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Laughing at Censorship
Greetings, theatre lovers! Eclectic Full Contact Theatre is once again underway, rehearsing Neil Simon’s “Laughter on the 23rd Floor,” a hilarious look at early television. It follows the trials and tribulations of the writing staff of the most popular live television show in the 50’s, and how they deal with encroaching network and governmental control of programming. It’s an autobiographical look at Neil Simon’s own time writing for Sid Caesar on “Your Show of Shows,” where he worked with such comedy masters as Mel Brooks, Larry Gelbart, Woody Allen, and Carl Reiner.
The script is brilliant; funny, touching, incisive, and did I mention hilarious? In the best Neil Simon fashion, it explores the big issues through the personal toll they take on regular people. And it’s a love letter to a lamentably brief time in television history when creativity and talent trumped commercialism. I am honored and privileged to be included in the cast of this awesome show. I have long loved the type of witty, silly, try-anything type of comedy from the early days of TV, and to have a chance to do a show celebrating it is a dream come true. Whatever sketch TV has become, it has its roots in what these guys were doing back in the 50’s. And what they were doing was tear-inducingly funny.
The cast we’ve gathered is phenomenal. Eclectic Full Contact Theatre Artistic Director, David Belew, directs company members Michael Woods, Lisa Savegnago, Jessica Lauren Fisher, and myself. And we are fortunate to have ridiculously funny actors such as Parker Guidry, Alex Levin, Scott Mills, Charlie Wein, and Kirk Osgood rounding out the cast. Videos and interviews, as well as more blog posts, will show everyone just what goes into making the kind of hilarity you’ll see onstage when you come see “Laughter on the 23rd Floor.” Previews start June 6th, and opening night is Monday June 9th at the Athenaeum Theatre, Studio 3, 2936 N Southport Ave. We run Th-Sat nights at 8 and Sundays at 2 until June 29th. Like us on Facebook, check us out on YouTube and here on the blog, join in the backstage insanity, and then come see what that work produces onstage. If you love old school TV, if you’re fascinated by the Communist witch-hunts of Joe McCarthy, or if you just want to laugh until it hurts, come see “Laughter on the 23rd Floor.” See you there!
The Essential Ingredient
Tonight is tech.
For the past several weeks, we’ve been rehearsing in empty rooms in random buildings. Just the actors and the words. We worked on moments and moves to find just the right interplay among these characters, when portrayed by these actors. We made discoveries, made adjustments, made connections.
All that hard work: theatre work, but not yet theatre. Important parts of the process, but not the essential ingredient.
Tonight is another step. At tech, we bring in the props, costume changes, lighting and sound transitions. We move from cue to cue, to get the changes right. Of course, we have to let go of the flow that we so carefully crafted in all those weeks of rehearsal. We go from lights up to lights down, lights down to lights up, again and again until we get it right.
Hard work. Important work. Theatre work, but it’s not yet theatre. Important parts of the process, but not the essential ingredient.
Tomorrow night, we begin to put it back together. Lights, costumes, props, sound, changing from one scene to another to support the actors’ work as they reclaim the flow, the life of these characters. The world of the play becomes more real.
Final dress rehearsal. Theatre work, but it’s not yet theatre. . An important part of the process, but not the essential ingredient.
This Friday, we have our first preview. The house will open to admit our preview audience.
This Friday, theatre happens. Because all of the work of the weeks and months before has been theatre work, but not theatre. It is not theatre until we have the essential ingredient.
Dr. Lisa Hodge Kander
Director of Unshelved
“This play is not about Alzheimer’s”
This play is not about Alzheimer’s.
Oh, I know that Alzheimer’s features prominently in the posters and articles about the play. I know that some of the talk-backs after the shows will include guest speakers from groups that work with Alzheimer’s patients and caregivers.
I know that the struggles and pain of dealing with Alzheimer’s is woven into the fabric of the play. I am not minimizing the importance of this. Alzheimer’s is a critical, central element of Unshelved.
