Category Archives: Hunger

Congratulations!

The 2012 Non-Equity Jeff Award nominations were announced today, and…

Congratulations to ensemble member John Hildreth (New Adaptation), Mikhail Fiksel (Sound Design), Richard Gilbert & David Bareford (Fight Design), and Joanna Iwanicka (Puppet, Mask & Video Design) for their Jeff nominations for Watership Down!

And to Christopher Kriz (Original Music and Sound Design) and Aly Renee Amidei (Costume Design) for their nominations for The Count of Monte Cristo!

And to ensemble member Kevin Gawley (Lighting Design) and Andrew Hansen (Original Music) for their nominations for Hunger!

Congrats as well to ensemble members Elizabeth Wislar for her Costume Design nominations for “A Little Night Music” and “The Women” and to Elise Kauzlaric for her Dialect Coaching nomination for “Punk Rock”

AND additional congrats to recent collaborators Joey deBettencourt for his Principal Actor nomination for “Punk Rock’ (Joey played Zorn in The 13 Clocks this season) and Scott Barsotti for his New Work nomination for “We Live Here” (Scott appeared in Watership Down last season and is adapting “The Mystery of the Pirate Ghost” for us next season).

Anatomy of the Hunger Lobby Display

Note: This is a guest posting from Maren Robinson, production dramaturg for our winter MainStage production of Hunger.

Now that I am working on my third production at Lifeline I thought it would be fun to go through the anatomy of the dramaturgical materials in the lobby that are among the production photos of the cast.

During the rehearsal process Rob created a large timeline in the rehearsal room and I supplemented this with information on historic events, quotes from journals kept by survivors of the siege of Leningrad, maps and images. What you get to see in the lobby is a modified version of those same materials and some additional items that were not in the rehearsal room.

I thought of the display as a messy sort of desk of scientist who had lived through the siege with a variety of images and stories building up.

I have taken photographs of the display and will note certain items that might be interesting for you to look for when you come to the theater.

In the photo at left you can see the prison photos of Vavilov, his sentencing documents and a very sad letter in Russian in which he asked to be put to work on one of the farms rather than stay in prison.

The Institute of Plant Industry not only collected seed samples but also kept cards of pressed plants for identification purposes. To recreate the feel of some of those plant identification cards I pressed some plants and created made the kind of cards that would have so been familiar to any scientist at working at the institute.

I also included a variety of botanical illustrations from books. The scientists in Leningrad would have needed to know other languages to communicate with scientific colleagues around the world, this fact was good for scientific communication but led to many of the scientists being suspected of spying because they could read other languages and had contacts around the world.

On the right side of the board is a timeline of the Siege of Leningrad, since this is an aspect of World War II that is often not as thoroughly covered in U.S. history classes. You will also see a facsimile of a ration card and photos of the wrapped bodies of the dead in the streets of Leningrad during the siege. Layered underneath is the cover of one of the Russian journals of genetics in which Nikolai Vavilov published.

There were two amazing books of journals and letters written by people who survived the siege. With the help of one of the intrepid Lifeline interns, Julie, we wrote out parts of the journals that offer impressions of life during the siege. References to eating cat, thinking compulsively about food, and seeing others who were not starving because of their theft are particularly haunting. You can also see a map of Leningrad, some of the defenses and survivors leaving the bombed shell of a building.

Also on the board are soviet propaganda posters from the war. Like many governments in time of war, Stalin’s government created patriotic posters which were pasted up around Leningrad and other cities. Several of these feature Mother Russia, the one that particularly struck me is close to the bottom of the board and shows her with a gun in one arm and grain in the other.

In this same part of the board you will see a photo of Vavilov on one of his exotic seed gathering trips and sleds traveling the ice road out of Leningrad.

If the play sparks your interest in the siege or the scientists you should certainly read Elise Blackwell’s novel Hunger, on which the play is based. It is haunting and lovely.

If you want to read more about Siege of Leningrad I highly recommend the following books.

The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad – Harrison Evan Salisbury
Leningrad: The Epic Siege of World War II, 1941-1944 – Anna Reid
Writing the Siege of Leningrad: Women’s Diaries, Memoirs and Documentary Prose – Cynthia Simon and Nina Perlina
Leningrad Under Siege: first-hand accounts of the ordeal – Daniil Alexandrovich
The Murder of Nikolai Vavilov – Peter Pringle
The Vavilov Affair – Mark Aleksandrovich Popovsky

Seed Hunters: Old World and Brave New World

Note: This is a guest posting from Maren Robinson, production dramaturg for our winter MainStage production of Hunger.

