Sunday, January 31, 2016

Red Tape/Stage Left MUTT Pairs Director Vanessa Stalling and Actor Daniel Smith

Daniel Smith (L) and Michael Reyes as they appear in Mutt.
In this election year, two Chicago theaters -- Stage Left and Red Tape -- are collaborating on a very political play. Mutt, a new play written by Christopher Chen, is described as a "blisteringly funny satire that skewers not only the elephants in the room but the donkeys too," as it "burns down the entire house of racial cards." Mutt opened on stage at Theater Wit on January 9 and it runs till February 14.

I am alerting you to the existence of this production of Mutt not because of its timeliness, although that's certainly a big plus, but because of its central Illinois connections. Director Vanessa Stalling is someone I met in the masters' program at Illinois State University when she was finishing up her MFA in directing there, while Dan Smith, who plays the candidate on the left in the Mutt poster above, frequently appeared on stage at the Station Theatre in Urbana before he left for Chicago. He also happened to be in an acting class I once took in Champaign. That may not seem like much of a coincidence, but the classes I shared with Vanessa and Dan were more than 20 years apart, so it seemed striking to me.

Vanessa Stalling showed her strong directorial hand on A Midsummer Night's Dream, Mrs. Packard,  The Maids, Gone Missing, Pullman WA and Mud while at Illinois State University. She was the Associate Artistic Director at Redmoon Theatre before she came to ISU, and since she left, she's directed Suzan-Lori Parks' The America Play at Oracle Theatre and Circuscope at Actors Gymnasium, continuing to add striking visual style and energy to illuminate complex material

As for Dan Smith... In the early 90s, he played a variety of major roles at the Station in shows ranging from Tennessee Williams' The Night of the Iguana to Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, Craig Lucas's Reckless, Eric Overmyer's In Perpetuity Throughout the Universe and Terrence McNally's The Lisbon Traviata. He showed again and again that he can be compelling and charismatic no matter who he's playing. In Chicago, Dan has appeared at the Goodman (King of the Yees, Measure for Measure and The World of Extreme Happiness) as well as Victory Gardens (Never the Sinner), the Piven Theatre Workshop ( and Steppenwolf, where he created a role in Tina Landau's Space and traveled with the show when it moved to the Public Theatre in New York.

Dan's role in Mutt is Len Smith, which already sounds like it fits. As you can see in this teaser video, Len is "exciting and non-threatening at the same time" as well as "a mix of every major race in the world." He's a multi-racial war hero who looks like the perfect candidate for canny political operatives looking to score a presidential home run.

You can see a lot more about Mutt at both the Stage Left and Red Tape sites as well as on their Facebook pages and Stage Left's Youtube channel.

Friday, January 29, 2016

TCM Starts Its 31 DAYS OF OSCAR February 1

For more than ten years, Turner Classic Movies has created a special lineup around the Oscars as a way to ramp up to the awards ceremony. They call it TCM's "31 Days of Oscar," with some sort of connection among the films to play off the "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" game. Bacon himself has been the connection among all their "31 Days" films in the past, although others years didn't center on a person, but a instead some theme cooked up by the masterminds at TCM. This year, the schedule features a list of Oscar-winning and nominated movies, each of which connects to the one before and after it, like little links on a long and winding chain.

That means that February's first movie, Gigi, has something in common with the second, The Merry Widow (the 1952 version), and that Merry Widow also has some link to The Broadway Melody of 1936, which comes after it. And then Broadway Melody is linked to Calamity Jane, and Calamity Jane connects to Billy Rose's Jumbo... All the way to March 2, where Around the World in Eighty Days closes out the Oscar fest and connects to A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, which immediately precedes it, as well as back to Gigi at the top of the list to complete the circle.

Whew! It's 360 (complicated!) Degrees of Oscar.

I don't know the answers in this mighty trivia quiz (and if TCM has an answer key, I didn't see it), but I can think of a couple of links between Gigi and The Merry Widow off the top of my head. They're both set (at least partially, in Widow's case) in Paris and they both have scenes at Maxim's, the risque restaurant famous for flowing champagne and beautiful women. I'm guessing Maxim's is not what the quizzers at TCM had in mind, however, since the connections otherwise seems to be about the personnel. So, for example, the fourth piece in the puzzle is an easy one, since Doris Day starred in both Calamity Jane and Billy Rose's Jumbo.

