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"Every man is a variation of yourself." - William Saroyan

photo credit: Diego Colon

"Why this play?" Michael Thornton asked me, hours before the performance. The short answer was because I liked it and I wanted to see these actors in these roles.

The longer answer was in the stage directions, halfway through the first act. When describing the bar the play is set in, Saroyan states that "each person belongs to the environment, in his own person, as himself...It's a good, lowdown honky-tonk American place that lets people alone." At its best, the stage is this to all Chicago artists. It is a safe space that allows us to be the complex characters that we are, to play and discover and be. Nick's Pacific Street Saloon is a place where people can dream, where they can reimagine who they are despite whatever stereotype society dictates.

Katarina, the hooker with a heart of gold, dreams of being an actress named Kitty. So that's who she is, because Joe chooses to believe it. Krupp, the well-meaning cop, dreams of pursuing a life beyond his police work which he no longer believes in, and for a moment, he truly becomes more than he is. Dudley knows his true love will pick up the phone. Any second now. Despite the economic state, the seedy location, the vast differences in class, the war going on outside, people risk their hearts for the chance that they can fulfill their destiny and find their happiness. If only for a moment.

We wanted to do this classic American play because this was a truly American cast. And a beautifully talented one that proved that non-traditional casting can work and can even enrich the text that's there. AC Smith, Michael Patrick Thornton, Anthony Fleming III, Ricardo Gutierrez, Bryan Bosque, Blake Russell, Samuel Roberson, Todd Garcia, Alana Arenas, Anish Jethmalani, Jessie Fisher, Delia Kropp, Diego Colon, Frank Sawa, Kevin Douglas, Demetrios Troy, Barbara Robertson, Behzad Dabu, Christine Bunuan, Chay Yew...these are my stage heroes -- people I would pay to see read the phone book, and here they were putting on a piece of art all on the same stage. Incredible artists from so many different communities telling a story they might not normally get to tell together. In roles they might not normally be called in for. What a dream.

This is the new stage picture that we are promoting.

photo credit: Joe Mazza at Brave-Lux

We were so honored to co-produce this reading with Chay Yew, Victory Gardens Theatre and The League of Chicago Theatres who all believed in our mission to inspire theater leaders, artists and patrons to open their minds to new possibilities. And we were thrilled to see so many patrons, artists and artistic leaders of our community show up that incredible Monday night, whether it be out curiosity, support or desire to push the conversation further.

We wanted to do this staged reading series because it was a way to offer the world what we could be. That onstage is where we can risk, where we can dream and dream big. I can't wait to see what's next.

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