Waltzing Mechanics

Chicago's Home for Documentary Theatre

NEWS: Waltzing Mechanics Presents Cosmic Events Are Upon Us


Waltzing Mechanics proudly presents the World Premiere of COSMIC EVENTS ARE UPON US, Written and directed by Keely Leonard

 "How do you know if your 'right' is wrong?"

CHICAGO - October 14, 2016 - Waltzing Mechanics welcomes you to join in the extravagance, the opulence, the foolishness, and the deep bond of love shared by the Romanov family in its next documentary theatre production. Developed over three years of intensive research and workshopping, Cosmic Events Are Upon Us is playwright/director Keely Leonard's retelling of the all-too-true story of the Romanov family, the last ruling monarchs of Russia.

After the Romanovs were toppled and replaced by the Soviet Union, they were reviled as oppressors of their people and upholders of an outmoded oligarchy. But they didn't start that way.  Cosmic Events takes the audience on a staggering journey alongside the Romanovs as they stumble through leading a country, gaining the trust of their people, losing a World War, abdicating the throne, and living in confinement.

"I can’t tear my eyes away from this moment in history," says Leonard. "It’s this whole saga, and I can only tell one part of it! There is nothing I could possibly create that would have higher stakes than what’s already there. Your family, your freedom, your country, your life - everybody in this play has everything to lose, at all times. But then what makes it delicious is that most of the time, nobody seems to be paying attention to it!"

"It terrifies me how much I feel for this family," she continues, "even though their political practices are literally unforgivable. It terrifies me even more that the incredible courage and strength of the revolutionaries who came together to create a better world for themselves ended up wasted on another kind of pure evil when Josef Stalin came along."

"Keely Leonard's epic new play tackles a complicated moment in history and makes it accessible using contemporary language, irreverent humor, and the real life words of the people who lived through it," says Waltzing Mechanics Artistic Director, Zack Florent. "Cosmic Events tells a shockingly relatable story; its about the Russian revolution, but you can't help but notice some unsettling parallels to the current social and political atmosphere in America."

Cosmic Events Are Upon Us runs November 4 - 26 at Ebenezer Lutheran Church Auditorium (1650 W Foster Ave, Chicago, IL 60640).  Performances are Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 7:30 pm, with Saturday matinees at 2:30 pm.  General admission tickets are $30 in advance / $35 at the door.  Student and group discounts are available.  For a complete listing of dates or to purchase tickets, please visit www.waltzingmechanics.org/cosmicevents

ABOUT WALTZING MECHANICS Waltzing Mechanics creates original documentary theater inspired by real people telling stories about their lives. Using methods of performance ethnography, we facilitate dialogues among our audiences and within our communities. 

NEWS: Trick or Treat with HELL STORIES this Halloween!

NEWS: TRICK OR TREAT WITH HELL STORIES THIS HALLOWEEN View this email in your browser (http://us7.campaign-archive1.com/?u=4dc5726b0b433e448b58de88d&id=4b630f6bca&e=e1c18035c0) Waltzing Mechanics announces 26th edition of EL Stories HELL STORIES Directed by Natalie Sallee Be haunted by the ghouls of the EL Trains this Halloween season CHICAGO - September 30, 2016 - Just in time for Halloween, Waltzing Mechanics announces the cast for its latest hair-raising installment of EL Stories, the HELL Stories, directed by Natalie Sallee. HELL Stories is bound to Trick AND Treat you with a terrifying trip on the CTA featuring Chicago's most peculiar and intimidating characters- witches, giants, stalkers, creepy crawlers and more. We are sharing death-defying tales that will keep the audience at the edge of their seats, and likely ordering an Uber.

"The process was definitely unlike any other directing work I've done!" says director Sallee. "I hope audiences walk out with a sense of excitement about EL Stories and what it is. I love when people continue talking about the stories in the lobby and want to get involved themselves!" HELL Stories features Kristopher Bottrail, Alicia Ciuffini, Jenny Guy, Samantha Jai, Michael Lewis, K. Marbury, Maggie Miller, Maya Schultz, and Lisa Thomas.

HELL Stories runs through November 19th at the Greenhouse Theater Center located at 2257 N. Lincoln Avenue beginning at 10:30 p.m. Run time is approximately 60 minutes. Tickets are on sale now for $20 at greenhousetheater.org or by calling 773-404-7336. Student and industry tickets are available for $10. For more information, visit our website at waltzingmechanics.org.

ABOUT WALTZING MECHANICS Waltzing Mechanics creates original documentary theater inspired by real people telling stories about their lives. Using methods of performance ethnography, we facilitate dialogues among our audiences and within our communities.

Upcoming productions for the Waltzing Mechanics include Cosmic Events Are Upon Us, an original documentary play following the Romanov family through the fall of Imperial Russia, which begins previews on November 2.

For further information or to request press tickets, please contact: Bob Prescott, Marketing Coordinator 219.263.3666 - bprescott@waltzingmechanics.org

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NEWS: Waltzing Mechanics hosts dialogue on police shootings on July 25th

Waltzing Mechanics' WE HEAR reflects recent tragic events in performance and dialogue on July 25th

Waltzing Mechanics announces the first convening of WE HEAR Recent tragic events spur the creation of a public forum for artistic expression and public dialogue

CHICAGO - On July 25, 2016, Waltzing Mechanics, Chicago's stage for documentary theatre, will host an evening of performances and conversation reflecting current news events entitled We Hear. The gathering will convene at 7:00 PM at the Berger Park Cultural Center, 6205 N. Sheridan Road in Chicago. Admission is free.

Following the murders of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and five police officers in Dallas last week, director Andrea Beschel took to Facebook to ask where citizens in Chicago were gathering to pursue a dialogue about these tragic events. "I see outrage behind screens," Beschel said, "but I need to know other people are out there. I need to do something about this, or else I will just sit here and 'like' other people's statuses and say 'it's a shame' from the comfort of my home. I can't do that."