The work that the scientists in Hunger are conducting is scientific work that continues today. Portions of the story are flashbacks to the seed gathering trips conducted by Nikolai Vavilov and his students. In many ways Vavilov was wildly ahead of his time in seeking to gather and to preserve seeds both for research purposes and to maintain crop diversity.


Nikolai Vavilov on a 1927 seed-collecting trip.

Gathering seeds in dangerous and exotic countries can make science seem a bit more like an Indiana Jones movie. Vavilov did survive plane crashes, visit exotic locations, and have to make camp near lions. However, these trips to collect seeds are not just an excuse for dramatic tourism. Understanding biodiversity and the spread of crop plants and plant domestication around the world helps scientists understand our current crop plants and could be key in helping develop new crops and preventing world hunger. As climates change, it is useful for scientists and plant breeders to have access to seed stock of plants that grown in dry climates or wet climates to create new hybrids which may be more successful in certain climates or more resistant to certain pests.


Seed drawers at the Vavilov Institute in Leningrad.

Seed gathering is still a scientific pursuit. There is a new documentary, Seed Hunter, which focuses on current efforts to collect seeds around the world.

In Leningrad, in what is now named the N.I. Vavilov Institute of Plant Research there are still stores of seeds. However, in August 2010, the Pavlovsk Experimental Station, growing fields near Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) were under threat as the Russian government considered selling the fields to real estate developers suggesting that the delicate plants could be moved. After global outcry Russian President Dmitri Medvedev said the issue would be reviewed but the fate of the fields has yet to be resolved. According to a recent article in Guardian, the station’s collection includes such biodiversity as 600 types of apples collected from 35 countries.

On February 26, 2008, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault opened. Also known as the “doomsday” vault, it is contains more than 500,000 varieties of seeds and is the most diverse collection of crop seeds in the world. Located on the artic ocean in a Norway it is meant to protect and preserved crops seed from pests, disease, natural disasters and climate change.


The “Doomsday” seed vault in Svalbard

In addition to these places to try and save seeds. Modern science and agribusiness has complicate the issue of seeds further. As companies have worked to genetically modify crops some companies have included a controversial “terminator gene.” This gene means that seeds saved from the plant will not germinate. New seed stock must be purchased from the company who created the modified seed. Companies view this as a way to protect intellectual property but has been criticized who worry genes that impede the procreation of plants could make their way into other plant populations and could be detrimental to subsistence farmers, creating a whole new range of concerns about the future of crop seeds. (It is important to clarify here that hybridization by cross breeding compatible crops is not the same as genetic modification of plants done in a lab.)

For those interested in biodiversity and gardeners interested in preserving heirloom varieties the Seed Savers Exchange is a non-governmental seedbank in the United States which collects and exchanges seeds among farmers and gardeners.

Hunger and the Siege of Leningrad

Note: This is a guest posting from Maren Robinson, production dramaturg for our winter MainStage production of Hunger.

Rehearsals for Hunger started after Thanksgiving and going into other holidays there was plenty of food in the rehearsal room. The abundance of food at our American holidays reminds me how far removed we are from real hunger. Most of us don’t even go a day without food; much less endure a prolonged famine during an unrelenting winter. (At left: residents of Leningrad with a still smoking bombed building behind them)

On July 8, 1941, Hitler wrote in his journal that he wanted to raze Leningrad. On September 4, 1942 the Germans began to bomb the city.

The Siege of Leningrad was the only time a major city in an industrialized, western, nation underwent this level of starvation and death from famine. Though estimates of the number of deaths vary, and Soviet reporting may be have been optimistically low, most believe between six hundred thousand and one million people died during the siege.

The city was blockaded by the German army for almost 900 days. The city was regularly bombed and the occasional evacuation routes, such as the ice road or “road of life” over the frozen Lake Lagoda was often bombed by the Germans as well. The winter of 1941-1942 was particularly harsh winters and the residents of Leningrad were without power only increased the suffering and death from the ongoing famine. On January 27, 1944 the liberation of Leningrad was complete. (Right: trucks on the ice road over Lake Lagoda)

The physical symptoms of starvation can take many forms, often related to the lack of nutrients and vitamins available in the meager food supply. The body will attempt to fend off starvation by consuming the body itself. An adult can lose up to half his or her weight. Symptoms of starvation include, shrinking of organs such as the lungs, heart and testes or ovaries, chronic diarrhea, anemia, loss of muscle mass and muscle weakness, sensitivity to cold, irritability and difficulty concentrating, decreased ability to digest food, swelling from fluid under the skin, and immunodeficiency.That was about one third of the population of Leningrad.

