‘Heaven and Earth: Art of Byzantium from Greek Collections’ at the Art Institute Chicago

Blog, Coursework, JOUR 511, Writing
Icon of Christ Pantokrator, late 14th century. Byzantine; Thessaloniki. Museum of Byzantine Culture, Thessaloniki.

Icon of Christ Pantokrator, late 14th century. Byzantine; Thessaloniki. Museum of Byzantine Culture, Thessaloniki.

Icons of saints, choral music — at church? No just the Art Institute’s newest exhibit.

“Heaven and Earth: Art of Byzantium from Greek Collections” at the Art Institute exhibits 63 pieces of art ranging from icons to sculpture to jewelry from the Byzantine Empire.

‘Laggies’ review: ★★

Blog, Coursework, JOUR 511, Writing

(Courtesy of A24)

Senior prom is the quintessential moment for teens. It’s that one event, the last magical moment with all of your friends before everyone grows up and moves on. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Unless you start hanging out with 17-year-olds when you’re 10 years out of high school and go to their prom.

Acting: It’s so much more than just acting

Blog, Coursework, JOUR 511, Writing

When Kyle Mooney brought his Chris Fitzpatrick character to an episode of “Saturday Night Live” last season, the act may have seemed familiar for some.

Not because viewers remembered going to high school with someone like Fitzpatrick, a metal-head who hates jocks and is running for student class president because everyone else at his school is lame, but Mooney first debuted the character in a YouTube video in 2011.

REVIEW: ‘Evil Dead the Musical,’ I wish I were dead

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When given the choice between a splash zone or not while purchasing tickets for a musical, it’s usually a sign nothing good is to come.

“Evil Dead the Musical” lived up to that assumption, nothing good was to come.

The show tells the story of five college friends who take a trip to an abandoned cabin in the woods where they find the book of the dead that unleashes a power that turns everyone into a demon, based on the ’80s cult-classic “Evil Dead” (“Evil Dead,” “Evil Dead II,” “Army of Darkness”) films.

While I was sitting in my (non-splatter zone) seat watching the horror unfold, letting out only a few pity chuckles in Act II, I was shocked to hear guffaws around the Broadway Playhouse Theater. I then realized this musical was not for me, nor is it for most. It’s a musical for those that don’t attend the theater, those who willingly show up wearing a garbage bag-like poncho to sit in the front row, those scream like they’re at a rock concert when iconic “Evil Dead” lines are uttered such as “This is my boomstick!” (From “Amy of Darkness”)

Not everything about “Evil Dead” was horrible, just most of it. The relatively young, non-Equity cast all had strong voices, especially Demi Zaino as Cheryl and Andrew Di Rosa as Jake. They made the big production number “Do the Necronomicon” fun and upbeat, one of the few highlights of the show. Highlight being a relative term, because everything else was so terrible. The show is helmed by David Sajewich as Ash, who does a decent job with the material give to him.

“Evil Dead” in film and musical form is parody, never taking itself serious; camp. But the show, especially in its first act falls short of camp, which in its best form should be intelligent and self-referencing. It relies on easy misogynistic jokes, mostly from Creg Sclavi’s character Scott. A running joke throughout Act I is calling Cheryl a stupid bitch, because being rude to women is hilarious. Scott’s weekend hookup Shelly (Callie Johnson) dons a crop top with excessive cleavage, and at one point pulls the shirt down to reveal her bra. For no reason.

Act I continues to be unnecessarily crude, ranging from masturbation jokes to Scott pulling out his intestines which evidently attach to his penis. The humor comes across like it’s by middle school boys, yet I still feel uncomfortable for the middle school-aged boys in the audience.

But Act II does pick up, falling into its campy stride. “Bit Part Demon” and “All the Men in my Life Keep Getting Killed by Candarian Demons” are highlights with their self-aware humor. If the entire show were like this it might be a two-star show. Might.

Before the show ends, a ridiculous zombie showdown between Ash and the rest of the now-evil cast produces all of the necessary fake blood for which the audience was waiting, mostly via blood fountains along the perimeter of the stage.

But I know “Evil Dead the Musical” wasn’t for me. For the audience, who gave the show a standing ovation, this is exactly what they were looking for. For now, I’ll stick to shows that don’t have a splash zone.

“Evil Dead the Musical” runs through Oct. 12 at the Broadway Playhouse Theatre, 175 E. Chestnut St.

The show must be chosen: How directors and theatre companies plan their seasons

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As Ben Stoner browsed through the musical listings on Music Theatre International‘s website, he got nearly to the end of the list before anything struck him. A-W, nothing. But then he landed on X, for “Xanadu.”

“When I saw that title I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, that is crazy material but it just might work for these kids,’ ” said Stoner, an English teacher at Crystal Lake South High School in Crystal Lake, Ill. and CLS Theatre director. “So I ordered a copy of the script and I was totally sold, completely hooked within a few pages.”

For the high school’s fall production, 25 students will be performing “Xanadu” — roller skates and all —Nov. 5-8. The school typically puts on a play in the fall and a larger musical in the winter, but a musical fit this year.

“I have this really interesting crop of kids right now … they’re all really unique in their own way,” Stoner said. “I so desperately care about them and want to give them material they could all fit into. And I looked for plays that would serve that, and I just never found a play that would give enough opportunity.”

