Arts in the Dark features About Face Theater

Wed. October 16, 2019 7:34 AM by Ron Matthew Inawat

skeleton puppet from arts in the dark 2018

photo credit // aneesah muhammad
Chicago, IL - This Saturday, October 19, 2019, the enchanting 5th annual Arts in the Dark Halloween parade marches down State Street, dazzling the audience with unique floats, spectacle puppets and creative performances celebrating Halloween as the artist's holiday and featuring members of Chicago's diverse cultural community, which includes About Face Theatre

The procession honors the "Year of Chicago Theatre" with an opening float followed by 14 Chicago-based theater companies commissioned by LUMA8. In its fifth year, the parade will bring together 80 contingents ranging from world-renowned organizations like The Joffrey Ballet, aspiring artists in every field and important programs such as After School Matters. The parade starts at 6p.m. downtown on State Street and marches from Lake Street to Van Buren.

GoPride talked with Megan Carney, Artistic Director of About Face Theatre.

MI: (Matt Inawat, GoPride) Hi Megan! Tell us about AFC's involvement in the parade and what can we look forward to?

MC: (Megan Carney, About Face Theatre) We are excited! We are an intergenerational theatre company. We have our mainstage season and our youth program, so we're really focused on turning out our company from all of the different aspects of it. So we have artistic associates and our youth ensemble, and really the youth ensemble is leading the charge on this one along with some board members and the staff who are turning out and our theme for our part of the parade is Monsters Out Of The Closet.

We are doing bright, loud monsters in the night and we've got a DJ mixing some tracks for us that are going to combine some low beats and some classic Halloween tracks and we are gonna have some original choreography. We've got some of our lead artists in our youth task force are choreographing some moves that the company is going to learn, so we are going to be stopping and doing some dancing along the route and you are gonna see a lot of different interpretations on monsters.

MI: And I'm sure it is going to be fabulous. Have you had a chance to see some of the costumes yet?

MC: You know, so right now what we are doing is, I haven't seen them yet but what we are thinking about it, we are giving this moment for everybody to kind of draw their own ideas together around it and then we are going to have a meet up where we kind of do a swap and build day where everyone is gonna bring in what they have so far and then we are investing in some ideas that are going to kind of pull it all together.

So some different fabrics and some light ideas to illuminate the costumes and some make-up ideas to kind of pull everyone together in a cohesive team. So I think it is going to have a real cool range of looks.

MI: So how did About Face Theatre get involved in this year's parade?

MC: We got invited by the organizers and they reached out several months ago; and we had the opportunity to apply for this and it really was our education staff that grabbed on hold and thought that this would be a really cool opportunity for us because representation matters and we feel like any chance we have an opportunity to be really out there sharing our mission and just being really visible in public ways is just so important for us as an organization so like a couple of months ago we put in the application and we were just really excited to get to be a part of it.

The Year of Chicago Theatre, I will say the focal point of Chicago theatre stuff has been really innovative and inclusive. We have been really excited to get a couple of opportunities to get out in front of new audiences.

MI: Absolutely! So for those not really familiar with About Face Theatre and its mission, can you tell us a little bit about your mission and purpose?

MC: About Face Theatre was founded 24 years ago believe it or not; and our mission as we talk about it now is about advancing dialogue about gender and sexuality. So that has looked really different over the past 24 years. When we first started it was all about how do we put LGBTQ lives center stage and have these protagonists and really look at our lives in all of their complexity and that wasn't really happening on stage 24 years ago. Usually gay characters or queer characters were the butt of the joke or got killed off. There wasn't that kind of resonance that we are seeing much more inclusive productions today.

So we think about all of the ways misunderstanding or bias and homophobia trans-phobia, racism kind of impact lgbtq lives so we feel like our mission has kind of evolved around like how do we keep advancing that dialogue of like building relationships and inviting people in who maybe want to learn more, but also folks in the community who are just trying to get more connected with our peers and see ourselves reflected on stage.

MI: What are some of the upcoming shows and maybe you can mention some of the messages from those shows that are coming up?

MC: Ok yeah. Well we have got a really exciting season planned. We are doing three equity shows at Theatre Wit this year and we have got an expanded youth theatre program as well. 

The shows coming up at Theatre Wit, the first one is a solo show called "Packing" and it is written and performed by one of our artistic associates named Scott Bradley who you might remember did "Alien Queen" and "We Three Lizas", some really kind of cool and spectacular plays and Scott is writing from a really new place with "Packing" which is an autobiographical piece about growing up in Iowa, and growing up very queer in Iowa and what that was like for him and how that sort of catapulted him into this odyssey of traveling and living different places. 

It is this incredible journey of recovery and sort of peace-making with where we come from which I think a lot of people will really connect with that. It is directed by Jay Yu, who is the artistic director at Victory Gardens and it is our first chance getting to work with Jay so I am really excited about those two. They are just such a dynamic, collaborative team. So that is the first show and that starts previews October31st, so they are starting rehearsals now and that will run through November. 

The second show is called "The Gulf". It is by a writer names Audrey Cephaly. I am directing that and it opens in January at Theatre Wit and that is a play centered around a lesbian couple and it is two lesbians in a boat, down in the bayou. They are fishing and it is a deep, deep story about their affections, their relationship. I think it is so gorgeous. It is just a really contemporary story about these two women in that dynamic where their relationship is changing and they are trying to figure out what that means. Are we staying or are we going and also how are we staying together and how do we keep growing in this relationship. It is quite beautiful.