Once Waltzing Mechanics co-founder Thomas Murray responded with an offer of artistic space, Beschel, Murray, and actress Tiffany Mitchenor conceived a program that is part open mic, part artistic showcase, and part group discussion. "Waltzing Mechanics' full-length original docudramas take more than a year to create," Murray said, "and they do not allow us to respond in the near term to current news and events. Since our company was founded to reflect our community's stories and provide opportunities for public dialogue, We Hear will embody that commitment to artistically reflect current events using found texts including journalism, poetry, editorials, music, and oral histories."

What is We Hear? We Hear is a gathering space for the artistic community and the community at large to react to events both international and domestic that impact our city. Its purpose is to give people a physical platform to express concern, anger, frustration, and grief that is normally reserved for private spaces or digital outlets. We Hear is an opportunity for artists to respond through their medium, ask questions, and hear others discuss issues they are passionate about. The goal of We Hear is to be a space for expression and discussion - a place to publicly react to news and events.

What is the format of We Hear? There will be eight curated artistic acts chosen ahead of time by organizers to showcase a wide array of responses to current events. There will be four open mic slots where anyone who has something to say or perform can do so. These open mic slots will be limited to 2 minutes. In addition to the staged performances, white boards will be posted for guests to make open comments, and a submission box will be available for questions and comments that may be read aloud anonymously or be discussed in story circles afterwards. Post-performance discussions will be moderated in groups of increasing size to allow everyone inclined a chance to share.

Who performs at We Hear? While organizers will assemble some participants they know, we believe it is important to keep spaces open for people who may be new to the project. This goal is achieved not only by having ‘open mic’ slots, but also by having an open submission policy for material. In addition to artists and performers, slots could be filled by academics, reporters, and community members who are knowledgeable on a topic of particular interest. Those who share can provide context, pose questions, and further probe a situation being discussed at the event.

When is We Hear? Whenever the space is needed, it shall be activated. Waltzing Mechanics will aim for theatrical dark nights to accommodate the widest population of the artistic community, but We Hear will occur only when necessary rather than periodically. The first gathering of We Hear will occur on Monday, July 25, 2016 at 7:00 PM at the Berger Park Cultural Center, 6205 N. Sheridan Road in Chicago. Admission is free.

Founded in 2010, Waltzing Mechanics create original theatrical works inspired by real people telling stories about their lives. Using methods of performance ethnography, we facilitate dialogues among our audiences and within our communities.

For more information about We Hear, please contact Thomas Murray at 773-307-1570 (tel:773-307-1570) or tmurray@waltzingmechanics.org.

News: 25th Edition of 'EL Stories' Gets 'Tunnel Vision'


Waltzing Mechanics announces casting and dates for EL Stories: Tunnel Vision Directed by Mary Patchell Chicago's ongoing documentary show celebrating its 25th iteration CHICAGO - April 6th, 2016 - Waltzing Mechanics announces the title and casting for their latest round of EL Stories - Tunnel Vision, directed by Mary Patchell. Exploring the moments of connection in a culture of isolation, EL Stories: Tunnel Vision asks the question, what happens when we let down our walls? With stories ranging from the unique ways that our city deals with the weather, strange comforts found on our morning commutes, and interacting with fabulous individuals for the first time, EL Stories: Tunnel Vision presents a wholly and uniquely Chicagoan experience of commuting and viewing the world.

"The CTA typically finds commuters completely absorbed in their own worlds, using every tactic we know to avoid interaction with the people we share our commute with," says director Patchell. "I wanted to take a look at some moments where people have been forced to take a step outside of their protective bubbles. Connect, feel for, and see something different in their fellow man."

EL Stories: Tunnel Vision features Torey Adkins, Tarina Bradshaw, Jennifer Cheung, Kristen McCabe, Aaron Rabkin, Emma Sharp, Zach Tabor, PJ Walker, Gabrielle Wilson, and Ashley Yates.

EL Stories: Tunnel Vision runs through June 18th at the Greenhouse Theater Center located at 2257 N. Lincoln Avenue beginning at 10:30 p.m. Run time is approximately 60 minutes. Tickets are on sale now for $20 at greenhousetheater.org or by calling 773-404-7336. Student and industry tickets are available for $10. For more information, visit our website at waltzingmechanics.org.

ABOUT WALTZING MECHANICS Waltzing Mechanics creates original documentary theater inspired by real people telling stories about their lives. Using methods of performance ethnography, we facilitate dialogues among our audiences and within our communities.

Upcoming productions for the Waltzing Mechanics include an original documentary play following the Romanov family through the fall of imperial Russia, scheduled for Fall 2016.

For further information or to request press tickets, please contact:

J.D. Ostergaard, Event Coordinator 312.714.2233 - jdostergaard@waltzingmechanics.org or Bob Prescott, Marketing Coordinator 219.263.3666 - bprescott@waltzingmechanics.org


News: Waltzing Mechanics Celebrates Fifth Consecutive Year with Earlier Departure Time


CHICAGO - After four years at 11 o'clock, Waltzing Mechanics is pleased to announce that 'EL Stories' is moving to 10:30 p.m., beginning January 16. Marking its fifth consecutive year at the Greenhouse Theatre Center, the twenty-fourth edition, 'El Stories: Riding the Line', focuses on engaging with strangers in an unfamiliar environment. Users of public transit are constantly navigating the risk of intervention and the potential for a serendipitous surprise versus harm to oneself or others. 'EL Stories: Riding the Line' explores that line of interaction between a warm invitation and a cold encounter.

"There are three choices we make every time we're on public transit" says director Kanomé Jones. "We can initiate action, participate in it, or ignore it all together. No matter the choice, we become momentarily involved in someone else's world and while that can be fun and enjoyable, it can also be offensive and hostile." Jones said she wanted to explore engaging with strangers because crossing that first line of presence can elicit a "wonderful surprise." She finished with "but what happens if you don't cross in far enough and you miss out? Or you go too far and you hurt someone?"