Symptoms at the final stages of starvation include: hallucinations, convulsions, severe muscle pain and changes in heart rhythm. Additionally, those who are starving are susceptible to other illnesses such as scurvy, a vitamin C deficiency, and succumb more easily to colds and other diseases. (At left, Sophia Petrova before the war and after the siege)

When I am falling asleep I always see bread, butter, pies and potatoes in my dreams. . . These days my whole nature seems somehow to have changed abruptly. I have become sluggish, feeble, my hand trembles when I write and when I walk my knees are so week that it seems to me that if I took another step it would be the last and I would fall down.
Yura, a Leningrad schoolboy, November 9-10, 1941

It is hard to imagine what the minimal rations the people of Leningrad were living on during the siege. The table below shows the bread rations. It is important to know that the bread was heavily mixed with saw dust and had a gray color and little nutritional value.

Rations of Bread During the Siege (in grams)

Date

Workers &
Engineers

Workers in
workshops

Office Workers

Dependents

Children
under 12

July 18, 1941

800

1000

600

400

400

Sept. 2, 1941

600

800

400

300

300

Sept. 12, 1941

500

700

300

250

250

Oct. 1, 1941

400

600

200

200

200

Nov. 13, 1941

300

450

150

150

150

Nov. 20, 1941

250

375

125

125

125

Dec. 25, 1941

350

500

200

200

200

Jan. 24, 1942

400

575

300

250

250

Feb. 11, 1942

500

700

400

300

300

Mar. 22, 1942

600

700

500

400

400

800 grams is about 28 ounces 200 is about 7 ounces

Sources and for Further reading:

“Leningrad Under Siege,” and “The 900 Days”

Science and Politics

Note: This is a guest posting from Maren Robinson, production dramaturg for our winter MainStage production of Hunger.

As we are in rehearsal for the upcoming production of Chris Hainsworth’s adaptation of Elise Blackwell’s novel Hunger one of the fascinating aspects of the play are the real people who worked at the Institute of Plant Industry in Leningrad (now the Vavilov Institute of Plant Industry) particularly two scientists and soviet politics.

Nikolai Vavilov was a world-renowned biologist and geneticist; he was also the son of a millionaire. He formulated the Law of Homologous Series.  He was eager to prove his loyalty after the revolution through his hard work. He was interested in the origin and spread of grains and collected seeds to study plant diversity and plant breeding based in evolutionary genetics.

While foreign travel was still quite limited in the Soviet Union, Vavilov was trusted to lead expeditions to collect seeds and plants in more than fifty countries earning him fame in the Soviet Union and internationally.  Soviet newspapers ran headlined articles on his travels such as “Vavilov crosses the Andes” which appeared in Izvestia or “Vavilov visits with Japanese Scientists” in Pravda. He published The Geographic Origins of Plant Cultivation in 1926. The same year he was awarded the Lenin Prize, the highest Soviet distinction for science.  He set up the Academy of Agricultural Science and was in charge of the Institute of plant breeding. At age 36, he was elected to the Soviet Academy of Science. However, Vavilov’s devotion to science would prove his undoing.

“Unfortunately the qualities of goodness and almost childlike naiveté, which it was so wonderful to find in so great a man, sometimes prevented him from understanding clearly enough the true character of other people. I would not wish to give the impression that Nikolai Ivanovich could not distinguish between one person and another. He saw the shortcomings in certain colleagues, but reckoned that devotion to science would re-educate them.” Colleague professor Lidia Breslavets on Nikolai Vavilov

Vavilov was far more focused on being a good scientist than a good politician. In the 1920s-1930s the mood was changing in the Soviet Union and the “intellectual” was becoming mistrusted for not being involved in manual labor and from a fear intellectuals might have sympathy with the decadent West.  “The worker” was idealized in films, books, and music. Vavilov’s elite background and his lack of interest in politics were both against him in the changing political landscape.

In Spring1933, he was called before the Central Committee. They were displeased with his trips abroad and claimed they were expensive and produced nothing of use. Vavilov insisted that the committee would see the scientific reasons behind his trip.  He did not recount the meeting, but he was never able to leave the Soviet Union again.  The NKVD (the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs – or secret police) had already started a file on him and was collection and coercing denunciations from fellow scientists.

