Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Three preview down and the show is moving along great.  Some changes are being made, videos are being worked on and the audiences are loving it. 3 previews, and three standing ovations already.

Here is a link to a blog an audience member wrote about the show. She reviewed it and loved it!

– Usman Ally (Vigneshwar Padujar, aka VP in THE ELABORATE ENTRANCE OF CHAD DEITY

To visit Usman’s blog, click here.

For more on Chad Deity, click here.

Buy tickets now!  Call 773.871.3000!

More Rehearsal Pictures from Chad Deity

After a retreat, I come home (home?) to Chicago, and this is what’s waiting for me:

Chad Deity SetAnd yes, I immediately climbed into it and bounced off the ropes. Words cannot express what it feels like to discover your own personal wrestling ring.

And after a few days of playing with it, we came back after a day off to discover…this:

Chad Deity SetAnd yes, my mind is starting to be blown.

It takes a whole lot of paint to pull this back wall off.

PaintAnd it’s all got to be labeled to keep it straight. Graf and scorpions — could we be any more masculine?

Back WallIt’s not in my contract that all my shows have to have some graffiti on the set, but it’s getting pretty close.

The RingOur turnbuckles now have pads, and our ring mat now has a cover.

Wrestling GuysAnd it’s all overseen by the wrestling guys. Not dolls, not action figures. Wrestling guys. Corporal Kirschner, Tazz (WWF spelling), and…well, some guy. No one can figure out who he is.

– Kristoffer Diaz

For more pictures and thoughts from Kristoffer, visit his blog here.

Random Reflections of a Third Rate Mind

One day after rehearsal, my cast mates and I went out to a bar. There was a football game on the television. My eyes were glazing over, but Allan turned to us and said (and I’m paraphrasing, but essentially this is what he said)  “You know, that’s just awesome. When you see a perfect play like that. When everyone on the team is moving together, and makes it happen, and it doesn’t matter what the obstacles are. Everyone is breathing together. That’s exactly why I love theatre. There’s all these obstacles and things to get through and figure out, but when it works, you’re all moving and breathing together.”

I love that. There is fierce grace, beauty, and power in theatre. And what always hits me is how unbelievably short, fleeting, and precious that time is.  That is what makes theatre different from film. It is the alchemy of live people in front of a live audience in that present moment. And as our playwright said, when it’s good, it’s great. That energy, that communion, is palpable. And it’s always overwhelming for me, at the end of a run. The four weeks always seem so short, to have gone by so quickly. And when it’s over, it’s over. You never get that again, you never get to live in that world, to be that person, to live in the chemistry of those particular people in that particular way, ever again. It always leaves me feeling a little bereft and melancholy.

This show was part of two different staged reading series last year. So that means we work-shopped this play for six months before we even began rehearsals. It’s incredibly rare to get to live with a script for that long. And that was a gift. There is a commitment, energy, dedication and investment I feel for this play that would not have been there without those six months.

Another thought: this show deals with genocide. As a result, I’m watching films like The Killing Fields, and I’m reading autobiographical books like To the End of Hell and First They Killed My Father.  But the biggest thing I learned was this quote “Our revenge will be the laughter of our children.” Our playwright put that at the top of our script. And he said, our first day or rehearsal, that he wanted there to be a lot of laughter. That it is about strength, resilience, and regeneration. Not wallowing in a torpor of self-pity.

Through the rehearsal process I got to meet Ty Tim, a survivor of the Pol Pot regime. I also met an attorney who spent four months in Cambodia, working for the United Nations, in the trial prosecuting Duch, who ran the infamous S-21 prison. And I get to be the one to help tell these stories. That is a privilege I never take lightly or for granted. And I love getting to tell these stories. I love the mess. I love the raw, absolute lack of composure. Mamet wrote “…acting is not a genteel profession. Actors used to be buried at the crossroads with a stake through their heart. Their presence so troubled their onlookers…that they feared their ghosts.” And when I think of Ty Tim and others I met, or read about, that’s what I aim for. That’s what I think it takes to do their story justice. And that’s what I dedicate myself to, with all my love, with all my heart and soul, with everything I am.

– Jen Shin (Ra from Year Zero)

*Congratulations to Jen and the cast and crew of Year Zero on their tremendous opening night!  The following is a picture from the evening.  For the full album of pictures, visit us on facebook!*

Year Zero Opening Night

Year Zero Opening Night

Chad Deity Pictures!

