Archive for August, 2010

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Jarvis Closes

August 31, 2010

The Irrelevant Adventures of Jarvis McFadden closes its tremendous run this weekend, September 3rd and 4th at the Cornservatory Theater at 8pm, $15. See this piece of theatrical history before it sails forever west into the Undying Lands across the Sea…

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Save the date: Erratica

August 20, 2010

The American Demigods are proud to present Reina Hardy’s comedy Erratica in a FREE staged reading

  • Saturday, September 25
  • 4 PM
  • The Spot, 4437 N. Broadway, Chicago
  • Zero dollars

After the reading: a burlesque show (also free) and a silent auction (awesome things for cheap!)

More to come on this special event!

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Smosh one get one smosh.

August 11, 2010

Last week went so well we’re doing it again.

Tickets for shows on August 13th and 14th are buy-one-get-one free! Enter the discount code “SMOSH” when purchasing online or buy tickets at the door on the night of the show.

That’s right. Two tickets for $15.00. With all the money you’ll save, you’ll never have to steal donuts again.

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Jarvis Stop: Playwright Rory Leahy Tilts at Windmills and Wins in The Irrelevant Adventures of Jarvis McFadden

August 7, 2010

Jarvis McFadden was born in Rory Leahy’s early college years. Leahy’s high-school friend Tom Beach had a character come to him in a flash—an eccentric, depressed 19-year-old who decides to become a tough private detective in a decidedly crime-free suburb.

Before ceding the project to Leahy to concentrate on other works, “Tom wrote an outline that contained much of the basics of the story: the widowed mom, the siblings, the friendship with the homeless man, the doughnut shop robbery. I just fell in love with the concept and saw a lot of potential in it,” says Leahy. That love would last a decade.

Performance at an American Demigods fundraiser. From left: AD board member Dave Wilhelm, PDP member Sean Wade, a lovely woman of mystery, and Rory Leahy.

Plays and Playing

Like so many actors, Leahy made his debut in a Christmas pageant. The pageant “made me want to do my own by organizing all the neighborhood kids. I promoted myself from shepherd to archangel.” When asked about his first writing efforts, Leahy half-jokes, “Star Wars fan fiction, maybe?” and mentions his grade-school poetry, which was acclaimed by his teachers but “actually awful. It showed off my advanced vocabulary in completely unrhythmic fashion.”

An early creative influence was Leahy’s grandfather, who wrote satiric stories and songs. “He died when I was nine, but definitely left his mark in terms of warping my mind. And my childhood best friend, Anna, did the same: we created a lot of theatre together in the neighborhood park. Jarvis is all about that sensibility.”

At 17, Leahy wrote the satire Love Story, directed by his high-school friend Marc Heiden. The collaboration continues to this day: Heiden wrote Monks in Trouble in college and directed Leahy in it; Leahy directed the Monks remount as the first official production of the American Demigods. Such collaboration is a key aspect of Leahy’s career: friends turn into collaborators, artists into friends.

I still think of him whenever I see a bag of doughnuts.”

In his time at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Leahy worked extensively with the student theatre company the Penny Dreadful Players (PDP), writing, acting, and producing, employing ensemble casts who, after entering PDP through a “Rory play,” found themselves wrapped up in the company for the remainder of their college years.

The Penny Dreadful Players' cast of the original Jarvis. Photo courtesy Rebecca Nelson Phillips.

Ruth Claus Laird, who portrayed love interest (and doughnut thief) Michelle in PDP’s Jarvis, says:

“I can’t possibly think of my college theatre years and not think of Rory. Almost a decade later, I still think of him whenever I see a bag of doughnuts. It doesn’t matter that he only cast me instead of my roommate because I was shorter than her—he didn’t want Michelle to tower over him. I was still honored that he took a chance on a poor freshman with braces.”

Former PDP artistic director Tom Schorsch explains the essence of working with Rory:

“Like all writer-producers of storefront theater, Rory wears way too many hats, gets in over his head, and lives on the brink of disaster. But his uncommon ability to surround himself with quality people always carries the day. Of all the rewards of working with Rory over the last 12 years, the lasting personal relationships have mattered the most. My band One of the Girls might not be what it is today if I hadn’t met Sean Sullivan [through a Rory show].”

