Adventures in the Mid-west: Chicago and the DirectorsLab

At the Dusable BridgeSo my time in the mid-west has drawn to an end and I for me personally its necessary to process all the info on a level that involves ‘writing out’ what I have experienced over the past week. This isn’t a discussion of the DirectorsLab specifically (that I will do later) but more about visiting and effectively living in Chicago over the past week.Chicago’s stunning architecture

I make that distinction because while on the one hand the labels of foreigner/tourist/outsider may apply I was fortunate enough to have a completely immersive Chicago experience. Five years ago I was in the USA finishing a degree at UCLA and I promised myself I would come back again especially as my travels (while wonderful) concentrated mostly on the Southern states – heavily influenced of course by the fact it was winter.

After a very drawn out flight from Auckland, New Zealand to San Fran, USA (delayed by almost 5 and ½ hours) I touched down tired and most certainly very grumpy to discover that not only had I missed my connection but I had missed the next connection too – and therefore was on a 10.50 pm flight to Chicago due to arrive at 5am the next morning. Originally I should have been there at 9.30pm.

At Millennium ParkLuckily enough however, Ms. Rose Freeman, the lovely lady who shared her heart and home with me stillAt Guthrie’s Tavern: a collection of theatre directors picked me up at the unearthly hour on what was now Friday morning in the USA. Rose, her wife and three other beautiful ladies were the residents of a fab little apartment in Logan Square. I didn’t quite have time to appreciate the natural beauty of the neighbourhood as I was still recovering but after a delicious brekkie of eggs and toast I did feel a whole lot better. And that’s one of the beauties of living with locals. While hotels (if you’re willing to pay the price of a good one) are excellent choices) they can’t quite afford the personal touch and I think that makes all the difference.

My first day was thus spent in sporadic sleeping fits and exploring the neighbourhood of Logan Square which after a week I will Inspiration at the Chicago Cultural Centreadmit started to feel like home. The evening was spent with a group of Rose’s friends engaging in conversations and uh, other activities.

I had decided to give myself one day on either side of the lab to explore ChicagoFreud’s Last Session at the Mercury and I’m very glad I did. Transport costs are cheap (7 day multi-pass is only $23!) and while downtown didn’t actually have a stop called ‘downtown’ I just asked some people and ended up on Washington Street. What a great day! After I spent an exorbitant amount on a charger I decided to do the famous Architectural tour and two hours later was perhaps the best orientated I’d ever been with a city. Not to mention chockfull of the scenery. I also made friends on the tour with a woman whose son is a ‘sizzle editor’ for all you film buffs and we talked about stage and film and Wonderful Internsgenerally solved the problems of the industry. The rest of the day was spent in wandering around downtown – I did have a quick look at the Chicago cultural centre (since that would be the place I’d be spending the next six days) but in general it was re-acquainting myself with the delights of summerThe 100 year old Athenaeum theatre during the afternoon and during the early part of the evening witness a gigantic storm roll in. Note: there is nothing in Forever 21 that I like. Zilch. Note to Aussies n Kiwis Forever 21 is NOT Forever New.

Learning about Neursocience - Credit: Anita Evans The Lab itself was a mixture of a number of things. The theme this year was Left Brain/Right Brain. Intense, challenging, inspiring and I loved every minute of it. I have never been in a room with 25 other directors – all with a huge range of skills, techniques, knowledge and most importantly – a willingness to share those. We had numerous guest artists including Dr. Builder (a neuroscientist at the UCLA Centre for ..) Anne Bogart’s SITI company (I have a completely new and improved understanding of viewpoints) conversation with Tod Rosenthal (how often does an award winning scenic designer come in and talk to a group of directors) a session with Artistic Director of Neo-Futurists Greg Allen and a range of different technique sessions with experts in Alexander Technique, Brain Gym and even a Yoga session.

