This past year, while
appearing on USA Network’s “Dig” as Ambassador Riddell, I’ve been
re-mounting a play, “stop.reset.,” that I first wrote and directed for the Signature Theatre Company in
NYC in 2013. This time, it’s being produced at The Goodman Theatre in Chicago.
“stop.reset.” is about an
African American publisher of books. Alexander Ames VI is 70-years-old. He
still loves the weight, smell and feel of actual books in this digital age. He
looks at books as vessels of memory and history passed from palm-to-palm. Books preserve the voices of the ancestors who might otherwise be voiceless. Fighting
extinction, Ames decides to downsize. He interviews each of his workers — all
are over 40 except for one. J. is a plugged-in, 19-year-old janitor,
semi-literate and tech-brilliant. Ames must negotiate with this young man in
order to embed himself into the future.
In revisiting this play in
the town I call home and in my 20th year with the theater, I wanted to connect with the
audience in a way that reflects these times. Technology permeates every part of
our lives. At the same time, I wanted to keep the piece intimate and personal.
communities. I wanted to take down the walls of the theater by planning events: intimate dinners and symposia, as well as one-on-one interviews with real
Chicagoans, from sociologists to artists, publishers and techies, from diverse
backgrounds. All talk about how they are dealing with the changes in their
fields: what have they had to release, and what have they had to learn.
We are facing enormous
change at this moment.
Not since the ’60s, with a man walking on the moon and ordinary citizens staging sit-ins on the ground, have we seen the
staggering leaps in technology and the eruptions of social issues. The economy is
as unstable as the ground beneath us in these shifting times. Do we dig in our
heels, fighting for what we know and believe in, or give way, diving
headlong into the unknown embracing all?
The lines between the
fictional Chicago in my play and the real Chicago became blurred.
Working with artists, both
professional and students of various media, became a part of the equation —
spoken word to written word. Filmmakers, dancers and musicians were invited to
work alongside us and explore the themes of the play.
It’s always important to
me in my work to engage young voices. I try to give them a platform to be
heard. To give back that which has been given to me.
The live presentations and
all the collaborations are hosted on a microsite, www.stopreset.org, which I developed with The Goodman Theatre.
Between the live events
and the microsite — the audience has the chance to enter the play before they
come to the theater, as well as while they are in the theater. And the dialogue
can continue afterwards.
From the moment the
audience steps into the theater, they start questioning who they are in terms of
technology: do they take a Playbill or use their cellphones?
The audience can use their
cellphones to engage with short films of characters that live offstage that I
shot with local students. It is also the first time the Goodman has live-tweeting in the theater.
Always, the human story is
front and center. The shining Eugene Lee plays Ames; the compelling Edgar
Sanchez plays J.; and Jacqueline Williams, Lisa Tejero, Tim Decker and Eric Lynch
play the office workers in turns that show the range of humanity at its best and
worst. As a director and writer, I love and appreciate smart actors. I trust
them in what they bring to the lines and in between.
Same said for the amazing
design team: Riccardo Hernández (set), Shawn Sagady (production), Keith
Parham (lighting), Richard Woodbury (sound), Daniel Bernard Roumain (music). I have to thank the
Goodman Theatre for their bravery in taking this journey with me. I was
challenged by this experience and learned so much.
I love Chicago audiences
who have witnessed these markers in my life — my plays — over the years. I
love engaging new audiences who see theater with fresh eyes.
It has taken years for me
to find and own my voice — in writing, directing and acting. To find your
authentic self in the work and in this world is difficult and arduous and full
I love that my mother read
to me as a child — she imparted that love of books. I remember her hand on
mine from the age of four or five — creating my own children’s books. She
wanted to instill in me the capacity of creativity. You start with a dream, and then with planning, strategy — hands-on hard work — create that which is
concrete. Creativity is a survival tool in a world that would name you before
your first breath. She taught me to name myself.