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SOON I WILL BE INVINCIBLE: Character Reference Part 2

Note: This is a guest posting from Jason A. Fleece, dramaturg for our summer MainStage production of Soon I Will Be Invincible.

In my earlier blog posts, I discussed the history of superhero fiction to give a context for the tropes and traditions that inform the world of Soon I Will Be Invincible. The main work that I did for this production, though, was to contextualize the characters of the play by drawing connections to superheroes and supervillains of (mostly) the Big Two, and to give the cast reading lists of the superhero fiction that inspired their roles.

Last time, I covered the two primary characters of Soon I Will Be Invincible, Fatale and Dr. Impossible. Today I’m going to cover some of the other heroes of The Champions.

Corefire

CoreFire costume rendering by Lifeline ensemble member Aly Renee AmideiCoreFire is pretty obviously Superman, but that leaves us with lots of room for interpretation. Which version of Superman? Which elements of Superman?

Superman was the very first superhero, created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster and debuting in Action Comics #1 in 1938.

Superman was born Kal-El, the lone survivor of the planet Krypton.

Well, lone other than Supergirl. And General Zod. And all the other criminals in the Phantom Zone. And Krypto the Superdog. And all the people living in the shrunken bottle city of Kandor.

Lone is a relative term.

His father, Jor-El, knew of his planet’s impending doom and, when the powers that be refused to heed his warnings, saved his infant son by putting him in a rocket to Earth. Raised by the Kents, farmers from Smallville, he was given the name Clark and believes in helping everyone—no matter what. Clark works as a reporter at the Daily Planet in Metropolis, and saves the world every day.

Early Superman comics depicted Clark Kent as a rough-and-tumble young socialist hero, exacting violent vengeance on slumlords and abusive husbands.

This version of Superman was edgier than you might expect, less interested in upholding the law than in doing what was right. At the start, Superman’s abilities were more limited—he could leap an eighth of a mile, “nothing less than a bursting shell” could pierce his skin—but eventually his strength increased and his leaping became full-fledged flight. He would later gain powers like heat vision, x-ray vision, and super ice breath.

In the 1950s and 1960s Superman’s rebellious ways made way to an avuncular figure of paternal authority. The advent of the Comics Code and the relative lack of popularity of the superhero led his stories to become weird sci- fi, as red kryptonite or magic would make him behave strangely . . . or he’d take ever more bizarre journeys into space and undergo weird transformations . . . or he’d spend time gaslighting the two women vying for his affection, Lois Lane and Lana Lang, or torturing poor Jimmy Olsen.

He seemed to gain more increasingly strange superpowers as the writers needed them: super- ventriloquism, super-hypnotism, a super-homunculus that would come out of his hands to do things for him.

As the Silver Age waned and the 1980s and 1990s began, comics started to trend away from madcap fantasy and into more “realistic” stories. This led to a sadder, more elegiac Superman who struggled with his responsibilities and dealt with threats that he couldn’t punch his way out of.

In the early 1990s Superman died, killed while saving Metropolis from Doomsday. He got better. He also had a mullet for a while. Then he turned blue. It was the nineties.

During all of this, he revealed his secret identity to Lois Lane and they got married. It was kind of a big deal.

In 2011, when DC rebooted their entire line, they wiped Superman’s story clean. Superman was no longer married, Lois never knew his identity, and so on. His costume was tweaked several times, and elements of his Golden Age exploits crept back in.

Superman has always been my favorite superhero. He’s inspirational. He makes you want to stand up straight and to help a stranger.

CoreFire Recommended Reading and Viewing:

Action Comics #1 (1938) by Siegel and Shuster Superman
For the Man Who Has Everything by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow by Moore and Curt Swan
Superman: For All Seasons by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale
Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross
Superman Birthright by Mark Waid and Leniel Francis Yu
All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely
Superman/Batman: Public Enemies by Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness
Action Comics #775 by Joe Kelly, Doug Mankhe and Lee Bermejo
Superman: Red Son by Mark Millar, Dave Johnson and Killian Plunkett
Irredeemable by Mark Waid and Peter Krause
(this isn’t technically a Superman story, but it’s a great deconstruction of Superman using an obvious Superman analogue)
Supreme Power by J. Michael Straczynski and Gary Frank (another deconstruction that doesn’t actually star Superman and the rest of the Justice League but is still definitely that)

Damsel

Damsel costume rendering by Lifeline ensemble member Aly Renee AmideiLegacy is a particularly important theme in superhero comics, particularly in DC Comics. Batman trains sidekicks, and in fact has had five prominent Robins, three Batgirls, and a Bluebird. Dick Grayson, Jean-Paul Valley, and Terry McGuinness have all been Batman instead of or alongside Bruce Wayne. There have been several different Flashes. Three Wildcats. A whole Corps of Green Lanterns (and Yellow Lanterns, and Blue, and Red, and so on).

