Day in the park meets night at the theater

By WilliamPrentiss

Jay Pritzker Pavilion’s grand stage wouldn’t normally be considered a testament to Chicago’s working class, but come Oct. 22, its extravagant steel will echo the words of Chicago’s common folk.

“Bread and Salt,” Chicago Actors Wordshop stage reading, will kick off the new event series featuring local area theater troupes. The first work will be stage readings from the work of poet and Pulitzer Prize winner Carl Sandburg. Actors will read 35 of his poems with audience members sitting on the Pavilion stage and providing feedback to improve the play.

Local theater troupes Blair Thomas & Company, Chicago Dramatists and Teatro Vista are all scheduled to appear. Ralph Flores, Millennium Park artistic director, said the “In the Park” series was created because there was a dearth of programming for the winter and in the theater realm at the park.

Flores said the events would be a great opportunity for both Columbia students and faculty.

“Here’s a terrific opportunity to be able to see this work in development, which is always a really wonderful learning tool,” Flores said. “You get a kick being at the genesis of a play. It provides that element of ownership too.”

Sandberg lived in Chicago and wrote almost 300 poems for the book Chicago Poems, which celebrates the working class and their struggle. Charles Gerace, Chicago Actors Wordshop artistic director, grew up on the South Side of Chicago and he said Sandburg’s work is very close to his heart.

“I’m almost 70 years old, so I grew up with the vestiges of these working-class people,” Gerace said. “I grew up south of the stockyards out there. It’s a sentimental journey for me and a colorful history lesson … [Sandburg] recognized the disappointments, the frustrations and the futility that plagued these poor working people.”

Gerace said he’s looking forward to hearing feedback and seeing what people take away from “Bread and Salt.” The poems should still connect with people despite the changes in our society. It gives people a chance to see a slice of life for working people 100 years ago, he said.

Gerace said of the poems being read, his favorite is “Child of the Romans.” The poem is apt for the setting. It was written about a railroad worker in Chicago, possibly working on the same tracks that once stood in Millennium Park where the Jay Pritzker Pavilion now rests. It reminds him of his grandfather and Italian ancestors who were railroad laborers. The poem also illustrates the strength of Sandburg’s writing in that it captures the beauty of their struggle in only 15 lines, he said.

Chicago Dramatists hold public discussions and stage readings of works in progress every Saturday at 2 p.m. in their own theater. Russ Tutterow, Chicago Dramatist artistic director, said the presentation will reflect the change in scenery.

“This will be a little more elaborate,” Tutterow said. “It will be a little more of a performance than you would normally have for a reading of a work. This is in essence a workshop production. It’s somewhere in between.”

The production workshopped by the Chicago Dramatists will be titled “Aiming for Sainthood” and is about a hearing person growing up in a deaf household. It uses a combination of sign language and regular speech. The production will be signed for the audience. Tutterow said the chance for a more general audience to see a Chicago Dramatists production was a big draw to participate in the series.