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Director’s note on “You Can’t Take It With You”

Written By: November 10, 2015 COMMENTS (0)  
Devon de MayoYou Can’t Take it With You is about the family you choose. That’s what makes a play written seventy-nine years ago still feel fresh and funny today. The Sycamores and the people they collect are quirky. To the outside world, they are bizarre, out of place. But under this roof, they are a family. They encourage and support each other without judgement or expectation.  This is why the Sycamores feel so modern. For so many of us, the family we choose is just as important as the family we were given.

Recently, NPR reported that You Can’t Take it With You is one of only two plays that has never left the annual list of “Top 10 most produced plays in US high schools” in the past 50 years.  This play is how many people discover theater.  In part, that is because the themes continue to resonate with contemporary audiences, but it is also because plays just aren’t made like this anymore.  It is an unabashedly funny and beautiful and sprawling ensemble piece that four generations can enjoy together. And sadly, there are still too few plays with so many great roles for women.  This play is also a classic because you not only want to watch it, you want to be in it.

DSC_6322For an ensemble this large, we were shocked to discover on the first day of rehearsal that none of us had ever worked on a production of You Can’t Take it With You. To make this play, we are forming our own quirky, not-so-little family. Just like the Sycamores. So, we are creating our Sycamore household brand new together. This requires both hard work and a lot of generosity and love and fun. You Can’t Take it With You gives some good advice for us through Kolenkhov, who says “Art is only achieved through perspiration.” That is true of all theater, but particularly true of this play since it requires timing, physical agility, generosity, and persistence. Kolenkhov would be pleased by what the play demands of its ensemble. In contrast, Grandpa, the head of the Sycamore clan asks of hard work, “Where does the fun come in?” The mark of any good chosen family is lots of laughter.

So. We laugh. We work. We sweat. Then we laugh again. And hopefully, you will, too.

Devon de Mayo

Continuing the Conversation after “White Guy on the Bus”

Written By: January 28, 2015 COMMENTS (0)  

MSB_6727As we launch through preview week of White Guy on the Bus, I am reflecting on the play and the amazing response we are encouraging here at Northlight at the conclusion of the performances each night. Our daily talkbacks with audience members are large and engaging. The conversation stimulated by the story is fascinating and intense. White Guy is one of those plays where, regardless of critical reaction, audience reaction is fierce and gratifying.

In the post-show discussions after our first five previews, we have heard how insightful the characters’ observations are, how resonant and blisteringly true the sentiments seem. The snapshot of the schools is clear, and educators in our audience have validated the depiction of teachers and students. Our audience has told us that the non-linear plot is compelling and challenging. Last Sunday evening, an audience member told me he was on the edge of his seat all night. Another told me they saw themselves in the play and how guilty it made them feel.

The talkbacks will take place after every performance and are every bit as fascinating as the discussions raised in the play. We hope you will join in with your thoughts and feelings. Feelings are the key here, because we can all too easily “think” or absolve our responsibilities to each other as human beings.

One of the great things about our production is the remarkable heart our actors bring to the roles, and how the audience is drawn to them, empathizing with them while seeing the dark and turbulent choices they make. It’s a remarkable cast and a clear example of the world class talent Chicago has on its stages nightly.

We are so proud of this production and of playwight Bruce Graham’s courage in raising these troubling issues. We know you will be electrified by White Guy’s story just as our preview audiences have been. Join us for the talkbacks. Be part of the conversation. Be part of the solution.


BJ Jones

Artistic Director

In Memory of Molly Glynn

Written By: September 6, 2014 COMMENTS (1)  

Dear Northlight Family,

A treasured friend and artist left us today. Molly Glynn, who appeared in Tom Jones, The Odd Couple and Permanent Collection here at Northlight, was killed in a tragic accident during yesterday’s tumultuous storm. Despite such a dramatic event in such a turbulent storm, Molly was a calming, elegant, supportive center in life. Married to Joe Foust, who appeared in Lady here at Northlight, and the mother of Chance and Declan, she exuded grace and warmth; and beyond her beauty was her stunning humanity. A hole in our hearts remains where once Molly radiated her joy and love. I am so privileged to have worked with her as an actor and director.

But more importantly, I am grateful to have known her. And I wanted you to know how privileged you were to have seen this special woman’s work here at Northlight. She gave you the gift of her life for a couple of hours on our stage, and what a gift. It is what we artists do. Remember that when you see our work on the stages of Chicago.

Our gifts are fleeting, but they are given with love.

And they are written on the wind.

BJ Jones,
Artistic Director


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Closing thoughts from the boys of “Lost in Yonkers”

Written By: June 6, 2014 COMMENTS (1)  

As Lost in Yonkers heads into its final weekend, we asked the two young stars of the production to reflect on their experience and fill us in on what lies ahead.

