Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Black Fox Theatre bringing new excitement to Chicago theater scene

Photo by Grant Terzakis

By ERIC SCHELKOPF

There is an exciting new addition to Chicago's theatre scene.

After launching earlier this year, Black Fox Theatre, www.blackfoxtheatre.com, will present its second production, "The Nerd," from Aug. 9 to Sept. 1 at Athenaeum Theatre's Studio Two, 2936 N. Southport Ave., Chicago.

Tickets are $25, available at www.athenaeumtheatre.org. 

I had the chance to talk to "The Nerd" director Mary Reynard and Black Fox Theatre producer Jasmine Ryan about the upcoming production and how Black Fox Theatre came to be.

Interview with Mary Reynard

Q - This is Black Fox's second production. What made you want to do The Nerd as your second show?

This is my first time working with Black Fox Theater. I was excited about directing "The Nerd" because I am a fan of playwright Larry Shue, and I had been looking for a comedy to direct.

Also, having lived through - or should I say having "survived" - the '70s, it is set in a decade of which I am very familiar with and fond of.


Q - Of course, Larry Shue, who wrote "The Nerd," grew up in Glen Ellyn. Do you think that creates additional interest in the play?

Knowing that Larry Shue grew up in this area is inspirational and interesting.  He is one of us.

Q - In staging "The Nerd," what are you looking to do that is different from previous productions of the play? What should people expect from your production?

"The Nerd" was first produced in 1982, when the '70s were still at the forefront of peoples minds. Now in 2013, 31 years have passed and the culture and consciousness of the 70's is quite different from present day. 
Photo by Grant Terzakis
I am directing the classic comedy of the writing within the cultural ethos and mindset of the '70s. So there is really an added dimension to directing and performing it now.  

Q - What do you like about working with Black Fox Theatre as opposed to other theaters?

The actors in this ensemble are all talented, intelligent, wildly imaginative and very receptive. Every direction I have given, every idea I have thrown out has been instantly received and executed. 

That level of receptivity and capability sets them apart. This has enabled me as the director to go even deeper into the material which is not only satisfying but great fun. 

Expect a wild ride with a great ensemble.

Interview with Jasmine Ryan

Q - What were your goals in creating Black Fox Theatre? Do you think you have accomplished some of them? 

Black Fox was really created to produce the works that "slip through the cracks" in Chicago. We found there are some really great shows out there that don't get done because they don't necessarily fit into a niche like "Women Empowerment" or "Theatre of the Absurd."  



We left the door open for new work, established work, musical, comedy, drama, etc. If it's a good work that might not get produced easily somewhere else, it's on our table.  

We've only done two shows so far, but I think we're well on our way to making this goal happen; we've gotten a lot of great response from people and heard a lot of "Oh, I remember this one great play...!"  

As we've gone through the process, we've fallen in love with casting and hiring crew. I think another goal has developed of building a very strong network of people who support each other and giving people as much work as we can.

Q - You also had served as Associate Artistic and Executive director of Oil Lamp Theater in Glenview, and you are also working on your first country music album. Is it hard juggling all your activities? Do you see your work at Black Fox Theatre complementing what you do at Oil Lamp Theater? 

Starting Black Fox has taught me a lot about time management and helped clarify my priorities and my passions.

When Black Fox was first starting I was not only working at Oil Lamp, I was performing there, performing for three children's theatre companies, and working at a gym.  Whew!  

I used to sit down and make all sorts of charts and lists about getting things done, but then I noticed that the things at which I'm really good and the things that most ignite my passion were getting done without cross-referencing timetables.  

I try to make all the work I do complement, though sometimes it's a stretch. I took a lot of what I learned from my position at Oil Lamp over to Black Fox.  

Most importantly, I learned a lot about how I want to treat people and it seems to be working so far - Black Fox has already gotten to work with amazing talents on and off the stage.

All that being said, it's important to note that Black Fox isn't just me. 

Without Megan, Martin, and Keith, we certainly wouldn't be even where we are today. There's a saying I hold dear:  If you're the smartest person on your team, you're in trouble. Thankfully I'm not!
 
Q - What do you think of the theater scene in the Chicago area and where do you see Black Fox Theatre fitting into that scene? With all the theater options that people in this area have to choose from, has it been hard getting the word out about Black Fox Theatre?

I'm a relative newcomer to Chicago, having been here a little more than three years now. 

One of the first things I noticed about the theater scene here is that there seems to be a great divide between the musical and the non-musical worlds; I see very little crossover between the two when it comes to performers.  

I don't know if that comes more from the performers or companies, but, as it relates to our mission statement above, I'm excited by the idea of being a company that doesn't "discriminate" based on training or the bulk of a resume, per se.  

Perhaps the thing I love most about Chicago theater is that there is a network of people here who are fearless and enthusiastic. They're not necessarily the ones you'll see on all the big stages, some are on stage, some are off, but there are people here who just "get it" when it comes to putting together a production.  

I've been very fortunate to tap into that network and I look forward to continuing to connect such people to the work they want to do.

Our first show was a Midwest premiere, so we faced a lot of challenges getting the word out - an unknown show produced by an unknown company. The actors and the production value were well-reviewed, though, and that started a bit of a grassroots buzz for us.  

It can be difficult to get the attention of a potential audience, but we always approach it in a spirit of cooperation - we partner with other theaters to offer discounts for people seeing both shows, we're doing joint fundraisers, etc.
 

Q - What productions would you like to stage in the future at Black Fox Theatre? What are your short-term and long-term goals for Black Fox Theatre?

I can tell you two shows that came closest to getting mounted this year were "Rumors" and "Kimberly Akimbo." We've had several people approach us with works both new and established to see about producing them and we love that!

Our shortest-term goal, of course, is to make "The Nerd" a success! After that, we're going to go on a bit of a hiatus to firmly develop our infrastructure.

We dove in to two very different shows that taught us a lot of valuable lessons, so now we want to step back, bring in the remaining team members we need, and really establish our foundation on the back end so we can launch into our next season that much stronger.