Jarvis Grows Up

The script for the 2001 PDP staging of Jarvis was more farcical and surreal than Leahy’s 2010 revision for the American Demigods, the company of which Leahy is founder and artistic director. The bully villains are no longer henchmen for a secret evil mad scientist; rather, Jack Sharkey’s Nordlund and James Stanton’s Stahl have the depth and realism of overprivileged teens with too much time on their hands and no outlet for their hormone-driven aggressions. Jarvis’s best friend Lloyd is more richly drawn and intense than in the 2001 production, suiting the energies of actor David Wilhelm. Jarvis and Lloyd’s best-bud chemistry is informed by Leahy and Wilhelm’s real-life close friendship and artistic partnership—Wilhelm is a Demigods board member and Jarvis coproducer.

A triple-threat like Leahy, actor-writer David DeVries directed the production. “The great thing about David is that he really got the play right away, and he absolutely understands where the funny is,” says Leahy. The production benefits from being drawn from a cast of all ages, rather than the college-actor pool of PDP. “When you have an older actor like Dan Cooney (Edward Tanner), who’s been doing this for decades, you naturally get a kind of presence and gravitas that no college student can touch,” Leahy says.

Rory Leahy as Jarvis McFadden in the American Demigods' production.

The new production also reaps the benefits of being staged in the world’ best improv city. Leahy remarks, “[Cast members] Katie Keenan, James Stanton, and Rudy Volt are all Chicago-trained improvisers, and all very funny. They created characters that are very different from what I might have anticipated—in a good way.” Director DeVries is also an improviser; he brings to the production skills learned at Second City and iO.

The PDP production keeps a place in Leahy’s heart. “I will always be terribly fond of the original cast. Ruth Claus (Michelle), Sean Wade (Lloyd), Meg Principe (Vicki), and Navin Prasad (Edward) still pop into my head sometimes when I think of the characters they created.”

The Future Adventures of Rory Leahy

The Irrelevant Adventures of Jarvis McFadden is about growing up—both for the title character and the man who brings him to life. Jarvis muses on Saint Paul’s mandate to put childish things away but comes to reject the idea, realizing that the test of maturity is not “how tough, and cynical and serious you can become, but … how much of the best part of your childhood self you can hold on to.”

With Jarvis, Leahy holds on, realizing the decade-long dream of staging in Chicago a play inspired and aided by his childhood friends, in a love of theatre that started when he was just a kid in a park. But he also moves on, acknowledging that he is not the 19-year-old he portrays. “This is probably my last chance to play him, but Jarvis will live in my head forever.”

What’s next for the American Demigods now that Leahy has staged his labor of love? The company will continue to focus on original works, among them Reina Hardy and Matthew Board’s comedic musical about a science-fiction convention. And Leahy’s love of collaboration will live on, bringing in new writers, directors, and actors with a 24-hour play festival.

Leahy also plans to continue acting, with a long list of dream roles and a vision of aging into Henry Higgins. “A lot of actors think bad guys are more fun, but I always want to be the righteous hero,” says Leahy, echoing his quixotic Jarvis.

Story by Samantha Raue

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Jack Sharkey: Swamp Things, Rope Swings, and being a Jarvis Baddie

August 6, 2010

Jack Sharkey is a bad man. In Jarvis, that is. Sharkey attacked our questions with gusto.*

Tell us a little about Kyle Nordlund.

I like to think of Nordlund as someone who read a bit of Calvinism and took the argument that because everything is predestined we have the right to do whatever we want a bit too literally.

Nordlund’s pretty despicable. How do you get in the headspace of the character?

It actually wasn’t that hard, horrible as that may sound! I’ve been playing villains onstage for a while (actually I can’t remember the last time I played a good guy onstage). For the most part, I took a look at myself and went “So if I had too much money, no role models, and no morals, what would I be like?” The biggest thing to playing Nordlund is going offstage and immediately cracking a joke at the character’s expense. Helps me keep things in perspective.