It's quite a list, including Oscar powerhouses like Ben-Hur, Lawrence of Arabia, The Sting, An American in Paris, The Apartment and The Best Years of Our Lives. If you think Oscar nominees and winners past were better than Oscar nominees and winners current, this is your chance to reacquaint yourself with the back part of that equation, as well as more recent winners like 2001's A Beautiful Mind. Plus some of my personal favorites like Top Hat, Tootsie, The Awful Truth and Ninotchka. And the lesser-known Fred Astaire pic The Sky's the Limit, a musical from 1943 that cast Fred as a Flying Tiger who meets Joan Leslie on leave. It's not that great a film, but it was nominated for two Oscars, for Best Original Song (Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen's My Shining Hour) and Best Score.

If you can figure out the whole list of links from one film to the next, be sure to let me know. That's a gargantuan task, but so was figuring out a whole schedule of Oscar-iffic movies that tie together like that.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Now Through Sunday -- It's a Mini MACBETH Fest at the Normal Theatre

There are some very good Macbeths on film, but Akira Kurosawa's Throne of Blood from 1957 may just be the best. It's brilliant, no question, taking the Scottish lord to Japan as a general caught in a deadly spider's web of conflicted ambition and betrayal.

There is a lot to be said for the 1948 film directed by and starring Orson Welles -- his witches are really creepy even without bodies -- and the grim 1971 version directed by Roman Polanski is worth a look if you can stand the senselessness of the violence as he portrays it. I also liked a 2006 Macbeth set in contemporary Australia with Sam Worthington as Mr. M and a seriously nifty (and seriously bloody) stage Macbeth, starring Patrick Stewart, with an industrial chill that feels like Russia during World War II, captured for TV's Great Performances in 2010.

That means you can cue up the DVD player and do a Macbeth marathon with some excellent stuff included if you have a mind to. If you're content to do a mini-Macbeth-a-thon and you prefer your political intrigue, murder and mayhem on the big screen, the Normal Theater is here to give you exactly what you want. Tonight and Friday they're offering the Kurosawa samurai adaptation Macbeth, called Kumonosu-jô in Japanese or Throne of Blood in English, with Thursday, Saturday and Sunday showings of last year's international production of Macbeth, directed by Australian Justin Kurzel, starring Michael Fassbender, who is German and Irish, and Marion Cotillard, who is French, and filmed in Scotland and England.

Throne of Blood stars Kurosawa favorite Toshirô Mifune as Washizu, his Macbeth stand-in, with Isuzu Yamada as his Lady and Minoru Chiaki as Yoshiaki Miki, the Banquo of the piece. The film was shot on Mt. Fuji, purportedly to take advantage of the dark black volcanic soil that made for such stark contrast on film. There is atmosphere to burn, in everything from the mist and rain to the harsh silhouettes of samurai uniforms and towering castles, to the ghostly apparition Washizu sees spinning webs in the forest. This is a movie where sound -- or the absence of it -- and how it plays off the images in the frame are everything. The soft rustle of silk against silence or the ripple of a flock of birds leaving the trees makes as big an impact as the staccato stomp of soldiers' feet or the slash of a hundred arrows in the air. Kurosawa didn't use Shakespeare's words, but he interpreted them with sound and visual imagery that is simply stunning.

The 2015 Macbeth that airs tomorrow and over the weekend at the Normal Theater is more of a traditional Macbeth, sticking closer to Shakespeare in terms of the words, the characters and the plotline. Some of the text has been cut, as stage productions so often do, and an extra scene has been added at the beginning as a sort of prologue to give more motivation to why the Macbeths make the decisions they do later on. Kurzel has added a a film vocabulary of smoky, fiery visuals that turn his world into a rough, war-torn version of medieval Scotland. Fassbender's Macbeth seems to be pushed as much by grief and loss as by a hunger for power, and Cotillard brings an underlying softness and intelligence that helps makes her Lady M less of a monster and more compelling.

Seeing both movies is a great idea, mostly because they are so very different from each other. Steeped in different cultures and theatrical traditions, Throne of Blood and the Kurzel/Fassbender/Cotillard Macbeth make that much more of an impact seen side by side.

Click here to go to the Normal Theater website for details on showtimes and tickets.

Monday, January 25, 2016

You Know You Want to Hook Up With CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND Tonight

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend creator, writer and star Rachel Bloom is fresh off winning both the Golden Globe and Critics Choice Awards for Best Actress in a Comedy. Isn't it time you watched her show to see what all the fuss is about?

Before she was a Crazy Ex, Bloom was probably best known for her viral video F*ck Me, Ray Bradbury, in which she sang and danced and did some very naughty things with the Bradbury oeuvre. Bloom has kept up the Youtube thing as well as writing for shows like Robot Chicken. But Crazy Ex-Girlfriend takes her to a whole new level, along with a terrific supporting cast that includes Broadway stars (Santino Fontana, Vincent Rodriguez III, Donna Lynne Champlin) and TV vets from drama (Tovah Feldshuh) and comedy (Stephnie Weir, Cedric Yarbrough) alike.

