Sunday, January 31, 2010

"Flugelbone (yes, it's a real instrument)."

Our next little getting-to-know-you moment comes from Timo Aker. Timo is definitely not a Cylon. A Cylon would never play the flugelbone.

Ummmmmmmmm. Ok. I have a confession to make: I've never blogged before. Also, I don't usually read blogs. So. I feel a little like:

Anyway. Enough apologizing, it’s boring.

Oh, and let’s just put it out there that I go by the nickname Timo because my full name is Timuchin, and my parents liked calling me Timo. Maybe it makes sense because my dad’s from Istanbul, Turkey? Maybe I just have strange parents…

So, I grew up playing the piano (my mom’s a concert violist). My favorite composers are Beethoven, Chopin, and Arvo Part. I was a band geek in high school. I played trombone during the winter season, and flugelbone (yes, it’s a real instrument) while we were in marching band mode. We were a competition marching band. I was section leader for my last 2 years. Geek.

The first time I did theater was when I was a sophomore in high school. My friend said I should try out, and she was cute. I was cast as Horace Vandergelder in Thorton Wilder’s The Matchmaker. I had no clue what I was doing, but I thought it was pretty cool that I got to yell “Hell and damnation” a few times without repercussions.

Before continuing to get into theater in college I got into hiking and backpacking. I’ve done a lot of both in Killarney Provincial Park in Ontario, and I’ve also done some of the Appalachian Trail, and climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. I got some bitchin’ pictures from that…

I’ve never really had an enlightened hallelujah moment of calling to do theater. It’s snuck up on me over the years. Maybe because it’s a way of combining experiences and other forms of art into one thing, and I like putting all sorts of things together to create something. I was REALLY into legos.

And I’m really glad to be surrounded by people who want to make new things and think about them.

Timo Aker, one of the newest members of The Ruckus, is a Chicago based writer, actor, musician, and man about town. He appeared in this fall's Tell It & Speak It & Think It & Breathe It. He also takes great photos and wears jaunty hats, both with great regularity.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

"Blog, meet Aaron. Aaron, meet blog."

We've asked the five newest Ruckusers - Kate, Brian, Byron, Aaron and Timo - to write something about who they are and what they do and post it here. Left-handed? Right-handed? Human? Cylon? You'll find out in the coming week. First up is Aaron Dean.

To begin with. I hate the term "blog," gross. It sounds so gross. Bllooooahhhgggg. I don't wanna seem like a sourpuss, but who wants to read this anyway? Not I said the Lance. I have not seen the Juno. But I am hesitant, because word 'round the campfire is they say 'blog' in it a lot for no reason, and I don't think I can handle that. I am also not too keen on this sudden onslaught of movies about the joys of unwanted pregnancy.

So, blog, meet Aaron. Aaron, meet blog.

When I was six, my ma and grandma took me to see 42nd Street at the Frauenthal Theatre in downtown Muskegon, MI.

I really enjoyed it. I was really jazzed up about all the singing and dancing and energy. And from then on... I was hooked. Gross. I hate those stories. But, it is a true story.

Theater did not resurface again until I was fourteen and and I auditioned for my first play. But I was hooked on storytelling. I spent all my time outside when I was little, acting out the stories I had read or imagined to myself. We never had money for camps or little league, but I had an allowance so I had comic books, so I had stories, and a lot of space. Fields and rivers and forests and lakes. Then I won a scholarship to art camp. And that was neat, because I was with all these kids who had taken lessons all their lives, and had been in lots of plays. They were all really depressed all the time. I am sure it was affectation. But I bought it, and it made the girls seem sort of sexy. Of this I am sure they were aware.

Then I did high school and became the "drama guy" at a rural high school that did one musical a year. And that was nice because all anyone wants in high school is niche, and I found it.

Then I went to college and it was art camp again. Only instead of pretending they were depressed, they pretended they were deliriously happy all the time, and by that time I was actually depressed. But in real life, they were too.

Then I came to Chicago, and have been working with adults who are in a little more control of their identities. And that has made theater, for the first time, tolerable.

Aaron Dean, one of the newest members of The Ruckus, is a Chicago playwright, actor, musician and novelist. He also babysits and gives drum lessons. Catch him in The Gay American this spring.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Johnny Ten Bones, Johnny, Johnny Ten Bones...