What’s your most memorable Jarvis moment?

James’s smoshing [as Jimmy McFadden]. At any point. I always say to myself “That’s the funny” when he hits someone with that bright green bat.

How did you get involved in this crazy world of theater?

Back in high school we did a show called Wiley and the Hairy Man. Great tale about a little boy named Wiley who has to deal with (you guessed it) the Hairy Man. Our teacher was a lovely woman named Kate Hamm, and decided that the show needed to be tweaked. So rather than just having Wiley, his mother, and the Hairy Man, she had about twelve of us act as the swamp and the Hairy Man, Cirque du Soleil style. She actually brought in a former Cirque company member named Bruce to help direct us. I remember distinctly as I was swinging from one two-story-tall rope lattice to another thinking “You know, I could do this for the rest of my life.” And since then I’ve always wanted to be an actor.

If I’m not acting, I’m ____________.”

Geeking out with some Marian Call music and a Vertigo comic.

Dream role?
That one seems to change every time I read a new play! But for right now, it’s Tupolski from McDonagh’s
The Pillowman.

Tell us a little about the whole teaching Shakespeare to wee ones thing.

There was certainly the initial “You want me to teach eighth graders WHAT?!” But it was actually much easier and far more fun than it sounds. We taught them iambic pentameter by making them walk like pirates, how to write like Shakespeare by writing “Yo mama” insults in couplets and having them explain all the naughty jokes when Mercutio and Benvolio are trying to find Romeo right before the balcony scene.

It's AD's version of Where's Waldo: Find Sharkey! Hint: Awesome hair.

I remember distinctly as I was swinging from one two-story-tall rope lattice to another thinking “You know, I could do this for the rest of my life.” And since then I’ve always wanted to be an actor.

Did you have any cursed moments as the lead character in the Scottish play?

Oh yeah! Never used to believe in “The Curse.” But after I broke my hand during the rehearsal process, Lady M cut her foot open during final dress, and one of our witches broke her leg on opening night, I totally believe in that and just about any other theatre curse.

Who do you consider a modern-day demigod? Why?

Joss Whedon. He’s got a cult, a gift given by the gods, and knows everything there is to know about human nature.

*Sorry. Had to.

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Marshmallows and Miyazaki: The Meg Eaton Story (Coming soon to Lifetime)

August 6, 2010

The hilarious Meg Eaton (yes, she knows her last name is funny) shared some thoughts on divinity, dream roles, and that exasperating Bono fellow.

Tell us a little about your characters.

Katie Andrews is a sarcastic 19-year-old who knows everyone and their business. I also play the terribly passive-aggressive, sitting and knitting mother of Michelle.

First show?

Besides endless church plays, my first show was Oliver! the musical when I was 7. I played an orphan. Someone in the cast made marshmallow figures of all of us. Best post-show gift ever.

Dream role?

Miranda in The Tempest. Or maybe myself in my eventual Lifetime movie venture. Can I go with both?


Meg in a photo by Heather Scholl

Ain’t no party like a Katie Andrews party cuz:

you will never make it out alive! Mwahahaha!

Let’s get all Proust questionnaire for a moment:

What is the natural talent with which you’d like to be gifted?

Cleaning while sleepwalking.

What do you hate the most?

I don’t like U2, squeaky styrofoam, and the sound of people chewing ice. It must be a the frequency of those noises. They do all kind of sound the same.

What is your motto?

Be a trooper!

Who do you consider a modern-day demigod?

I look at Miyazaki, and I’m pretty convinced of his divinity. But ultimately, I think we’re all little gods of our own universes.

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the press gets lovey on Jarvis. and he didn’t even buy them a lemonade!

August 4, 2010

“[T]his study of life’s painful passages has a raw honesty and offbeat intelligence missing from some slicker off-Loop efforts.” – Chicago Reader

“Quirky and charming in dorky, lovable fashion, Rory Leahy’s Jarvis McFadden is more mature than you think. …[It] is lively and draws you in, with wise, introspective dialogue.” – Centerstage Chicago