Bloom and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend have gotten a lot of good press and, of course, those two awards (so far). But when it was still on our TVs before the holiday break, Crazy Ex pretty much languished at the bottom of the ratings. But that doesn't take the shine off how good it is or how much you really should watch it, especially if you like Broadway, musicals, fresh comedy and, well, women. It's that rare comedy that is actually directed at women, with a woman creator and star in Bloom and a lot of women behind the scenes as writers, directors and producers.

In Bloom's case, she's going for something that is "ballsy, honest and vulgar," as she tells the New York Times' Susan Dominus in a recent interview, as well as smart and a little geeky. Aside from a musical number about the horror of all the maneuvers women go through to look good ("The Sexy Getting Ready Song") and another about having a creepy girl-crush that sounds more like being a serial killer ("Feeling Kinda Naughty"), Bloom has incorporated an elegant black-and-white Fred-and-Ginger number ("Settle for Me") with Fontana and a big blow-out song about the weirdness of celebrating Christmas in hundred-degree weather ("California Christmastime") that includes both "historically low mountain snow causing staggering drought" and "eggnog fro-yo" in its lyrics. Clever, irreverent, off-balance and strange... All hiding under snazzy pop songs and bouncy dance moves.

If you want to tune in to all the Crazy Ex goodness tonight, you may want to know what's happened so far. Quickly... Rebecca Bunch, Bloom's character, is mostly smart and together when she's at her job -- she's a lawyer at a high-powered firm in New York when it all begins -- but not so much when it comes to her personal life. When she sees Josh Chan, a guy she had a quick thing with at camp when she was a teen, she decides on the spur of the moment to follow him to West Covina, California, to restart her life in the hopes of hooking Josh. That's where the crazy part comes in. Rebecca keeps telling people she didn't uproot her whole life just to pine after Josh, but we knows it isn't true. Girl is more than a little obsessed.

Ignore the whole thing about not taking a bar exam in California and instantly being able to jump into a job in a new (low-rent) West Covina law firm... Yeah, ignore that. Because Rebecca generally being a mess, contending with her own anxiety, trying to make new friends, stubbornly hanging onto the Josh thing even though he has a hot girlfriend, with all kinds of upsetting of your normal TV apple carts, is fun! It's fizzy! It's frequently scatalogical! Wheee!

Tonight, Rebecca rents a party bus to take Josh and his friends to the beach. Kenny Ortega, director and choreographer of High School Musical and choreographer of Dirty Dancing, directs this beachy episode where Rebecca appears to get down and dirty with a stripper pole on the bus. No word on whether my favorites Fontana and Champlin are in this one. I can't see either of them on that stripper pole, but you never know...

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend airs Monday nights at 7 Central on the CW.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

New Route Theatre Offers Two New Festivals for Black and LGBTQ Playwrights

New Route Theatre has two exciting projects coming up, with a playwriting competition aimed at producing staged readings of winning works written by LGBTQ authors and a second program of fully staged works by African-American playwrights from Illinois under the banner "Black Voices Matter: New Voices, New Plays, New Directions."

As of January 14, New Route is looking for new plays by Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, or Queer playwrights for a LGBTQ festival of staged readings scheduled for April. New Route will select three plays to be presented in readings April 22 through 24 in Bloomington-Normal. They are asking for submissions to be in by February 20, 2016, and they'd like to see materials submitted by email at

Duane Boutté
If you're submitting, you are asked to include "Attention: Duane Boutté" on your email. Duane Boutté , who is acting as the curator of this series, is a member of the faculty at Illinois State University's School of Theatre and Dance. A performer, director and playwright, he has appeared on Broadway and off-Broadway, at theaters across the United States, including the Goodman in Chicago and Arena Stage in Washington DC, and in film and television, as well. In 2015, Boutté directed Cabaret and Fences at ISU.

This festival of LGBTQ voices is presented in partnership with Bloomington-Normal's Prairie Pride Coalition.

Also coming up in February for New Route is their "Black Voices Matter: New Voices, New Plays, New Directions" festival, which has been created to showcase brand-new work written, directed and performed by African-Americans from Bloomington-Normal and Chicago.

