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Interview: New Leaf Theatre's Jessica Hutchinson on World Theatre Day

By Julienne Bilker in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 17, 2009 9:00PM

We’ll admit it. Last week, we hadn’t heard of World Theatre Day, celebrated on March 27. Although our shame increased upon learning that the celebration, created by the UNESCO-sponsored International Theatre Institute (ITI), has existed for almost 50 years, we were comforted to learn that New Leaf Theatre company members Jessica Hutchinson (Artistic Director) and Nick Keenan (Artist-in-Residence), who have spear-headed the effort to bring the fête to Chicago this year, came across World Theatre Day just a few months ago, via Twitter. The shock of finding evidence of Twitter’s usefulness was quickly eclipsed by our discovery that 2009 will be the first year, at least according to Mayor Daley’s proclamation, Chicago has joined the party.

Augusto Boal, Brazilian theatre director and founder of Theatre Of The Oppressed, authored this year’s “World Theatre Day message” - an honor which has previously been bestowed upon Arthur Miller, Pablo Neruda and Eugène Ionesco, to name a few - which discusses the need to not just live in society, but to change it. In the spirit of that message, Hutchinson and Keenan teamed up with theatre professionals in Austin, Vancouver, London, and Australia, to launch the World Theatre Day blog, a forum for artists around the world to share their contributions to the celebration. We sat down with Hutchinson to find out how things are shaping up.

Chicagoist: So after you started working with your international cohorts, how did you get the ball rolling in Chicago?

Jessica Hutchinson: I sent an email to Deborah Clapp, the Executive Director of the League of Chicago Theatres, and Ben Thiem, also at the League, and said, "Did you guys know about World Theatre Day? Because I didn't, and here's what's happening - and wouldn't it be cool if Chicago got on this train?"

C: Did they know what it was?

JH: No - I think it's really interesting that it doesn't seem to be on anyone's radar in the U.S. But Deb and Ben are phenomenal, and they said, "No, we didn't know about that - but let's figure it out." We had a meeting a couple of weeks ago - we ended up having, I think, ten different companies, and we all kind of bashed around ideas of what we could do. We looked around the room and thought, "We've got two months. And nobody has any money." But I feel like what we can do, and do well, is call attention to everything that we're already doing. And provide an opportunity for everybody in this community, our audiences and our supporters, to come together and recognize the fact that Chicago is doing world-class theatre. Our conversations with Deb and Ben have been really simpatico about simplicity being the watchword. Simple, free, or cheap - because it's not about creating a whole other evening of programming.

C: It's about celebrating what's already here.

JH: Yea, because there's so much. It's such a rich community. And there's a lot going on all over. TCG (Theatre Communications Group) has actually put up a really cool interactive map that has pinpoints where things are happening. The League has posted a list of things that you can do to celebrate - simple, easy, free. And we're having this party at the Chopin Theatre - this big, citywide after-party, that I hope will be people who had shows that night, people that are in rehearsal; I hope people will bring their audiences. I hope if somebody happens to not be in a show or in rehearsal, that they will take that opportunity to go and see someone else's work, and then come over and party.

C: Does it cost anything to go to the party? And what kind of party is it?

JH: No, it's free. I think it's primarily a great chance to get everybody in the same room. There's a Tumblr feed that we're doing, in complement to the World Theatre Day blog, where everybody from all over the world can email photos and video clips or text, and it all gets thrown into this live feed. So our hope is to be able to post this feed on a big screen so everybody can see. There are two different groups in India, at least, who have commented on our blog with what they're doing. There are a few companies in Australia that are having open rehearsal. And Vancouver has had a great presence for years. So hopefully we'll be able to post that feed and then also take video of what we're doing at this party and post that as well.

C: What are you doing on World Theatre Day? Besides going to the party.

JH: I have a feeling my day will be dedicated to last-minute logistics to make sure the Chopin party is low-stress and high-awesome for everyone coming out to take part. Nick and I are working with Deb, Ben, and our other collaborators of a "day-of" plan of attack right now.

C: Where should we check for information on what's happening that day?

JH: We're trying to make one-stop-shopping for what's going on. There are great resources on the League website, like a program insert with Boal's statement, and it will be updated with ticket offers and more information as we get closer.

Chicago's World Theatre Day After-Party, Friday March 27, 9 p.m. - 1 a.m., The Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division, Free!