Alistair Sewell and Sebastian W. Weigman with Ann Whitney

Alistair Sewell (Jay)

Alistair is a student from Madison, WI who was living in Evanston during rehearsals and the run for Lost in Yonkers.

The past two months of this experience have been truly wonderful. Opening night was a fantastic way to kickstart the run. Even though we had a week of previews before officially opening, there was still a buzz before the top of the play. I have never done a show with so many preview performances before opening night, so it was really nice to experiment while receiving feedback from both the audience and the director. Afterward, we celebrated our full house and opening performance at Room & Board, a design home furnishing store (I don’t think I have ever had so many tasteful options when deciding where to sit).

I have not acted in a production with a 43-performance run, and it really gave me a chance to settle into my character of Jay. That’s what I like about theater; learning about one’s character doesn’t stop when rehearsals are finished. The performances are when the actor grows into the character, making little changes and experimenting in front of an audience. In this production, I initially thought that there would be an a-ha! moment when I “completely” understood Jay. However, I found that I just grew to know him better in general throughout the rehearsal process and performance run. I’m still making discoveries about his personality. For me, the sheer number of performances has been a luxury to get to know Jay.

I am most thankful for the support of my mum and dad. None of this would be possible without them. It isn’t often that parents say “Sure, I’ll drive you two-and-a-half hours for a ten-minute audition.” They’re in the arts business, so they understand that this is my passion.

I will miss Chicago and the Northlight staff terribly, but I do look forward to returning home and enjoying summer with friends. In mid-July I am going to Craiova, Romania for a service trip with my church in Madison. We will build relationships with the team there and work with an orphanage that teaches life skills to prepare for employment.

In mid-October I begin rehearsals for From Up Here by Liz Flahive with Forward Theatre in Madison. I play Kenny, a kid who comes from a dysfunctional family and has done something at his school harmful enough to make him even more of an outcast (just hopping from one dysfunctional family to the next).

Afterwards I plan to travel and visit family in either Europe or New Zealand, and for college I would like to apply for a two-year acting conservatory.

I thank the Northlight Theatre staff, the cast and crew, and my parents for this opportunity. I hope I’ll have another chance to work in Chicago.

Sebastian W. Weigman and Alistair Sewell

Sebastian W. Weigman (Arty)

I’ve learned a lot in the past few weeks. Namely, that we can squeeze the hearts of our audience, tear them in two, while somehow simultaneously setting them up to laugh the hardest they have in a while. I’ve also learned how the audience reaction ultimately shapes the show. Generally speaking, we’ve encountered two polar types of audiences, the first of which being the louder and more vocal audience that just wants to laugh. These audiences are great for energy, but then there’s the other side of things when we get an audience that is purely interested in the dramatic aspects of the play. The house, when quiet, can at first seem a bit discouraging to an actor. But it feeds a very different energy! Another factor is the routine of the show. Mentally, during the run of the previews, I had to set aside some time for preparation. But as I became acclimated to the show, I realized that my character of Arty is easier to access than in the beginning. I was excited to experience the different audience reactions throughout the run. Because after all, the most important aspect of all of this to me, is the reception and comprehension of the play from those on the outside looking in.

This entire experience has been pretty incredible to say the least. Needless to say, the family doesn’t just stop on-stage. Everyone is constantly looking out for one another, and working together to foster a great artistic environment. I couldn’t have asked for a better cast to work alongside of for my first encounter with a Neil Simon text. I dedicated this year to my acting career. I “took the year off” and did my junior year of school online. Next year though, I’m planning on going back to my hometown of Oconomowoc, finishing out school, attending senior prom, and graduating with my class. It’s always been important to me to finish out with the kids I grew up with. Moving on out of high school, I will Major in English with a business-psych minor, and hope to be able to continue on a career path that involves some form of writing. Less realistically but more specifically, television-writing is where I really would like to find myself as a writer. And God knows that we’re in dire need of some decent television right now. Especially from an aspiring writer’s perspective, working the Neil Simon text has been a learning experience. This play has the potential to make you laugh and cry five minutes later, to pull you by your heart-strings and keep you emotionally invested in each and every character. I’m entirely glad that I’ve been able to have this wonderful opportunity and it’s a bit sad and surreal to let the whole thing go. But as I’ve been taught, I’ll inhale the experience, take in the good, exhale the leftovers, and move forward.