In Soon I Will Be Invincible, Damsel is the daughter of a Golden Age superhero and an alien princess. DC Comics’ Black Canary, as specifically the daughter of another Black Canary, is probably the closest analogue.

Black Canary, in most incarnations, is Dinah Laurel Lance, daughter of Dinah Lance (nee Drake), the first Black Canary, and Larry Lance, a Gotham City police detective. Dinah grew up around the Justice Society and had decided as a child that she wanted to be a part of that community, although her mother did not at first approve. She received training from Ted Grant, a boxer and the superhero Wildcat.

Dinah has a superpower, the “Canary Cry,” a sonic scream that can be used as a weapon.

The thing that has always been most fascinating about Dinah as a legacy hero is her status as a lynchpin of the superhero community.

Dinah has been a member of the Justice League—a founding member in some continuities, the leader in some incarnations. Through the League she met her eventual husband, Oliver Queen, the Green Arrow. Dinah and Ollie’s relationship is often volatile, as Ollie is a womanizer and a rogue, and Dinah has a tremendous amount of pride and self- respect. Their marriage fell apart when Ollie killed a supervillain in cold blood as retribution for the death of his former sidekick’s infant daughter.

She worked with fellow superheroes The Huntress and Oracle as one of the Birds of Prey. She helped Oliver’s sidekick, Roy, overcome his addiction to heroin, and had a very protective attitude toward him.

Unfortunately, Much of this continuity was erased with the reboot of the DC Universe in 2011. Dinah now has a completely different history, including time as a government operative and soon as the frontman for an indy rock band—but those changes occurred after Austin Grossman wrote his novel, and it’s certainly the pre-reboot version of Dinah that inspired Damsel.

Damsel is also an alien princess, much like DC Comics’ Starfire, the alien princess from the planet Tamaran who fled her tyrant sister to and eventually became a member of the Teen Titans.

Damsel Recommended Reading and Viewing:

Birds of Prey, Vol. 1: Of Like Minds by Gail Simone & Ed Benes
JLA: Year One by Mark Waid & Barry Kitson
Green Arrow/Black Canary: For Better Or For Worse by various
Teen Titans Animated Series (2003-2006) has a really quirky take on Starfire
Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (Damsel is also quite reminiscent of the Silk Spectre)

Blackwolf

Blackwolf costume rendering by Lifeline ensemble member Aly Renee AmideiBlackwolf, the non-superhuman who is at the peak of mental and physical training who beats the crap out of criminals, has cool gadgets, and is very much the brains of his team of heroes, is primarily an analogue of DC Comics’ Batman.

Batman was created in 1939 by Bob Kane and Bill Finger as an attempt to capitalize on the success of Superman (at the time, Action Comics and Detective Comics were not owned by the same publishers).

Inspired by The Shadow, Zorro, and the Scarlet Pimpernel, Batman is a terrifying figure of the night who uses fear and theatrics to fight crime.

Bruce Wayne, of course, was the son of a wealthy doctor, orphaned as a young child when his parents were gunned down in the street by a mugger. Understanding that “criminals are a superstitious and cowardly lot,” Bruce took on the identity of Batman, donning a cape and cowl and patrolling Gotham City. Bruce trained his entire life to become a perfect physical specimen, the World’s Greatest Detective, and a brilliant tactical mind.

Batman has always been particularly interesting as part of a team, whether that team is made up of his confidantes and proteges (such as his butler Alfred, police commissioner Jim Gordon, and various Robins and Batgirls and others) or made up of more colorful and more powerful heroes like the Justice League or the Outsiders.

He always becomes the leader of the group, running operations, planning battle tactics, and keeping the team working like a well-oiled machine. At the same time, however, Batman tends to be gruff and somewhat secretive, leading to frustration among the group.

Blackwolf Recommended Reading/Viewing:

There are countless great Batman stories that speak to Batman’s motivation as a terrifying creature of the night, and if this was a play about Blackwolf I’d list far more of them than I do below, but what I’d really like to focus on are stories that speak to Batman and how he works as part of a team.