New Route's three-day event will feature original poetry and plays, intended to "give voice to the current #‎BlackLivesMatter‬ movement." The pieces that form the "Black Voices" festival are Shades by Leola Bellamy, Black by Kamaya Thompson, and Glass Half Black by Matty Robinson. Dates and times are:

By Leola Bellamy
Thursday, February 18 at 7:30 pm

By Kamaya Thompson
Friday, February 19 at 7:30 pm

By Matty Robinson
Saturday, February 21 at 2:30 and 7:30 pm.

Performances will take place at the First Christian Church, 401 West Jefferson Street in Bloomington. Audiences will be offered an opportunity to interact with actors, playwrights and directors Jamelle Robinson and Gregory D. Hicks following each performance. New Route is encouraging audience members to attend all three shows to experience the full spectrum of voices. They're are presented free of charge, with a suggested donation of $5 at the door.

New Route Theatre’s mission -- to present "professional-quality theatre using a broad spectrum of artists who represent the community in all of its diversity" -- is clearly reflected in both festivals.

For more information about New Route Theatre or either of these projects, please contact Don Shandrow, Artistic Director or Jamelle Robinson, Development Director at or check them out on Facebook.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016


Hank (Joe Tougas, L) and Rita (Ann Rosenquist Fee, R) Prepare for the Show
Terri Ryburn is well-known to local audiences for her stand-up comedy, her acting and her playwriting skills, as well as her expertise on all things Route 66. Now Terri and her friend Kathi Davis have turned to producing -- the two have teamed up to bring a show called The Best of Hank and Rita: A Barroom Operetta to Bloomington-Normal, with the idea of not only putting on a show, but making a movie out of it. And you can be in that movie**!

Because producing requires funds, Terri will also be offering a night of stand-up as a fundraiser for the Hank and Rita project.

Ryburn explains, "One of my former students, Ann Rosenquist Fee, who lives in Minnesota, is in a singing duo called 'The Frye' with Joe Tougas. At their performances, people asked if they were married. (They were but not to each other.) They started saying, 'No, not anymore.' From that, Tougas wrote the lyrics and music for The Best of Hank and Rita: A Barroom Operetta, about a fictional couple. The show has gotten rave reviews in Minnesota."

She adds, "My friend, Kathi Davis, and I saw it and were so impressed that we are bringing it to Bloomington in January, and we are filming it. To raise funds for this project, I am performing stand-up comedy the night before the first performance of Hank and Rita. I’d love to have you come to one or both of these events. And please share this information with your friends!"

All of these events will take place at the Eagles Club, 313 South Main, in Bloomington. Here's what's on the schedule:

A Night of Comedy with Terri Ryburn
Thursday, January 28, 2016  -- 8 pm
Tickets are $10 at the door.
Terri describes her comedy as “clean, but edgy,” as she takes on "family, friends, the workplace, some ex-husbands, and other absurdities" in this comedy fundraiser.

The Best of Hank and Rita: A Barroom Operetta 
Friday, January 29, and Saturday, January 30, 2016 --  8 pm
Tickets are $15 in advance at or $20 at the door (if available).
The tag line is "See it now. Before it all goes to hell." A fictional husband-wife country-pop duo hit the Top 10 briefly in the 1970s but their career is in decline. It’s 1986 and they’ve been performing their show in small town after small town for years. Hank doesn’t know it, but Rita is leaving him after the show. She's done with waiting for things to change, in their career and in their marriage, but she’s giving herself one last good show.

**And if three nights of entertainment aren't enough, there's also The Best of Hank and Rita Movie. Plans are for the audience to function as extras for a short documentary-style film of the Hank and Rita experience. This short movie is intended to be submitted to film festivals and then used to raise funds for a full-length film. The whole enchilada would follow Hank and Rita from Illinois to California on Route 66. But for now... Word is that dancers are needed, especially those who know a Texas Two-Step from a Cowboy Cha Cha. If that sounds like you, you'll need to be available to rehearse Sunday, January 24, starting at 2 pm, and then for filming of the "mockumentary" on January 30 from 9 am to 3 pm. Contact Tricia Stiller (who will be dancing -- that's probably incentive enough, to get to dance on film with Tricia Stiller) at or Terri Ryburn at if you want to join in. To get in the mood, you can pop Urban Cowboy in the DVD player and brush up your country dance skills.

Some details about the Eagles venue... Parking is available in the Eagles lot south of the building, on the street, or in the parking deck one block north. Doors will open at 6:30 pm , with a cash bar, snacks and bar food available. Again, all three shows start at 8pm.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Playwright Sharyn Rothstein Wins 2015 Francesca Primus Prize for BY THE WATER

Playwright Sharyn Rothstein
The American Theatre Critics Association announced this week that playwright Sharyn Rothstein is the recipient of the 2015 Francesca Primus Prize for her play By the Water. The Primus Prize, which is awarded annually to an emerging woman playwright, comes with an award of $10,000.