Check out some of these pictures from the The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity’s first rehearsal:

Learning to Wrestle

Learning to Wrestle

Read Through

Read Through

Check out Kristoffer Diaz’s blog for more pictures and thoughts on THE ELABORATE ENTRANCE OF CHAD DEITY.

We Built It and They’re Here


Our first Year Zero preview was last night. The real costumes, the real lights were used. The real In-N-Out cups were used. The real skull was used.

Then real people showed up to watch it. That was the most exciting part — seeing real people react to this thing you’ve crafted together.

Putting together a show is like building an extremely complicated machine; you design it, revise it, focus and augment it. And finally you hit the big red START button and see if it runs.

And then it runs, and you’ve got people there paying to see it. You really hope they like it.

And when they like it, it’s one of the best feelings in the world.

(More Year Zero pics here.)


We had a great first preview. A great turnout, and a real diverse mix of people: Old, young, black, white. We got some nice responses, great laughs, and storywise, they were with us the entire time. This was an especially auspicious show because it was the very first show ever in Victory Gardens’ new 120 seat studio theater.

Now we’ve still got a ways to go — things are still coming together. The car (yes, there’s a car in the show!) used to squeak; they fixed it, but now it creaks. The speaker under the TV in the set that plays ambient noise got disconnected somehow and wasn’t working. Transitions are being tightened. I’ve made adjustments to some of the lines and the skull is dutifully memorizing them.

We’ve got eight more preview shows to go including tonight’s show. Then opening, then the actual run itself. But this thing’s actually coming together. It’s kind of crazy, kind of neat.

Also we had the Victory Gardens season preview today. They did snippets from all the shows that are going up this season.

I wanna say something real quick about Chad Deity: The entrance is indeed Elaborate, and it is highly Electrifying! They wrestled up there! There was a powerbomb! They built a freakin wrestling ring up on the stage!!!

Plus when the titular character (Chad Diety, played by our good friend Kamal), came out onstage he was tossing hundred dollar bills into the crowd. HUNDRED DOLLAR BILLS. This is how I wish to make entrances from now on.

Note to propmaster: Chad Diety’s bills should have Chad Diety on them instead of Ben Franklin.

– Michael Golamco

For more from Michael, visit his blog at

You Got Two Seconds Before I Smack You In The Mouth

Stage Combat

Slap Happiness: So Year Zero has a scene where a character smacks another character in the mouth. This happens three times in quick order, so this required the presence of a fight coordinator. The fight coordinator’s job is to A) make sure that the slaps look like they hurt, and to B) make sure the slaps don’t actually hurt. This is a difficult proposition when you consider that this is being done live and on stage, and without the benefit of camera tricks or editing.

Enter David Woolley, our fight coordinator. All the fight coordinators I’ve known have been incredibly cool people — Mr. Woolley is no exception. Andi Dymond, our director, showed him the basic blocking of the scene — where and when the slaps happen. David Woolley immediately put together a plan and executed it, choreographing the entire sequence, slaps and all.

This guy is a whirlwind of motion. “Okay, you’re gonna chase him over here, grab his backpack and pull on it — I mean REALLY pull on it. Don’t just yank it, take it out of his hands. Okay, great! Now he’s gonna try to make it into his bedroom — an old trick he’s been pulling for years, YEARS, but you’re onto him. So you stop him right HERE, push him back to center -”

And then there were the slaps. It takes two to make a slap go right: The slapper throws her arm behind the face of the slapee — not making any actual physical contact, of course — but creating the kinetic motion that the viewer’s eye perceives as the attack. It’s up to the slapee to actually make the SMACK noise, recoil, to perhaps squeal an AEIOU-and-sometimes-Y sound to add inflection to the attack.

And when the two come together, the whole thing looks great. And the intensity they add is pretty freakin cool. Those slaps hurt!
Action Figures

If you think that’s exciting, then now’s a good time to segue into the show that’s running alongside Year Zero at Victory Gardens: THE ELABORATE ENTRANCE OF CHAD DIETY by Kristoffer Diaz

This play is about the spectacle and showmanship of professional wrestling, and it offers tons of stage combat — people getting hit by chairs, powerbombing and bodyslamming each other. And if you look beyond the pure sports entertainment value of this show, you’ll find a brilliant play about superstars and jobbers: The no-name wrestlers whose job it is to make the superstars look good — and who are often the more skilled and capable athletes.

