By ERIC SCHELKOPF
Starting this fall, Chicago's theatre scene will get even more vibrant.
Skyline StageWorks, a new Chicago theatre company dedicated to connecting exceptional artists with classic stories in intimate productions, will present the world premiere of "Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra: UNDONE."
"Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra" will run from Sept. 5 to Oct. 5 at The Side Project, 1439 W. Jarvis Ave., Chicago, with performances taking place at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and at 3 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at www.brownpaperticket.com, or at the door.
I had the chance to talk to Shawna Tucker, who co-wrote the adaptation and who plays Cleopatra in "Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra," about the upcoming production.
Q - Great talking to you. "Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra: Undone" is Skyline StageWorks' inaugural production. How do you think the production fits in with Skyline's mission?
Skyline StageWorks aspires to create work that will touch the mind and heart. We’re interested in giving the audience a memorable experience.
The raw, all-out Chicago aesthetic has been my goal since the beginning of my career, and most of the time I do not see that aesthetic with Shakespeare productions. I’ve long felt Shakespeare is the ideal playwright for a raw, organic, in-the-moment, explosive approach.
His works are so often seen as just genteel. We’ve taken a play that isn’t produced as much as many of his others, and rebuilt it so it can be seen up close and personal, on a small, intimate stage.
Our goal is to let the big emotions and characters of Shakespeare wash over the audience.
Q - You co-wrote the play with Patricia Henritze and the play itself is based on Shakespeare's "Antony and Cleopatra." What were your goals in presenting this updated version of the story and what would you like audiences to come away with from the production?
The play isn’t actually “based on” Shakespeare’s play or an update, it IS Shakespeare’s play. Everything that is in our play is in his.
We wanted to focus more on the relationship of the title characters than on the world politics of Shakespeare’s original, and highlight the gorgeous poetry. The poetry, too often not heard out loud, is one of the “gifts” we want to give to our audiences.
It is utterly, utterly gorgeous. Most people don’t study this play in school, and they don’t know what they are missing!
Q - You also will be playing Cleopatra in the production. Do you think the fact that you co-wrote the play gives you additional insight into the character and how she should be portrayed in the production?
Perhaps the greatest advantage is that I’ve been able to spend more time rehearsing the character. I have a history background and I love doing research for any part I play.
I did a tremendous amount of research in the course of working on the play – all of which helps when approaching the part as an actress. I read numerous biographies of Cleopatra and Antony, and commentary on their legacy.
I’ve also read as much as I’ve can about previous productions to try to discover what worked and what didn’t in the production of the play. There are not many productions of Shakespeare’s original play that are considered unqualified successes.
Even though we are not bringing the entire play to an audience, we are hoping that our version will whet some appetites for Shakespeare in general, and his “Antony and Cleopatra” in particular.
Q - You are heavily involved in the Chicago theatre scene. How do you think the Chicago theatre scene compares to other theatre scenes around the country?
Chicago’s theater scene is incomparable. I trained here, and this is actually the third time my family has relocated to the area after moving away twice.
Other cities have advantages, but the size of the theater community here, and the strength of both the union and non-union theater communities make Chicago exceptional. Critics, audiences, and theater artists take both communities very seriously and there is a level of support for theater in general that is inspiring.
When you are newly arrived in Chicago, all sorts of theaters are eager to see you audition. Even though other cities’ theater communities are smaller, getting your foot in the door in Chicago is a heck of a lot easier than anywhere else I’ve lived.
Q - What do you think distinguishes Skyline StageWorks from other theatre groups in Chicago?
As you mentioned, I’ve lived and worked in a number of cities. Each city has a different theater personality.
Though I like Chicago’s the best, there are some amazing facets of the other communities where I have lived and worked. I am hoping to bring the best aspects of the theater from the other cities and combine them at Skyline StageWorks.
We’re focused on immediacy and intimacy, which is from Chicago. But since I’ve moved around a lot I have also learned the importance of making new friends.
Reaching out to people who aren’t regular theatergoers is also part of what we want to do at Skyline StageWorks.