Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Curious Theatre Branch





September 15-17, 2011


The MCA Stage's 15th season launches with the world premiere of a work by Chicago's Curious Theatre Branch that reveals a behind-the-scenes view of the hour before a performance begins. The situations that unfold by the 17-member, multi-generational ensemble are inspired by real experiences and rituals within the company. Still in Play: A Performance of Getting Ready was developed by Jenny Magnus through a year-long residency at the MCA, is directed by Stefan Brün, and features live music by ensemble-comprised Crooked Mouth Band. The performances take place at the Museum of Contemporary Art on September 15-17, 2011.   

Still in Play is scripted, but has the feel of real time improvisation as the actors work through activities and anxieties prior to the start of a performance. The ensemble members move back and forth between acting and playing and singing songs with lyrics that act as a "Greek chorus commentary" about what is happening in the story, focusing on themes of fortitude, perseverance, and frustration. Crooked Mouth Band's style is a cross between folk and pop-rock and features guitar, banjo, bass, accordion, and drums. A massive video projection behind the actors adds another dynamic by presenting both live feed and pre-recorded content. The actors are responsible for running the video while they perform, revealing the creative process to the audience. 

Magnus' residency was part of the MCA's ongoing commitment to support the development of new work by visual and performing artists. Her residency, titled Office Hours, took place over the course of a year. Magnus welcomed visitors to engage in conversation about topics they were interested in and related to Still in Play, including the notion of the theater as a place of work; the stress between parenting and being an artist; the ensemble as tribe and clan; how to maintain generational working relationships; and how an artist can create attention on stage. Notes culled from these interactions directly inspired the development of the work and some of the script is a "love letter to the MCA Stage," according to Magnus.


Curious Theatre Branch was founded in 1988 by Jenny Magnus and Beau O'Reilly as the Curious Theatre "Branch" of the alt-rock cabaret act Maestro Subgum and the Whole. Curious works with an ensemble of artists, ranging from pre-teen to late 70s in age, in a non-hierarchical decision-making process. Curious has produced more than 100 full productions of world-premiere shows. Still in Play marks their fourth full performance at the MCA Stage, including Dictator Light (1997), No Danger of the... Spiritual Thing: Short Plays by Samuel Beckett (2006), and Round and round: a sexfarcetragedy (2008).

Jenny Magnus is co-founder of Curious Theatre Branch, a playwright, performer, and musician whose work has appeared nationally and internationally with Curious, Steppenwolf Studio, Cleveland Public Theater, and the Chimney in Berlin. She also teaches theater and writing at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, University of Chicago, and Columbia College. She has released four music recordings.

Stefan Brün, co-artistic director of the Prop Thtr, has been working with Curious Theatre Branch since 1988 when he directed Careening Is a Skill. Other recent projects include I Am In A Small Space For A Reason I Don't Understand and the current version of Room with Jenny Magnus.

First Night
Thursday, September 15
A moderated post-show talk with the company members and MCA Associate Director of Performance Programs Yolanda Cesta Cursach in the theater provides insight about the performance and includes time for questions from the audience.  

CD Release Concert
Friday, September 16
$10 ticket or $5 with a Still in Play ticket
A CD release concert (separate ticket) for a recording by Crooked Mouth Band along with Elvis Bride and Midnight Moxie follows the September 16 performance.
Saturday Speakeasy
Saturday, September 17
An informal post-show gathering provides a special opportunity for the audience to engage with the artists. Snacks, hot and cold beverages, and beer and wine are available for purchase.

Still in Play takes place Thursday, September 15 - Saturday, September 17, at 7:30 pm at the MCA Stage, 220 East Chicago Avenue. Tickets are $28 and a limited quantity of $10 student tickets is available. The MCA Box Office is at 312.397.4010 or www.mcachicago.org. Running time is approximately 60 minutes.

Image: Curious Theatre Branch performing Still in Play. Photo: Kristin Basta

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