Batman and the Outsiders Vol 1 by Mike W. Barr and Jim Aparo
Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross
JLA: New World Order by Grant Morrison and Howard Porter
JLA: Earth 2 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely
JLA: Tower of Babel by Mark Waid and Howard Porter
JLA: Divided We Fall by Mark Waid and Bryan Hitch
Batman and Son by Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert
Justice League Unlimited, Season 1/Episode 5 (“This Little Piggy”) and Season 2/Episode 13 (“Epilogue”)

While Batman is certainly the primary influence on Blackwolf, he is a little bit more of a rogue, a little more fun, than the Dark Knight. I see a bit of Marvel’s Iron Man, Captain America, and Wolverine in Blackwolf—all three are dynamic leaders, brilliant tactical minds, and/or rakish and charismatic heroes with an edge. Here’s some non-Batman-related reading/viewing that I think would also be informative:

Iron Man (2008 film)
The Avengers (2012 film)
Old Man Logan by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven
Wolverine and the X-Men Vol 1 by Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo

Elphin

Elphin costume rendering by Lifeline ensemble member Aly Renee AmideiElphin is one of the less obvious analogues in Soon I Will Be Invincible.

She’s a champion of an ancient mythology that no longer exists and/or is no longer being worshipped. She uses a mystical artifact to fight crime and to aid her teammates as a superhero.

I think she’s equal parts Thor and Wonder Woman.

Created in 1962 by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby, Thor is Marvel’s version of the ancient Norse God. He is the God of Thunder, the son of Odin the All- Father, the brother of Loki, the God of Mischief.

In the Marvel Comics continuity, it is unclear whether the Asgardian pantheon are actual gods, or advanced celestial beings who might as well be gods.
In any case, the Marvel version of Thor, after displeasing his father Odin, was banished to Midgard (Earth) to inhabit the body of a handicapped physician, Donald Blake. Eventually, this was retconned—Blake turned out to have always been Thor, his memories and life an illusion created by Odin to teach Thor humility—and Thor abandoned the Donald Blake identity.

Thor’s mystical hammer, Mjolnir, can only be lifted by someone who is deemed worthy.

Other people who have lifted Thor’s hammer include Captain America, Storm of the X-Men, an alien with a horse head called Beta Ray Bill, and also a frog who was transformed into Throg, the Frog of Thunder.

Currently, Thor is no longer worthy (we still don’t know why) and can no longer lift his hammer. He has been replaced by a new female Thor, whose identity I won’t spoil here for those of you who want to discover the comics for yourselves.

Elphin also resembles DC’s most prominent female superhero, Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman was created in 1941 by William Moulton Marston, who also happens to be the inventor of the polygraph machine. Also known as Diana of Themyscira and as Diana Prince, Wonder Woman is the daughter of Hippolyta, and comes from an all-female society of Amazon warriors. Most versions of the story say that Diana was made from clay and given life by the Greek Gods. More recently, it was revealed that Diana is actually the daughter of Zeus and that the clay thing was a ruse meant to keep the god Hera, Zeus’ wife, from murdering her out of jealousy. Either way, Diana is steeped in Greek mythology.

Wonder Woman carries with her a magical golden lasso, which compels anyone bound by it to tell the truth. She also wears a pair of magic bracelets that she uses to deflect bullets. If Wonder Woman’s wrists are bound together, she is rendered powerless. In some stories, Wonder Woman pilots an invisible jet; in others she can just fly, no jet needed.

The tone of Wonder Woman’s stories varies wildly. Early stories were weirdly kinky, making overt references to bondage and commenting that slavery and submission were good as long as you had a kind master.

For a while in the 1960s, Diana was a secret agent, with a racially insensitive Asian caricature named I Ching as her mentor. Her costume and powers were gone, and she was known for her mod wardrobe. Gloria Steinem was very upset by this version of Wonder Woman.

Many stories in the 1990s and 2000s emphasized the dichotomy of a warrior Amazon trying to be a symbol of peace.

In current comics, she has become the God of War after Ares’ death, and also is in a romantic relationship with Superman.

While Elphin is a close comparison to Thor and Wonder Woman in the broad strokes, the mythology Grossman uses as her background is the world of Faerie, which is drawn from equal parts Shakespeare, Celtic mythology, and other Pagan myths.

Elphin Recommended Reading/Viewing:

Essential Thor Vol 1 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Thor Vol 1 by Walter Simonson
Thor (2011 film)
The Greatest Wonder Woman Stories Ever Told by various
Wonder Woman: The Circle by Gail Simone and Terry Dodson
Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s run on the Wonder Woman comic, which have been collected in six volumes
A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare
The Sandman by Neil Gaiman and various artists (Gaiman’s seminal comic has several appearances of the faerie world and Titania that I believe are a major influence on Grossman’s character)

Mister Mystic

Mr. Mystic costume rendering by Lifeline ensemble member Aly Renee AmideiMister Mystic is a sorcerer, a mystical gatekeeper who handles the threats that his companions, based as they are in science and the empirical world, cannot fathom. He is almost certainly based on Marvel Comics’ Doctor Strange.