By the Water takes place in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, in Staten Island, New York, as Marty and Mary Murphy must decide whether to try to rebuild their home and keep their devastated community afloat, or move away, as so many of their neighbors have done.

As Dramatists Play Service describes it, By the Water combines "fierce compassion and poignant humor." Its story begins with a natural disaster, but its issues are based more in the people around it.

"Hurricane Sandy has just ravaged the lifelong Staten Island home of Marty and Mary Murphy. But the storm has ripped apart more than just the walls: with their neighbors too devastated to stay, the couple’s beloved community is in danger of disappearing forever. Determined to rebuild, Marty wages a campaign to save his neighborhood and his home, but when the Murphys’ sons arrive to help their parents dig out, past betrayals come rushing to the surface."

The ATCA press release notes that "Rothstein tunes in so naturally to the rhythms of family life that it feels as if the audience is eavesdropping on real conversations, and critics compared By the Water to Arthur Miller’s quintessential American dramas."

The press release also quotes the playwright on her inspiration for the play, when she drove out to Staten Island after the storm to survey the areas earmarked for a buyout: “Leaving behind a community, a lifetime of memories, seemed like an enormous leap of faith and an incredibly difficult decision, but the destruction was gut wrenching. Yet, in front of one neat, clearly beloved house, a man who looked to be in his sixties was tending his lawn. With his whole neighborhood in ruins, with a majority of his neighbors already gone or figuring out how to leave, here was a man clearly standing firm. The image of him standing there amid so much loss was the genesis of my play.”

Click here to see an interview with Rothstein about her play.

Poster for By the Water at MTC Stage II
By the Water was commissioned as part of the The Writer’s Room, a two-year development program from Ars Nova and Manhattan Theatre Club that supports playwrights, enabling them to take risks with their work. The play received readings and a workshop before its premiere at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Stage II.

Sharyn Rothstein has a BA in sociology from Vassar, an MFA in dramatic writing from NYU and a master’s degree in public health from Hunter College, and she is an alum of the Ensemble Studio Theatre’s Youngblood collective and Primary Stages’ Dorothy Strelsin New American Writers Group. In addition to playwriting, Rothstein writes for the television legal drama Suits on the USA Network.

Rothstein and By the Water were selected from 39 applicants by a nationwide committee of critics. Recent winners of the Primus Prize include Jennifer Haley (The Nether, 2014), Stefanie Zadravec (The Electric Baby, 2013) and Tammy Ryan (Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods, 2012).

This year's finalists were Liz Duffy Adams (A Discourse on the Wonders of the Invisible World), Nambi Kelley (for her stage adaptation of Richard Wright’s Native Son), Tira Palmquist (Ten Mile Lake), Yasmine Rana (The War Zone Is My Bed) and Catherine Trieschmann (Hot Georgia Sunday).

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Arthur Miller's THE CRUCIBLE Opens at Community Players Tomorrow

Arthur Kennedy, Farley Granger, Robert Foxworth, Martin Sheen, Liam Neeson... And this year, British actor Ben Whishaw. What do they have in common? They've all played John Proctor, the flawed but deeply principled man at the heart of Arthur Miller's The Crucible on Broadway.

Miller's play puts Proctor and his wife Elizabeth in the crosshairs of the Salem witch trials. During a time when they were having marital difficulties, John Proctor had a sexual relationship with a young woman, a 17-year-old named Abigail, who worked as a servant in their house. When his wife suspected the infidelity, she sent the girl away, and now John is wracked with guilt, even as spurned Abigail plots a dangerous course. With a group of impressionable teen girls under her thumb, Abigail concocts a potent story of witchcraft and devil worship that sweeps through their strict Puritan town like a virus, infecting more and more people and spiraling ever more out of control. Before long, both John and Elizabeth Proctor are accused of making deals with the devil, and they must individually decide whether to confess falsely and live, or hold onto their principles and die.

Proctor is a great role for an actor, which explains why actors like Martin Sheen and Liam Neeson were drawn to it, along with Daniel Day-Lewis in the 1996 movie version of the play. Still, in the original Broadway production, it was Beatrice Straight as Elizabeth who walked away with the Tony Award.

Community Players opens their production of this American classic tomorrow night with a preview performance before its official opening night on Friday. The Crucible will play till January 24, with all weeknight performances at 7:30 pm and two Sunday matinees at 2:30 pm.

