Changing Seasons

Dance, Theater Add comments

As my avid blog readers know, I am an enthusiastic supporter of the Museum of  Contemporary Art Chicago’s performance season, known as MCA Stage.  I whole-heartedly agreed with one of my Chicago culturati friends when he said that MCA Stage is like our own version of the Brookly Academy of Music (BAM) in New York, the one institution in the city that has the vision, the commitment, and yes, the balls to present cutting-edge, risky, courageous, potentially audience-distancing work from both US-based and international arts organizations. The fact that they brought New York experimental theater Elevator Repair Company’s mesmerizing seven and a half hour Gatz last year (one of my top ten cultural experiences ever!) makes me want to throw money at them, regardless of what they’re showing.  They just released their 2009-2010 season this week, and I’m already itching to open my wallet.  I’m a little surprised, and a tad disappointed, that MCA Stage only has two straight-up theatrical offerings next year:  our very own The Hypocrites is putting on an original adaptation of Frankenstein (October 21-November 1, 2009) from Artistic Director Sean Graney, to be staged in his trademark promenade staging; and experimental theater provocateur Young Jean-Lee’s The Shipment (March 26-28, 2010), a “Black identity politics” show using a mix of song, dance, theater, and stand-up comedy, which may make the Wooster Group’s controversial The Emperor Jones seem like an Easter garden brunch by comparison.  There’s a very strong dance focus this year, with dance greats Lucinda Childs and Anna Halprin, and contemporary dance groups that have never been seen in Chicago such as the John Jasperse Company, as part of the season, but the one performance I’m looking forward to is a potentially bombastic collaboration between London-based choreographer Akram Khan and the National Ballet of China called bahok, from the  Bengali word for “carrier”, which explores issues of cultural and national identity within the throughline of multi-cultural passengers stranded in an airport.  It sounds ridiculously good!  You can view the entire MCA Stage season here.

In other, related news, there’s a very active discussion on the TimeOut Chicago blog about the fact that many Chicago theater companies keep on staging the same thing (and I agree, how many more Macbeths do I have to sit though? I’ve seen it all, including a naked one).  But one of the commenters got his panties twisted in a bunch over this post by TOC Theater editor and friend of FromtheLedge Kris Vire, lashing out that instead of pointing out the redundancy in many theater companies’ seasons (which IMHO is constructive feedback), TOC and all other critics should be supporting the theaters “drowning” in this tough economy, regardless of what they put on.  Well, I have news for “Lew” – as an educated, savvy, passionate, frequent Chicago theater-goer, I really have no time or patience for theater companies that continue to put on safe, unimaginative seasons.  I, and many of my friends, can’t sit through another Cherry Orchard or Twelve Angry Men or A Midsummer Night’s Dream, regardless of how great they are as texts.  They’ve just been staged ad nauseam.  It’s unfortunate that some theater companies are “drowning”, but the responsibility for CPR doesn’t just lie with the theater critics or the audiences, it’s shared with the Artistic Directors of these companies.  Put on a surprising and interesting season and people will come.  We, the Chicago theater audience, are a sophisticated enough lot.  Put on the same day-old, wonder-bread, and we’ll take our dollars and cents elsewhere.

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