Created by Steve Ditko in 1963, Dr. Stephen Strange was a gifted neurosurgeon. After breaking his hands in a car accident, Strange lost dexterity and control of his fingers and was unable to continue operating. His quest to regain his abilities as a surgeon led him to the Himalayas, where he became an apprentice to the Ancient One. Eventually, Strange surpassed the Ancient One and became the Sorcerer Supreme.

Strange lives in his Sanctum Sanctorum in Greenwich Village with his manservant, Wong, and protects the Marvel Universe from mystical threats. Dr. Strange has been an Avenger and a Defender.

Among Doctor Strange’s most trusted confidantes are Brother Voodoo, a psychiatrist from Haiti and powerful houngan, and Clea, the niece of the Dread Dormammu.

Early Dr. Strange comics were known for their complicated and psychedelic artwork. Another distinguishing feature of Dr. Strange comics is the detailed mythology of The Book of Vishanti, the Eye of Agamotto, the Crystal of Cytorrak, Baron Mordo, Dormammu, The Mindless Ones, Raggadorr, Watoomb, and so on.

While Dr. Strange is arguably the most prominent mystical hero in comics, there are many others, particularly in the DC Universe, including Dr. Fate, The Spectre, Zatanna, and John Constantine.

Mister Mystic Recommended Reading:

Marvel Masterworks: Doctor Strange, Vol 1 by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko
Doctor Strange: The Oath by Brian K. Vaughn & Marcos Martin
Doctor Strange & Doctor Doom: Triumph & Torment by Roger Stern & Mike Mignola
The Books of Magic by Neil Gaiman, Roger Zelazny, John Bolton, Scott Hampton & Charles Vess
John Constantine Hellblazer: Newcastle by Jamie Delano, Richard Piers Rayner & Mark Buckingham
John Constantine Hellblazer: Dangerous Habits by Garth Ennis & William Simpson

Rainbow Triumph

Rainbow Triumph costume rendering by Lifeline ensemble member Aly Renee AmideiRainbow Triumph is Blackwolf’s sidekick, and owes a major debt to the very first sidekick in comics: Robin.

The original Robin made his debut in Detective Comics #38 in April of 1940. He was Dick Grayson, a young acrobat who was taken in by Bruce Wayne as his ward after Dick’s aerialist parents were murdered in front of him. Eventually, Dick outgrew the Robin identity and became Nightwing, a hero in his own right. Currently, Dick Grayson is believed by most to be dead and has infiltrated the spy organization Spyral under orders from Batman.

After Dick Grayson became Nightwing, Bruce soon took in another ward, Jason Todd. Jason was a street kid, who Batman first met boosting the tires off of the Batmobile. Jason was more rebellious and difficult than his predecessor, and his relationship with Batman was not nearly as smooth. Jason was killed by the Joker—beaten with a crowbar and then blown up. Jason eventually returned from the grave and now fights crime as the Red Hood.

Despite Jason’s death, Batman has continued to have teenage protégés who use the Robin identity, including Tim Drake, Stephanie Brown, Carrie Kelley, and most recently Damien Wayne, Batman’s son with the villainous Talia al Ghul. Batman has had other sidekicks as well, including several Batgirls, the Spoiler, and Bluebird.

Robin was the first, but there have been many other superhero sidekicks over the years, including Bucky (Captain America’s sidekick), Kid Flash (The Flash’s sidekick), Speedy (Green Arrow’s sidekick), and Wonder Girl (Wonder Woman’s sidekick).

It is not uncommon for a superhero sidekick to take over the identity of their mentor. Wally West and Bart Allen (Kid Flash and Impulse) have both done stints as The Flash. Dick Grayson was Batman for a bit when Bruce Wayne was dead (he got better), and many stories have implied that Damian Wayne will one day become the Batman. Bucky Barnes was Captain America for a while when Steve Rogers was dead (he also got better). Often, kid sidekicks will team up and have adventures without their mentors, forming groups like the Teen Titans, the Young Allies, and Young Justice.