An afternoon of existentialist, tragi-comic, children's theater...

Jeffrey and I had an almost indescribable experience on Saturday. We had the privilege of seeing Brain Surgeon Theater's vibrant and astoundingly energetic production of Johnny Ten Bones (which is part of Chicago's twenty-first annual Rhinofest at Prop Theatre.

Brain Surgeon Theater is a theater company like no other. They create original ensemble-based plays, rock musicals, dance shows, and other performance events that confuse, excite, and usually bring the audience uncomfortably close to wetting their pants from laughter. They work with artists from all backgrounds, including children, who, as they say, "wish to collaborate on highly unusual pieces with strong stories and strong actor-generated character work."

Gwen Tulin, the artistic director of Brain Surgeon, and I went to school together at Brandeis University just outside of Boston. She is...unique. I've worked with her as a director twice now. The first was in a production of CAVES!, Gwen's senior thesis, which was often referred to as the best, and yet most confusing production that the school had ever seen (CAVES! was later presented as part of their first season in Chicago, and featured Jeffrey as Professor Nerdwollap). The second, and much more recent was in Brain Surgeon's Two Evenings of Summer Dance in which I was asked to wear a set of pajamas that were sized women's medium. I am a men's large. Though the production made some serious bank, I think the real reason that the company put it up was because they had never done anything like that before and Gwen thought it would be hysterical. It was.
Anyways, back to the production...

Johnny Ten Bones was first produced by Brain Surgeon Theater in May of 2008. After a very successful initial run, the company decided to remount it this year for Rhinofest. The story leads us through a montage of dreams and nightmares, apparently based on the real nocturnal musings of the cast. We are introduced to a secret underground world ruled over and manipulated by a tortured little boy named Johnny.

Though conceived by the cast of the original production, the script was penned by one of the newest members of the Ruckus family, Mr. Aaron Dean. Now, it is possible that my opinion may be slighty tainted by my admiration of him, but I'm gonna say it anyway. The script is wonderful. In this unapologetic, frightening tale, Dean manages to splice the feel of The Donna Reed Show with A Nightmare on Elm Street. Once you add in Tulin's music which is at once comedic and eerily haunting, you have a fantastic night of theater.

The best part: this production is scary. I firmly believe that art should expose people, including children, to a wide range of experiences and emotions. This includes fear. Bravo to Brain Surgeon for having the guts to put nightmares on stage and invite kids of all ages.

Johnny Ten Bones features actors Chase McCurdy, David Weiss, Henry Barrett, Katie Canavan (from The Ruckus' Heist Play), Layla Kornota, Lily Moore, Liz Ladach-Bark, Maureen Allen, Ulana Coutts and Ethan Link (as the terrifying Johnny Ten Bones). Though a full set of Ruckus props must go to all of the actors for doing such a superb job with this macabre fairy tale, I must say that the highlight of the evening was Liz Ladach-Bark's belt-tastic "I Go Walking." While sung in a child-like manner, it was a perfect juxtaposition to the action on stage. The moment was well directed and extremely well-acted.

Opening day seemed a little rushed, due to the understandable excitement that comes with it I'm sure. I must say that both Jeffrey and I had a blast. Go see this show. It's good times.

"Eat your heart out Betty Davis!"

Johnny Ten Bones performs at Prop Theater and runs until February 14th at 2pm on Saturdays and Sundays. For more information and tickets click here.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

2010: Now, with more Ruckus.

Well hello there. Did you miss us?

We of The Ruckus took a breather for most of November. Well, we did do this:

Zombies for MONEY MONEY MONEY video shoot, song: "Dollar Signs on my CAT Scan." L to R: Paul DuPont, Aaron Dean, Jes Mercer,
Byron Melton (center, not a zombie), Mark Goldfarb, Cory Wolf, Jenny Westervelt. Photo: Jeffrey Fauver.

The video isn't up yet, but we assisted MONEY MONEY MONEY in the creation of their video for "Dollar Signs on my CAT scan." You can hear the song at their website. Many thanks to everyone who came out to zombie or to be an 80s hipster (yeah, weirdest party ever) and especially to makeup artist Nora Hess, who made the gruesome faces you see here with basically no time or money. We loved working with her. Check out the rest of her stuff on her Facebook Fan Page.

