at some point. Maybe it was a piece of candy, an expensive jacket, or someone's heart, but we have all done it. (See this month's Sun Magazine Reader's Write section on "stealing.")

So I was most surprised by your analogy of the horrible incident at the Lane Bryant store. That was an act of violence where innocents were killed by a real gun by a real person. Possibly a person with no dreams. I just don't see the connection at all. No character in our play has the capacity to harm anyone, let alone end someone's life.

Thank you for opening up a dialogue on the play. It helps me articulate why I believe it's beautiful and worthy.

With much respect,
Ann Filmer

oh... a quick fact correction (can't help myself!): Though Act Two may have seemed long and over an hour, it is actually 58 minutes. Sorry to be a stickler!

Monday, March 31, 2008

Mowing the Lawn by Kevin Stein

Putt putt, I ride on fossil fuel, the juice of fern and leaf,
the muck of once-was. Putt putt, I warm our globe
one green acre at a time. As a boy, I mowed without gas power
as does my buddy Dean. Green Dean. Back then as now
it was economics not ecology. Have you priced a hybrid?

I pushed, I sweated, I earned a man’s allowance,
not unlike Tag, the bow-legged Japanese gardener
who plucked the lawn’s eyebrows for my grandmother,
she of blue hair and lace gladiolas terraced along
the terra cotta porch. She of the voice that curdled milk.

Tuesdays he made landfall, hurricane of shears and clippers,
toting the lone mower he’d not so much push as chase.
Tag had no time for lost time, though just to be sure
the war-time feds interned him to save us from the Japs
he wasn’t. The Republic’s no match for paranoia.

Once, chasing the wiffle ball of my World Series,
I spilled over Tag yanking weeds beside the arched porch
trellised with trumpet creeper and the strumming
of hummingbird wings, thrum of this world,
his knees keeping the porch safe for democracy.

That good man sang foreign to me and I got scared –
as kids will. But I didn’t care – as kids won’t,
I please wanted my ball please, which he found
amidst a clutch of dandelions he’d turn to wine.
Come winter he sipped the bittersweet of our fear.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Talking with actor Galen Murphy-Hoffman by Assistant Director Vaun Monroe

What attracted you to The Ascension of Carlotta?

My interest in the project was piqued by the sense of humor of the play, the witticisms of the language that lead to that moment of reality, of clarity. The audience will get caught up in the rhythm of the speech, then have those “AHA!” moments that reveal something really human. Also the simplicity of Will’s writing, clean, not in as non-dramatic, but the brevity and clarity.

And Joey’s character is someone I always wanted to play because he is nothing like myself in that he’s a bitter, on the edges type of guy. I wanted to explore that part. But he’s also a guy that has his own kind of fierce sense of honor and he won’t go against that, won’t violate that part of himself.

What’s it like working with Ann Filmer?

Her priority is to have the language be extremely clear. She’s a taskmaster for language, but aware of the need for rhythm. Technical, but always looking to get to a place of truth. Earnest. She encourages us to bring ideas and she gives the “yea” or “nay” but she’s open to ideas and willing to work with us through confusion. Carlotta is an interesting choice for an inaugural production. It sets a gutsy tone for the 16th Street Theater. New work that is immediate so the audience can come away with a visceral experience. I’m grateful for the opportunity.
I hear you had a dramatic costume one Halloween...

In the eighth grade when I was thirteen years old I dressed up as Willie Loman from Death of a Salesman for Halloween. I got the old suit, put the pillows inside, grayed my hair, and even got the salesman’s case. None of the other kids at my junior high knew who the heck I was.

Then as I went trick or treating, no one else recognized who I was either. I went from house to house and I’m starting to feel kind of down, no one knowing.

Finally very, very late in the evening an older man, must have been in his fifties opened the door and looked at me hard. After a long pause he said “A man’s gotta sell what a man’s gotta sell! How are you, Willie?”

On the way home I was buzzing with excitement and my Dad kept chuckling “That guy knew”.

Talking with playwright Will Dunne by Assistant Director Vaun Monroe

What is it like to work with Ann?

We met when she directed a scene from my play at the Chicago Dramatists and I liked the way that she worked with the actors. I think we have a similar approach to thinking about the acting and I was very happy with her work. She told me she was opening up a theater this summer and I was very happy to work with her again.

When I sit in on rehearsals I’m just there listening but when I hear her speak to the actors she says things I would say. I’m expecting a great show.

Why did you choose to set your play in Berwyn?

Well I never dreamed the play would be performed in Berwyn. But the play is really a metaphor for a place that is somewhere between rural life and city life but I’ve never seen a play about people who live in a place like Berwyn. Berwyn is either a small city or a large town. We have one character that comes from the city who has very different values and he meets this young woman from Berwyn and the play is about how their worlds are going to fit together.

What do you think of the casting?

Casting is a very important part of the decisions. I left the final part of that to Ann but she welcomed and appreciated my input. Each of the actors has something special to bring to the story. Janna has read the parts over the course of a year and seen the play develop, I’m happy that she is able to do the role of Carlotta now.

When a playwright writes a play you’re really writing a blueprint for the actors to have an experience and for the actors to emotionally communicate that experience through the play to the audience. So the play is a blueprint for all this experience to happen. You also factor in the production people and the director, the designers, lights, costumes, sound and the people you don’t see like the stage manager, the technical folks…they add their talent to the blueprint and you have a wonderful new experience. This is what separates live theater from film, where each performance is a brand new experience.

