Wednesday, December 09, 2009

SOB's Theatrical Firsts Of The Noughties: My Steppenwolf Love Affair

SOB's Theatrical Firsts Of The Noughties: My Steppenwolf Love Affair

Over the course of the last decade, I’ve been truly fortunate to enjoy a never-ending number of enlightening firsts in my personal theatregoing. Each has only served to increase my deep and abiding love for the art form known as live theatre. What follows is one of my ten favorite experiences of the last ten years.

While Time magazine may have dubbed the Noughties as “the decade from hell” with myriad reasons to support that claim, I’ll always remember the last ten years for my introduction to the two great loves of my life.

Aside from The Love Of My Life, who has been my soul mate and partner in crime around the world for the last two-thirds of the decade, my other noteworthy love affair that continues to flourish is with a Chicago-based non-profit that has been providing me with nearly ten years of intellectual stimulation since I first laid eyes on its breathtaking work.

Back in 2001, prior to the horrific attacks of 9/11 that forever altered our outlook on life, I had the opportunity to take in an excellent revival of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest at Broadway’s then Royale Theatre. The Terry Kinney-helmed play had just won the Tony for Best Revival, so I was buzzing with anticipation. As only a budding theatre aficionado at that time, I was still unfamiliar with Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre or its stellar reputation. But as the curtain fell on that show, I was already blown away by the likes of Steppenwolf co-founder Gary Sinise as Randle P. McMurphy and ensemble member Amy Morton as the notorious Nurse Ratched. With an indelible impression made, I wanted to know more about this theatre company. Steppenwolf was forever on my personal radar.

Fast forward to the summer of 2002 when one of my close friends from Australia was visiting the United States. Paul Battye had a very limited itinerary, but one of the places on it was Chicago. Since I had pledged I’d meet up with him somewhere during the course of his trip, I decided that I’d make my way to the Windy City. Once there, I learned that near the top of his to-do list was taking in a production at Steppenwolf. While our other local friends passed on the opportunity, I said I was in.

He told me that the production currently playing was something called Purple Heart. To be honest, I could have cared less what it was since I was excited I’d have a chance to see a Steppenwolf production on its own home turf. Little did I know that my captivation from seeing Bruce Norris’ compelling play starring Christopher Evan Welch, Rosemary Prinz and Laurie Metcalf would make a devoted personal involvement with Steppenwolf inevitable.

Less than three years later, I took a position with a major PR firm in Chicago, of all places (where, among other things, I learned about the increasingly vital role that blogging would play in mass media and a burgeoning social networking). Because another friend of mine was already involved in Steppenwolf’s Auxiliary Council’s Board of Governors and recognized my deep-seated love for live theatre as well as my enormous respect for this Chicago institution, he asked if I had any interest in joining that group. I didn’t even hesitate in saying “yes.”

By the time I left Chicago barely a year later for other professional opportunities, I had become deeply immersed in the Steppenwolf culture. Talk about a tight knit organization. I had seen almost every show their three stages offered, and I had become acquainted with so many exceptional people behind the scenes that I simply could not let go. Icing on the cake was having one opportunity after another in meeting many of the exceptional array of ensemble actors.

Because moving away from Chicago presented its own challenges in my ability in providing a minimum level of commitment I believed necessary toward contributing as a solid member of the Board of Governors, I ultimately resigned from the body sometime in 2006, but pledged my support via the next best means: financially. I am proud to say I’m a member of Steppenwolf’s Director’s Circle of donors. I believe so wholeheartedly in this extraordinary theatre company that I am pleased to lend it my financial support.

One of the benefits of being a Director’s Circle donor is that I regularly attend nearly all of the opening nights of Steppenwolf’s seasons. While I can’t say that I’ve seen each and every production with the same level of enjoyment, I profess that each has challenged me in profound ways I could never have anticipated.

Despite my ongoing support, I have not shied away from telling you how I really feel about productions I have reviewed in this space. However, it probably goes without saying that the majority of Steppenwolf’s productions have made me enormously proud to be counted as one of its supporters -- otherwise, why would I continue to support it?

Certainly the best of those productions I’ve seen is a little Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning play you may have heard of: August: Osage County. Due to an unfortunate scheduling conflict, I was unable to get back to Chicago for its opening night, but when I hit the Windy City just a couple weeks later and took in the production, I was simply blown away by its depth and breadth.

All my pride in Steppenwolf came gushing out in ways it never had before. I suddenly found myself championing a Broadway transfer for Tracy Letts’ superb work. I even mentioned in my SOB Review that this play deserved Pulitzer Prize buzz.

While I wasn’t able to get to the delayed August: Osage County’s opening night on Broadway due to major upheavals in my professional life (which ultimately worked out for the best), I did manage to see the show three times on the Great White Way. I also had the rare opportunity to personally cheer it on in live at the 2008 Tony Awards and afterwards at the show’s very own Tony party, and even finally saw an opening night when most of the original cast transferred to London’s National Theatre a year ago last Thanksgiving.

Now, I’ve begun contemplating a journey Down Under for this play’s mounting at the Sydney Theatre Company with many of its original cast, but in the meantime, I can’t wait to see it again next spring as it tours the United States.

As for Steppenwolf itself, it’s been an honor and quite a thrill to continue supporting this vital organization and take in each new play that opens there. But to bring this post full circle, I have to thank Steppenwolf’s Director of Development Sandy Karuschak. You see, I recently regaled her on how it was love at first sight with Steppenwolf by taking in One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest. And you know what? Barely a week later, she graciously sent me an exquisite poster from the show autographed by the entire cast – a keepsake of my ongoing love affair that I’ll forever treasure.

So, I'll close out this first post of my decade's worth of personal firsts by saying, if you’ve never been to Steppenwolf in Chicago, you haven’t seen live theatre.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

In keeping with the new Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulations that unfairly discriminate against bloggers, who are now required by law to disclose when they have received anything of value they might write about, please note that I have received nothing of value in exchange for this post. I more than paid my own way for each of the performances outlined, although as noted above, the theatre was kind enough to recognize my love for it by sending me a poster. Eat your heart out, FTC.

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At 10 December, 2009, Blogger Esther said...

Hey Steve,

What a wonderful tribute!

I'm so glad you were an early champion of "August: Osage County" after seeing it in Chicago because that convinced me to see it very early in its Broadway run.

It was my first chance to see a Steppenwolf production and I was just totally absorbed by the story and blown away by the incredibly talented ensemble.

To me, it was a perfect example of the great theatre that occurs all over this country.

Hopefully someday I'll get to Chicago to see Steppenwolf on its home turf!


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