Rainbow Triumph Recommended Reading/Viewing:

Batman: Dark Victory by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale
Batman: A Death in the Family by Jim Starlin and Jim Aparo
Batman: A Lonely Place of Dying by Marv Wolfman and George Perez
Batman and Robin: Batman Reborn by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely
Batman and Robin: The Pearl by Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason
Batman: The Movie (1966), starring Adam West and Burt Ward
The Flash: Born to Run by Mark Waid and Tom Peyer
Impulse: Reckless Youth by Mark Waid and Humberto Ramos
Young Avengers by Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung
Young Avengers Vol 1 by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie

Epilogue

I could go on. I haven’t covered the mysterious Lily, or the robot Galatea, or the edgy crusaders of the Chaos Pact—not to mention the evil Baron Ether or the nefarious Nick Napalm. But I can’t give away all of our secrets, True Believers. You’ve got to see the rest for yourselves when you come see Soon I Will Be Invincible.

Maybe I’ll see you there. Until then, Make Mine Lifeline!

Meet the contestants #4: Mike Speller

The 2nd Annual Smartypants Adult Spelling Bee is coming up on Monday, June 23rd at Mayne Stage. Between now and then, we’ll be highlighting some of the competitors hoping to destroy the competition. Today, we meet Mike Speller.

Q: Tell us a little about yourself.

A: I am a Crest Hill (Joliet) resident, used to live in Park Ridge & Uptown areas as well. I love poker, basketball, and collecting matchbooks. I teach history through a Will County museum.

Q: How many Spelling competitions have you taken part in? Any specific experience(s) you’d like to share?

A: Despite my name I don’t believe I’ve ever competed in the category beyond board games like Scrabble.

Q: What motivated you to sign up?

A: A bucket-list mentality, family honor, and a chance to show up Aaron Spelling.

Q: What gives you an edge over the other contestants in this year’s Smartypants Spelling Bee?

A: Genetics, Arrogance, and possibly Alcohol.

Q: Anything else about yourself that you’d like to share with the world?

A: If this were a reality show, I’d dignify that with an answer; but until E! Channel calls, I’ll remain mysterious.

Meet the contestants #3: Polly Bruno

The 2nd Annual Smartypants Adult Spelling Bee is coming up on Monday, June 23rd at Mayne Stage. Between now and then, we’ll be highlighting some of the competitors hoping to destroy the competition. Today, we meet Polly Bruno.

 Polly Bruno

Q: Tell us a little about yourself.

A: I hail from Hyde Park on the south side. All hail Hyde Park! I have also lived on the north side, in Evanston and in Glenview.

My favorite hobbies are reading, writing, dancing and cooking. I published a novel, Western Motel, in 1985 (as Polly Gross), and I am currently at work on a suspense novel.

For my day job, I manage the meetings and events departments for a large retail pharmacy company. Previously, I managed a technical writing department, and I have been an English and Writing instructor at the University of California at Irvine.

Q: How many Spelling competitions have you taken part in? Any specific experience(s) you’d like to share?

A: I took part in my last spelling competition when I was in second grade. I was unfairly deprived of the win because I spelled Christmas “c-h-r-i-s-t-m-a-s” and did not say “Capital C-h-r-i-s-t-m-a-s.” Although this policy had not been communicated in advance, and though my opponent had gone on to spell the word incorrectly, Miss Andrews declared a tie.

In short, I am seeking redemption!

Q: What gives you an edge over the other contestants in this year’s Smartypants Spelling Bee?

A: I have true grit and the will to win. Also, I spell really, really well.

Q: Anything else about yourself that you’d like to share with the world?

A: My personal motto is “Fortunas audentes iuvat,” or “Fortune favors the brave.”

Meet the contestants #2: Karen Werner

The 2nd Annual Smartypants Adult Spelling Bee is coming up on Monday, June 23rd at Mayne Stage. Between now and then, we’ll be highlighting some of the competitors hoping to destroy the competition. Today, we meet Karen Werner.

 Karen Werner

Q: Tell us a little about yourself.

A: I live in Rogers Park. Born and grew up in Detroit. I came to Chicago by way of Green Lake and Milwaukee, WI. I don’t have any hobbies, ha ha! When I’m not working, I try to find cheap entertainment, especially local, including Lifeline and Mayne Stage. I am a self-employed massage therapist.

Q: How many Spelling competitions have you taken part in? Any specific experience(s) you’d like to share?

A: In the seventh grade, I won every one of my English class spelling bees, and went on to win the school spelling bee. In the eighth grade, I took third place in the school spelling bee, and was sent to the district spelling bee at the last minute, because the first and second-place winners were sick. They put me in the principal’s office the morning of the district, and gave me lists of words to memorize. I remember I went out on the word ameliorate, a word I had never heard before.

I was in the Lifeline spelling bee last year, and all I wanted was to spell my first word right. That didn’t happen. I spelled marionette (a word I had spelled correctly the week before) with 2 n’s, which is correct in French. French was my favorite subject from 5th grade through my sophomore year in college.

Q: What motivated you to sign up?

