Ike Holter (left), guest curator of Collaboraction's Sketchbook…
Most playwrights are thrilled to see a single work produced, ever. Local scribe Ike Holter, however, has had dozens of plays produced on stages ranging from New York to Atlanta to his own backyard—and he's only 28.
Right now, Holter has two running concurrently in Chicago. First, Jackalope Theatre is staging the world premiere of "Exit Strategy," about Chicago school closings at Broadway Armory Park through June 15. Second, "Hit the Wall"—the breakout smash from Steppenwolf's 2012 Garage Rep series about the 1969 Stonewall Riots, which was reprised at Theater on the Lake and mounted Off-Broadway at the Barrow Street Theatre—is being produced by the Chicago Commercial Collective at the Greenhouse Theater through Sunday.
Not only that, Holter—who grew up in Minneapolis and moved to Chicago at 18 to attend the Theatre School at DePaul University, co-founding both Nothing Without a Company while in school and, upon graduation, The Inconvenience—is the guest curator for Collaboraction's annual Sketchbook festival. The fest features 17 short pieces by Seth Bockley ("Ask Aunt Susan"), Caitlin Parrish ("A Twist of Water"), The New Colony's Joel Kim Booster, American Theater Company's Usman Ally and others. More than 150 local and national directors, designers, actors, musicians and other artists come together to make it happen.
This year, the festival is titled Sketchbook 2049—in reference to a year in the future—and the plays are presented in two 90-minute programs that run in rotating repertory. We called Holter to find out more about his work, the Sketchbook fest and how he juggles it all. (Hint: Whiskey is sometimes involved.)
Go: 7:30 p.m. Thursday through June 15 at Collaboraction, 1579 N. Milwaukee Ave., Room 300
Tickets: $30 per program or $50 for both programs; $15-$25 for students. 312-226-9633; collaboraction.org
What's new at this year's Sketchbook: "It's going to be a lot more loose and alive and maybe a little sexier, you know? I think it's good that we've got short pieces this year—pieces as short as a minute and then pieces as long as 15 minutes—whereas usually Sketchbook is much thicker. It's usually about four and a half to five hours, but this is 90 minutes and 90 minutes—basically a big, three-hour show split in half."
On Saturdays, you can see both programs with pop-up lobby performances in between: "It's going to be crazy. We're going to have some music nights, we're going to have vaudeville performance nights and we're going to have some weird Collaboraction stuff [laughs] that can't really be described. The impetus is to make it feel like an old-school Collaboraction Sketchbook from maybe five or six years ago. It's more of a party atmosphere—it's not a 'sit down and enjoy the show' performance; it's a 'get up mid-show, get a drink, sit down, you're gonna see some weird stuff.' And then you're gonna move over here and see some new stuff."
Why Collaboraction incorporated the year 2049 into the title: "These pieces are about people looking to the future with hesitant eyes and making decisions in the moment, pushing into the future. There's some surprising scene stuff that we're going to do at the top of the show to cement that. These aren't sketches so much as moments before big changes in people's lives. We see these small pocket moments and then we as the audience have to assume or guess what comes next and how these people change after that."
The program includes a piece by Holter: "I wanted to write about people doing what people do, which is hook up late night at a party. But I wanted more significance. It touches on subjects like race and it touches on subjects like class and locations within the Chicago community. There's a young woman from Pilsen and then a young man from the North Side. And what starts as very cute and this sexy, light comedy turns quite quickly to something dark and ominous. These people grow and change within 10 minutes and their lives aren't the same after it."
His writing style: "I like to think my shows are really accessible 'cause they're funny. Basically, my only rule writing is, 'Write something that you would want to see.' And I have pretty eclectic tastes, so I don't like to stick with the same style or the same themes. I like to talk about what's not being talked about, 'cause that's usually the stuff that I gravitate to as an audience member. And sometimes the stuff is political, sometimes it's sexy, sometimes it's more viscerally charged. And it showcases some people onstage that you don't usually see."