For Community Players, Samuel James Willis has the coveted role of John Proctor, with Hannah Artman as his wife Elizabeth and Vicky Snyder as Abigail. Tom Smith and Brian Artman appear as Reverends Parrish and Hale, the two ministers who begin the inquiry, while George Freeman and Nathan Bottorff-Gaik play the judges who won't let go once they are in charge. Cassandra Conklin, Cassie Greene, Trisha Bagby and Angela Throckmartin play the passel of teenagers who fly into fits and fantasies; Fania Bourn takes on the role of Tituba, the slave from Barbados whose tales first fire the imaginations of the girls; Quinn Biever, Jennifer Maloy and Paul Vellella play accusing witnesses; Drew German plays a friendly presence in the courtroom and the prison; and Joseph Culpepper, Nancy Nickerson, Joe Strupek and Lizzy Selzer are among those most hurt by the accusations. Alexis Godbee and Mikayla Meyers complete the ensemble.

For more information about the Community Players production of The Crucible, click here. To purchase tickets, visit this page.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Heartland's ART GALLERY 10-Minute Play Competition Open for Entries Till February 1

If you're still putting the finishing touches on your little work of art -- an ART GALLERY 10-minute play -- you have till February 1 to share it with Heartland Theatre.

Heartland's annual 10-minute play competition is always a popular part of its season, with last year's CLASS REUNION plays making a strong impression. If you'd like to see your work as part of this summer's 15th annual 10-Minute Play Festival, you have three weeks left to polish it up and get it in under the wire. Or under the sketch, painting, sculpture, textile... Or whatever other kind of art you've chosen to write about.

Robert Caney, Stage Set with Paintings and Statues

Here's how Heartland's website describes what they're looking for:
"Art has been used as a canvas to explore issues of creativity, culture, censorship, passion, talent, ownership, class, race, privilege and aspiration, with a variety of theatrical imaginations taking it as a jumping-off point.
"And it isn’t just one kind of drama… Art as a weapon, art as a scam, a political football, a gift or a forgery, tortured artists trying to create and unsure whether what they’re doing will matter, art as something reserved for the upper classes, some people’s art valued more than others because of the color of their skin… Whether you choose to write about one of those ideas or something completely different, there is fertile ground in an art gallery."
They're asking you to keep in mind that the theater will have to recreate your vision on stage, so what you want represented in front of an audience needs to be within the realm of the possible. Feel free to create any kind of theatrical art that can be accomplished at Heartland with two, three or four actors in about ten minutes.

Edouard Vuillard, The Conversation

For more information, click here. The official rules for the competition are here, with the entry form about 2/3 down the Rules page. Playwrights need to fill out and submit the entry form, attaching their plays right to that form. Questions should be directed to:

Paul Gaugin, Haystacks in Brittany

The artwork displayed here is from the National Gallery of Art's open access collection.

Friday, January 8, 2016

BAFTA Film Nominees Announced Today

Eddie Redmayne with his 2015 BAFTA Award
The British Academy of Film and Television Arts, commonly known as BAFTA, announced its nominees for film awards this morning in London, with Stephen Fry and Gugu Mbatha-Raw doing the honors.

So who's up for a BAFTA? Alicia Vikander nabbed nominations in both the leading and supporting actress categories for her work in The Danish Girl and Ex Machina, while Bridge of Spies, a Cold War spy and diplomacy drama starring Tom Hanks and directed by Steven Spielberg, emerged as a front-runner with nine nominations, matching the total for Carol, also a historical drama, but of a very different kind. Cate Blanchett stars as a woman in the midst of a difficult divorce in 1952 who meets a beautiful young shopgirl (Rooney Mara), changing her life and threatening custody of her child. Alejandro Innarritu's The Revenant, a story of Old West survival against overwhelming odds (and a bear) starring Leonardo DiCaprio, scored eight nominations, with female-centric futuristic dystopia Mad Max: Fury Road right behind with seven.

One interesting note: Director Ridley Scott was nominated for The Martian, even though the film itself didn't get a Best Film nod. Scott edged out Spotlight director Tom McCarthy. That film made the grade with a Best Film nomination, but McCarthy's direction was not chosen for the spotlight. (Sorry for the pun -- I couldn't help myself.) Spotlight, The Big Short and Trumbo have not been released in Britain yet, so Academy voters are presumably looking at screeners rather than seeing them on the big screen. That could make a difference in how those films are received.

It's also interesting that none of the British Academy's Outstanding British Film nominees cracked the overall Best Film list.