A: I wanted to recreate a positive experience of competing and to have fun with it. And to face my fear – of being onstage, and of looking stupid – because I could remember everything when I was 12, but that was a few years ago. I still want to spell my first word correctly.

Q: What gives you an edge over the other contestants in this year’s Smartypants Spelling Bee?

A: Nothing, and I’m OK with that.

Q: Anything else about yourself that you’d like to share with the world?

A: I’m just trying to show up…for life.

Meet the contestants #1: Edward Thomas-Herrera

The 2nd Annual Smartypants Adult Spelling Bee is coming up on Monday, June 23rd at Mayne Stage. Between now and then, we’ll be highlighting some of the competitors hoping to destroy the competition. Today, we meet Edward Thomas-Herrera.

 Edward Thomas-Herrera

Q: Tell us a little about yourself.

A: Originally from Houston, Texas, I have been a writer, performer, director, producer working in Chicago for the past 25 years. I am one of the founders of BoyGirlBoyGirl, a solo performance ensemble. By day (i.e., for money), I sit at a computer, read e-mails, and move papers from one side of my desk to the other.

Q: How many Spelling competitions have you taken part in? Any specific experience(s) you’d like to share?

A: Since reaching adulthood a very long time ago, I have not spelled competitively. Back in grade school, I used to kick spelling ass on a regular basis. Between Comanche raids.

Q: What motivated you to sign up?

A: My legal spouse thinks I’m a good speller. I hope to prove him right. Maybe then he’ll start listening to me when I suggest what color we should paint the living room.

Q: What gives you an edge over the other contestants in this year’s Smartypants Spelling Bee?

A: When I hear a word, I can “see” it in my mind’s eye. Spelled correctly, of course. I also wear colorful pants.

Q: Anything else about yourself that you’d like to share with the world?

A: Blue. A robin’s egg blue. It’ll make the room look bigger while contrasting nicely with the rust-orange curtains and the brown couch.

An interview with Peter Greenberg

At the heart of every show you see at Lifeline Theatre is the work of our dedicated artistic ensemble. These 27 Chicago artists are continuously proposing new titles for production, hosting script readings, providing feedback on projects in development, commissioning music, meeting with designers, attending rehearsals, and slating projects for future seasons of award-winning shows. 

To continue our work throughout the 2013-14 season, we’ve launched our Page To Stage Campaign to raise $25,000 by February 28th. As part of this campaign, Alex Kyger, Lifeline’s Development Director, interviewed two of our ensemble members. Today, Alex presents an interview with Peter Greenberg.

 peter

Q: How did you first get involved with Lifeline?

A: My very first experience with Lifeline was coming to see a show, actually. I was new to Chicago and a friend of mine invited me to see Pinocchio at Lifeline. And not long before I saw that show, I had seen another show with a group of women doing monologues called “Sweating Under my Breasts.” Well, when I came to see the show at Lifeline, a couple of the people from that show were in the front row. One of them was Dorothy, who was an ensemble member not artistic director, at that time. And I thought the show was great, the theatre space was cool, and the neighborhood was really funky. So Dorothy and I became friends and a few years after I had seen Pinocchio, Dorothy called me and said that she was directing a show, The Talisman Ring, and she asked me to play a role. She had never seen me perform before, but she thought I would be a great fit for that part. And that’s how I got cast in my first Lifeline show.

Q: How did you become an ensemble member at Lifeline?

A: I acted in a few more shows and I started to know more of the people involved with the theatre. And I believe it was Dorothy who talked me about the possibility of joining the ensemble. I was excited by the opportunity. I had helped run a theatre company before and I was missing the feeling of being part of a company instead of simply working from show to show.

Q: What do you wish other people knew about Lifeline?

A: Our KidSeries is unlike any other children’s theatre that I know of in the city. The artists that we have working on those shows always impress me with their commitment to the work. And I think the shows are phenomenal.

Also, I think people would be surprised by the variety of stories we tell. We receive a lot of attention when we do our long-dress shows with lots of British accents; but we have always been committed to contemporary and sci-fi works as well. From Sirens of Titan to Neverwhere to The City & The City last year.

Q: Do you have a favorite Lifeline memory that you would like to share?

A: There is one story that I’ll never forget. It was 7 or 8 years ago when we did Gaudy Night. And we did a special semi-staged performance of the play out at Wheaton College because they were hosting an annual Dorothy L. Sayers conference – which only happens every 5 years or so. And everyone in that audience loved that book. These were people, much like our audience, who have a long history of reading the author

After the performance, I was getting undressed in a classroom because were performing at this school. And the president of the Sayers society was this sweet British guy. And I’m standing in this room in my boxer shorts because I’m getting out of my costumes and he just started rushing toward me with his arms wide open. And loosening his tie. And I remember thinking “well, this is a strange situation.”

