Monday, February 14, 2011

Terry Kinney and Jeff Perry Come Back to Discuss "From Allen Theatre to Steppenwolf: Stories of American Theatre"

Once upon a time, I competed in IHSA speech competitions. I was pretty good in prose reading, and I made it to state as a sophomore. (This was very exciting in 1972.) I kept my program from the state event -- or rather, my mother kept it, along with a box of my high school memorabilia -- and I happened to page through that little paper program, just for kicks, quite a few years ago, when the memorabilia box was returned to me.

I was shocked to discover that future Steppenwolf Theatre Company stars John Malkovich, Gary Sinise, Jeff Perry and Terry Kinney were all there, at that same competition. If memory serves, Sinise and Perry were part of the contest play cast from Highland Park High School ("Under Milkwood," I think) and Malkovich and Kinney competed in Individual Events for Benton and Lincoln High Schools, respectively. It's a weird little one-degree-of-separation footnote, since I have no specific memory of meeting any of them, and I doubt they even knew each other then. Well, Sinise and Perry knew each other, obviously, being from the same high school and all. I do remember being very unhappy that their lovely "Under Milkwood" didn't win the play competition that year.

So it definitely caught my eye that Perry and Kinney, two of the four who made it to State in 1972 and two of Steppenwolf's three founders (Sinise is the other one), are coming to ISU for special Founders Day celebrations. Jeff Perry and Terry Kinney will be appearing as part of a panel discussion called "From Allen Theatre to Steppenwolf: Stories of American Theatre," set for Braden Auditorium on Thursday, February 17th, from 11 am to noon. They'll talk about "the Illinois State University connection, Steppenwolf's growth to international acclaim, and the state of theatre in America today."

This is a free event, open to the public. Don LaCasse will moderate, and we are assured there will be plenty of time for audience questions. You'll find more information here, with some details about the Illinois State University Founders Day Convocation occurring later that day, which will also involve Kinney and Perry.

I didn't attend ISU, so, as far as I know, this will be the first time that Terry Kinney, Jeff Perry and I are all in Bloomington-Normal at the same precise moment since 1972. I doubt they'll be paying attention, but I will. Maybe there will be a program I can add to the Memento Box!


  1. Wow, Julie, that connection is so. very. cool! I always knew you were fully the equal of any of the Steppenwolf people!

    I'm a big fan of these guys, as you know, and of Steppenwolf, whose productions I was able to see pretty often just before they (and their actors) became nationally known. And I know I've bored you (and others) senseless with my going on about how their Balm in Gilead was one of my supreme theatrical experiences. So I'll say no more.

  2. I never tire of your "Balm in Gilead" stories, Jon. I think Richard Christiansen is in that same boat, and he has written about that production as one of his favorites ever in Chicago theater. I think you usually talk about Laurie Metcalf's monologue, right? And she, of course, also went to ISU and was married to... Jeff Perry!

    It was so weird when I went back to that program and was musing on how important that 45-minute high-school "Under Milkwood" was to me at the time, because I hadn't seen high school kids do anything that soft and lyrical and just all-around *special* before. Plus I remembered being outraged as a 15-year-old that they gave the trophy to some "Firebugs" with a revolve, when I was just blown away with this "Under Milkwood." So to go back to the program and see that it was Highland Park High School and Gary Sinise and Jeff Perry were in the cast... Whoa. No wonder I thought that show was so much better than everything else!

    And when Terry Kinney and Jeff Perry are at Braden Auditorium and running around the ISU campus, I wonder if either will remember that the state speech and drama tournament, which they both made it to, was at Bloomington High School that year? I'm kind of guessing they got recruited to go to ISU by somebody paying attention at that tournament. You'll be happy to hear that nobody recruited me! :-)

  3. I realized that by now, I should be able to look up stats on that "Balm in Gilead" (an early Lanford Wilson play, if anyone else is reading this). It won a bunch of Jeff Awards (as it should have):

    Production of a Play (BTW, the winning production of a musical was "Follies" at Candlelight Dinner Theatre!)
    Director of a Play -- John Malkovich (why has he directed so little since? he invented a whole style and look for a script that doesn't have any of that)
    Actress in a Principal Role in a Play -- Laurie Metcalf (beating Glenne Headly in Absent Friends; I had no idea Steppenwolf ever did Ayckbourn!)
    (Gary Sinise did not win for Principal Actor)
    Acress in a Supporting Role in a Play -- Glenne Headly
    Cameo Performance -- Debra Engle
    Lighting -- Kevin Rigdon

    (Also among that year's nominees were Frank Galati as an actor in Mother Courage [at Wisdom Bridge], Mary Gross winning Actress in a Revue [Second City], Gary Cole for Cameo Performance [Novel Ventures].)

    It occurs to me that it's perfectly possible for there to be online video of Laurie Metcalf's big monologue -- I saw the local televised version of the Jeff Awards and she got to do a big portion of it. But nope, no hint of it on YouTube.

  4. Balm in Gilead was a beautiful production! Cool about Feb. 17th!

  5. I wish I'd seen it. I was in Mpls-St. Paul in 1983, and while I did go to the theater every now and again, I didn't get back down to Chicago for it. I missed so much cool stuff!

  6. I got to see Balm in Gilead when they took it to New York and performed it off-Broadway in the Village. I remember thinking it was one of those "this is why theatre is so important" moments. I had no idea at the time that years later I'd end up at Illinois State knowing some of these folks.