Here are the nominees in BAFTA's major awards categories:

The Big Short
Bridge Of Spies
The Revenant

45 Years
The Danish Girl
Ex Machina
The Lobster

Adam McKay, The Big Short
Steven Spielberg, Bridge Of Spies
Todd Haynes, Carol
 Ridley Scott, The Martian
Alejandro G. Inarritu, The Revenant

Brie Larson, Room
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
Cate Blanchett, Carol
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Maggie Smith, The Lady In The Van

Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Matt Damon, The Martian
Bryan Cranston, Trumbo

Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs
Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina
Rooney Mara, Carol
Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Julie Walters, Brooklyn

Benicio Del Toro, Sicario
Christian Bale, The Big Short
Idris Elba, Beasts Of No Nation
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Mark Rylance, Bridge Of Spies

The Assassin
Force Majeure
Wild Tales

Cartel Land
He Named Me Malala
Listen To Me Marlon

Inside Out
Shaun The Sheep

Bridge Of Spies
Ex Machina
The Hateful Eight
Inside Out

The Big Short
Steve Jobs

The British Academy will present its awards on Sunday, February 14 at the Royal Opera House in London. Stephen Fry is set to host the ceremony, which is broadcast in England on BBC One. In the US, you should be able to find it on BBC America, with red carpet coverage streaming on the BAFTA website.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Happy January! Happy 2016!

January may seem like a lesser month when it comes to entertainment, what with most local colleges and theaters waiting for February to launch their years, but there is actually a lot out there if you know where to look. Some of your favorite television shows will be coming back after the holiday hiatus, the awards season heats up, and movie theaters will be showing many of the potential nominees who hadn't made it before Christmas. You're well advised to keep an eye on listings and schedules if you don't want to miss out.

The 2015 Kennedy Center Honors
And speaking of missing out... If you were too busy with your own celebrations to see the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors, where luminaries Carole King, George Lucas, Rita Moreno, Seiji Ozawa and Cicely Tyson were honored, you'll want to head over to without delay. You can watch the whole show, which included performances and tributes from Aretha Franklin, who brought down the house when she sang King's "Natural Woman,"as well as Sara Bareilles, Yo-Yo Ma, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Karen Olivo, Steven Spielberg, James Taylor, CeCe Winans and even C-3P0 and R2-D2.

Since singer/songwriter extraordinaire Carole King was one of the honorees, I would be remiss if I didn't tell you that Beautiful, the Broadway musical, which uses King's songbook to chart her early career and rise to stardom, is in Chicago at the Oriental Theatre through February 21. King did indeed write "the soundtrack to a generation." Or maybe more than one generation.

If you are a Downton Abbey fan, you will want to stick close to home (and your telly) tomorrow night, when Downton begins its sixth and final season here in the Colonies. It's already finished up in England, but we get to start our new season at 8 pm on local PBS stations. If you're wondering what's in store for the Crawleys and their servants, let's just say that Season 6 has plenty of romance, intrigue, hints at the future and sweet goodbyes. 

The Art Theater Co-op in Champaign has all kinds of goodies in the queue for January, starting right now with The Danish Girl, starring Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe, on screen through Thursday the 7th. Director Tom Hooper (The King's Speech) is at the helm of this fictionalized love story based on events in the real Elbe's life early in the 20th century. Alicia Vikander plays Gerda Wegener, married to Elbe when he was still Einar Wegener, as well as a painter herself.

After The Danish Girl has departed, you can catch Mel Brooks' space parody Spaceballs on January 8; Jane Eyre, a filmed stage show offered in conjunction with the National Theatre Live program from London, screened on the 9th, and John Carpenter's classic horror flick The Thing on the 22nd. Visit The Art's site here for details on these and other films on their January calendar.

The Normal Theater has some dandy choices of its own coming in January, with Alfred Hitchcock's Rope up first on January 5. This psychological thriller sticks professor James Stewart at a strange party hosted by two of his students, played by Farley Granger and John Dall. The two have murdered a fellow student and stuck his body inside a chest in the very apartment where they're having their party. They think they've staged the perfect crime. Will their professor figure it out?

That's followed by Orson Welles' Touch of Evil, famous for a very long tracking shot that opens the film, as well as for Welles' own larger-than-life performance as a corrupt border-town cop, on January 6 and 7; Preston Sturges' charming and saucy romantic comedy The Lady Eve, with Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda as a mismatched pair of lovers, on January 19, and a mini-Macbeth film festival that pairs Akira Kurosawa's Throne of Blood with a 2015 film version of Macbeth that stars Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard as the murderous couple, with the two films on screen between January 27 and 31. You can't miss with any of those options, or, for that matter, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Lawrence of Arabia or Clue. To see what's on when, check out the January calendar on the Normal Theater site.