Equally important, as we were all stage directors we saw a range of different productions.The Alexander Technique - Credit: Anita Evans The local ChicagoShakes production of Taming of the Shrew, the final dress run of 500 Clowns: Trapped (which was definitely a highlight), Freud’s Last Session and what seemed to be everyone’s favourite: Death and Harry Houdini. I also got a pin for being the furthest travelled person at the show which was kinda cool. The lab was held at the Chicago Cultural Centre and it was such a gift to be working in a beautiful building with magnificent views right in the heart of Chicago.

With half the directors being local and the other half from all over the country there was only another Canadian director (who now lives in LA) and myself who were real ‘out-of-towners’. However, every year the lab has a different number of foreigners who apply and while initially the cultural references (especially about local theatre) were flying past me I am really glad to have had such an in-depth opportunity to learn how Chicago’s local theatre scene operates.

One of the most productive, exciting and challenging things about the lab was over the weekMaking magic at the Directors Lab ( Credit: Anita Evans) we were put into groups based on our personality (for example I’m an ENFJ – Extrovert/Naturalist/Feeling/Judging – NOT Judgemental there is a difference) and asked to come up with a model for our artistic company. I have never had the desire to have my own company, in fact I’m at a stage when I deliberately want to continue freelancing and continue doing more Ass. Dir work. However, I feel that after all five groups had shared their thoughts and research (and we did this by examining a range of different companies and looking at their models) that I have a much better idea of the different
aspects of how to make a company work successfully.

I will write more in-depth about the Lab but that will be a formal write-up and involves heavily referencing a lot of notes so that paper will be a while in the making. One of the other great things about the Lab was the number of relationships and collaborations that are already beginning to seed. Over copious amount of liquid refreshment, the occasional gigantic pie (aka Chicago deep Dish pizza) and numerous lunch conversations at Millennium Park and suburban backyard chats the group had the opportunity to bond and at the end (as those of you who have seen the photos) we did look like a pretty happy mob.

My last day (remember an extra day after the lab had ended) was spent once View from the John Hancock Observatoryagain enjoying the delights of wandering and after having collected my stash from Victoria’s Secret I then proceeded to the Hancock signature lounge to checkout the view. Yes, the ladies toilets have the best view. While waiting in line (this is free so even at 11am it was a half an hour wait) I made friends with a lovely couple from Florida who invited me to join them and we became great friends overlooking the sights of the greater metropolis that I Chicago. Lake Michigan – there is a reason you are called GREAT! After that I headed to a favourite pastime
that is only ever possible in America: finding some collector’s editions of Archie comics. After a delightful 45 minutes talking to the Graham Crackers ( what knowledge the man has and discussing how the 40s, 50s and 60s were the heyday of Archie comics I walked away with a 1950s collectors edition, multiple comics and a gigantic poster that just fits into my bag! Whee!

The Field MuseumI then proceeded to walk all the way to the Field museum (proceeding to tell lost tourist the ways to the different attractions along Magnificent Mile) and making friends with strangers along the way. Its quite a good habit to develop to all you single travellers because you need someone to take photos of you and if they’re friendly you can ask that to take a second one as well. I only had just over an hour and my UCLA student ID got me in for a mere $10 and I went straight to the section on the history of the Americans (WOW!) and the evolving planet so I could look at the dinos.

The Field MuseumI then staggered out (still carrying all my loot including a poster that was rapidly getting heavier its built on card) and rather than take a bus convinced myself that my new Nike’s were telling me t o just keep trudging. See I wasn’t clichéd. Ten minutes later I heard music and one of the things I had been grumbling about (mostly inaudibly) was that I hadn’t had a chance to go dancing – and I really wasn’t that keen on the Viagara triangle. This however, was Chicago Summer Dance and they were doing hip-hop! What a fabulous 45 minutes. I made friends (again rather quickly) so I could stash my stuff with some people and then proceeded to dance away with at least another 200 people – mostly African Americans. So yes, I got my dancing and I wended my way home a very happy gal.

And so my incredibly busy and wonderful Chicago experience has come to an end but my Canadian experience has just started and its shaping up to be quite an adventure. Stay tuned.