'EL Stories: Riding the Line’ features Stephan Collins-Stepney, Alisha Fabbi, Zach Finch, LaKecia Harris, Angela Horn, Matthew Lunt, Semaj Miller, Chelsea Rolfes, Brian Sheridan, and Emily Renee Shimskey.

Running January 16th through March 26th on Saturday nights at 10:30 pm, tickets are $20 general admission and are available in advance at greenhousetheater.org or by calling 773-404-7336. Student and industry tickets are available.

Upcoming productions for the Waltzing Mechanics include Danielle Pinnock's 'Body/Courage', a co-production with Rivendell Theatre Ensemble, running February 4-27, and an original documentary play following the Romanov family through the fall of imperial Russia, tentatively scheduled for Fall of 2016.

For more information or to request press tickets, please contact: J.D. Ostergaard, Event and Media Coordinator 312.714.2233 - jdostergaard@waltzingmechanics.org

Waltzing Mechanics presents: 'EL Stories: Riding the Line'

Saturdays at 10:30 p.m. January 16th - March 26th, 2016

Greenhouse Theater Center 2257 N Lincoln Ave Chicago, IL 60614

$20 general admission

Advance tickets at greenhousetheater.org or 773-404-7336.

Running time is approximately 60 minutes.

NEWS: 'EL Stories: Holiday Train' Returns and Adds Friday Night Shows



CHICAGO – Deck the train with lights and ribbon; 'Tis the season o' scented cinnamon. With carols blaring loud as ever; Riding home's a strange endeavor.

'EL Stories: Holiday Train' returns to the Greenhouse Theater Center (2257 N Lincoln Ave) on November 28th at 11:00 pm. Shows have been added on Friday nights due to popular demand and will run until January 9th.

"Not everyone has had the opportunity to experience the Holiday Train in Chicago," explains director Carinne Uslar. "As one of those commuters who has never had the luck to stumble upon the magical Holiday Train, I decided instead to share stories emulating the spirit of the season, but happen year round. Sometimes we forget that all EL rides have the potential to be filled with magic, sunshine, and happiness."

'EL Stories: Holiday Train’ features Zach Bundy, Melinda Deamon, Brian Gore, Katie Medford, Kat Moraros, JT Nagle, Nicola Rinow, Jackie Seijo, Lisa Stran, and Brian Tochterman. Running November 28th to January 9th on the 11:00 pm route Friday and Saturday nights, tickets are $20 general admission and are available in advance at greenhousetheater.org or by calling 773-404-7336. Student and industry tickets are available. There will be no performances on Christmas Day, December 26th, or New Years Day.

Upcoming productions for the Waltzing Mechanics include a co-production of Danielle Pinnock's 'Body/Courage' with Rivendell Theatre Ensemble in January and an original documentary play that examines the fall of the last tsar of Russia through a contemporary lens, tentatively scheduled for Fall of 2016.

Waltzing Mechanics creates original theatrical works inspired by real people telling stories about their lives. Using methods of performance ethnography, we facilitate dialogue among our audiences and within our communities.

For more information or to request press tickets, please contact: J.D. Ostergaard, Event and Media Coordinator 312.714.2233 - jdostergaard@waltzingmechanics.org

Waltzing Mechanics presents 'EL Stories: Holiday Train'

Fridays and Saturdays at 11:00 p.m. November 28, 2015 - January 9, 2016 No show on December 25th, December 26th or January 1st.

Greenhouse Theater Center 2257 N Lincoln Ave Chicago, IL 60614

$20 general admission. Advance tickets at greenhousetheater.org or 773-404-7336.

Running time is approximately 60 minutes.

Actor Zach Bundy Returns for Third Ride on Holiday Train

This is my third year performing in EL Stories: Holiday Train.  I have played a dad from Fort Wayne, a speaker emitting holiday music, a Dapper Dan man, and a guy who kicks the Snowpocalypse in the snowballs.  Throughout all these experiences one thing remains constant: it is a pure joy to return each year and see new and old faces greeting me when I arrive.  

Year one: My Chicago Theatrical Debut.  

A couple months before the Holiday Train of 2013, I was approached and asked if I was interested in auditioning for the show.  Having not done any theatre since I had moved to Chicago, I thought this would be a great way to ease into the theatre scene with a well established company and series.  So I auditioned and got cast.  Going into the first rehearsal, I had an idea of what to expect, having seen a previous EL Stories.  After the initial read through it became apparent that this would be a great experience.  What I find fascinating about EL Stories is meeting the people who are in the stories or knowing someone in them.  We were fortunate to perform that year at the Illinois High School Theatre Festival at Illinois State University.  I should preface this story, every Holiday Train there is one scene that has been described as the “Twas the Night Before Christmas” story.  Meaning that it is told every year.  It is titled “Paul’s Story” and is told by Paul about Harold, the head of Special Events at Carson Pirie Scott on State Street in Chicago.  In it Harold must go on as Santa Claus and greet a family he saw on the EL.  After our performance and Q&A session, at ISU, a man came up to us and told us he knew Harold and was actually a Santa at Carson for a time.  As tellers of these stories we are inly given the recordings as source material, so it was great to here another account of who Harold was.  


Year two: The Return.  

Asked if I would like to return and be in another rendition of the Holiday Train I jumped at the opportunity.  A new cast and a new script.  As a returning performer I felt great going into the rehearsal.  It was nice to meet the new friends with whom I would be sharing the stage.  We instantly connected and became a close cast.  This was the first year we performed at Kriskindlemart.  I remember meeting in the main lodge house and drinking some hot chocolate, and meeting friends and family members of the other cast members who were there in support.  We took the stage and performed three or four scenes for the crowd that was huddled together for warmth, and received great praise when we were done.  I remember walking around after and hearing people telling me and the other cast members their experience with the Holiday Train.  It became apparent to me at that moment how connected we are as Chicagoans because of our shared experiences with the CTA or the Holiday Train.  

