McKenzie Chinn in rehearsal for "Saturday Night" (Courtesy of Prologue Theater…)
In 1998, when Steppenwolf Theatre Company added an 80-seat black box theater adjacent to its main theater's parking garage, part of its mission was to provide a space for visiting companies to mount fresh pieces.
Fast forward to 2009: The Garage Rep series, a rotating roster of plays by three visiting Chicago storefront companies selected from a pool of applicants to appeal to 20- to 35-year-old audiences, was born. The proposals can include original scripts, devised works (meaning it's created collaboratively by the cast) or existing plays, but are never a remount of a show that the company has already produced. The three featured plays are produced with mentorship from Steppenwolf and appear for 10 weeks in rotating repertory.
Past plays have included Buzz22 Chicago's Dungeons & Dragons-themed "She Kills Monsters" (2013), XIII Pocket's "Adore" (2010)—a cannibal love story inspired by true-life headlines—and The Inconvenience's "Hit the Wall" (2012), a Stonewall Riots play which sold out its world premiere Garage Rep run and moved to Off-Broadway the following spring.
Fast forward to 2014: The New Colony, Prologue Theatre Company and Walkabout Theater Company are the featured ensembles for this year's Garage Rep series. We checked in with each to find out more.
Go: 8 p.m. Friday through April 20 at Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted St.
Tickets: $20 per show or $45 for a three-play pass. 312-335-1650; steppenwolf.org
Walkabout Theater Company
This world-premiere devised work incorporates the company's mission of exploring ways to create and present theater outside of traditional forms. "As an ensemble, we have found our relationship with spoken text to be slippery and fluid, both incredibly challenging and deeply rewarding," said artistic director Kendra Miller who serves as the new play's dramaturg. "We began 'The Wild' by searching for a contemporary American author whose words could open up the deeply personal nature of our physical work and free us to take it further."
The ensemble chose playwright Charles Mee, who offers some of his texts for free through The (Re)making Project on his website—with the condition that theater companies rearrange the text to create a new work.
"As the process of creating 'The Wild' has evolved, we have remixed and reworked Mee's words, choosing those that spoke most deeply to us as artists and people and folding them into the arc of the piece," Miller continued. "Using three of his plays as our jumping-off points and Euripides' 'The Bacchae,' we are diving into an exploration of savagery, civilization, Dionysian rituals of worship, boundaries, playing with fire, self-sacrifice, the joyful frenzy of violence and deep sorrow, the hunt for a god, sparagmos—tearing something apart—and attempting to put it back together, among many other things."
"Saturday Night/Sunday Morning"
Prologue Theatre Company
The company, which was formed in 2008 to showcase underrepresented voices—women, people of color, LGBTQ stories—presents the Chicago premiere of this dramedy by Tennessee-born, New York-based playwright Katori Hall ("The Mountaintop") about a group of young, WWII-era African-American women in a Memphis beauty parlor and boarding house who share stories of their soldiers while they get gorgeous for the weekend. But as their stories evolve, they must face their uncertain futures when—and if—their men return.
"One of the pitfalls of this show is the tendency to make the characters stereotypical," said director TaRon Patton. "There is a lot of humor in this piece, and if you play for laughs, the lives of these beautiful people are diminished."
So how did she overcome this challenge? "Me and the cast spent time really learning about the true circumstances of these people and the city of Memphis in 1945 during WWII," she said. "We found the perfect balance of entertainment and truth."
The New Colony
"We wanted to create a show about Millennials, for Millennials, by Millennials—so 'Rewilding Genius' is probably one of the most personal shows we have ever created," said the company's artistic director Andrew Hobgood, who serves as the play's director and—with ensemble member Megan Johns—the co-writer. "The opportunity to work with Steppenwolf to develop it even further into the kind of no-holds-barred experience they are known for is absolutely incredible."
The play is set in an Uptown loft where "self-identified geniuses, cyber-vigilantes, hacktivists and anarchists" plot against enemies in an attempt to change the world. So what was their jumping-off point when creating this story? "I looked back at the very first draft that we started writing on February 2, 2013," said Hobgood, "and the first scene we wrote ended up being the first scene we re-wrote for the Garage Rep production: Lily asking Ged to visit her family with her. This scene is now the first scene of Act I following the prologue."