If Vavilov and his work were in decline, Trofim Lysenko, a young man of peasant origins who had been trained on the experimental stations was rising politically.

Vavilov was initially supportive of the younger Lysenko. Lysenko was a believer in Vernalization, which as he applied the theory, relied on the idea that the manipulation of seeds (by keeping them moist, or changing the temperature) could produce higher yielding crops.  Vavilov was interested to see if his theories worked and wanted them to be tested scientifically process. He was unaware of Lysenko’s open contempt for his own genetic research.

Lysenko fit the new model of a soviet worker given the opportunity to rise through hard work. He could not read other languages and so did not keep up on the scientific discoveries in other countries.  He was especially contemptuous of geneticists. Friends joked of him, “Lysenko is sure that it is possible to produce a camel from a cotton seed and a baobab tree from a hen’s egg.” Lysenko would, in fact, claim that he had obtained wheat from wheat, barley and rye plants, which are different genera.

In August 7, 1927, an article in Pravda published a glowing article on the 29-year-old Lysenko and the success of his techniques in growing a successful pea crop after the winter. The article also suited the political trends of the moment. Lysenko had not attended a university he was described as a “barefoot scientist” who was a worker close to the land and had practical ideas rather than being a lab studying “the hairy legs of flies.”

Lysenko’s theories and biography dovetailed with a moment in 1931 when the Soviet government was placing emphasis on the practical application of science and forcing the collectivization of farms. Lysenko’s theories were accepted as proof of practical results without having been thoroughly tested or verified. When Lysenko’s experiments were not successful he blamed other scientist for sabotaging his work.

In Moscow, in February 1935, Lysenko addressed a group of government workers, including Stalin. Lysenko chose to portray the legitimate scientific debate surrounding vernalization as class warfare.  He said,

“It is not only on your collective farms that you can come across rich farmers who wreck our system . . . they are no less dangerous and no less active in the scientific world. I have had to put up with a good deal in all kinds of disputes with so-called scientists concerning vernalization, in my efforts to develop this method, and I have had to withstand quite a few hard blows in my practical work. Comrades, it cannot be said that class struggle has not been going on, and is not still going on, on the vernalization front.  . . the class enemy always remains an enemy, whether he’s a scientist or not.”

Stalin interrupted the speech with “Bravo, Comrade Lysenko, bravo!” and the room erupted in applause.  Three months later Lysenko was made an academician and in three years he would become the president of the All-Union Academy of Agricultural Science.

It was a watershed moment in the scientific and political direction of the country. Vavilov and his fellow geneticists were deprived of funding and resources to conduct their research. Ultimately, like earlier purges, scientists who openly criticized Lysenko and his method were arrested and imprisoned.

“I have never been a spy or a member of any anti-Soviet organizations. I have always worked for the good of the Soviet state. – Vavilov’s answer to an NKVD interrogator’s question

In a dramatic fashion in July 1940, while Vavilov and some of his scientists were on their way to a meeting a black car of men pulled up and said he was needed in Moscow. Vavilov believed he was being called into a meeting and went with them. Later a second black car filled with men was sent to collect all his papers and belongings. The NKVD had arrested him.  They planned his arrest this way so that few people would realize he had been arrested. When his arrest became known his old mentor Pyranishnikov started agitating for his release at great risk to himself. He nominated Vavilov and his efforts at seed collection for a Stalin prize and ultimately succeeded in getting his sentence commuted to 20 years in a labor camp. Vavilov died at the age of 55 in a prison hospital on January 26, 1943 from malnutrition.

It was not until the mid 1950s that Vavilov’s reputation and scientific work would be rehabilitated.

Sources and for Further reading:

Amasino, “Vernalization, Competence, and the Epigenetic Memory of Winter,” The Plant Cell, American Society of Plant Biologists, Oct., 2004, pp. 2553-2559

Joravsky, “Soviet Marxism and Biology before Lysenko,” Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 20, No. 1 (Jan., 1959), pp. 85-104

Lukashev, “Soviet War Science,” The Science News-Letter, Vol. 42, No. 16 (Oct. 17, 1942), pp. 250-252

Popovsky, The Vavilov Affair

Pringle, The Murder of Nikolai Vavilov

Roll-Hansen, “Wishful Science: The Persistence of T.D. Lysenko’s Agrobiology in the Politics of Science,” Osiris, Vol. 23, Intelligentsia Science: The Russian Century, 1860–1960(2008), pp. 166-188

Hunger “In The Works”

Thanks to those who joined us for the first evening of our HUNGER “In The Works” presentation at the Pritzker Pavilion last night! We enjoyed a successful first reading, and great conversation with author Elise Blackwell (Hunger, The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish, Grub, and An Unfinished Score) and playwright/Lifeline ensemble member Chris Hainsworth (adaptor of Hunger).