Year Three: The Return… Part Two

Again asked if I was interested in returning, my first thought was, “Three’s a crowd.”  But then I looked back on my previous two years and decided it was worth every second of it.  With yet again a new cast and script, I was excited for the first read through.  When I arrived I was greeted by the faces of two cast members from the previous Holiday Train who were also returning.  This was a nice present, to catch up with old friends and make new ones.  From the first rehearsal it was obvious that we, as a cast, were connecting.  We were working as one machine with all the parts flowing seamlessly.  Having four people in our cast who have done some prior EL Stories, I was confident that rehearsals would run smooth.  But quickly realized that experience had nothing to do with it, as those first time cast members were on point.  

As I write this we are heading into Tech rehearsal.  With this cast and crew, I am confident that this year will be just as memorable as the last two.  We are yet again performing at Kriskindlemart and on WGN Radio, and also at League of Chicago Theatres.  With another year under my belt I don’t know if I will or will not return for another, but urge those who haven’t to take part in this process. The people I have meet and worked with, and the stories we have told, are the driving force behind my want to return each year.  And if you want to see for yourself we will be telling the stories every Friday and Saturday night at 11pm at the Greenhouse Theatre Center.  Happy Holidays.

ZACH BUNDY is a Chicago actor and is represented by Gill Hayes Talent Agency.  

Romanov Play: Anastasia

Let's Talk About the Animated Film Anastasia - Unrelated, You Should Totally Watch the Animated Film Anastasia

There is a movie. It is called Anastasia. It imagines a story of Anastasia Romanov in which she:

  • is not killed by Bolsheviks
  • is in fact saved from Bolsheviks by a kitchen boy (that's what they call him in the movie - a kitchen boy)
  • gets amnesia and grows up in an orphanage never knowing her true identity 
  • meets the kitchen boy again (but they don't recognize each other!) when he is trying to find someone to pretend to be Anastasia for a Seedy Cash Reward because SCOUNDRELS
  • realizes she actually IS Anastasia, after much song-and-dance
  • defeats an undead Rasputin and his Terrible Romanov Curse
  • hooks up with the kitchen boy after he realizes Seedy Cash Rewards are empty because LOVE
  • finds and keeps the world’s most adorable dog

 Here is Anastasia in Anastasia:


She sings, she dances, the length of her hair can change at any moment and she has the fanciest dresses in all the land.

Oh, and this is her dog:


All this glory comes at a price, of course, and that price is History.  Here is a list of Some of the Historical Inaccuracies in the film:

  • Real-Life Anastasia did get not to sing "Journey to the Past."
  • Real-Life Anastasia did not fall in love with the kitchen boy.  (There was no kitchen boy.)
  • Real-Life Anastasia was not tortured by Rasputin, because Real-Life Rasputin was not a sorcerer bent on destroying the Romanovs. Real-Life Rasputin was an eccentric mystic, and he was their friend.
  • The (super-short) story on Rasputin is that a lot of people didn’t like him, but the Romanovs loved and trusted him because he seemed to be able to save their desperately sick son. Ergo, they listened to his advice about how to run the country - and it turned out to some truly terrible advice. Then the people who didn’t like him REALLY didn’t like him, and they decided probably the best idea would be to kill him.  Which is what they did.

 But soft! 'Twas not all False! Here is a list of Some Things That Were True:

  • A lot of people did believe that somehow one of the Romanovs had survived.  They often tended to fixate on Anastasia in particular and a variety of women claming to be Anastasia popped up all over Europe for years after the Revolution.
  • Wealthy people in Imperial Russia did get to wear the fanciest dresses in all the land

For a while, Anastasia Romanov’s fate did have some mystery to it - eyewitness accounts all said she was killed, but there were two bodies missing from those found in the burial sight, a boy and a girl's. This is no longer the case.  In 2007 they found the final remains of the missing Romanov children; DNA testing confirmed their identities.  All seven Romanos now rest in a church in St. Petersburg.

Here is Real-Life Anastasia, holding her real-life dog. 

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The Romanov Play: Come to This Reading! Also Here's Some Stuff That You Should See



To what you say? To a reading! Of this darn play! It'll be at the Greenhouse Theatre on November 17th at 7pm as part of their Trellis series. You should totally come. It's gonna be fun, and also, by coming and responding to the play, you are helping me make it better which means how nice are you for doing that? The NICEST! 

AND - because I can't resist, here are three other things I want to share. They come under the headline of Some of the Stuff I've Found That Make Me Unable to Not Keep Writing This Play.  (You know.  SSIFTMMUTNKWTP.  It rolls off the tongue.) There will be more. For now, you just have to see - 

1. This photo of the Romanov daughters:

To me this image looks EXACTLY like what it is - a family vacation photo. That special, unavoidable family vacation photo that parents insist on taking when you need to not be doing that anymore. Here is what I imagine the girls saying, going from left to right:

Anastasia: Are they taking our picture again? I- wow. They are, they are taking our picture again.

Tatiana: If I'm very still it will go away, if I'm very still it will go away...

Maria: Wait, where am I supposed to be looking?


2. This part of a letter from Nicholas to his future wife:

"Oh! do not say 'no' directly, my dearest Alix, do not ruin my life already! Do you think there can exist any happiness in the whole world without you!"

-Tsar Nicholas II, writing in 1893 to Alexandra after she had refused his first proposal.

3. This quote on the tsarina at work during WWI:

"I have seen the empress of Russia assisting in the most difficult operations, taking from the hands of the busy surgeons amputated legs and arms, removing bloody and vermin-ridden field dressings."