And he came up to me and I don’t remember the exact words he said, but he told me how much he loved the show and how much he appreciated the work we had done. And on his tie was the Wimsey crest for the Wimsey family in Gaudy Night. And he gave me his tie.

And that kind of appreciation for the book happens over and over again with our audiences. When we did Jane Eyre, there were people who came up to us afterwards who were seriously affected by the show. The great thing about doing adaptations is that so many people already know and have loved these characters, often, for decades. And at the same time, we introduce people to these stories for the first time. We have the most amazing audience you can imagine. And being able to interact with our audience – it’s why we love to make theatre.

An interview with Julie Ganey

Did you know that Lifeline Theatre provides free theatre education to over 500 students in 6 Rogers Park elementary schools every year? To continue offering this program  throughout the 2013-14 season, we’ve launched our Back To School Campaign to raise $7,000 by December 1st.  As part of this campaign, Alex Kyger (Lifeline’s Development Director) interviewed some of the folks involved in this behind-the-scenes work that Lifeline does. Today, Alex presents an interview with one of our teaching artists, Julie Ganey.

 

julie

About Julie Ganey
Julie has worked as an actress, teacher, and writer in Chicago for over 20 years, and has been an educator with Lifeline since 2008. Through Wavelength, an award-winning comedy ensemble that performs for educators nationwide, she has created and led workshops for teachers all over the country on communication skills, bridging conflict, and improvisation. Her bullying prevention program, Stand Up On the Schoolyard, has been presented to students and educators within the Chicago Public School system and across the country. Julie has served as Outreach Director at Next Theatre, where she has led community members in the creation of civic-based theatre projects that explore social issues, and she is currently a program creator and instructor for American Girl Place.

Q: How long have you been a teaching artist?

A: I’ve been a teaching artist for about 18 years at a lot of different places. I’ve been teaching with Lifeline since five years ago and it quickly became what I think of as my home base for teaching. A lot of that has to do with the fact that I live in Rogers Park and I have done a lot of community work in Rogers Park. I was so thrilled to get into the neighborhood schools.

I went to the Theatre School of DePaul and studied acting and performance; I still perform quite often. But to tell you the truth, when I graduated from college, the commercial world was not a great fit for me. I also knew that as an actress, I didn’t want to look back at the end of my career and realize I had only performed. I’m so grateful that I’ve stumbled into teaching and being a teaching artist because I feel like it really is a meaningful connection that I’ve made with the kids I’ve worked with. It makes a difference for them.

I come from a family of teachers, so I’m not surprised that I found being a teaching artist fulfilling. And for me there’s a big difference between being an acting teacher and being a teaching artist. I’ve never had an enormous interest in teaching actors how to act. But I do love the idea of interfacing with the community and introducing the idea to people that theatre skills are something that you can improve on and that can improve your life. They’re skills that can improve your learning and improve how well you read.

Q: Can you tell me about a specific class or memory that has stuck with you?

A: Last fall, another teaching artist and I were teaching two second grade classes at the same school. From the beginning, one was ready to do a full-fledged show. They were all in. You only had to show them how to do something once and they were on it. But the other group had a lot of struggles in and out of the classroom. It was the sort of classroom you go into where you worry about a couple of the kids. However, the improvement we saw over our time together in the most basic things – from being able to speak up to being able to stop and listen to someone else – was enormous. When we left that class, they had all sorts of new skills and different ways of working with each other. Collaboration is a higher-order thinking skill. It takes practice and support; and that’s why we introduce the concept of ensemble the first day of the residency. You never know the kind of impact what you’re doing is going to have.

Q: What has surprised you most about working in Lifeline’s residencies?

A: That so much of what we do is new information to teachers. I’m surprised that they say, “I never thought of using that exercise with vocabulary.” So I’ve been surprised at the impact that our program has on what teachers think they can do in the classroom. And I have been surprised and pleased at the cumulative affect it has on the students. I have worked with several second graders that had worked with me in Kindergarten as well. And what I’m seeing is the effect of working with these students and then coming back the next year and the year after that. It stays with them.

I was also surprised by the impact of the adaptation project, which is relatively new. I think it’s a great skill for students to understand what adaptation is. What we create is not a polished production, but we are taking a book and turning it into something that’s on its feet. And that requires a lot of decisions to be made. For example, “how should we convey that he’s a giant?” And I’ll say, “Yes, you could put him on a chair, but what else could you do?” Or they’ll say, “I really like this part of the story.” And I have to say, “I like that part, too, but is it necessary in telling this story?”