Still, ultimately, the play is not about Alzheimer’s.
Unshelved is about family. It is about how we shape our own identity, and about how those we love shape who we become, whether we will or no. It is about how we separate from those we love, and how we bind ourselves to them.
Alzheimer’s is the problem, the crisis, the rip in the fabric of this family. Unshelved asks us: how present are we in the lives of those we love? How much have we hidden from those closest to us? How much have we hidden from ourselves?
Alzheimer’s is a critical element in Unshelved, but it is the human response to this challenge that engages us. It is about the living through the pain with our tears and laughter. It is about our lives, not about our disease.
Dr. Lisa Hodge Kander
Director of Unshelved
When Alzheimer’s comes early: The importance of caregiver self-care
New motherhood has caused me my fair share of forgotten names and misplaced items. The other day I couldn’t remember what letter of the alphabet came after “r” while singing it to my son. It was frightening moment, but laughable enough to share with friends while lamenting how little sleep I’d gotten that week.
Because memory problems can be caused by a myriad of issues — anything from insomnia to stress to depression to eating disorders — when they show up in the average adult, their doctors frequently write them off. They tell their patients to work on slowing down, getting more rest, maybe make a list if you can’t remember what prompted the trip to the grocery store. All good advice, unless there is something more dire at play.
Early-onset Alzheimer’s disease refers to an Alzheimer’s dementia that occurs in individuals under age 65. While obviously much less common than its later-onset counterpart, the Alzheimer’s Association estimates it affects somewhere between 222,000 and 640,000 Americans. They call it a “national crisis.”
Many of us have seen a media representation of the Alzheimer’s disease or have someone in our own family who has suffered from the condition. But rarely do we see or hear about younger individuals who develop the devastating symptoms. And because of this, we don’t learn about some of the unique challenges faced by this group. Early-onset Alzheimer’s patients face not only the decline of their health, but also difficulty getting the right diagnosis, financial issues caused by loss of needed income, difficulty getting adequate insurance coverage as they are not old enough for Medicare, and the lack of appropriate services.
A friend and colleague is part of a unique theater company here in Chicago that is hoping to shed light on this devastating illness. The Eclectic Theatre Company is showcasing the world premier of Unshelved, a dramatic stage production running February 7th through March 2nd. The show examines how the identities of not only the victim, but those of her family are impacted by this disease.
I’ve talked before about how family and friends of those with eating disorders are affected, and also featured some guidance on how loved ones can help when treatment isn’t working. Caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s disease face many of these same challenges. They too need support and guidance.
For anyone caring for a loved one as they battle an illness, self-care is crucial. Sometimes with families with whom I work I use the analogy of a house built on a foundation. The foundation is made stronger with basic things like sleep and adequate nutrition, and is further supported by social support from others and engaging in activities that you enjoy. If the foundation is weak or has cracks, it’s not going to adequately support the rest of the house. We have to make sure our core is solid.
Easier said than done, right? I frequently hear that this would be nice… if there was time. My message is that we have to make time, and that might mean doing things that feel uncomfortable. If our loved one needs round the clock support, we might need to hire a helper or ask a friend to come sit with him while we go on a walk. While easy to do, we can’t allow ourselves to give up the things that make us happy and healthy ourselves. We need to take care of ourselves, and we deserve to do so.
If you’re in the Chicago area in February and early March (because it’s such a lovely time of year here!), be sure to check out the production of Unshelved. It’s sure to be amazing and thought-provoking. If you’re interested in more resources on Alzheimer’s disease or how caregivers can get support, check out the Alzheimer’s Association website.
Ashley Solomon, Psy.D
This article has been reprinted with permission from the author. You may find the original article–along with many other insightful posts–at www.nourishing-the-soul.com.
Learn more about the Alzheimer’s Association here.
Learn more about Eclectic’s production of Unshelved and purchase tickets here.
“You have to laugh.”