Thoughts from the cast of “Lost in Yonkers”

Written By: May 5, 2014 COMMENTS (0)  

We asked the young actors who play brothers Jay and Arty in Lost in Yonkers to share their thoughts on the experience at various stages of the production. Here is what they wrote while still in rehearsals:

Alistair Sewell (Jay)

Alistair is a student from Madison, WI who is living in Evanston during rehearsals and the run for Lost in Yonkers.

So far, living in Chicago and working with Northlight Theatre has only been an enjoyable experience.

In Madison, I completed all required high school credits in mid-March, thus ending my senior year of high school. It feels strange to be acting without the blessed company of homework. I enjoy living in Evanston and familiarizing myself with a few local favorites, including Brothers K Coffeehouse just below our apartment, the Chicago-Main Newsstand, an incredible fossil collection found in the basement of a fascinating rock shop, and frequent walks through the neighborhood down to the lake.

Working with the company at Northlight has been a joy to say the least. Director Devon de Mayo, Assistant Director Heather Townsend, and Dialect Coach Eva Breneman deliver notes with a positive attitude and sustain a lighthearted atmosphere throughout all rehearsals (beginning the day with our game of “Duct Ball” is partly responsible for this).

The wonderful staff and acting alongside a great cast has made the rehearsal process fly by. I look forward to the next week of runs and performing in front of an audience.

Sebastian W. Weigman (Arty)

The rehearsal process has been extremely invigorating.  Devon has been an amazing comrade in my intense and personal journey passing through Yonkers.  She constantly caters to an inviting rehearsal environment, covering all bases, leaving little to question.  She really invokes a wonderful experience on-stage (and off for that matter).  She establishes a seamless connection with her actors, as if we all run on some same wavelength.  It helps the process as well to have an all-star cast.  The entire company has a great dynamic.  I have learned so much from each and every one of my fellow actors throughout the rehearsal process and I am thrilled to pick up even more as we head into the run.  God knows that this play is an absolute  [bless Neil Simon's heart] mathematical and chronological nightmare in places.  But we’ve really honed in on the writing and the intention with Lost In Yonkers.  I’ve never found myself feeling the lack for something with all of the incredible resources we’ve been given.  The best way to describe my experience rehearsing in this wonderful space would be: efficient, consistent, and quite simply, fun.

John Mahoney interview with Hollywood 360

Written By: March 4, 2014 COMMENTS (1)  

Chapatti cast member John Mahoney sat down with Hollywood 360 recently to talk about the play as well as share fun anecdotes about his fear of playwrights, losing his British accent, and starting his acting career at 37.

Hear all that and more in this clip.

Thoughts from the cast of “Tom Jones”

Written By: February 21, 2014 COMMENTS (0)  

As Tom Jones comes to a close, we asked cast members to share parting thoughts on some of the most memorable aspects of their experience:

Sam Ashdown (Tom Jones)

I’ve had an amazing time working on this show with such a fun group!

The craziest show for me was the one where I cut my thumb open half an hour before curtain and I had to go to the emergency room to see if I needed stitches. We got in, saw a doctor, and were back in time for me to get into costume and do the show. It made me thankful for what an amazing backstage staff Northlight has! And it may have helped that the nurse who checked me in had seen the show the week before.

Marcus Truschinski (Squire Allworthy, Black George, Maclachlan)

Marcus shares the backstory on the extensive “greeting” his Scottish character ‘Maclachlan’ shares with the Irish character ‘Fitzpatrick’ played by Eric Parks.

[Director] Bill [Brown] asked us to come up with a “rah-rah” chant to accompany our greeting as old school fellows. Eric and I know each other very well and our sense of humor usually leads us to outlandish discoveries/choices that Bill usually cuts before too long. It started off as a simple salute between school mates with our swords, something we may have done in the academy. I looked up fight songs and school songs on the internet and the oldest one I could find was Eton’s boating song from the 1800s. Time was scarce and Bill wanted us to come up with something that afternoon. Eric and I decided that we thought the characters had not gotten very far in their schooling so our new search led us to children’s songs from the time period. We found a Scottish song titled” Soldier’s Joy” which included the lines “Do you want some bread and butter with your tea, young man.” Those simple lyrics made us laugh to the point of tears and we were off to the ludicrous races. The salute itself with the grade school lyrics got longer and longer. Bill finally had to reign us in and we solidified it to the point we have now. Bill’s final suggestion was that we needed a button to cap it all off and Eric and I went back to work. We looked up a place where a Scotsman and an Irishman might both have attended boarding school. We settled on Aberdeen.  The Dragons mascot was a joke but it stuck. Eric and I still laugh about it all and try to modify it to keep it fresh and fun. If you come you’ll get your own unique little salute from Maclachlan and Fitzpatrick. Go Aberdeen Dragons!