The project forces them to really mine information from a piece of literature. For example, I’ll say, “Let’s look at the character of Joe. Go back and look at everything Joe says and everything people say about Joe. Let’s come up with five adjectives to describe Joe.” And it can be hard for them. But once they got into it they started to see how everything that’s said in the text is a clue. And I felt they had never looked at literature that way before: taking fictional text and going through and pulling out the clues.

Q: When your friends or family find out you are a teaching artist, what do they say?

A: They say, “that sounds like so much fun.” And I say, “it is!” They often say, “well, I know it’s really hard being a teacher.” And I explain that it’s a lovely brand of teaching to be a teaching artist because you come in and you’re a guest artist for a period of time. People do ask, “don’t you have students that are too shy or don’t want to do it?” Yes, we have students who are shy and, yes, we have students who don’t want to do it at first. But it is the rare student who is not on board and engaged after a couple of classes.

julieclass

Q: What do you wish other people knew about Lifeline?

A: The number one thing that I’m always talking to people about is the very high quality of the youth programming here. Yes, the in-school residencies, but also the extremely high quality of the KidSeries productions that we do. I think they are the best productions that are done in the city; and at a price where you can afford to bring your family. The attention to detail in terms of the theatrical experience for a kid and the emotional experience and understanding what a kid is going to take away. There is attention to detail in areas that I don’t see from other theatres. I think Lifeline is a very special theatre for young people.

Q: Are there any specific adaptation projects that you would like to share?

A: This fifth grade class we had was struggling to pick the book they wanted to adapt. So, Jenifer and I came up with the idea of doing Rikki Tikki Tavi,  a Rudyard Kipling short story from The Jungle Book. The class did not want to do Rikki Tikki Tavi. So, I had to say, “Well, let’s read it. Can I read it to you?” And as I’m reading it I’m thinking to myself, “They’re not going to want to do this. They are going to think this is too childish for them.” But before I could finish reading it they were jumping up and down, yelling, “I want to be the Mongoose! I want to be the cobra!” And so we did an adaptation of it. The commitment that fifth grade class had to being snakes. I was amazed at how they took ownership of it and it really took a life of its own. I just couldn’t picture these kids being committed snakes, but they were. That experience surprised me. But I have things surprise me all the time in these residencies.

Sneak Peak of “Fillet of Solo” Results in Laughter!

Lifeline offers “Sneak Peek” events to our subscribers and donors a few weeks early in the rehearsal process of every Lifeline show.  These events are among my most favorite things we do because they give Lifeline staff and artists the opportunity to get to know our biggest fans and supporters. The Sneak Peek event for our Storytelling festival, Fillet of Solo, was another riotous good time.

As usual, the evening began with wine, cheese and mingling, then we did a teaser presentation of sample stories and ended with conversation, building tours, and more snacks and wine!  Guest performers included Amanda Rountree (who is developing a one-woman show for the Fest and, by the way, also works in Lifeline’s education department, both on-site and as an artist in residence at our neighboring Chicago public schools), Kris Simmons (from the kates), and Dana Norris, artistic director of Story Club.  Festival founder and current co-curator Sharon Evans (Artistic Director of Live Bait) was also in attendance along with storytellers from 2nd Story, The Lifeline Storytelling Project, Sweat Girls, and solo star Tekki Lomnicki — all of whom will be participating in Fillet of Solo.  We are so proud to be hosting so many powerhouse Chicago storytelling collectives at this Festival.

Remember that a Fest pass to see the whole kaboodle of shows between Jan 3-20 is only $30!

Storytelling/Live Lit groups that will be part of this Festival will include:

– En Solo

PLUS…solo shows by Tekki Lomnicki, Kim Morris, Amanda Rountree, and Eric D. Warner!

Dorothy Milne
Artistic Director

Lifeline Has New And Improved Faux Bricks

…(and much less train!)

Many thanks to Joe Schermoly and Ben Dawson who led the window improvement project in the theater!

“What windows?” you ask?

The big windows on the east side of our building facing the train tracks. On the inside of the building, those are in our theater space, the one place that natural light must be eliminated! For the past 30 years, these windows have been covered by a thin piece of painted masonite, which did little to block outside noise and draft. Now these window units have been stuffed to the gills with insulation, fire-proofed to the max and are covered over in a faux brick covering that is being artfully painted by Summer interns Autumn McConnico and Galya Loeb, under Joe’s artistic direction! When you come to see our next show, you will notice (or maybe you won’t notice and that’s good too!) that sounds of the Red Line are considerably dampened!