The third equity show is going to open in the summer at Theatre Wit and that is called "Laced". That is a play by Samantha Mueller and is directed by Lexy Saunders. It is three younger queer and femme-identified folks who work in a bar together and the play begins the morning after there has been an incident of vandalism in the bar. The whole story centers around them first trying to figure out what happened and then how to go on. What I love about this play is I think it reminds us how like bars in our community are such important meeting spaces. It is like where we connect with people, where we find our people, where we get to fully express ourselves.

It is such a fully important cultural space and when our bars get violated, which happens all of the time, it happened through history with raids and incidences of violence. How do we react to that. I love this play makes it very poetic and it is very fiery and it is the younger generation's voice, but it also speaks to something that I think is so at the core of how our community organizes and how we can persist. So we are excited cause that is going to open in May and it is gonna play into Pride Month this summer so we are hoping to get to share that with a lot of folks, and actually it was inspired by some things that happened at Berlin several years ago and so it is just kind of cool that we get to do the world premiere down the street from Berlin.

MI: All of those sound absolutely amazing. "Gulf" is so timely today, especially with Stonewall having its 50th anniversary, just having that reminder how important bars, and other places, that are/were there for our community.

You mentioned how that show really touches on young people, the youth of today, can you tell us a little about the youth theatre program?

MC: Absolutely. We just celebrated the 20 th anniversary of our youth theatre program. It has been a really amazing year. We had a big, blowout production at The Center on Halsted this past summer and it was just a beautiful, sold out run and it was looking at history, but mixing voices from today and we are really excited about the leadership coming out of our youth program right now. 

There is a component of our program called the Youth Task Force and those are young people who have been in the ensemble and have come back for another year. The Youth Task Force, last year, created this new idea, this new program, called Kinship. Kinship is an opportunity, it is an experimental, pop-up queer performance series and it really features queer youth of color. It increases space, it really encourages people to try new things. It is very experimental and last year we did four Kinships over at the Martin, which is a gallery and performance space in Logan Square. The last one we did, we got invited to Steppenwolf in the 1700 space and cabaret space they have by the front bar and we sold it out. So we were like "ok, we are on to something here. Kinship is happening." 

So this year we are committing to five Kinships and they are curated by The Youth Task Force and each one features queer-identified young folks who are just really boldly experimenting with new forms. We are setting the dates for those now. We will be able to announce them soon. What I love about that is that it is an all-ages space and our young people are saying there aren't a lot of all ages spaces for them in the city. So that is really important. It is cool because it does attract young people from all around the city and it also attracts families and I've been there on nights when someone's grandma was there. It was just absolutely stunning. 

We also are starting a new thing this year called The Academy at About Face Theatre. This is kind of going next level with our youth theatre workshops that the young people from all around the city form an ensemble with our teaching artists and they meet on Saturdays throughout the year. This year we are really focusing it around theatre training and leadership development and it is called The Academy. So we have this ensemble of 20 young people from all around Chicago and the nearby burbs and those meetings are going to start later this Fall.

MI: How does someone get involved if they wanted to volunteer or get involved with About Face?

MC: That is a great question. We also have our touring program, that I don't want to leave out.

We have a show called "Power in Pride" and we have this phenomenal cast of five actors who have developed that show that have combined their own stories with moments in queer history and that show tours into Chicago public schools and campuses and lot of other venues so that is about to open too and you know what is really cool about that is when we look at the end of the year and think about where we went and who did we reach and whether we had an impact with our mission, we are reaching about the same amount of people with our main stage programming as we have with our youth programs and our

outreach tour. So that is a priority for us because getting into schools and even workplaces and just kind of connecting with people in that more intimate way and letting them ask questions and stuff has been amazing.

So how do people get involved. So lots of different ways. We love it if people come and see our shows, for sure. So a great way to get to know us is come to the theatre. You can book us to come to you and work with wherever you are working or a community organization or something like that. We can bring programs. We also are actively recruiting people for our board so if somebody wanted to kind of get to know us better and find a way to give back to the LGBTQ community and find a way to combine a love of art and social justice, board service is a great way to do that. Those are the big things that come up.

MI: That sounds like an amazing education moment for schools and workplaces; how many students you are planning to reach this year?

MC: It usually average around 5000 people and that breaks down differently. Sometimes it will be like 15 schools and sometimes it is like 10 schools and 5 workplaces and community orgs, it kind of looks a little different in terms of, like last year we got in front of some really big audiences because we, in part because of The Year of Chicago Theatre, we were at Millennium Park. 

We were at Chicago Ideas Week and so we were able to get in front of, I don't know, like 13,000 people with our outreach programs. It was a really incredible year. It is a priority for us. We want to work with schools and also with the teachers because things keep changing. You know vocabulary is changing and the way we talk about and think about identity and the way people are trying to be more inclusive with the curriculum, all of that is constantly evolving and we try and develop our program so that we can stay in close conversation with all of that.

MI: Thanks Megan! See you at the parade!

LUMA8 (Light Up My Arts), which produces Arts in the Dark, is an independent not-for-profit dedicated to creating conversations about Chicago that are heard around the world - achieved through unique cultural events and experiences, often using light and scale as tools, and by developing innovative ways to amplify the effect of existing arts initiatives. It coordinates the work of public agencies, arts organizations and artists to elevate the cultural life of the city, attract visitors, and ultimately generate economic impact.