"In the first two games played at Wrigley Field this week, there was only one player who had the crowd screaming their name. The chants of “JA-VY, JA-VY, JA-VY” started before he even took a swing on Wednesday night. When it comes to Cubs fans, it’s safe to say they like how their guys play the game. The start of the season has proven that both Baez and Contreras are hot and show no signs of slowing down. I’m sure we’ll hear about how wrong that is as soon as one of them hits a home run off Norris.
And when he does, I hope he flips his bat so hard it snaps in two."
"His strikeout percentage jumped from 24 percent in 2016 to 28 percent last season. On the plus side, his walk rate increased, but at to 5.9 percent. It’s still well below most of the Cubs offense, as well as league average. Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo are more productive hitters than Baez, and both hover around the 45 percent mark, which is about league average. Swinging a lot isn’t inherently bad; Bryce Harper swings at above league average too.
But if Javy Baez were hitting like Harper, we wouldn’t be having this conversation and the Cubs could save a whole lot of money next winter."
"To a certain extent, you can thank Salt-N-Pepa for Shakespeare in Detroit. Founding executive and artistic director Sam White was first introduced to the Bard as punishment, after her mother caught her listening to “Push It” in her room. “My mother thought it was the most obscene song ever...so she knocked on my door and gave me this big book that smelled like attic, and it was The Complete Works of William Shakespeare,” White says. “So, by punishment is how I fell in love with Shakespeare.” Years later, that love inspired her to start Shakespeare in Detroit, a theatre company that presents site-specific productions around the city, giving audiences of all ages, races, and economic backgrounds the chance to experience classical theatre."
"The idea of doing an all-black production, and specifically to do it in Chicago, was an idea that got Kellum’s attention, even when he didn’t think he would be directing it. He wasn’t available when Jim Corti and Tim Rater, the artistic director and executive director of the Paramount, approached him with the idea. “I remember saying, ‘Look, you have to do this. I don't care if you do it with me, but you have to do an all African-American Jesus Christ Superstar.’ It's a great opportunity. The timing is now,” Kellum says. “You’re minutes away from Chicago which is the hotbed of Black Lives Matter. There are men and women dying in the streets every single day. It’s an opportunity for the community to inspire and touch people.” Once he found out that he would be able to work on it, he says that he’s “never been so excited for something” in his entire career."
"As theatres struggle to find their identity in a new American era, artistic director Chay Yew and his Victory Gardens have a simple mission: put America onstage. Their 2017–2018 season is one of their most ambitious yet, and the announcement last month immediately garnered attention both inside and outside Chicago.
Our collective ownership of the entire American identity, not just the parts we’ve experienced directly, is crucial for both Victory Gardens and for Yew. “African-American history is ours, Jewish history is ours, Asian history, Latino history, feminist history are all ours. We need to claim them,” he insists, “We are a diverse quilt of experiences and voices, and that’s what makes America. These stories belong to you. They belong to all of us.”
"There’s no doubt Brady will remain a presence onstage. “I’m not a visitor,” he affirms. “Like any person who does this, you have to live and breathe it. I was just like the kids on Glee, with my own dreams and inspirations.” He loves the art form, and expressed deep concern that institutions like PBS and the NEA may be in jeopardy. “I really hope we don’t lose PBS,” says Brady. “I can honestly say without their work and the work of the NEA, I don’t know if I would’ve grabbed on to performing the way I did as a child. It introduced me to a whole big world.” Losing out on talents like Brady’s is one reason of many to hope for a future where theatre remains a visible presence in our country, and continues to inspire a new generation of performers hoping to be the next to step out onto the stage."
"What is it like to conduct a 40-piece orchestra from the stage of a Broadway theatre? According to Kristen Blodgette, “It’s like I’m standing in the center and all that sound is swirling around me. I just direct and then it feels like it follows the wind.” In addition to conducting, she is also the musical director and musical supervisor at Sunset Boulevard, marking her eighth time working with Andrew Lloyd Webber on Broadway.
Blodgette loves Webber’s music so much that she often finds herself taking her work home with her. “I can’t get it out of my head! I wake up and open my eyes and I’ll be right there, mid-measure.”
What Makes Musical Theatre Feminist?
"But what makes a musical feminist? That’s where the Firebrand Test comes in. It’s a new take on the Bechdel Test and the three tenets lay out the framework for the kind of shows you can expect to see at their theatre. First, there must be at least as many women as men in the cast. Second, the show must lend itself to inclusive, diverse casting. Finally, the show must empower women. There’s no one way to define what empowers women, but France affirms her company will provide real, complex roles for women to play. “We’re still stuck in a man’s idea of escapism, with too few exceptions,” she says. “Women end up playing the virgin, the whore, or the hag. Those are the options.”