Anyway, we spent November doing the things you do after you've produced 13 plays in a 36 seat theater -- we napped. A lot. And ate a lot. Then December hit and we went back to the business of getting awesome. As a part of that getting awesome, we made a lot of big, terribly exciting decisions we want to tell you about. We're very fortunate to be smack in the middle of a successful first season in Chicago, due in no small part to the remarkable Chicago artists we've met and worked with along the way. Five of them in particular were integral to the creation of our first two productions, and we got great big art and administrative crushes on them, so we thought it was time to make our move and seal the deal. We yawned, pretended to stretch while reaching for the popcorn, and cozied up to Timo Aker, Aaron Dean, Kate Holst, Byron Melton and Brian Ruby, whom we now gleefully welcome into the fold as company members. We're now thirteen in number and couldn't be more excited to work shoulder to shoulder with such a talented, smart, clever, and good-looking bunch.

Seriously, go look at their company pages. They're an attractive group.

We're also bidding a sad and fond farewell to two of our founding members, Ryan Dolley and Mitch Vermeersch, who've decided to depart to pursue other projects. They'll succeed wherever the wind may take them, we're sure, and we'll always be indebted to them both for their creative efforts and for the role each of them played in getting us moved to Chicago. They will surely be missed.

We're also positively glowing about some changes we've made to our season. The first big change is the addition of Kristian O'Hare's remarkable world-premiere play, The Gay American. Kristian is a remarkable talent, and I'm honored to be directing his work again. Here's the official blurb:
Farce meets docudrama in The Gay American, an unblinking and provocative investigation of the sexual politics of sex and politics. We follow the rise and fall of former New Jersey governor James McGreevey through the impact it has on those around him-an Everyman-like Congressional Page, his miserable daughter Morag, silently simmering wife Dina, and ambitious aide Golan-and watch his carefully-crafted rising star go supernova in the crucible that is the American political theater.
Cool, right? We're totally stoked. Look for casting information soon.

The second addition is a workshop.... of a musical. Yep. New company member Aaron Dean is working with gifted Chicago composer Jason Rico (fan page here) on an original musical winningly titled Escape from the Boys Choir. Official blurb for that one:
Escape... sends us on a perilous journey with a group of boys on the verge of adulthood. While the boys are not unlike those you might meet on a Chicago street corner today, the world in which they exist is more akin to that of The Brothers Grimm. To our intrepid young escapees, the Tatzelw├╝rm is nearly as terrifying as their heartless choirmaster, the Witch as mysterious as the first pangs of love and lust, and the sweet smell of freedom as lovely as a beautiful young face. Escape... combines the fantastical with the all-too familiar, and the result is a painfully honest, surprising, affecting and seriously funny portrayal of the pain and beauty of adolescence and the beginnings of sexual awakening. If that weren't enough, there's a sadistic groundskeeper, a hallucinogenic mountain-dwelling invertebrate, shape-shifters, kidnappers, and more testicular humor than you can shake a stick at.
They had me at "hallucinogenic mountain-dwelling invertebrate."

The original work of these three remarkable artists will be seen at our home for the season, Rogers Park's The Side Project Theatre, and replace the previously annouced Linear A by Ryan Dolley and the postponed 11-Detroit, to be developed by the company at a later date.

You'll be hearing more from our new company members and these talented writers in the coming weeks -- right here, in our super awesome blog.

To break it down for you: we of The Ruckus feel like the luckiest kids on the block. Five new remarkable faces have been added to our little family, two really killer pieces of new work added to what we think is an already stellar season, and we've many many more months of awesome ahead of us. We're grateful for your support, your interest, your comments, and for all the beers you've drunk with us at Poitin Stil. The Gay American is up next. Hope to see you, at the show and after, in May.

Love love,
Allison Shoemaker and the rest of The Ruckus
(Ghafir, Timo, Joshua, Aaron, Katie, Jeffrey, Joel, Kate, Byron, Seth, Melissa & Brian)

PS - More MONEY MONEY MONEY hijinks below.

Associate Artistic Director Joshua Davis, being super professional.

The dance routine. Yep. Dance routine.

Best. Party. Ever.
(Company member Timo Aker with the lovely Jes Mercer, who was really very hungry.)

Money on my mind. Dollar signs on my CAT scan. Thanks, MONEY MONEY MONEY, for letting us play.