Backstage with BJ “Detroit ’67” podcast

Written By: November 18, 2013 COMMENTS (1)  

Artistic Director BJ Jones sat down with Detroit ’67 director Ron OJ Parson and cast members Kamal Angelo Bolden and Kelvin Roston, Jr. to discuss the play’s background, music, and importance in our “Backstage with BJ” audience engagement series. Listen to three short segments below:

Track 1 – On the play’s background (2:37)

Track 2 – On the play’s music (3:05)

Track 3 – On the play’s importance (2:10)

Thoughts from the cast of “4000 Miles”

Written By: October 10, 2013 COMMENTS (0)  

Emjoy Gavino (Amanda/Lily)

No Need for Name Calling, but…

An audience member after one of the matinees last week called me a “slut.” I am hoping she was referring to my character in the show. I’ve also heard the words “skank” and “hussy” after performances. I’m not offended by it; in fact, it’s proof they were paying attention. My character, Amanda, admits “I’m usually pretty slutty.” So it is actually in the text.

What I found fascinating when I first started working on this role was how her actions in the scene go against what she says and what an outsider would assume. When in rehearsals, [director] Kimberly Senior pointed out that each person in the show has moments where they are not truthful with the person they are speaking to. In Amanda’s case, I found that in projecting this persona of being wild and crazy, she is probably just protecting herself so she doesn’t get hurt. The scariest thing in the world is to be vulnerable with another human being.

There’s No Place Like Home

I have been lucky enough to be a part of the Chicago/North Shore theater community for the past seven years, but 4000 Miles marks my debut at Northlight. One of my first jobs after moving here was teaching for Northlight’s performing arts camp in the summer. I’m sure most of those then-third graders are now incredibly tall, well-rounded individuals with tumblr accounts and addictions to hazelnut macchiatos. It’s been awhile. Stepping foot into the Rice Room (the rehearsal space at Northlight) for the first time as a performer felt immediately familiar and surreal. And the staff, many of whom I’ve known since that first year teaching at Northlight and some who I’ve worked with at other theaters, have been so welcoming, that it really does feel like coming home again.

Caroline Neff (Bec)

There’s something deeply personal about all the people portrayed in this play. It almost makes me feel like a voyeur watching scenes. The design and the dialogue create this “fly on the wall” experience that’s so rare. I love that.

Josh Salt (Leo)

I think this show has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. My enjoyment is primarily based on the overall energy of everyone involved. Namely getting to work with Mary Ann so extensively. She’s such an incredible force of her own. It’s an experience I could never have prepared for and will never be the same after having.

Working with Kimberly was something so incredibly gratifying. I call her “the seatbelt” because she buckles you up tight in the truth of the moment and she’s not afraid to tell you what is fair game to play with and what is set in stone. And once she’s buckled you in to the text, you can just drive around like crazy because you know you’ll be safe if you go awry. It creates an extreme level of trust between actor and director, and it makes for a much more enjoyable experience all around.

I’m so thankful every day to be working with this entire cast and crew at Northlight. They’re a rare breed of people; an exceptional team with an amazing attitude. That really helps.

Our audiences have been so gracious to us as well. So many people have come up to me and said “Thank you” or “You remind me of my son” or “my cousin” or “my brother”. It’s quite a treat to be able to help audiences connect with their real life family and hopefully walk away with lots of questions for them and maybe a deeper degree of understanding for them.

I feel extremely overwhelmed and so happy to have been involved in this.

Mary Ann Thebus (Vera)

It is a unique challenge and pleasure and privilege to portray this real life woman who was so close and influential to the playwright and who is so rich in honesty and humanity.

In the weeks that we have been doing the show, I have of course been aware that many of our audience members are in the same age bracket as Vera (my character) and myself, for that matter. I have found an unexpected satisfaction in this because I know they are relating, in a very real way, to the issues my character is dealing with, with regards to aging and its special demands in a way that younger people are not … though there is plenty for younger people in the play also. Many times, patrons have come up to me to tell me about a similar situation that they are dealing with, whether it be hearing or bad knees or an unexpected visit from a grandson. It’s a treat.

Photos: Michael Brosilow

Sarah Rose Graber

Northlight Teaching Artist Awarded Fulbright

Written By: May 24, 2013 COMMENTS (1)  
Sarah Rose Graber
from Sarah Rose Graber

My work with Northlight Theatre began in 2006 when I was asked to co-direct a production of Schoolhouse Rock Live Jr. Since then I’ve taught numerous residencies, workshops, master classes, directed summer camp productions and understudied for our mainstage shows. Northlight has been an artistic home for me since the moment I graduated from Northwestern University, trusting and supporting my work as an artist.

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