-Anna Vyrubova, a lady-in-waiting to Tsarina Alexandra

The tsarina and the two elder girls went through a rigorous training program so they could help as nurses at the hospitals during World War I. Once qualified, spent long days dressing and redressing wounds, keeping soldiers company and helping with even the most gruesome operations. They also turned all available space in the city into wards for the wounded, including all of the major rooms in the Winter Palace. Here is a picture of Olga and Tatiana with a soldier:

Another fact to keep in mind with this image: as the war progressed, the Russians eventually ran so short of supplies that the soldiers were sometimes sent to the front without bullets. I promise I'm not being flippant when I say: WHAT??? HOW IS THAT A THING? 

To be continued. As always.  

PS: Thanks to all of you who suggested titles. ("Crazy Russian Eyes?" Amazing.) It's by no means a closed discussion, so if you feel inspired, don't be shy.  

The Romanov Play: Thoughts on a First Read-Through

Alright, guys. Here's some Real Talk: a First Read-Through is scary. Even if your play doesn't open for another year, it's still scary. Here are the three steps I have found to be essential to survive one: 


STEP ONE: Start by carefully tricking a group of incredibly talented and kind people to be in your theatre company.  

This takes years.  For myself, I can neither confirm nor deny the use of kidnapping.

STEP TWO: Proceed to talk non-stop to these people about whatever it is you want them to read.

This way, when you finally get around to actually asking them to do it, there's a part of them that will be willing to do it just so you'll stop talking about it. This is also a trick, because mwahahaha, you're never going to stop talking about it - but you can totally imply that you might, and they will totally believe you.

STEP THREE: Once aforementioned company members (and if you're lucky, maybe an additional friend or two) are gathered for Desired Reading, bring them cupcakes.

You won't need them, especially if you were smart enough to have tricked Carinne Uslar into being in your theatre company (you can't it's too late she's ours mwahahahah again). She will already have provided wine and snacks because she's an amazing hostess. HOWEVER - and this is very important - bringing cupcakes will ease your conscience. As you listen to friends who have worked two double shifts in the last two days and who should be at home asleep but who are instead are sitting next to you asking you how to pronounce Tsarkoe Selo, you will at least be able to say to yourself, "Well, Self. At least you brought cupcakes."

-- -

Now, having taken these three steps, a First Read-Through happened to me last Sunday, and due mostly to step #1, it was SUCH A FUN DAY! Thank you so so much to Shariba, Kanome, Zack, Joey, Bryan, Carinne and Lew for your help. It occurs to me now, I'm not sure if I hugged you all. I meant to. I meant to give you all giant, warm, grossly fuzzy hugs, so be prepared the next time you see me. 

As far as How the Play Is Going, here is what I will say for the record in This Here Blog Here, if only for the amusement of Future Keely, that she may chortle heartily. (For some reason I always picture myself as a very hearty chortler in the future.) What I learned - or perhaps, if I am honest, what I confirmed, because I suspected as much - is that I am one transparent writer lady. The scenes I was less interested in - well, they weren't as interesting. I'm a bad faker. The good news is: the excitement I've had by myself about the stories I love the most - stories I couldn't tear my eyes away from when I first read them in the source materials - became excitement I got to share. Here's one of those stories: After the revolution, when the Romanovs were in captivity, Nicholas II (ie the deposed tsar) was very aware that he was an ex-tsar.  He even tried to find the humor in it. "Don't call me tsar anymore," he'd say. "I'm only an ex." One day, in the early weeks of their confinement, the family gathered for lunch and found that the ham they were intending to eat was burnt. Nicholas said, "Well, this may have once been a ham, but now it's nothing but an ex-ham." And the captive family laughed together.

I mean.  I just.  It's such a piercing moment of self-awareness to me. Such a raw picture of someone's fight to find an equilibrium. And it's also such a Dad Joke. Ex-ham. Ha! Who would have imagined the last Russian emperor telling a Dad Joke? 

There's more where that came from, but I'll leave it there for now. There's something else I have to tell you guys: I still have no idea what the heck to call this play. Like for realsies. I'm taking suggestions. Once upon a time I was going to call it Fall. Like fall of the Romanovs, fall from grace, fall from power... omg do you get it? You get it. Do you really get it, though?

It seemed so elegant, so simple! One word! It would say so much! It would be so easy to put on a poster! But alas, I awoke one day and realized, all that title really says is OMG LOOK AT ME I AM SO DEEP I'M LIKE THE DEEPEST and it's got to go. So if somebody has a better idea, please send it my way and I will shamelessly steal it. 

One last note (especially if we're talking about the Deepest, because you guys, I am NOT) - here's a picture of Rasputin and also of Viggo Mortensen. Why do they look so similar, and should I re-write the play to be a prequel to Lord of the Rings? I leave it to you to ponder.



NEWS: 'EL Stories: Heroes' Flies in for Fall



CHICAGO – Carry the Summer blockbusters into Fall with a night of local superheroes in the twenty-second edition of 'EL Stories' entitled 'Heroes'. Full of Chicago saviors to rival the Hollywood action films, this edition was the idea of Sara Sawicki, the director and adaptation writer of 'Heroes'.

"Big moments of danger," says Sawicki, "or small moments of kindness that just may have saved someone's day. This edition of 'EL Stories' is an exploration of those moments. I found, as I collected stories, that so many of these moments go un-celebrated, so I wanted to take few moments to toast some public transit protectors: flawed, triumphant, totally unsuccessful, quirky and everything in between."

Upcoming productions for the Waltzing Mechanics include 'EL Stories: Holiday Train' and a co-production of Danielle Pinnock's 'Body/Courage' with Rivendell Theatre. Student and industry tickets, as well as codes for discounts, are available for 'EL Stories' fans for continuously supporting the series.

'EL Stories: Heroes’ features Clara Flaherty, Natalya Grabavoy, John Ham, Noor Hamdi, Sabrina Harms, Amber Hugee, Katie Incardona, Khloe Janel, Hannah Williams, and David Zallis.

Running the 11:00 pm route on Saturday nights at the Greenhouse Theater Center (2257 N Lincoln Ave) from September 5th until November 21st, ‘EL Stories: Heroes’ tickets are $20 general admission and are available in advance at greenhousetheater.org or 773-404-7336.

