Between a robust national vaccine effort and Broadway recently announcing its September reopening, the return of live Chicago theater seems imminent. But starting May 13, the Goodman Theatre’s Live series hopes to give its patrons the next best thing. From May 13-July 18, this series will premiere three plays that will be performed on the Goodman stage for the first time, filmed by a professional camera crew and livestreamed to audiences at home.
Robert Falls, artistic director of the Goodman since 1986, says he was inspired to curate this series after witnessing various European theaters adapt to livestreamed performances last summer. “I became enamored by a couple of viewing experiences I had as an audience member, particularly a theater in London called the Old Vic,” Falls says. “I thought the experience was very close to being in the theater.”
The three plays set to be performed in the Live series are I Hate It Here by Ike Holter, Ohio State Murders by Adrienne Kennedy, and The Sound Inside by Adam Rapp. The three directors each point out how the intimate and contained nature of each play lends itself well to this medium.
“Everything can just be so much more detailed,” says Tiffany Nichole Greene, director of Ohio State Murders. “I don’t need to be in the back of the audience to make sure that I’m taking care of all of my audience members. I can be three feet away from someone.”
“I wanted to do something nonlinear because I felt like it would take a lot of advantage of the medium that we’re performing in, which is a three-camera situation on a soundstage,” says Lili-Anne Brown, director of I Hate It Here. “We could really be crazy and get real weird, and to do something nonlinear gives me the most options of doing something out of the box.”
Collectively, these three works profoundly touch on themes such as illness, hopelessness, and racial trauma—all of which can resonate deeply with audiences following a year of immeasurable loss and despair.
The first play set to premiere on May 13 is The Sound Inside by Rapp and directed by Falls. Rapp’s work first premiered on Broadway in October of 2019 (directed by former Chicagoan David Cromer) and received six 2020 Tony nominations. This psychological thriller takes place within an academic setting as it details a peculiar friendship that develops between a professor and her student.
“It’s two characters and I think a very beautiful play . . . a meditation on loss,” Falls says. “It has a very suspenseful quality of mystery. You don’t quite know what’s going on, so I think you’re going to be really drawn into the screen.”
Ohio State Murders, the second play of the series, is set to run June 17-20. Similar to The Sound Inside, this play takes place in academia as the main character, Suzanne, an accomplished writer known for her use of violent imagery, recalls a chilling set of tragedies that she endured as a young Black woman at Ohio State.
“I’m just struck by the fact that she [Suzanne] was able to take that trauma and use it in her art,” Greene says. “The request for access to someone’s trauma, I think that that is very relevant to us today. We are all dealing with a certain level of trauma just from this pandemic.”
Falls, who chose Ohio State Murders as one of the featured plays, notes that Kennedy’s work has often been overlooked. “Adrienne Kennedy is a writer who I’ve always wanted to see produced at the Goodman. She’s one of the great American playwrights,” Falls says. “I’m just really excited about this play, which is rarely produced.”
The final play, set to premiere July 15-18, is I Hate it Here by Chicago playwright Holter. Originally released as an audio production last December through Studio Theatre in Washington, D.C., Holter’s play features a series of nonlinear vignettes that reflect on the year 2020. Brown, who has worked with Holter before and describes him as a “hometown hero,” says that when she first listened to the audio of Holter’s work, she could already visualize how the script would translate onstage.
“I had a really great time listening to I Hate It Here, so when Bob was like, ‘What are you thinking?’ it was just in my head already,” Brown says. “I like to always say Ike writes like I think and that’s the best way of putting our relationship.”
The filming and production of this series is led by Christiana Tye, an experienced television producer who shot Conor McPherson’s solo show, St. Nicholas, starring Brendan Coyle for the Goodman in 2019. While the livestreamed nature of Live is designed to enhance the viewing experience, Tye points out that this format is also unpredictable.
“There are no redos,” Tye says. “This is a really intense first play and we have to be super quiet. A cameraman could trip. A light could fall. I could take the wrong camera angle. There’s so many things that could go wrong and that’s what’s so cool about live theater.”
While Chicago’s artists and audiences alike are excited about the prospect of finally returning to the theater, the pandemic has clearly pushed the arts community to take better advantage of technological resources that were previously neglected, Greene says.
“I love theater, but we needed to shake it up. Before the pandemic, a lot of people were holding on to old things, because they were like, ‘We know this works and we don’t have time or money to risk to find out if that works,'” Greene says. “Now we have to find out if that works. It’s the only way through.”
For Falls, he’s seen the positive impact of virtual productions firsthand, as it has allowed the Goodman to make their work more accessible to audiences across the globe.
“We’ve gotten responses from people as far away as New Zealand, who are like, ‘Oh. I’m so thrilled to have seen this production,'” Falls says. “It’s never going to recreate that experience of live in the theater that an audience has with performers, but until then it’s a way to stay in touch, and I think that’s a pretty great thing.” v