Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Insider: Exposing a Factory Secret

This post is brought to you by a newer set of eyes. I'll be writing from time to time to show the Factory from a slightly different lens. See, I'm new to the company. Relatively. I've been on board since 2007, but that makes me a squalling infant next to the likes of Mike Beyer, most senior member of the company, and DJ Chas, one of the ruling caste of the organization. The Factory Theater is a storied institution, producing shows in Chicago for over 17 years. That's one of the longest tenured theaters in this city. And they only make their own work! Sure, you could mount existing plays by long dead Greeks or flowery Englishmen or even familiar, home-cooked American playwrights, but this company is a wholly different beast. If I sound reverential, it's because I am. I pretty much squealed with excitement when I was invited into this company. After two years, I thought I’d reflect back on working with this company. In doing so, I decided to expose a secret about this company. I'll get to that, but there’s some history needed to illustrate.

I started watching Factory shows about seven years ago. The Factory produced balls-out theater that was unafraid of taking risks, attracting a strong reputation in the Chicago theater community. A mini-remount of White Trash Wedding and a Funeral for the Abbie Hoffman Festival had an audience packed tighter than a bulk Q-Tips package inside tiny Angel Island Theater, roaring with appreciative laughter very late into the sweaty August night. I'd also heard many happy returns from people who worked with the company. My friend Amanda, playing a crack whore in Poppin’ and Lockdown 2, was so proud of her first line, "I'll suck your cock for a dollar!" That's an entrance. I'd been working in Chicago theater since 1995, but there was something unique and enticing to the Factory. I was aching to play with them. So I auditioned.

Here's where a shift occurs, and this has to do with the secret. After my first Factory audition for a show centered around vaginas, I got the best rejection ever. Everyone at the Top Shelf Gash audition thanked me several times for actually coming to the audition. Later, I'd run into other company members who also thanked me for my time. They'd invite me to company functions where they’d repeat their appreciations over beers. This was unlike the usual silence or one sentence blow-off after an unsuccessful audition. And this wasn’t just for me. After the TSG audition, I heard from other uncast people who received the same courtesies. The Factory appreciated every moment of time given to them, whether you were in the show or not. Most unusual. When I was cast in Factory shows, I discovered flexible scheduling, extra-warm camaraderie, and supportive encouragement to put all of my guts out on to the stage with everyone else. In my second Factory show, I played a poisoned English Teacher going mad with violence and lust toward my students. For the crazy scene, the director said, “You gotta get yer face IN her crotch! ALL THE WAY in her crotch! Go full out!” My nervous reactions weren’t mocked; cast and crew merely made me more comfortable so I could go all the way into that crotch. In subsequent shows, I have experienced support and love that is only akin (and sometimes even superior) to family. While it’s common for cast and crew to bond closely during a production, the Factory creates a closer, more visceral bond that comes from their attitudes toward life and theater.

So here’s the secret I discovered at the Factory Theater. This little company, with all its occasional vaginal humor and irreverent frat boy content, its full-time pulsing playground energy and naughty-naughty language, is one of the city's most mature and well-rounded companies. A paradox? Not so. Here’s why. The Factory Theater understands that all our moments spent together creating theater are at the sacrifice of something else. If an artist chooses to give time to the Factory, they are given the respect and appreciation of the company. This is uncommon in this city. The Factory is keenly aware of reality in the plays they make and appreciates how to produce them. There are no false, high class illusions in Factory plays, which are proud of their coarse, potentially offensive subject matter. There is an integrity to that because the company does not set limits on the theater it creates. The company collaborates openly and honestly, encouraging new works from new sources and fully supporting its artists along the way. For years now, the Ensemble has expanded, allowing more artists to put their stamp on the Factory, which has only made the company grow in its vision and abilities. Honesty, appreciation, and a no-limits approach to theater speaks to me of a mature company. If nothing else, the Factory Theater’s about to turn 18, so it can be tried as an adult. I’m glad to be here. I hope you’ll hear from me again.

3 comments:

Mike Beyer said...

AWESOME post. So well said.

zombietruckstop said...

It's nice to see our cultish tactics are still in force after all these years...

Colin said...

The steady supply of pure-blooded virgins definitely helps.