Waltzing Mechanics creates original theatrical works inspired by real people telling stories about their lives. Using methods of performance ethnography, we facilitate dialogue among our audiences and within our communities.

For more information or to request press tickets, please contact: J.D. Ostergaard, Publicist, 312-714-2233 jdostergaard@waltzingmechanics.org

Waltzing Mechanics presents 'EL Stories'

Saturdays at 11:00 p.m. September 5, 2015 - November 21, 2015

Greenhouse Theater Center 2257 N Lincoln Ave Chicago, IL 60614

$20 general admission. Advance tickets at greenhousetheater.org or 773-404-7336.

Running time is approximately 60 minutes



The Romanov Play: An Introduction

The thing is, I'm writing this play.  

It's a play about the fall of the Romanovs, about the necessary end of the Russian monarchist government and the family destroyed to make that happen. It's a tragedy, but it isn't meant to feel sad, at least not most of the time. It's more about people than events because the people in this story are fascinating. They're complicated and passionate and surprisingly funny. Most of all, they are disturbingly recognizable.  

You won't see this play anytime soon.  While there will be a whole bunch of read-throughs and workshops and meetings and other sexy things to get the pulse racing throughout the next few months, the actual show won't go up for another year. The thing is, though, I'm excited about it NOW.

So I'm going to start talking about it in this blog, every step along the way until I finally get to show you all the whole thing. I don't know who "you all" might be, but to whoever is reading these words: Hello! I am so glad you're here. I want to show you something:

This is Anastasia Romanov. She's thought to be fifteen years old in this photograph. The man next to her, pretending to allow her to smoke, is her father, Tsar Nicholas II.  I love this picture, the look in their eyes. Mischievous.  Goofy, even.  It looks like they are both about to burst out laughing.

After this photograph is taken, they and the other four members of the family have about two more years before they will be shot, bayoneted and buried.

I found this photograph by accident in a library. The moment was like an upside-down, nightmare version of what I felt when I was a little kid seeing the "real" Santa for the first time. In the space of an instant, something that I had categorized as intangible seemed to acquire texture. Breath.

What's more, because the Romanovs lived in an era when photography was becoming increasingly accessible, there is a vast array of images just like this. These pictures of what I used to think of as something long and ago and far away reveal a family that isn't - wasn't - so different from families anywhere.  Not so far away at all.

Further reading only served to cement this realization. There are entire archives of first-hand accounts documenting domestic scenes that are almost obscenely relatable. More often than not I found myself reading not of the drama of life at court or issues of state, but of family dinners and books read for school, of angst-ridden teenagers and bewildered parents. Of kids striking goofy poses for pictures they never imagined the world would see.

This didn't - doesn't -  fit into the narrative I had envisioned for the rulers of Imperial Russia. I struggle to hold in my head these two realities at the same time:

1. The population just outside the palace gates lived in unforgivable poverty.  

2. The family inside was too human for me to hate.

There is more to be said on this. The suffering of six people is in no way equitable to the suffering of the millions - millions - who suffered around them. For every scene I write about the Romanovs, a voice inside my head rattles against my skull, asking "But why these people? Why tell their story?"

The answer I keep coming back to is this: the story of the Romanovs seems to me so much like the story of power everywhere. These were ordinary people who - horrifyingly - thought they were doing the right thing. As did those who took over after them. Historians continue to debate whether either regime was actually better for the Russian people in the end.

All around the world - and all throughout history - there countless examples of the same: revolutions which beget revolutions, fights for justice which beget injustice. And so often the people involved are not the villains I would imagine - would perhaps even prefer - for them to be. They're just ordinary people, doing what they think is right.  Which terrifies me. Which breaks my heart. Which compels me to explore and tell this story as best I can.

There's something else you should know. The most astonishing part about this writing process is how much original dialogue I'm able to use. There are so many diary entries, newspaper articles, personal letters and even witness statements that remain from these years. The truth is, little of the play was born in my imagination; it's mostly the words of the people who were actually there. The way they tell their own story is exquisite.  

So that's the thing - I'm writing this play.

Welcoming Melody!

Waltzing Mechanics is pleased to welcome Melody Ekstrom as our resident dramaturg. Having trained at two of the nation's finest regional theatres, Melody is well poised to support the playwriting and public dialogue for our eight full-length documentary dramas in development. DSC_2279

Melody Ekstrom, an alumna of Ball State University, most recently used her dramaturgical skills as an artistic apprentice at Cleveland Play House during the 2013-2014 season. Melody also served as an intern at the Goodman Theatre in the summer of 2013. She reads for the Sundance Theatre Lab, the Great Plains Theatre Conference, and Philadelphia Young Playwrights. Melody has provided dramaturgical support for Mamaí Theatre Company, Minnetrista Cultural Center, and Broadway actress Sutton Foster, as a member of a student group that conducted pre-production research for Anything Goes. In 2013, she traveled to the Kennedy Center in recognition for her dramaturgical work on Spring Awakening at Ball State.  As a sophomore in college, Melody worked on an immersive learning project with Jennifer Blackmer and Dr. Melinda Messineo that involved conducting interviews with the people of Muncie and adapted that research into a play about the Indiana city. She is excited to continue her documentary theatre journey with the Waltzing Mechanics.

Waltzing Mechanics, now in their fifth year in Chicago, create original documentary theatre inspired by real people telling stories about their lives. Using methods of performance ethnography, we facilitate dialogues among our audiences and within our communities.

Exit stage left; enter stage right...

Waltzing Mechanics, Chicago's stage for documentary theatre, is growing and transitioning, and we have so many developments to share with you! Let's get started:

Our founding artistic director, Thomas Murray, has been admitted to the M.F.A. program in Directing and Public Dialogue at Virginia Tech. This highly individualized graduate course of study accepts only one student a year, and its core tenets include forming creative community partnerships and animating community dialogue through theatre - both key aims of Waltzing Mechanics' work as well. Since Thomas will be relocating to Blacksburg, Virginia to complete this program, he will remain a Mechanic but will step down from his role as artistic director at the end of the summer.