Although Heartland Theatre is dark in January, they are hosting a "mock audition" workshop for the Illinois Theatre Association on January 10, starting at 2 pm. This workshop is intended to help actors who want to know more about the important art of trying out, along with the scoop on headshots, resumes and how to "make the most out of your 90 seconds on stage." There is no charge for members of the Illinois Theatre Association and a $10 fee for others. Click here for more information or here to register. 

You may also want to give a look at the annual Golden Globe Awards, airing later on January 10 on NBC. There are a total of about 80 voters, half the attendees seem to be sloshed, and you can never guarantee if the winners will be ridiculous, hilarious or just plain odd, but they do put TV and film people together and they do (occasionally) get it right. The live broadcast of the Golden Globes will begin at 7 Central on NBC on Sunday the 10th. To check out who's nominated, you can visit my rundown of the list here.

Masterpiece's modern-day Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman was back for a special Victorian outing called Sherlock: The Abominable Bride on January 1, simulcast to some pretty nifty ratings on both sides of the Atlantic. BBC One, PBS and Masterpiece are kind enough to offer an encore broadcast of Sherlock, Watson and and their Abominable Bride on the very same January 10 as the Golden Globes, at 9 pm that night Central time. After that encore, you will also be able to see the 90-minute show at Until then, there are all kinds of fun bits of insider info here, including the trailer and a behind-the-scenes look at how they recreated Victorian London.

Arthur Miller's The Crucible takes the stage at Community Players Theatre for two weekends, beginning with a preview on January 14. Players' cast includes Samuel James Willis as John Proctor, a proud and honest man caught up in the Salem witch trials, Hannah Artman as his wife Elizabeth, Vicky Snyder as Abigail Williams, a manipulative young woman who fans the flames of hysteria and persecution in Salem, and Fania Bourn as Tituba, a West Indian slave woman who becomes another victim when witch-hunting hits its peak. The Crucible won the 1953 Tony Award for Best Play for its original production, along with a Best Featured Actress Award for Beatrice Straight, who played Elizabeth Proctor.

One of my favorite comedies currently on TV, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, comes back with new episodes starting January 25th on the CW. When we last saw Rebecca (the crazy person in the title), she was hosting her mother for the holidays while still yearning after Josh Chan, the sweet but kind of dim boy she once loved, while Greg, the friendly neighborhood bartender who is much better suited to her, was having Mom problems of his own. Oh, yeah, and they were all singing and dancing, along with Rebecca's boss and her friend at work, AND her neighbor, Heather, who is now apparently dating Greg. Oops! The musical numbers and the top-notch cast -- Rachel Bloom, Donna Lynne Champlin, Santino Fontana and Vincent Rodriguez III, for starters -- make this a worthwhile way to spend your Mondays at 7. Much better than any Bachelor(ette), am I right?

Back on the local scene, you may want to make room for A Night of Comedy with Terri Ryburn on Thursday, January 28th at the Eagles Club, 313 S. Main Street in Bloomington. Terri describes her comedy as "clean, but edgy," noting that she happily takes on "family, friends, the workplace, some ex-husbands, and other absurdities" in this comedy fundraiser that aims to bring something called The Best of Hank and Rita to town. Parking is in the Eagles lot south of the building, on the street, or in the parking deck one block north. Doors open at 6:30pm, with a cash bar, snacks, and bar food available, and Terri's Night of Comedy starting at 8.

After that, it's straight on to The Best of Hank and Rita. What is it? It's a Barroom Operetta, of course, about a fictional husband-and-wife country-pop duo who hit the top of the charts briefly in the 70s, but have been on the skids more recently. As the show opens, it's 1986, and Rita is planning to leave Hank as soon as this show is over. Except he doesn't know that, which is where the honky tonk and tears come in. Hank and Rita will also play at the Eagles Club, on Friday, January 29, and Saturday, January 30, at 8 pm each night. Tickets are $15 in advance at or $20 at the door (if any are still available). Terri's plans for Hank and Rita are more complicated than just these two nights of show, but I will save that for a more complete preview closer to the shows. For more information now, contact Terri Ryburn at or Kathi Davis at

If you have room to squeeze in another awards show, you might want to make it the Screen Actors Guild Awards, broadcast on both TNT and TBS on January 30. This one tends to be a bit more subdued than the Globes, but a lot better prognosticator for the Oscars and the Emmys, and, hey, at least they didn't nominate Lady Gaga, so there's that. But that doesn't mean I've forgiven SAG for ignoring Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Fargo and The Leftovers and their fantastic actors. I doubt they care whether I'm throwing a hissy. But I still am.