"In Emily St. John Mandel’s 2014 novel, Station Eleven, she imagines a world where a theatrical troupe called The Travelling Symphony travels the country, performing Shakespeare after a plague turned the United States into an abandoned dystopia. Should we ever find ourselves in that reality, Kimberly Senior is ready to roll her sleeves up and get on the road. With a firm belief in the enduring power of art and the absolute necessity of stories, she creates art that stimulates and inspires. Her latest project, directing Theresa Rebeck’s The Scene at Writers Theatre, opened on March 2nd. Much like some of her previous work, it asks the audience to grapple with a lot of tough questions about conscience, moral relativism, and the complexities of human relationships."
Tug of War: Come on Back to the War
"This is more than Shakespearean Game of Thrones, though the comparisons are certainly apt. Tug of War is, at its core, a journey through generations embroiled in the futility and fatigue of endless conflict over invisible lines on a map. It’s a story of a perpetual power struggle, of men cutting the head of a Hydra over and over again, and being shocked when two grew back in its place. This notion that changing one leader for another will somehow change the nature of power and the need to fight to keep it still plagues American policy today. Just in the past 15 years, we’ve engaged in military action to overthrow foreign dictators in Iraq, Libya, Egypt, and now Syria may be next. But there was no peace to be had after these efforts. We created new enemies, new alliances, and supplied weapons to new rebel groups, but we’ve stayed engaged in the oldest, deadliest game in the world."
In Conversation: Klea Blackhurst and Andrea Prestinario
Andrea Prestinario and Klea Blackhurst are a musical theater family. Even their dog, Sprout, will sing along to Book of Mormon on command. But musical theater hasn’t been particularly kind to the lesbian community in return. The first lesbian kiss to appear on Broadway came early, in 1923, in God of Vengeance at the Apollo Theatre. That may seem progressive…until you read that the entire cast was arrested on obscenity charges for it. Lesbians have made appearances on Broadway since then, to be sure, but not quite in the way the community would hope. Legally Blonde turned a gay lawyer attending Harvard Law School into a running gag that even the New York Times called, “the object of the show’s most unsavory jokes.” Hairspray trades on the tired stereotype of lesbianism in prison, offering “extra credit” to shower with the female prison guard. Shows like Aspects of Love, Falsettos, and Rent fare a bit better in comparison, but the queer female characters are still there only in supporting roles, to further the plot for other characters, or simply as the butt of an ongoing joke. Fun Home brought the first lesbian protagonist on a Broadway stage, but saying that in 2016 feels less like a victory and more like a long overdue representation of an entire community, both in and out of the theatrical world.
Chimerica: Theatre's Role in Preserving History
Do you recognize the Tank Man photo? If you don’t, you’re not alone. Chinese history isn’t something that American schooling teaches you much about. Even some of the cast of Lucy Kirkwood’s Chimerica (playing now through July 31st at Timeline Theatre Company) didn’t have much familiarity with the now-iconic photograph taken during the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. What happened after the photo was taken is anybody’s guess, there isn’t any definitive information on what happened to “the Tank Man.” That’s where Lucy Kirkwood comes in, demonstrating a masterful command of crafting an alternate history, to bring us Chimerica. The play is set 20 years after the protest, focusing on a photojournalist who is trying to uncover the identity of the man in the photograph, and the deeply felt relationship with his friend Zhang, who is still living in China. I spoke to several members of the cast and Artistic Director of Timeline Theatre, PJ Powers, about the show and their connection to it.
In Conversation: James Earl Jones II
From the way James Earl Jones II shows up, early, dressed to the nines when it’s barely noon, and with that disarming smile at the ready, you could easily assume he’s running for office. Currently, Jones is starring in Carlyle, a new work by playwright Thomas Bradshaw, at The Goodman Theatre in Chicago. Carlyle is based on a simple premise. The Republican Party is in trouble and they need someone to save it. Enter Carlyle, a black Republican and the GOP's choice for the role of cheery ringmaster. He impossibly charms you with feats of daring and slights of hand, luring your attention away from the broken lock on the tiger cage in back. In an industry that sets schedules eighteen months in advance, Bradshaw and The Goodman have managed to produce their smart satire on the American political arena at the exact point of pique bloodlust in the election season. My trip to the campaign office (a lounge, upstairs at The Goodman) was spent talking red, white, blue, and black.