Remember what I said above about how it takes two to make a slap go right? That’s the essence of professional wrestling, and the core of CHAD DIETY. It’s a great show and you gotta see it.

– Michael Golamco

Visit Michael Golamco’s blog at

Historical Artifacts

Historical Artifacts - BLOG

Field Trip: Victory Gardens arranged for the company to take a trip down to the Cambodian Heritage Museum run by the Cambodian Association of Illinois. This was a welcome break from hanging out in a rehearsal room all day.

I got there an hour early so I could walk around the neighborhood which is apparently called Lincoln Square. Chicagoans: I’m an out of towner, so please bear with me. Your place names are strange and unusual to me — I’m from California, and more used to the Spanish names of saints.

Anyway, this is what I love about any big American city: The streets are a pastiche of good things from all the corners of the earth. While I was waiting around I got a chorizo torta. It cost $3.50. It came with chips and two types of salsa, and it was gooood. I consumed it with dos Diet Cokes. Across the street there were a couple of Korean joints — those will be investigated on a later trip.

So we all met up at the Cambodian Heritage Museum, took the tour. Saw artifacts of everyday life in Cambodia — much of which has changed very little in the last few hundreds of years. A huge wooden rice grinder, sickles and baskets — most people are still subsistence farmers. Industrialization and globalization have arrived on the country’s doorstep, along with all the good and ill they bring with them.

What was most touching to all of us was when our guide — a man in his sixties, maybe my father’s age — told us the story of his own life under the Khmer Rouge. He was a school teacher before them. But during their rule they worked him in the fields like so many others were literally worked to death.

And then, slowly, haltingly, he told us the story of how he was caught by Khmer Rouge soldiers and accused of stealing food.

To punish him, they used pliers to pull out his teeth.

It’s when someone is telling you their own history — their tragedies, the everyday pieces of their lives — that history itself becomes personal. To write this play I had read facts and statistics, autobiographies. But it wasn’t until this moment that I had heard someone’s story of survival told to me in their own voice.

It’s something I’ll never forget.

It made everything real for me. Because this play is about personal history and how it’s told — about how it’s passed from person to person so that we can understand something about the past. Maybe not quite understand evil — who could? But maybe we might begin to understand how people can endure evil, and what we can do to confront it.

And here was this man, our guide, who had somehow survived when two million others had died. Who somehow made it all the way from Cambodia to this huge American city, for better or worse. But he had survived, and had become a teacher once again.

So it was a pretty good day. Because it reminded me of all those who died, but also let me know that others lived.

And they continue on, telling their stories.

– Michael Golamco

Visit Michael Golamco’s blog at

Sippin From an In-N-Out Cup

Mad Props: Hey guys, how about a tour of our props table? Come with me and take a look at the motley assortment of objects that the actors will imbue with magic, like unicorns would if they had hands.


“In-N-Out” Cup: The play has a scene where one character is “sippin from an In-N-Out cup”. There are no In-N-Outs in Illinois, so we currently have this cup with the phrase “IN-N-OUT” taped to it. It even has an artful little arrow drawn onto it too. Also note that the cup’s day job is at McDonalds.

For the actual production it will be replaced with real In-N-Out cups so that ex-West Coasters can giggle and whisper “They went to In-N-Out!!” when they see it. I hope my paychecks aren’t pieces of paper with the word “CHECK” taped to them.


Condoms: Every play must have condoms in it, and they must be used. This gives the play a sense of action, and it makes the play inherently sexy. And as Anton Chekhov once said, “If in the first act you have hung condoms on the wall, in the following one they must be used. Otherwise, they shouldn’t be hanging there.” He also pronounced the phrase “nuclear vessels” as “nuclear wessels”. He was a funny guy.


Dungeons and Dragons Stuff: Yes, there is a scene where Dungeons and Dragons is played. We have this rulebook and some D20s and D10s. The protagonist of the play has 46 hit points and his armor class is 6. His alignment is Chaotic Good.


No Gun: Even though this play has an Asian gang member in it, it has no guns. All my previous plays have had guns in them. This other play I’m working on right now has a crossbow in it. For me, a play without a gun is like a George Rodrigue painting without a blue dog. But for some reason this piece has no guns. I don’t know why. Maybe I should write one in.


