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Theater Thu Jun 06 2013

North Carolinian Jumps into Chicago Theater Scene

Jim Yost was a pretty big fish--a successful director in a small city pond in Charlotte, NC. After 10 years of directing there, he decided he needed a more adventurous theater scene and "more like-minded people" to work with. After considering a move to New York, he chose Chicago, instead. "New York seemed overwhelming and in some ways unattainable; Chicago seemed more manageable," he said. He packed up and moved to Chicago in 2012, with no job or no theater connections--just a desire to expand his theater horizons and his career. Less than a year later, he directed his first full-length play and merged his company with Interrobang Theatre Project. I talked to Jim Yost to find out what inspired him to make his move to Chicago.

jimyost BareBones2.jpg

Jim, let's start with your background. Tell me about yourself.

I moved to Chicago a year ago from Charlotte, where I had a theater company called Barebones Theatre Group. We produced there for about 10 years. Barebones did work very similar to Interrobang. We did very simple productions, character-driven stories, but challenging to the audience. Not typical theater fare. We built up a following there and had our own venue- a warehouse that we ran for five years.

Charlotte has an active arts scene and significant corporate support for the arts because it has become a banking and corporate headquarters city. How does the theater environment there compare to Chicago's?

Charlotte has a large arts center, the Blumenthal Center for the Performing Arts. It gets a lot of corporate support and hosts many touring shows in the Belk Theatre. Barebones was using Duke Energy Theater at Blumenthal the last few years - it's a black box, similar to the space that we're using at Raven Theatre for Orange Flower Water, our current show.

How do the two cities differ in the amount and level of arts activities, support for the arts, the nature of the creative environment?

Chicago wins on all of those things. There is so much theater here and it can be spectacle driven, ensemble-based, or original work. There's so much happening. I also felt that Chicago had a good support system for the arts. There are lots of people here who respect culture and the arts. They don't mind spending money to see things that they maybe haven't heard of. Orange Flower Water (by Craig Wright) is a very interesting show - it's not easy to watch. The content is pretty heavy. Some people are taken aback by how raw it is.

I think when you go to the theater you either want to be swept away and have that escapism - or you want to see something that makes you think. Orange Flower Water does both of those things.

What made you decide to move Barebones Theatre Group to Chicago?

I felt that I wasn't being artistically satisfied in Charlotte--that there was more I could do. I wanted to work with other artists. I had been to Chicago, loved the city and what was going on here. I wanted to be surrounded by like-minded people. There is so much theatre going on here that it's a bit overwhelming - not in a bad way.

I had to choose between New York and Chicago. Everybody in theater wants to move to New York - it's the next step in your theater career. But New York seemed overwhelming and in some ways unattainable. Chicago seemed more manageable.

How did you start making connections in Chicago?

I went to auditions and took an acting class. The first thing I did in Chicago theater was in Strindberg's The Father at Rendition Theatre. I played Dr. Ostermark. Then I directed a short play at Gift Theatre, written by Philip Dawkins. I saw a lot of theater and I was able to ascertain which theaters were doing what I like to do.

And how did you make the connection with Interrobang Theatre Project?

I met Jeffrey Stanton (artistic director of Interrobang Theatre Project) when he was directing Hot and Throbbing by Paula Vogel and it reminded me very much of the kind of work that Barebones did. I knew at that point that I was going to produce Orange Flower Water. I just didn't know where or under what circumstances. So meeting Jeffrey was great. Interrobang is Jeff-eligible and an established nonprofit in Illinois. I could see that it would save a lot of time and energy to combine Barebones with his company. And I knew he was someone I wanted to work with, after seeing Hot and Throbbing. We decided to make Orange Flower Water our first co-production and collaboration.

What kind of response have you been getting to Orange Flower Water?

Really strong reviews. Actors have taken a strong script and made it work. There's been some criticism of the script itself. It's not a fun play. When I talk to people in the lobby after the show, some would say things like "I didn't understand the ending. Was it happy or sad?" I think there is hope in the ending although it's a rather bleak play.

You and Jeffrey Stanton are now co-artistic directors of Interrobang and you've announced your 2013-14 season. You're going to direct The Doll's House Project. Will you use an existing interpretation or will Calamity West write something completely new?

Calamity West is a Chicago playwright. She wrote The Gacy Play, which was produced by Sideshow Theatre. I saw that and loved it so I met her and talked to her about Doll's House. I like the play as Ibsen wrote it but I wanted to do something different with it. We've talked about it but I just don't know what it will be yet. Will it be traditional 19th century or contemporary? I didn't want her to feel boxed into any particular idea or conceit. We'll workshop it and see what happens.

Interrobang is going to be presenting at the Athenaeum Theatre for the next season. How do you like that venue?

Jeff and I had looked at the Athenaeum separately and both liked it. So we decided to use that space for next season. We'll produce three shows there in the middle-sized studio space, studio two. We're looking forward to working with Jeff DeLong, the marketing director at the Athenaeum. We think that will give our marketing a boost.

What other projects are on your schedule?

Once our season starts, I'll be involved in the first two productions, which Jeffrey is directing. Terminus is something I'm really excited about. We have three stellar actors. It was presented here in a limited run by Abbey Theatre of Dublin and did really well. Pitchfork Disney is by Philip Ridley, a British playwright, a very theatrical writer, very bizarre. Jeffrey and I are both drawn to plays that are good stories that draw the audience in and challenge them. Not just black and white stories, but hopefully thought provoking and engaging--all the things that theater should be. Plus we're offering subscriptions for the first time this season, "flex tix." Jeffrey and I think people will have an interesting night of theater at Interrobang.

It's often hard to support yourself with theater alone. What other gigs do you have to support yourself right now?

I'm a full-time faculty member teaching theater classes at Loyola Academy in Wilmette and Jeffrey has a day job, too. I moved here with nothing. No job. No theater company--nothing. I knew that I wanted to produce here. I had taught in North Carolina and when I moved here, I decided to apply for a few teaching positions and see what happens. The first school I applied to hired me. I moved here in July last year and by August I had a job at Loyola. I teach theater: script analysis, theory and criticism, directing, acting, theater history, playwriting. The kids love to perform. All they want to do is act.

What kind of plays do you prefer to direct? Straight? Comedy? Ripped from the headlines?

Orange Flower Water is typical fare for me. I directed The Wizard of Oz in Charlotte. I've done Shakespeare. I had a youth ensemble in Charlotte--all high school kids, 9th to 12th grade. We did two shows each season. We did Columbinus and Speech & Debate (two plays produced here by American Theatre Company). I tried to find plays that featured characters who were teenagers and dealt with adolescent issues. That became our challenge. I loved doing it. They were some of best people I worked with. They were young and excited.

Would you think of creating a youth ensemble here?

I do think there's a market for that here. There's children's theater but I don't believe there is anything targeted for this age range.

~ * ~

Note: Orange Flower Water runs through June 9 at the Raven Theatre. See the review for more information, including tickets and show times.

Photo courtesy of Interrobang Theatre Project.

 
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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

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By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
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Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

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