Zack FlorentIn August, co-founder Zack Florent will assume the role of Waltzing Mechanics' artistic director to foster our continued public and community-based programming. Zack has helmed four editions of our flagship EL Stories series, co-directed our 2014 production of Line One, and associate directed our 2013 production of Kate's Dates. While serving as a Peace Corps volunteer, he also constructed a theatre education curriculum for students in the Phillippines. Zack holds a degree in theatre from Ball State University.

Bryan CampbellA Mechanic since 2011, Bryan Campbell will serve as the company's managing director starting next month. As an actor on our stages, Bryan appeared in five editions of EL Stories and anchored our 2012 production of Over My Dead Body in the role of cemetery advocate Bob Sell. He made his directorial debut with the 14th edition of EL Stories last year and will helm our 6th annual EL Stories: Holiday Train at the end of 2016. He has served as Waltzing Mechanics' company manager for the last year. Like Zack and Thomas, Bryan is a graduate of Ball State University.


As our production director, Carinne Uslar will assume additional responsibilities as a primary liaison between Waltzing Mechanics' growing artistic and management teams. Artistically, she will return to the director's chair for our 5th annual EL Stories: Holiday Train in November. Carinne also graduated from Ball State University.

kanomeKanomé Jones is our newest casting director, succeeding fellow Mechanic Adrienne Matzen who managed our audition processes exceedingly well for the last four years. Kanomé performed in our 10th edition of EL Stories in 2013 and associate directed EL Stories: Love Train earlier this year. She will make her directorial debut on the 24th edition of EL Stories in the winter of 2016. Prior to moving to Chicago, Kanomé was an acting apprentice with the Actors Theatre of Louisville. She is a graduate of Missouri State University.


Since our production of Line One last fall, Adrienne Matzen has served as the company's resident voice coach. Her work with the rotating casts of EL Stories has been particularly notable. A Mechanic since 2011, Adrienne has performed in five editions of EL Stories and our 2012 production of Over My Dead Body. She is a graduate of LAMDA and Wichita State University.

shaferWaltzing Mechanics is thrilled to launch its first partnership in higher education with Ball State University's acclaimed Department of Theatre and Dance. As the recipient of a Provost Immersive Learning Grant, associate professor Karen Kessler will lead a group of undergraduate students on the creation of a documentary play about sexual assault on college campuses. Mechanics Bryan Campbell, Thomas Murray, and Eleni Pappageorge will travel to Muncie, Indiana this month to teach research methods for devising ethnographic drama. Three Mechanics under the guidance of education director Amy Hopkins will return to campus in September to teach adaptation and performance of documentary plays. The partnership will culminate in a public reading of the new script in Chicago this December.


We're on the cusp of announcing an exciting production partnership as the next step forward for Body/Courage, a full-length verbatim play adapted from interviews and performed by guest artist Danielle Pinnock. Mechanics Patrice Foster and Thomas Murray collaborated with Danielle through a series of workshop performances in 2014 under the banner of The Body Image Project. Stay tuned for additional news in the coming weeks as this docudrama nears its official world premiere!


The Mechanics are also eager to announce an additional project among our works in development. In 2010, director Andrea Beschel traveled to Kuwait to interview Filipino domestic workers who were abuse victims under the kafala sponsorship system. A drama culled from those experiences, Kafala, had its world premiere staging at Carnegie Mellon University last year. As a guest artist, Andrea will work with members of the Waltzing Mechanics artistic staff this summer to adapt her ethnographic research into a verbatim play. A workshop reading of Kafala is targeted for later this year.


Mechanics co-founder Keely Leonard remains hard at work adapting correspondence, diary entries and official records from the Romanov dynasty into an original documentary play charting their rise, their fall, and their familial love. Teamed with incoming artistic director Zack Florent, Keely is preparing the script for a workshop reading later this year. Keely serves as our Director of New Play Development and holds a degree in theatre from Ball State University.

Meanwhile, fellow Mechanics have been popping up frequently on area stages. Eleni Pappageorge just wrapped production on the world premiere of An Issue of Blood at Victory Gardens Theatre. Shariba Rivers is understudying roles in both Target Behavior for 20% Theatre Company and the world premiere documentary play The Project(s) at American Theatre Company. D.J. Reed is designing props for Doubt at Writers Theatre. Patrice Foster recently directed a series of one minute plays in the 5th annual One Minute Play Festival at The Den Theatre. Finally, Lew Wallace and Elise Spoerlein both had original short plays featured in arciTEXT at The Arc Theatre last month.

There's even more to share in the works! Stay tuned to our blog, Facebook, and Twitter to catch all the updates.

Line One - Live Callers

With some insight on rehearsing with live callers, ensemble member Christine Worden: Christine WordenDuring past this week we began to run full-length “practice shows” using a to-the-minute schedule with live callers. This exciting addition required all actors and directors to be engaged for a full 70 minutes. These practice shows mimicked show conditions and allowed us to identify some of the challenges that could arise during our performances.

Line One is a verbal collage, so often the audience will be hearing several voices at once. Sometimes these voices will be inaudible, overlap, or interrupt. Often when given a prompt, the speaker will answer the question and pause for a few minutes to think. It’s these moments of silence that are particularly fun to channel.  If you watch carefully, you will see actors embodying these silences, remaining engaged even when the person on the phone has run out of things to say.

Another challenge that we have faced is the inevitable unreliability of cell phone reception. Occasionally, a call will not come through. At these times, the onstage directors will adjust (and sometimes scramble) to cover the time lost in our tightly-planned show. When a call does come through and the signal is poor, the channeler is still required to repeat verbatim whatever she hears through her earpiece. Every burst of static and bit of word fragment becomes a part of the verbal collage.