Last words?

I often describe the play as Romeo and Juliet in Berwyn. The play has many different themes running through it but ultimately is a love story. A lot in the play is about the importance of having dreams. While I worked on the play I came across a poem by Langson Hughes that reflected the themes I was trying to incorporate. We’re each born into families and cultures and circumstances and one of the central questions of the play is can you rise above the circumstances you’re born into? Throughout the play the characters are bumping into their limitations and seeing if they can rise above them.

The play is a comedy and a love story but it does address serious issues, I’m trying to explore serious issues while having fun with the characters and the story. This is a play where the characters are the story, not a part of the play but the play itself, very character driven.

Monday, March 24, 2008

From Illinois Poet Laureate

Continuing the conversation of Poetry as Theater...

"One redemptive aspect of art is its capacity to surprise. By this I mean art's ability to invoke surprise within both artist and audience, for without it the artist falls into unknowingly self-parody and the audience snoozes in the warm blanket of the familiar. To have my work staged and performed by fine actors offers just this sort of aesthetic opportunity for the fresh and the unpredictable -- a way to rearrange the furniture of my poet's living room."
Kevin Stein

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Baboon Island

Sunday we went to the zoo. "Alice" and "Tammy" rehearsed amongst the baboons. Not a frisky one in site though. Passerbys got to see more than animals in captivity: they got to witness the human actor.

Below Desmin as Romeo and Janna as Alice talk though their scene that takes place at Proksa Park.

Susan Hahn on Poetry as Theater

In preparation for 16th Street's event on Thurs April 3 with Illinois' Poet Laureate Kevin Stein, the artists and myself have been conversing about what IS poetry as theater. Here is what Susan Hahn author of The Scarlet Ibis, had to say about our exploration into staging her book of poems at last year's Estrogen Fest and at the Rhino Fest...

"Having my book of poems come to life on stage last year, directed by Ann and performed by these most talented actors, was extraordinary. I hope that all poets can experience the transformation of their language to theater at least once.The process more than redoubles creative inventiveness and reveals the multifaceted, precise ways in which words, when coupled with presentation, can entertain, deeply move, and enlighten."

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Traveling the land of Berwyn

The cast of The Ascension of Carlotta, which takes place in and around Berwyn, enjoyed slurpess from 7 Eleven last night.

Anna as Tammy and Janna as Alice rehearse their scene in the alley next to the 7 Eleven.

After we hung out at the convenience store, we went to Lalo's to rehearse Joey's & Alice's scene which takes place at "The Happy Sombrero."

The cast with stage manager Jennifer at Lalo's.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Arlene's play

Today I had the pleasure of seeing a reading of Arlene's Aiming for Sainthood which 16th Street is producing this summer (starting July 10). The reading was at Chicago Dramatists and Oh, you are in for a treat. Seriously. Only Arlene's first draft and she is already giving a performance so touching, funny, beautiful and transformative. I don't want to give any details away right now, but again let me just say, you are in for something special this summer.

Wow - two excellent readings in just one week. And our third playwright-in-residence Tanya Saracho is hardly out of the picture. In fact, it was on her set that Arlene performed today. Tanya directs Teatro Luna's next show Solo Tu beginning tonight at Chicago Dramatists.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Carlotta first read - staying out of the way

Pictured left: Gintare measures Galen while playwright Will looks on and sound designer Tom studies his script.
Stay out of the way. Directors, myself included, often state this at the first rehearsal as the smart thing to do, less we screw up the play, but I'm not sure how often we really mean it. I direct cause I love to direct right? But this time when I said it, I knew I really need to mean it.
Will's words really need to fly off the page without too much encumbrance. And tonight they really flew. The actors were perfectly in line with them. And now, as with most plays, we spend the rehearsal period trying to get back to that "perfect" first read. Working towards capturing each uninhibited, spontaneous moment over and over again. Stay out of the way, Filmer.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

This Blog

This here blog...
Thought this would be a good place to archive thoughts and comments on 16th Street Theater and the work we do. These thoughts will be from myself, other artists and from others of you in the community. Just starting this today so having a little stage fright currently. But I'll get the hang of it. Thanks for your interest and I hope you return and add your own comments.

Welcome to 16th Street

I am so proud to welcome you to Berwyn’s new professional theater and our inaugural season. Here at 16th Street we have chosen to begin at the beginning: with the writer. Our first season of plays will center on three diverse voices: Will Dunne, Arlene Malinowski and Tanya Saracho. I invite you to subscribe now to guarantee your tickets to these excellent plays.

We also are proud to bring Teatro Luna’s hit show MACHOS to our intimate space in the Berwyn Cultural Center for a limited engagement beginning January 25. Their Chicago run sold-out very quickly. I saw it at Chicago Dramatists, and it was the most fun I’ve had in the theater in a long time. Don’t miss it.

I have always loved the theater. While I sit in a dark room surrounded by "strangers", a door opens and I choose to step out of my life giving myself over to someone else’s. At the end those people around me are strangers no more. We have shared an experience unique to that particular night. And it only exists if you are there to witness it. YOU make the theater live.

I hope 16th Street Theater stimulates your mind, engages your imagination, and enlivens your spirit.

I also hope it encourages debate, discussion and compassion. I invite you to sit in a dark theater with me. Become a subscriber, take a class, volunteer, get involved. This is your theater and I look forward to experiencing it with you.