By ERIC SCHELKOPF
Chicago's Otherworld Theatre Company knows the value of science fiction and fantasy in helping us understand each other better.
In that same fashion, Otherworld Theatre, www.otherworldtheatre.org, this month will present the Midwest premiere of "Of Dice and Men." The production will run from March 6-30 at The Public House Theatre, 3914 N. Clark St., Chicago.
Tickets are $15, and are available at www.pubhousetheatre.com.
I had the chance to talk artistic director and founder Tiffany Keane about the upcoming production.
Q - Great talking to you. Otherworld Theatre Company next month will present the Midwest premiere of "Of Dice and Men." What made you want to direct the play in the first place?
Initially, we struggled with finding the right fantasy play for Otherworld Theatre to produce.
We had just ended our production of Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451." The production left us so invigorated and inspired.
We received such an amazing response from our patrons - how they were impacted by the storytelling. The best compliment came from a middle aged couple who came up to me after the show and told me that they were going to start reading more.
To me, it solidified to me why the work we were doing was important. It answered the question for us to why putting science fiction on stage is important.
So after "Fahrenheit 451," we needed a play to answer that question for our fantasy storytelling.
After reading at least 30 fantasy plays and books that we could have adapted, I stumbled on Cameron McNary's "Of Dice and Men" accidentally while searching for a book. I remember reading the one sentence synopsis: "Set in 2006, the play is about a group of Dungeons and Dragons players and what happens when one of the players enlists to go into the Marines."
I immediately contacted Cameron and asked him if I could read his script. I remember how weirdly nervous I was waiting for him to respond.
I was researching the play - how the script was showcased as a staged reading at PAX - how people waited in line for hours to see the show. How people reacted to the storytelling. I was anxious and excited.
Cameron promptly sent me the script. From the first page I was hooked and by the last page, these characters had become my best friends.
John Francis, who serves as Dungeon Master for the narrative as well as the game, has a crisis. As his good friend enlists to the military, why does he feel compelled to play make-believe and play Dungeons and Dragons?
Is it childish to play make-believe when there are greater things at stake?
Now, to answer your question, I wanted to direct this play because the characters were asking the same questions I was at the time. Why does fantasy matter? Why is what we imagine important?
What do we get from fantastical storytelling? At the end of the day, that's all gaming that is: it's a group of friends who sit around the table to tell each other stories.
So, if you want those answers, go see this play.
Q - How did you go about choosing the cast and what do you think they bring to the roles?
The cast is a great blend of actors in our ensemble and people we who auditioned for particular roles. My focus in casting this show in particular was finding the right dynamic between characters and to pair the right energies.
We started our process with a table reading of the script, and for that we pooled mostly from our ensemble. The chemistry around table between the actors was so palpable, I knew they had to be in the show.
Casting the two characters of Linda and Brandon was initially a challenge, but in the end I found the right people.
Every actor brings something unique to their roles, but what I love about this cast is what they bring to each other. They all listen to each other actively.
I have seen the show countless times in rehearsal, and I am never bored for a second. I am always intrigued by the chain of reactions that ripple throughout the cast.
When I watch them, it seems like they have all been friends for years when in reality they have only known each other for a year at the most.
Q - What messages do you want people to come away from the play? Is it a message that everyone can appreciate, even those who are not fans of science fiction or fantasy?
The messages I would like people to walk away with: The power of storytelling, friendship, and how people use those stories to face adversity in their real lives.
You do not have to be a gamer to appreciate "Of Dice and Men." I wasn't a gamer before I started this rehearsal process and I fell in love with the play.
It maybe about gamers, but it speaks to everyone. As the playwright Cameron McNary said, "You don't have to be a gamer to get "Of Dice and Men" and more than you have to be a 19th-century Russian Jew to get "Fiddler on the Roof."
Gamers who have seen the play have said they felt like someone was finally telling their story; non-gamers have said they felt touched by hearing it."
Q - What makes science fiction and fantasy so intriguing to you?
They are two different facets of human imagination. Fantasy is the human potential in face of adversity taken to the extreme with the addition of the supernatural.
Science fiction a hypothesis in the consequences of human potential. I love that Otherworld Theatre has the opportunity to tell those stories side by side and offers us a unique lens into our own humanity.
Q - You are the artistic director and founder of Otherworld Theatre. What was your idea in creating the Otherworld Theatre in the first place? How far do you think the theatre has come in meeting its goals since being started in June 2012?
Otherworld Theatre Company was propelled by the loss of the author Ray Bradbury. He passed shortly after I graduated in May from Columbia College in 2012.
I was facing an unseeable future with a theatre degree, and it scared me to death.
My directing thesis was a production of "1984," and I saw the potential in pursuing science fiction and fantasy on stage, but I felt so young. There are so many theatre companies in Chicago, over 300, and the thought of starting my own theatre company right out of school terrified me.
But then we lost Ray Bradbury. He was a personal hero of mine - he inspired me to be a storyteller. I felt a great emptiness with his passing and held such regret that I was never able to meet him.
That is when I had the idea to meet him through his work- to direct "Fahrenheit 451" - and to do that, I would have to produce and if I am producing, I might as well start a company.
Hence, Otherworld Theatre was born.
Otherworld's first goal was so put up the Ray Bradbury festival. It wasn't that I didn't have lofty dreams for Otherworld, but that is what the focus was.
We had fundraisers, parties, film festivals - I was desperate to do anything that would make sure that The Ray Bradbury Festival would happen and would happen right.
That goal was reached and has just skyrocketed since then to the point of receiving national attention. I'm still in a state of shock.
Q - It seems that Otherworld Theatre has carved out a pretty unique niche in the theatre world. Do you think that has given you an edge, especially since there are so many theatre options out there?
I am sure it gives us an edge, but that was never my goal when I created Otherworld Theatre Company. I just truly enjoy science fiction and fantasy stories and wanted to tell them on stage and sought out like-minded people.
I hope our true edge is that people recognize that we are a passionate theatre company passionate about what we do.
Q - What's next for the theatre? What productions would you like to see Otherworld Theatre tackle?
So many goals. So many dreams.
We are looking into having a reading series of new work. "The Paragon Plays" will be a series of staged readings of new science fiction and fantasy plays where we can have our patrons actively engaged in our play selection process.
Also, after the success of The Ray Bradbury Festival, we are looking into celebrating one famous science fiction or fantasy author a year.
We are in talks now of who we are thinking for our next festival, but we can't currently release any further information. It'll have to be a surprise.