While these technical snafus may initially seem frustrating, it is our job in Line One to simply accept what comes through our earpieces. Everything is exactly as it should be!


Line One - The Secret Mission

Cast member WarrWarren Swartwouten Swartwout provides some insight on a key piece of each Line One performance: We had another great week of rehearsal for Line One this past week.  We started working with more callers and running the entirety of the show, including my favorite portion, the “Secret Mission.”  One actor calls another actor on stage, gives him or her a mission, and is off.  The actor who stays behind relates the entire experience of the other actor to the audience.  My mission was to order as much food as possible from a pizza joint with only $5. I ordered a fruit punch iced tea and an Arizona iced tea and as much garlic bread as possible with the remaining money. I never thought as an actor I’d be going to a pizza joint to rehearse, but I can’t complain. It was a strange feeling to tell my experience with another actor over a phone, knowing that the audience on the other side was in some way or another experiencing what I was.

I almost felt like I was a tour guide. I wanted to be as clear and descriptive as possible, so that the audience could visualize every step on my pizza mission.

Another layer to this that I hadn’t thought of before is seeing how is other people navigate a common activity, like purchasing food, perhaps a little differently from yourself.  It brings a lot more meaning to a somewhat mundane experience when it is shared in this manner with so many other people. I have noticed when I am channeling another person, it’s hard not to get wrapped up in their story and walk away at the end with almost the same feelings as the person on the other side.  There is little time to evaluate a story as you are channeling, so there is little to do but feel.  These shared experiences are what make this show so exciting.  I am looking forward to sharing more journeys with audiences to come!

Line One - Lighting Design

Continuing on, here is some insight on the particular lighting challenges Line One poses, from out very talented lighting designer, Eric Van Tassell: How do you light a play that is different every night? That's the main challenge as I work on the lighting design for Line One.

First, let’s take a step back. If you aren’t familiar with normal theatrical lighting design, the way it works is that every time you, the audience, see the lights change that is a pre-recorded cue in a computer. While a typical show is in rehearsals, the director and actors finalize the movement that will happen on stage—when each person moves and says what where on stage. The lighting designer watches those rehearsals, then aims lights at the necessary locations, and records cues in a computer that tells the system when to turn each light on and off. This coordinates with the pre-set movements of the actors on stage resulting in there being light on an important actor in a given scene and less light elsewhere on stage. That’s how lighting a typical show works.

This is not a typical show. The actors don’t know what their lines will be each night. They don’t know where they will go on stage. They don’t know how long they will stay wherever they walk. And they should feel free to use the space in a way that fits with whatever dialogue comes their way over the phone each night. My lighting should not limit their movement.

At the same time, I’m not interested in lighting this like an improv show. Improv performances give actors complete freedom of movement by putting absolutely no emphasis on lighting. The lights are on at the top of the show and they stay on, all at the same intensity, over the entire stage, until the scene is over and the lights all turn off. This works, but it also discards lighting as a tool in a theatre’s box of tricks.

So we don’t want lights that turn on and off randomly and aren’t coordinated with the actors, but we also don’t want boring lighting that comes on and stays on and doesn’t support the action on stage in any active way. This is the puzzle for this project. How to theatrically light a play in an interesting way without ever knowing what the play will be.

My plan at this point is to program a series of cues for the beginning of the show and a series of cues for the end of the show. Those cues will be the same each night and, along with the actors and directors, we will make those moments at least somewhat pre-planned. Everything between those opening and closing cues, will be improvised by our very talented stage manager, Amy Hopkins. I’ve worked with Amy many times before at Oracle Theatre, where we both often work, and I have complete confidence in her. She is very good at seeing my work, understanding the intention, and then executing it appropriately. Plus, she’s done some lighting design of her own in the past, so this world is not foreign to her.

In an effort to set Amy up for success, I will be programming the lights that I hang in such a way that they can quickly and easily be manipulated in groups. This will make it easy for her to bring lights up and down "on the fly." During our tech rehearsals, when the process for a normal show we would be finalizing each cue down to the fraction of a second when it will happen each night, instead we will be experimenting. I will be running the lights for the first few rehearsals. I’ll find what works and what doesn’t. I’ll make changes accordingly. Then, when I’ve gotten the system figured out, I will get to teach Amy how it works. She will have a variety of lighting “toys” to play with to make these actors look fantastic and support what they are doing on stage.I'll turn it all over to her and she'll get to navigate the rest of the performances.

How do you light a play that is different every night? You give yourself options and then play along with the actors.

Line One - The Group Mind

Some insight on the ensemble building work, from cast member Ross Compton: For the first couple of weeks, going to Line One rehearsals felt very much like attending a voice and movement class. There is no script. So each night brought a new plethora of exercises, goals, challenges and opportunities for me to make smart ass comments to try and make people laugh. (I’ll be seriously lucky to be cast in any future productions.)

What I have gleaned the most from this process is the importance of being connected to the rest of my cast mates, and how the success of Line One hinges upon that idea. We are working towards becoming a unit, to the point where we will instinctively know each other’s actions or movements without having to discuss it beforehand.

The exercise that I think will best describe this sense of unity for the purpose of this blog post is a simple one that we’ve done every week now. The eight of us will stand in a circle. After a few deep breaths-and perhaps a brief time of checking in with each other using eye contact- we will begin counting to a number given to us by Zack, one of our directors. Only one of us can say a number at a time, and there is no pre-set order or pattern. I remember attempting this counting game in college with minimal success. And true to those memories, we had a pretty rough go of it during our first week. We were supposed to count to 30 and it took us about seven or eight tries. By the end of the second week, we counted to 50 in two tries. What was remarkable to me was how easy it had become. Like second nature. It’s as if we had planned the order of when each number would be called out. But we didn’t. The delighted surprise at our swift completion of the exercise result in an impromptu hug-fest.

That’s right Virginia. There really is Group Mind.