Sunday, July 17, 2011

World Premiere A Second Look

In my last entry, I wrote about the experience six years ago when my autobiographical piece, In the Dark, was named a New Play Fest winner by Prop THTR and premiered with a staged reading at the Cultural Center in downtown Chicago. I hope you take the time to read that entry as well since this is a continuation of that experience. After hearing what audience members, my sister and her husband, and my dear friend, Rani, had to say, I took some time to discuss the latest version with Gary Mills. He gave me some feedback and I returned home after a successful premiere overly thrilled at the road down on which I had begun to walk. On Saturday, I spent several more hours typing away editing the play in preparation for the second reading on Sunday afternoon. I made many changes. On Sunday, I went down to my local office supply store and printed out several copies for the cast before heading to the Cultural Center once more. As I mentioned in my previous post, upon walking into the lobby, I was greeted by Rani served to open my eyes that this was not a dream. It was really happening. Similarly, upon walking through the lobby doors on Sunday, I was greeted by a room full of chatter. The doors into the room of the reading had not yet been opened for the general public so a long line formed. Some friends came up to me. Many individuals I had met and befriended within the theater world were present. I was introduced to Scott Vehill. He is the co-founder and artistic director of Prop. He was anticipating this piece and was already raving about it. When the crowd finally filed in, it was a standing room only performance. During some heart wrenching moments, there was a sadness in the room. During funny moments, a thunderous roar of laughter filled the room. People were captivated. they were moved. I sat next to director, Emily Lotspeich. Based on her reaction, I knew I had written something special. When it ended, the talk-back began. Audience members raved! I had connected with them. People mentioned how powerful and meaningful this piece was and they excitedly awaited a production run. After the back and forth of comments, Scott Vehill stood up and said, "Bottom line is, as a producer, I'm interested in shows which make money. If I were to invest in this and produce it, would you come watch? Is this a show you'd spend your money on?" Audience members said yes and of course. To this, Scott responded with, "that's all I need to hear. I'm interested in doing this." Music to my ears. One of the most respected individuals in Chicago theater had just expressed an interest in producing this piece. I walked around thanking people for attending and receiving feedback from friends and artists. My friend Rob said, "I knew it was good, I didn't realize it was a masterpiece. Shakespeare, Iz. That's how good this is." Originally, I had imagined this play to be a one-man show in the spirit of John Leguizamo's many award winning Broadway smash hits so one of my acting instructors, Ted Horel, suggested I reach out to talented writer, director, actor, Robyn Okrant. I did and I was able to attend a performance of one of her successful one-woman pieces where I learned so much. Robyn attended this sunday reading and approached me to say that from the opening lines, I drew her in to the point she was already imagining ways she would stage the piece were she given the chance to direct. I was so thrilled at this because robyn was one of those I would want to direct my pieces. Another wonderful moment was when Matt Swan and his wife Judy came up to congratulate me on the piece. I took three of Matt's classes in the communications studies department when I was in college. He was my faculty advisor when I worked at WKDI-FM. He was a frequent guest on my radio program. Matt spent time at a TV station in Rockford, Il playing the character of Uncle Don on the uncle Don Terror theater. He was and remains a media expert and playwright. Matt was a supporter of my radio career and was the one who took me aside when radio was not quite working out for me to suggest I give strong consideration to taking a thirty minute film script which I had written as my final project in his media writing class and turn it into a full length feature which I could one day option to a Hollywood production company. I resisted at first, but with plenty of time on my hands, I decided to listen. It was writing the feature where I truly fell in love with writing stories. It was then that I realized I wanted to put more effort into this and would be best served to also take acting classes. While taking acting classes, I learned about the writing class offered at the school and jumped at the chance to write plays. This class was taught by Gary Mills which eventually lead me to writing In the Dark. It is fascinating to me how all these events are connected in the end.

The joy of having my first play receive this early success carried me through the next few months until I heard Prop was interested in producing performances. Eventually, I met with Scott Vehill who directed the piece as part of the Rhino Fest in September of 2006. I was so excited when Scott informed me that he wanted to produce the play, but only if I starred in it. Of course, that was my dream all along too. A year after the success of the weekend described in this and my previous post, I went into rehearsal for this play. My dear friend, Madelon, was cast as was long time family friend, Ivan. Together with Scott, we began a wonderful journey in July 2006 which saw us perform this play for audiences in September and October of that year. Each time I hit a milestone, I smile and celebrate. Just as I do this weekend. At times, taking a step back enables me to remember the excitement of that wide eye person I was when my play was first being submitted. It helps motivate me even as I work on the screenplay of this play. Trusted artists wait in anticipation of the screenplay and I am working hard to get them copies as I have promised, but writing and rewriting my life story is one of the most difficult tasks I have ever done. In my writing, I follow the same idea as in my acting. I try to be truthful in the moment. I try to have my audience connect with the piece and along the way evoke a response which makes them feel it was worth giving me their time and attention.


  1. Israel, loved reading this and was so touched by your kind words about Matt. We continue to be inspired by all you have done. Please keep in touch.. My best, Judy

  2. Thank you for the note Judy. I appreciate your support over all these years. In fact, that script I first wrote in Matt's class which I've turned into a full length feature has had some interest from production company previously and may just be on the move towards production once more. Fingers crossed. I have Matt to thank for these opportunities and motivation to even dream about this career.