When I first walked in to Writers’ Theatre two years ago, I thought I was lost. “Surely,” I thought, “this can’t be the place. Surely this isn’t the theatre I had heard so much about, the theatre all of my friends raved about, the theatre one of my favorite teachers had often cited as the very best Chicago had to offer. This place is in the back of the Women’s Library Club in a tiny town on the North Shore that I have never heard of. I wonder if I was supposed to stay on I-90…”
As it happens, I was walking in to Writers’ that day to audition for the following summer’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire. I was 22 and fresh out of college. I had booked my first ‘real’ show a few weeks earlier, but it would be several months before it started rehearsals. In the meantime, I was busying myself as a seasonal employee at Toys-R-Us near my hometown, idling away my free time in my mom’s basement, and wondering just what the hell the last four years had been all about. I was going through the motions, experiencing the self-doubt and dread that plagues so many people my age as they are thrust out of the relative safety of a virtually consequence-free college environment and in to The Real World.
My first few months out of school found me auditioning at all of the major Chicago theatres. I was ecstatic to be in the city, finally starting my journey, and was hopeful that opportunities would come my way. But as May turned to June and July turned to August, and as the calls and emails from casting agents waned, and as I traveled up for one disappointing audition after another for dubious agents and in front of rude casting interns, I began to feel weary. So far, The Real World was decidedly disappointing. And it was with this prematurely-acquired cynicism that I drove up to Glencoe in November of 2009, still in my bright red Toys-R-Us polo, for what I fully expected to be another frustrating waste of time and near-crippling blow to my self-esteem.
Upon entering the theatre and being greeted by the production’s director, David Cromer (whom I thankfully hadn’t heard of, or my nerves would have surely derailed my audition), I was immediately struck by its size. It was small, but in that beautiful and wholly pleasing way that is the hallmark of great Chicago storefront theatres. There’s something about the Tudor Court space that immediately welcomes the actor; you feel at home. I was so busy admiring the space, the politeness of the director, the talent of the actress reading as Blanche, and the friendly nature of Michael Halberstam (who was seated up in the back row, almost out of sight) that I forgot to be an entitled, spoiled twenty-something. I left the theatre feeling something I knew I should have been feeling all along: grateful for the opportunity. It really is amazing what can happen in seven minutes.
There’s a lot I could say about this place and about the extraordinary staff that makes it what it is. There’s a lot to be said for the two theatres (I haven’t had the opportunity to see a show in the Books on Vernon space, though I have had the chance to go in and walk around) and the intimacy that is their gift to the actor. There are a lot of things to be said for the community that supports this place, and for the subscribers that keep coming back year after year with such passion and joy. But in the interest of brevity I’ll simply say that there have been many times when I’ve looked around—either backstage or on stage during a show, or on a break in the middle of a tech rehearsal, or just sitting with the cast having a post-show drink—and a thought will occur to me: this is the way it’s supposed to be.
I’ve had the chance to work and audition at some really wonderful places and have gotten to know some great people, but Writers’ remains the yardstick by which all other theatres are measured. And sometimes, standing out on that stage with these extraordinary actors, I am still struck with disbelief that I have been gifted with such a rewarding experience, and graced with such magnificent good fortune.