You might think that a play in which a devastating disease like Alzheimer’s plays a central role would be dark and troubling. Unshelved has those moments, without question.
What is surprising and delightful about this play, however, is how often it makes you laugh. Out loud.
The family in Unshelved is like my family, like your family. There is love, and there is caring. There is resentment and bitterness, at times. That’s what happens in the hard times.
And also, there is snark.
There are moments when jokes are made, good and bad. When the wrong thing is said at just the right time.
Because, we are human beings. That’s what we do. We laugh at each other. We laugh at ourselves. It’s what helps us make it through the day.
Or the long, dark night.
As we are working our way through rehearsals, we are discovering moments of depth, moments of connection, moments that stop your heart.
And we are also laughing out loud.
At one point in the play, Bill says, “You have to laugh.”
He’s right. You do have to laugh. Because life, even at its most challenging moments, can be surprising, absurd, ridiculous. Because being human is a rich and complicated experience. Because, sometimes, you have to smile. Snort. Laugh.
Dr. Lisa Hodge Kander
Director of Unshelved
Early in my career…
Early in my career in social services, I worked at a residential facility for adults with developmental disabilities in Chicago. All of the residents had an intellectual disability and many times other physical problems as well. Nonetheless, the residents I worked with were largely able to care for their daily needs and attend a day training workshop for a modest paycheck. Small as they might seem to some, the residents were very proud of their accomplishments and would share in that joy with their staff.
Over time, however, we as staff would notice that some residents spontaneously could not do tasks that they had done independently for years, like how to brush their teeth or put on a shirt. Residents who knew the exact route to workshop for years would forget where they were going and stand around befuddled. We learned from staff educators and physicians working with the organization that there is a strong correlation between some developmental disabilities, for instance Down’s Syndrome, and the development of early-onset Alzheimer’s. However, knowing why this was happening did not make it any less heartbreaking to watch happen to the people with whom we worked so closely. Moreover, it was devastating for the parents and siblings of the residents affected by Alzheimer’s.
I remember the case of one woman who had to transfer from her home with very independent peers to more of a nursing like facility because of her cognitive decline. I sat down with this woman’s sister, who was also her legal guardian, to sign different consents needed for the transfer to happen. In the midst of this mundane paperwork completion, her sister just broke down. Through tears she talked about how her sister was not the person that she was before — not only could she no longer work at her community job, but she hardly even spoke any longer. It was as if the person who was her sister for so many decades just disappeared, present in body only but no longer in mind or spirit. As a staff person at that time, we would see this play out many times over and it was heart wrenching every time. I think we took some solace knowing that we were able to keep these residents comfortable, at the very least, in those final days.
Gary Scanlon, LCSW
Utilization Review Clinician
Insight Behavioral Health Centers
Gary Scanlon continues his work in the mental health field at Insight Behavioral Health Centers. Insight provides “Professional treatment for eating, mood and anxiety disorders”. To learn more about this organization, please visit their website.
With the playwright’s final draft of the script? This is a blue print only; the show itself will be a completely different production with each cast and crew. Theater is a collaborative art. Still, the playwright is the genesis of the play, without a doubt.
Does the production begin with the first production meeting? The director and the designers gather to share the vision for the production. The artists who will collaborate to shape the visual and aural impact of the production share their ideas and insights about this play. This particular incarnation of the show begins to be realized with this first production meeting.
Or does the production begin with the first rehearsal? The actors gather with the director and production stage manager to share a close reading of the script- out loud—together—for the first time.
Any of these might be considered the beginning of the production.
Our first rehearsal for Unshelved was this week. Frigid temperatures and piles of snow did not deter our intrepid cast from meeting – for the first time.
A first rehearsal is something like a first date- but you already know that you are married. You’ve already committed. There is no turning back!