Cookie Jar With Human Skull Inside: This is the most important prop in the show — in a sense, the fifth (or perhaps the sixth?) character in the play. As you can see, the jar is not the final jar, and the skull is not the final skull. We’re currently using a skull from one of our early hominid ancestors. It turns out that having bone matter made out of packing tape was an evolutionary dead end.

– Michael Golamco

Visit Michael Golamco’s blog at

Year Zero: First Day of Rehearsal

The First Day of Rehearsal: We’re going from lines in a script to people actually moving through a three dimensional space, laughing, yelling at each other, trying not to knock anything over. That’s one of the big differences between theater and other storytelling mediums: There are live people acting onstage in front of you, and it imparts a special kind of energy to the audience. It’s like the difference between listening to music on an iPod and seeing your favorite group play live. The difference between watching a comedian on TV and seeing him/her in person — there’s this massive energy that you feel from seeing a live performance. You’re witnessing intensely private moments. Peoples’ lives are changing before your eyes. It’s a powerful thing — almost like a physical sensation. And you’re sharing it with the people onstage, the other people in the audience — you can feel their energy too. But to make this happen, we’ve first got to figure out how we’re going to move these human beings around on stage — how we’re going to dress them, light them, set up the space in which they’re going to play.

Costumes, Sets, Lighting, Audio: First day of rehearsal usually includes a design presentation where we get to see lots of cool things:

Costumes — It’s always amazing how lines in a script can inspire a talented costume designer to sketch out looks for fictional characters. One special line in the play about Banana Republic informed a whole bunch of design choices about a certain character. Pretty cool!

Choeung Ek

Choeung Ek

Sets — This is one of my favorite things: When a set designer brings in a tiny model of the set. Tiny chairs, tiny tables. Ours has amazing elements that evoke the imagery of places as distant to each other as Choeung Ek and Long Beach’s Cambodian community and brings them together.

Lighting — Great lighting can create moods and effects; transitions, show the passage of time. I’ve been told this play is a particularly “cinematic” one — it moves quickly and deals with a lot of imagery. Light and darkness play a big part in this.

Audio — Holy crap, the music. Hip hop, Southern Californian culture, and the Khmer language blend incredibly in the music selections. They’ve also engineered audio/sound effects that come from their natural sources (i.e. a car radio’s music comes from the car radio itself), and have environmental sounds too.

– Michael Golamco

Visit Michael Golamco’s blog at


The first line of Blackbird describes the effect of this production perfectly: “Shock.”

Mattie Hawkinson and William Petersen in Blackbird

Mattie Hawkinson and William Petersen in Blackbird

The experience of observing the rehearsal process for Blackbird has been beyond educational for me, a directing intern at Victory Gardens. Getting the opportunity to sit in on almost all of the rehearsals for this play with two fantastic actors and an incredible director and production team has led to one of the most fascinating rehearsal processes I have been a part of.

Coming into rehearsals, everyone approached the controversial nature of the play as straightforwardly as they could. Everyone knew the subject nature would be hard for an audience to watch, and especially difficult for actors to portray. Dramaturgical work was brought in, thoughts and ideas were shared, but it quickly became apparent that the meeting of these two characters was a view very different than what many people expected in a play about child abuse. There was a different quality in the characters as they looked back and relived the experience. David Harrower’s script never shows the audience the events of fifteen years ago, but forces these characters to delve as deep as they can into what happened and why it happened. These two people are forced to regress to place in their lives which was painful and uncomfortable, but at the same time, safe.

I have watched the run of this show more times than I can count, and have been pleased to not only notice new things in the script, but to also see the actors make discoveries during every single run. Lines are delivered differently in the afternoon than they were that morning. Sometimes the way one of the actors sits in a chair or changes their posture transforms the entire moment, and it is constantly changing. The show is presently in previews, and is all set to open next Monday, but Billy and Mattie are still able to keep me captivated every single time I watch them perform.

As people left the theater after the first preview last Friday, I have to admit I eavesdropped on as many conversations as I could. I heard mutters of awe, disbelief, and yes, shock, from every direction. The audience is left just as confused and broken as the characters left on stage about their own response. The controversial subject matter does make the play difficult to watch, and makes an audience justifiably uncomfortable. There is an adult content warning for a reason. But Blackbird guarantees to make you leave your expectations and your certainty outside the theater. The incredible actors and mesmerizing script will leave you with an unbelievable theater-going experience.

–Rebecca Spooner