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Sketchbook 2009: Festival of Awesome

By Julienne Bilker in Arts & Entertainment on Apr 24, 2009 8:30PM

photo of Dean Evans in SpaceLab.2030 by Saverio Truglia

Taking our seats on opening night at Collaboration’s Sketchbook, we felt like we were in a Nickelodeon game show audience from 1988. And we mean that in the best way possible. Seated on geometric but seemingly arbitrarily placed platforming (there are no chairs, except for special needs audience) faced in glow-in-the-dark lime green tape, we anxiously anticipated showtime while taking in the stellar photography lining the walls/rotating on two big projection screens, envying those who had remembered to bring a 6-pack or bottle of wine (the show is BYO - although we were graciously provided with opening night PBR), noting our options at the concession stand (“Snackbook”) under the stage manager’s riser, and rocking out to the DJ warming up the crowd. These people take their fun very seriously.

Though a typical night at Sketchbook includes seven of the festival’s plays, we were treated to a marathon of all 14 pieces. As discussed in last week’s interview with Collaboraction Artistic Director/Festival Director Anthony Moseley, there were a few new aspects of this year’s festival. We vote YES on all of them:

  • A photographer was paired with each play to create an image representing it. The final results are included in preshow videos on big screens, and displayed on the walls of the theater. They are not only fascinating photos on their own, but are also bits of information that help to inform their respective pieces; even those photos not literally representing their plays helped us determine their intended tone.
  • Half of the festival is comprised of “devised works.” Don’t let this scare you away - not only is it difficult to tell which pieces are scripted and which aren’t without looking at a program, but it turned out half of our favorite plays were devised.
  • Usually held at Steppenwolf’s Garage, this year's show moved to The Building Stage. Moseley told us the theater had a “clean, raw warehouse feel,” and he’s absolutely right. The festival takes full advantage of the space’s flexibility and works with it to great effect.
  • Each play was given a seven-minute time limit. Although not every piece strictly adheres to this guideline, the brisk pace is essential for a festival of this length. The audience is encouraged to change seats between plays or grab a snack while the DJ keeps the energy up. (If you don’t want to move around, sit on the entrance-side of the theater.)

Collaboraction asked that concepts and proposals for this year’s festival relate to the question, “What is the New American Fable?” Although every show met this challenge, no two pieces were even remotely similar. There was something interesting, visually stunning, thought-provoking and/or just fun about every play - but of course we had our favorites. In the order in which we saw them:

Who Put The Dead Bird In My Mailbox?
A young Lowe’s employee (Jennifer Waldrip) writes a 26-point letter to the perpetrator of this heinous crime. The play’s description reads, “This epistolary fable looks at the isolation and absurdity of becoming an adult.” Sure, that’s true, but really, it’s just hilarious.

A Domestic Disturbance at Little Fat Charlie’s Seventh Birthday Party
The relentlessly energetic ensemble of this play calls on audience members (don’t worry, you won’t be chosen if you don’t raise your hand) to act as puppets in a hilarious reenactment of a little boy’s party gone terribly wrong. Again, hilarious.

Staged as a slideshow with voiceovers, Kid uses the story of a twelve-year-old boy (Joshua Heinlein) who would rather be a cowboy to spotlight the sadness and bravery of children dealing with problems they should never have to face.

This is what happens when sound effects are spot-on and mime is good. Really, really good. Major props to performer/lead deviser Dean Evans and musician Curtis Williams.

The Dreaded Zeppelin
Taking full advantage of Building Stage’s high ceilings, Friedrich Antweiler (Scott Cupper) dangles in a World War I sky, choosing where to drop bombs while remaining obscured to his enemies by cardboard clouds. This piece just made us giggle.

Para Carmen
In the moments leading up to and immediately following her death, a woman’s life flashes before her eyes. Lhasa de Sela’s song “De Cara a la Pared,” performed live, is a beautiful, haunting tune.

Sketchbook 2009, through May 10 at The Building Stage, 412 N Carpenter. Tickets $15 (students/industry), $25 (general), $40 (festival pass). Lineup of plays/DJs rotates somewhat randomly, so be sure to check out the full schedule. 312.226.9633