There’s still two more nights to catch this exciting presentation — purchase your tickets here!


Hunger “In The Works” at the Pritzker Pavilion.

Hunger “In The Works” at the Pritzker Pavilion.

The Hunger team with author Elise Blackwell. (From left, Robert Kauzlaric, Chris Hainsworth, Elise Blackwell, John Henry Roberts, Simone Roos, Peter Greenberg, Jenifer Tyler, Matt Engle, and Katie McLean Hainsworth)

Autumn goings-on

THE NEW YORK FREAKIN’ TIMES calls The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs! “One of the best children’s shows of the year. Case closed.” Yowza!

This adaptation by ensemble member Robert Kauzlaric (from the book by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith) first played at Lifeline in 2007 and has since had productions all over the nation. It is currently being performed by Atlantic Theater Company in NYC thru the end of October. Check out the article in The New York Times and another review too!

NEW TECH DIRECTOR!
We are thrilled to welcome Joe Schermoly as Lifeline’s new Technical Director. Joe is a scenic designer who also works as a TD and we are super lucky to add him to the Lifeline team in both capacities. You can see Joe’s design work on our stage right now as the scenic and props designer (and the tech director) for The Count of Monte Cristo (now extended through November 13th). You can find out more about Joe by checking out his website.

We are also bidding a fond and sad adieu to our former tech director, Ian Zywica. Ian spent the last two years at Lifeline, tech directing our shows and also designing The Moonstone, The Last of the Dragons, and The Blue Shadow. We will miss him greatly and are hoping he will visit us often.

NEW LIFELINE BABY!!!!
Ensemble member Paul Holmquist and his wife Kristina Fluty are new parents!

Gus Carlson Holmquist arrived on Monday September 12th. He is hale and hearty and beautiful.

OPEN HOUSE CHICAGO
In the midst of six shows this past weekend, Lifeline was honored to participate in Open House Chicago! It’s an event produced by the Chicago Architectural Foundation and this is the first time the Rogers Park neighborhood was on the explorer map! Shuttle buses brought people to the neighborhood and we were toured by over 200 people this past weekend (although most of them didn’t actually see the performance space because we had so many performances going on)! Our visitors were thrilled to see all our secret areas of the building and many vowed to return to see a show. It was great fun to introduce so many new people to our building.

THE 13 CLOCKS got a nice preview feature in the Sun-Times and a great review in Time Out Chicago Kids and is a visual treat. It features “mini-me” puppets and other theatrical devices that are brand new to our KidSeries. Amanda Delheimer Dimond directs for the first time at Lifeline and we are so happy and lucky to have her with us.

The 13 Clocks is a Rob Kauzlaric adaptation with both new faces and old favorites in both the cast and production teams: Scenic designer Chelsea Warren (Mr. Hatch, Mrs. Caliban, Flight of the Dodo, The Dirty Cowboy), sound designer Mikhail Fiksel (Neverwhere, Watership Down, The Last of the Dragons), props designer Katherine Greenleaf (Arnie the Doughnuti), costume designer Nathan Rohrer (assisted on Treasure Island), plus newbies Melanie Berner (puppet associate), Heather Gilbert (light designer), and Clare Roche (stage manager). The cast includes newbies Joey DeBettencourt, Mildred Marie Langford, and David Guiden, plus Lifeline returners Mike Ooi (Neverwhere, The Last of the Dragons, Zorro) and Jonathan Helvey (Zorro). Rockin’ understudies that are more than ready are: Ariel Begley, Jacquis Neal, and Morgan Maher — all new to Lifeline!

HUNGER at MILLENIUM PARK
The City of Chicago has invited us to participate in its In the Works series! There will be a reading of Hunger on the Pritzker Pavillion Stage for three performances November 17-19. (Don’t worry, it’s not outside! The stage will be in it’s “indoor” configuration – audience sits on stage, actors backs are to the glassed in wall overlooking the park.) This includes a talkback with Chris Hainsworth (adapter), Rob Kauzlaric (director) and Elise Blackwell (novelist), whom they’re flying in for the weekend.

We hope to see you in the neighborhood soon!

Dorothy Milne
Artistic Director