For the director, seeing the actors assembled and hearing them read together for the first time is exciting—but it can also provoke a bit of nervousness. Will the right relationships happen with these actors? As a guest director, I traveled to Chicago months before rehearsals were to begin for the auditions and casting. Time constraints meant that although I saw each of my actors several times, I didn’t have the opportunity to see these actors working together. I knew, I had every confidence, that this was my Audrey, this was my Bill, this was my Rye, this was my Eloise. Yet I hadn’t seen Debra working with Mike; I hadn’t seen Johnny working with Michelle.
Will this assembly work?
I am happy to report that this assembly will work, and work beautifully.
Dr. Lisa Hodge Kander
Director of Unshelved
You can learn more about Dr. Lisa Hodge Kander’s previous work by visiting her blog.
Greetings, theatre enthusiasts!
This is Andrew Pond, Chairman of Eclectic Full Contact Theatre, welcoming you to our blog! As you know, Eclectic Full Contact Theatre is dedicated to strengthening and expanding the connection between audience and artist by bringing you, the theatregoer, behind the scenes of the theatrical process. Open read-thrus of scripts, invited dress rehearsals, online backstage videos, and audience talkbacks are all ways that we have attempted to open the stage door to our audience members during our inaugural season. And we’re happy to say, it was extremely successful!
For our second season, we have expanded our efforts to make you a part of the process that we theatre professionals go through in order to produce the art you enjoy onstage. Starting with our upcoming show, the world premiere drama, “Unshelved,” by Beth Kander, the cast and artistic team of the show will be contributing posts to this blog, detailing not only the nuts and bolts happenings of rehearsing a brand-new show and working with a playwright who is present, but also the thoughts and philosophies that led each to want to undertake this play and how those thoughts and philosophies affect how they approach the process themselves. Due to the subject matter of “Unshelved”, we also hope to include blog posts from therapists and medical
professionals discussing the subject of early onset Alzheimer’s. Lastly, our backstage videos will be expanded to a weekly series of extended videos showing interviews with the cast, director, and others connected to the production, giving a more in-depth look into what goes into creating a play that grabs you and affects you so that you leave the theatre different than when you arrived.
To begin, and because I have talked far long enough, it is my great pleasure to introduce to you the director of “Unshelved”, Dr. Lisa Hodge Kander. Read about her below, and come back soon to hear her thoughts on this show and the rehearsal process!
Thanks, and see you at the theatre!
Eclectic Full Contact Theatre
Dr. Lisa Hodge Kander
Kander is a graduate of Michigan State University and the Drama Studio of London. She holds a PhD from Wayne State University and a licentiate from the Royal Academy of Music and Drama in London. In June 2005, she completed a month’s study at the Moscow Art Theatre School.
Kander has produced, directed or performed in more than 100 plays. She is the founder of Class Act Drama 4-H Club (winner of the 2000 State Award in Project Area) and founder of Michigan Youth Theater (MYT), an all youth theater troupe and an original Site of Promise for America’s Promise of Metro Detroit. Kander is a winner of the 2002 National Points of Light Award for her work in youth theater. In 2002, the MYT production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible directed by Dr. Kander was named one of Flint’s Ten Best Plays for the year. The production of Martin Sherman’s Bent directed by Kander for Flint City Theatre won the same honor in 2005.
Dr. Kander has created, directed and toured youth productions of Shakespeare is Fun! and American Folk Tales and Legends to schools, libraries, camps and festivals. Her Class Act and MYT productions have appeared at the Holly Dickens Festival, Waterford Cultural Council, the Michigan Renaissance Festival, and the Detroit Institute of Arts Summer Festival and Noel Night. She is also the originator of the No Feare Shakespeare touring program of Wayne State University.
Kander has taught theater classes and workshops for Wayne State University, Michigan State University Extension, Class Act Drama 4-H, Rochester College and Americorps. She has also written and directed segments of Daedal Doors for Bloomfield Television. Some recent directing credits include Visiting Mr. Green at Matrix Theatre in Detroit and Brecht’s Good Person of Szechwan for Full Impact Theatre in Rochester, Michigan.