Choosing a season, be it for a theatre company or a school, is a long, ongoing process that involves many different elements, from content to budget to talent.

For Stoner, he’s constantly looking at the talent he has in his program as well as looking for shows that excite him as a director.

“The goal is to always have a few kids that could play a role, and then have it fall together at auditions,” Stoner said. “I surprise myself constantly at casting and certain things don’t go certain ways, but pool of talent is necessary. In an academic setting it’s great because I get these kids of four years and I know what I have coming up through he program.”

While Stoner makes the sole decisions for his productions, many professional theatre companies are much more collaborative, like Chicago’s TimeLine Theatre Company, currently performing “Danny Casolero Died for You” through Dec. 21.

“[We] read a ton of plays every year so we work together as a democratic group,” said Lara Goetsch, company member and director of marketing and communications of the company. “We read 200-300 scripts a year [total], then there are 40-50 scripts we read together, and then we have discussions monthly, and then we narrow down.

The TimeLine Theatre Company has 10 company members, ranging from Goetsch, a marketer and a producer earlier in her career, to directors, actors, educators and a dramaturg. PJ Powers, artistic director and co-founder, leads the group to finding four plays per year that fit into the company’s missions of producing work inspired by history that connects to current issues.

“We want to make sure we’re finding different styles, different historical eras, different stories to tell and topics to cover,” Goetsch said. “It becomes sort of a jigsaw puzzle of what fits together in a well-rounded, varied season. It’s got a system to it but also a little bit of magic at the end”

For Chicago’s Idle Muse Theatre Company, their current production of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” came about in an unconventional way, when ensemble member and Marketing Director Nathan Pease lost the rights to produce a novel adaptation.

“I really loved the experience of adapting a book into a play but wasn’t in any hurry to have another adaptation get shelved indefinitely again,” Pease said. “Out of frustration, I began combing through my bookshelves for stories that were now in public domain and quickly found my hardcover copy of ‘Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.’ “

Eventually Pease started looking at others’ adaptations of the story, eventually settling on Jeffrey Hatcher’s 2009 adaptation.

“I loved his use of language, his ability to pick out that which is essential to the themes of the story in order to be somewhat faithful [the] original novella, and I loved the parts he’s made his own,” said Pease, director of the show. “It weaves together into a show that requires true ensemble work to tell a story.”

“Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” is playing at the Rivendell Theatre Ensemble through Oct. 19.

Yuri Lane brings Blues-Hop to Chicago

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“Harmonica + Beatbox: Final Cut” via Yuri Lane

Chicago is home to some of the greatest blues musicians of all time: Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf and Buddy Guy. Chicago’s also been the breeding ground for hip-hop legends from Kanye to Chance the Rapper.

But when it comes to blues-hop, it’s all Yuri Lane.

Lane will be performing blues-hop, his signature style of music that mixes beatboxing with harmonica with his show “Soundtrack City” Oct. 11-12 as part of Chicago Artists Month.

“It’s going to be a little concert, very multi-generational, so I’m going to teach the audience to beatbox,” Lane said. “I’m going to bring up some kids and adults to do a beatbox symphony, and then do some blues songs from Chicago with my own twist, and tell the story of hip-hop in my beatbox performance style.”

“Soundtrack City” is what Lane calls his “beatbox journey through Chicago,” telling the story of the neighborhoods of the city through different characters, ranging from an actress from Ukranian Village to a street harmonica player being driven from housing projects.

“Each character has their own soundtrack, their own song, and that’s part of the narrative,” Lane said. “I’m my own live sound designer.”

Barbara Koenen, City of Chicago director of artist resources, said Lane was selected as one of 20 featured events from more than 300 submissions for Chicago Artists Month, an ideal fit for 2014’s theme crossing borders.

“What’s interesting are the borders he’s crossing with different musical genres, and also just the borders of his own craft and art form that he’s brought to such a high level,” Koenen said.

Chicago Artists Month is a five-week event in its 19th year with art events of all styles and mediums around the city.

This isn’t the first time Lane has performed “Soundtrack City” — the show originated in Lane’s native San Francisco in 2001 and was brought to Chicago in 2005, two years after Lane moved to the city.

“I haven’t done that show in a long long time, but I always bring parts of ‘Soundtrack City’ into my other performances,” Lane said.

A trained actor, in recent years Lane has been focusing on his music career more than stage performances, working on a beatbox harmonica mixtape. He’s also found success on YouTube with his “Harmonica + Beatbox: Final Cut” video from 2007 garnering more than 9 million views.

“That’s what I’m famous for on the internet,” Lane said. “Whatever that means.”

Lane’s unique mix of beatboxing and playing harmonica came about in “Soundtrack City” in 2001, and when he moved to Chicago two years later he continued to hone is craft.

“When I moved to Chicago I said, ‘Oh I better learn how to play this instrument for real’ because there are incredible harmonica players here,” Lane said.

Lane’s free performance is 1 p.m. Oct. 11-12 at Garfield Park Conservatory, 300 N. Central Park Ave. According to Koenen, Lane’s performance is a can’t-miss.

“The thought that goes into [the performance] and the expertise, the playfulness and the joy of how he communicates the history of blues, the birth of hip hop, how those genres fuse together, and how they can be interpreted with just a set of lungs.”